JEFFERSON CITY — Former New Mexico transportation secretary Pete Rahn is expected to be named today as Missouri’s new transportation director, The Associated Press has learned.
Rahn’s selection was confirmed Wednesday by two Missouri state officials as well as a former colleague of Rahn’s in the New Mexico Department of Transportation, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has scheduled a noon news conference to announce the new director, who will face the dual challenge of rebuilding Missouri’s rough roads and fixing the damaged reputation of the department that oversees them.
Rahn, 49, served as New Mexico’s highway and transportation secretary from January 1995 through November 2002, when he took a job as vice president of governmental affairs for Ohio-based Contech Construction Products Inc.
Missouri’s next transportation director — accompanied by three state transportation commissioners and a staff member — met with House Transportation and Motor Vehicles Committee Chairman Larry Crawford, R-California, at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Commission chairman Bill McKenna emerged from the meeting and — without speaking the new director’s name — said, “He’s very well qualified, and we’re happy with our selection.”
The department has been run by an interim director for several months following Henry Hungerbeeler’s announcement last December that he was resigning after five years at the helm of the agency. His departure came shortly after a citizens advisory panel appointed by transportation commissioners called for management changes.
During the late 1990s, Missouri’s independent transportation commission dropped a 1992 spending blueprint that had promised a four-lane road to every town of at least 5,000 people. Commissioners said the 6-cent fuel tax increase that accompanied the plan fell far short of supplying enough money.
Hungerbeeler took over as director shortly after the funding flap, but the commission’s decision dogged him and the agency for years. When Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected a transportation tax plan in August 2002, commissioners and elected officials interpreted it as a vote of no confidence in the department.
Since then, legislators have passed measures intended to improve the department’s public accountability perception, and interim department director Dave Snider has eliminated some high-level positions.
All six commission seats have been filled by new appointees in recent years.
Senate Transportation Commission Chairman Jon Dolan said Thursday’s announcement would mark the department’s best day in the past eight years, adding that he was pleased with the commission’s choice for director.
“We’re very proud of the department and the progress they’ve made toward reform,” said Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis. “We’ve got a great opportunity here. ”
On the November ballot is a proposed constitutional amendment that could give Rahn more money to work with in his new job. It would gradually direct additional money to the transportation department by decreasing the amount of road funds transferred to other state agencies.