Bush nominee to head FHWA supports tolling U.S. roads

| 3/9/2006

The man President Bush has nominated to head the Federal Highway Administration is a staunch supporter of increased tolling and foreign operation of U.S. highways and other infrastructure.

J. Richard Capka, who Bush nominated this week to succeed Mary E. Peters as administrator of the FHWA, has been deputy administrator of the agency since August 2002. He has been serving as acting administrator since Peters left in July 2005. She said she was stepping down to spend time with family.

During his time at FHWA, Capka helped the Bush administration shape the current highway funding legislation, known as SAFETEA-LU, and has championed the president’s pursuit of privatization of U.S. roads and other infrastructure.

When Capka addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in November 2005 he repeatedly cited the importance of foreign investment. He specifically pointed to agreements with foreign firms involving the Chicago Skyway and the Trans-Texas Corridor as examples of “innovative financing.” Such plans generally give all toll revenue to the private firms and many allow the businesses to raise toll rates.

Also during the November speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Capka touted the plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road. That plan – currently in the hands of a four-member conference committee from the Indiana Legislature – has sparked major debate in the Hoosier state in recent weeks. It calls for the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to be leased to a Spanish-Australian consortium for 75 years for $3.85 billion.

In his discussion of SAFETEA-LU, Capka told the Chamber one of the key provisions “gives states more flexibility to use tolling to finance infrastructure improvements.”

Looking toward the next version of the highway funding legislation, Capka said: “Federal law still contains a bias against tolling for many roads. This may disappear ...”

Prior to his service at the Federal Highway Administration, Capka was chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and had oversight of the Big Dig tunnel project in Boston. A spokeswoman for the turnpike authority told Land Line that Capka was chairman from “early 2001 through August 2002,” but she could not provide the specific dates of his employment there.

The turnpike spokeswoman said because of privacy laws she could neither confirm nor deny media reports from 2002 that stated Capka’s contract with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was terminated in June 2002, partly because of massive cost overruns. The Boston Globe reported there were more than $2 billion in cost overruns.

Before he went to work for the turnpike, Capka served 29 years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, retiring with the rank of brigadier general, according to his biography on the FHWA’s Web site. That biography also states that the Big Dig project “emerged from its rigorous annual cost and schedule review (in 2002) with projected costs holding steady.”

– Coral Beach, staff editor