Capka's nomination clears a hurdle

President Bush's nominee to lead the Federal Highway Administration, J. Richard Capka, moved closer to confirmation after New Jersey's two Senators said they wouldn't block him. But Capka still faces hurdles before he's approved.

Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both Democrats, had put "holds" on Capka's nomination, because of a dispute between FHWA and the New Jersey Dept. of Transportation over multi-year funding.

But at an April 4 meeting, the day before Capka's confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Lautenberg and Menendez said Chip Nottingham, FHWA associate administrator, had agreed to let six New Jersey projects go forward and to work with state officials on financing other projects in the future. The senators then agreed to lift their "holds" on Capka.

At the April 5 hearing, committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement that Capka "is a very good choice to head the FHWA," noting his long experience with the Corps of Engineers, where he rose to the rank of brigadier general and commanded two Corps divisions.

Capka has been FHWA's deputy administrator since August 2002 and has served as the agency's acting administrator for most of the period since Mary E. Peters left the top post last July.

Capka isn't yet in the clear. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told the nominee he wants assurance that FHWA will fund a rebuilding of Going-to-the Sun road in Glacier National Park.

And Capka also faces a hold from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who criticized the nominee's 2000-2002 tenure as CEO of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, where he oversaw the "Big Dig" tunnel and highway. A 2000 report from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Inspector General's report said that project's cost had soared to as much as $13.6 billion that year from $2.6 billion in 1985.

At the hearing, Capka said he took the turnpike authority job in 2000 and the following year produced a revised cost estimate of $14.5 billion, up about $400 million higher than the previous figure. That subsequently was increased by another $150 million, Capka said for an "accounting adjustment" requested by the IG.

(Photo by Federal Highway Administration)