The Bush Administration has named Mary Peters, a highway-building official, to succeed Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta.

Peters, a Republican Party stalwart in her home state of Arizona, had run the US Department of Transportation’s (DoT) highway administration from 2001 until last year, leaving to take a post at a Phoenix engineering firm while mulling a run for governor of the state. But her nomination, which is likely to be confirmed by the end of October, is more than an indication of the importance of party loyalty to the White House.

During her tenure at the Federal Highway Administration, Peters strongly advocated increased private sector investment in road building and with it the inherently linked expansion of charging tolls for the use of what has traditionally been free-of-charge public infrastructure. This policy stance has alarmed private aviation, which has fought against user fees suggested by the airline industry. The administration‘s proposed user-fees scheme is still under consideration but, as Mineta said in his last public appearance, is bogged down in political in-fighting.

Mineta, who left to take a post at a Washington public affairs shop, had been the only Democrat in the Bush cabinet. He brought to the job decades of experience as a congressman who had headed the House Aviation Subcommittee and who had chaired high-profile “blue ribbon” commissions on the future of air traffic management and funding.

Peters would be the second woman to head the DoT. The first was Elizabeth Hanford Dole, now a Republican senator from her home state of North Carolina. Bush was seemingly aware of this, saying in Peters’ nomination statement that “Mary Peters knows the legacy she has to live up to” at the DoT.

But Peters brings a reputation for political skill, having managed landmark highway-funding legislation and having won legislative battles with the powerful House transportation committee chairman, Alaska Republican Don Young. Young’s committee will also oversee the FAA funding bill, so she will need those skills, whether the Republicans retain their control of the House in the November midterm elections or if the Democrats oust them, making the highly respected Minnesotan Jim Oberstar the likely committee chair.

Peters was chosen over acting Transportation Secretary Maria Cino and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. ■

Source: Airline Business