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Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:07 PM

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Bush names new Transportation secretary

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Bush today chose Mary Peters, a former federal highway administrator, to succeed Norman Mineta as secretary of transportation.

The president announced the nomination at a White House ceremony as Peters stood alongside him.

"She's going to make an outstanding secretary of transporation," Bush said, urging the Senate to rapidly approve her nomination.

"It is a job that requires vision and strong leadership," the president said. "Mary Peters is the right person for this job. She brings a lifetime of experience on transportation issues from both the private and the public sectors."

Peters said that if confirmed, she would try to improve a transportation infrastructure that is showing signs of aging.

"We are experiencing increasing congestion on our nation's highways, railways, airports and seaports and we're robbing our nation of productivity and our citizens of quality time with their families," Peters said. "In some cases this is the result of systems and structures that are more suited to a bygone era than to the 21st century."

Peters spent three years directing the Arizona Department of Transportation, where she worked her way up through the ranks during a 16-year career there. Since November, Peters has been national director for transportation policy and consulting in the Phoenix office of Omaha-based architectural, engineering and consulting firm HDR Inc., according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made.

Peters, who was chief of the Federal Highway Administration from 2001 to 2005, fills a Cabinet seat left open when Mineta left the job in July after six years on the job. Bush wanted to announce his choice as the Senate returned from its August recess so the confirmation process could begin.

Peters is an advocate of tolls for building new highways. In a recent interview, she said that the federal highway program will run out of money by decade's end without substantial changes and, rather than raise taxes, some states are turning to toll roads already to fill gaps.

"You just can't depend on the federal government to bring the money in that was around when the interstate system was first built," Peters said.

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Peters is a fourth-generation Arizonan. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix and attended Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government Program for State and Local Government Executives. She and her husband, Terry, have three grown children.

A year ago, Peters was exploring a candidacy for governor of Arizona. Last November, she dropped her gubernatorial bid to challenge Democratic incumbent Janet Napolitano after a fellow Republican, already in the race, raised questions about Peters' eligibility.

The Arizona Constitution requires that candidates to have been Arizona "citizens" five years before the election, but Peters lived in Virginia and registered to vote in that state while serving during Bush's first term.

Peters said that she believed she still was eligible to run for governor and always intended to return to Arizona after her federal service, but that she stepped aside because the issue would have been too much of a distraction.

Mineta was the only Democrat in Bush's Cabinet. There had been speculation for years that he was on the verge of quitting, sometimes because of his health and sometimes because or rumors about a cabinet shake-up. Instead, Mineta became the longest-serving transportation secretary since the department was formed in 1967.

After the Sept. 11 hijackings, Mineta oversaw the hasty creation of the much-maligned Transportation Security Administration, which took over responsibility for aviation security from the airlines.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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