January 16, 2019 4:00 PM, EST

Former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Mary PetersPeters (PhoenixChamber via YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Mary Peters, one of two secretaries of transportation during President George W. Bush’s tenure, was recognized with a lifetime achievement award at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.

In accepting the Frank Turner Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Transportation, the former secretary called on stakeholders to continue to strive for safety on the highways, push for sustainable funding for public transportation systems and improve access for senior citizens and people with disabilities who lack mobility options.

Peters also modestly downplayed her contributions during the second half of the Bush administration, referring to herself as the “accidental secretary.”

To millenials and young professionals at the event, she urged them to incorporate new technologies, ideas and approaches to advancing projects. The transportation landscape could drastically improve in the coming years if the next generation’s viewpoints are adopted, she explained.

“Let me challenge all of you in this room, especially the young people, the students who are here today, to look at the art of the possible,” Peters said during a luncheon TRB organizers hosted for dignitaries and executives Jan. 16 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The award is presented biennially.

Peters arrived in Washington after spending nearly two decades with the Arizona Department of Transportation. At DOT, she succeeded Norman Mineta. Before her confirmation to the secretary post, she had been the top officer at the Federal Highway Administration.

Mineta, recipient of the lifetime achievement award in 2017, was at the luncheon and reminded attendees of a report the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published in December that recommended federal policymakers raise and index federal fuel taxes.

As Mineta put it, “The gas tax needs to be increased.” Revenue from such an increase would be used to help address pressing needs across the states for the transportation network. TRB, a program within the academies, led the report’s research.

Members of Congress have not approved an increase in the 24.4-cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax since 1993. The revenue collected from the fuel taxes no longer is enough to ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, which supports state-level projects.