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Groups ask highway chief to recuse self

WASHINGTON -- Watchdog groups and Massachusetts lawmakers questioned how Federal Highway Administrator J. Richard Capka, who was head of the Big Dig project for 18 months, can oversee his agency's investigation of the deadly ceiling collapse inside the Interstate 90 connector tunnel.

``This smacks of having the coach of the team referee the game," said Wendell Rawls, acting executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

Rawls and other critics want Capka to recuse himself to ensure a fully independent investigation. Common Cause Massachusetts called for safeguards to ensure an ``arm's length" relationship between Capka and the investigation.

Highway Administration spokesman Brian Keeter said Capka is ``not directly involved in the investigation." He insisted that the investigation is being conducted independently ``by a group of tunnel experts from throughout the agency."

``I think it's common sense for Rick Capka to recuse himself from these investigations so there can be a breath of fresh air pronto," said Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat. ``It needs to be an investigation that no one can question."

Earlier this year, Kerry stalled the Bush administration's nomination of Capka, but in May he abandoned his fight, saying Capka had answered his questions about the Big Dig.

Capka arrived at the Big Dig in 2001 with a military and engineering résumé. His contract was terminated in June 2002, and Matthew J. Amorello took the helm.

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