Tuesday, September 05, 2006

As head of the FHA, Peters was a big proponent of toll roads.

Former AZ official picked as next U.S. Transportation secretary, Napolitano hopes that's good news


By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
Arizona Daily Star
Copyright 2006

Former state transportation chief Mary Peters was named Tuesday by President Bush to be the next federal transportation secretary. And that, according to Gov. Janet Napolitano, could be good news for Arizona.

The White House, in a statement announcing Bush's nomination, called her the "right person" to take over the huge federal agency.

"As Secretary of Transportation, Peters will work closely with State and local leaders to ensure that America has a state-of-the-art transportation system that meets the needs of our growing economy," according to a White House press release.

Napolitano said that Peters, who is not only originally from Arizona but moved back here last year, will be "very cognizant of the needs of our rapidly growing state." And those needs, the governor said, appear to have been ignored in Washington.

"Arizona didn't do too well in the last federal highway bill," she said. "On a per capita basis, we're either 49th or 50th even though we're the first or second most rapidly growing state,"
Napolitano continued. "Our transportation needs are huge. We need money for roads but also other transportation modes as well."

Technically, Peters has nothing official to do with how big a share Arizona gets of the federal pie.

But gubernatorial press aide Mike Haener said Peters will influence Bush in what the administration proposes in future years in federal transportation funding.

Members of the state's congressional delegation are aware of the issue: Both of the state's senators refused to support the latest highway funding legislation.

"While this year's transportation funding bill was an improvement over past years, due to the efforts of Sen. (John) McCain and me, it still fell short of an equitable share for Arizona," said Sen. Jon Kyl.

But Kyl noted that things are getting better: Arizona is now getting back 92 cents of every dollar in gas tax revenues it sends to Washington; 12 years ago it was just 86 cents.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said he also recognizes Arizona remains a "donor state" in providing more to the Federal Highway Trust Fund than it gets back.

Franks said Peters "thoroughly understands what Arizonans and citizens of similar donor states deal with on a daily basis."

Peters dodged questions about whether she believes Arizona is getting shorted, telling Capitol Media Services she doesn't want to comment on policy issues -- at least not yet.

"I'd be happy to talk about that more freely after the confirmation process, should the Senate confirm me."

Hearings, she said, could begin before the November election. But whether Peters would use her post to recommend that Arizona -- or any state -- get more money remains unclear.

As head of the Federal Highway Administration, Peters was a big proponent of "user fees" to pay for new road construction instead of relying on congressional appropriations. And one key way of raising those fees is through toll roads.

In a speech as highway administrator to the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, Peters said the Bush administration supports such joint ventures. And she detailed some of what she called the "success stories."

That list, Peters conceded, did not include Arizona, where ADOT floated the idea in 1991 as a method of funding a freeway around the back end of South Mountain south of Phoenix.

Those plans came to a halt amid legal and other questions; the road has yet to be built.

One of the companies that submitted a proposal for that freeway was HDR Inc., an engineering firm. Peters currently serves as a senior vice president for the company.

Peters would not comment Tuesday about her position on toll roads and user fees.

Peters last year weighed a run for governor as a Republican. But that was derailed after it was learned that after Peters went to Washington in 2001 to head the Federal Highway Administration she voted in Virginia, raising legal questions of whether she would meet Arizona's constitutional requirement to be a resident of this state for five years before seeking office.

© 2006 Arizona Daily Star: www.azstarnet.com