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‘King of Asphalt’ Bud Shuster dies at age 91

The longtime leader of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee pushed through major highways and aviation bills

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and James Oberstar, D-Minn., during a committee markup.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and James Oberstar, D-Minn., during a committee markup. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Rep. Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, a congressional power broker whose mastery of earmarked spending and highway projects in the 1990s earned him the sobriquet “King of Asphalt,” died Wednesday at age 91.

“Chairman Shuster was a force, and our Nation’s highways, aviation system, ports and waterways, rail network, water systems, and more all benefited from his ability to bring together Members of Congress from across the political spectrum in support of infrastructure,” current Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., said in a statement. “More importantly, communities across the country and our economy were also strengthened by his leadership and achievements on these issues.”

Shuster, a Republican, saw transportation as a way to benefit his struggling district in the Allegheny Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania and it became his signature issue. It also tarnished his reputation.

He was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee in the autumn of 2000 for allegedly accepting improper gifts and favoring a lobbyist — his former chief of staff, whose Alexandria townhouse Shuster often shared when in Washington.

Though reelected to Congress that November for a 15th term, Shuster lost his prize chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to a term limit rule House Republicans had adopted in 1994.

Denied an extension, Shuster stunned colleagues the day after he was sworn into office in January 2001 by announcing that he would resign at month’s end. He cited his health concerns and those of his wife.

Shuster’s son, Bill, a Chrysler dealer back home in Pennsylvania, won the special election that May to succeed him, and like his father, he became chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee before retiring from Congress.

The elder Shuster earned a reputation as a power broker, one who helped to modernize the nation’s transportation system and to decide where billions of dollars in federal funds would be spent. Shuster left his mark through two landmark measures: the 1998 surface transportation bill and the 2000 aviation bill.

In both cases, Shuster succeeded in greatly increasing the amount of money spent on transportation largely by guaranteeing that revenue from gasoline taxes would be reserved for road and transit projects and that airline ticket tax money would be kept for aviation programs.

‘Helped build America’

In nearly three decades in Congress, Shuster perfected the art of earmarking, expanding member-designated projects tenfold in the 1998 highway bill.

Shuster’s six-year, $218 billion highway measure included $9 billion in special projects, $110 million of it for his own district. “I hope they put on my tombstone 40 years from now: He helped build America,” Shuster once said.

In his district, Shuster’s road-building efforts became legendary. Pennsylvania’s Interstate 99 is named the Bud Shuster Highway. A three-mile route, the Bud Shuster By Way, bypasses his hometown of Everett. Shuster’s 2000 aviation bill followed nearly three years of failed attempts.

He succeeded by arguing that aviation was vital to the nation’s economy, that airport infrastructure had been squeezed even as air traffic was soaring, and that money collected through airline tickets for the aviation trust fund was being spent on other purposes.

Shuster built his legislation over the grumbling of congressional appropriators, who complained that his spending restrictions limited their prerogatives. After three months of intensive talks, Congress cleared a three-year Federal Aviation Administration authorization that required all aviation trust funds to be spent on aviation programs, a victory for Shuster.

Late in the 106th Congress in 2000, Shuster tried to add a final installment in a trilogy of trust fund bills, but could not convince seaport and shipping interests that they would benefit by protecting maritime spending as he had highways and aviation.

Shuster is also known for the ethics investigation relating to his use of campaign funds and his relationship with his longtime aide, Ann M. Eppard, who quit to became a transportation lobbyist before Shuster became Transportation chairman in 1995.

In October 2000, the House Ethics Committee, in a letter of reproval, found that Eppard played a major role in Shuster’s office for 18 months after she became a lobbyist, including scheduling and advisory services.

In a speech on the House floor at the time, Shuster accepted the finding but defended his behavior. He said he had accepted the letter, a negotiated settlement, to put the issue behind him and “stop the hemorrhaging of legal fees.” The letter of reproval, the mildest form of punishment available to the committee, did not require further action by the House.

After winning his House seat in 1972, Shuster rarely had to exert himself politically. In 14 elections, he ran unopposed nine times.

Born Elmer Greinert Shuster on Jan. 23, 1932, in Glassport, Pa., Shuster grew up in a conservative district whose economy once relied on the railroad and mining operations. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, a master’s in business administration at Duquesne University and later a business doctorate at American University. Shuster also served in the U.S. Army between 1954 and 1956 as an infantry lieutenant.

Before running for Congress, he was a vice president in the Radio Corporation of America’s Computer Division and founded his own software company. Without prior experience in public office, Shuster surprised the political establishment in his district through his election to the House in 1972, defeating in the primary a state senator who had the support of the party.

Outside of Congress, Bud Shuster was a family man and undertook creative endeavors. He met his wife Patricia while they attended the same high school, and they raised five children. A pianist, Shuster was trustee at the Kennedy Center and National Symphony Orchestra.

At the beginning of a FAA reauthorization conference, House Transportation Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., right, traded books they recently authored.

He also authored several books, the first of which, “Believing in America” (1983), covers American history from World War I to the early 1980s.

After his retirement from Congress, Shuster consulted for the Association of American Railroads and was also visiting assistant professor of political science at St. Francis University in Loretto, Penn.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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