He takes over from Alan Cook, who has been in post since 2011.
Mr Matthews will have to pilot the transformation of the Highways Agency into a government-owned company, assuming that the Infrastructure Bill that will do this is enacted before the next general election. Mr Cook is credited with coming up with the reform plan.
An engineer by professional background, Colin Matthews has run various types of infrastructure businesses. Before joining BAA and subsequently Heathrow, his previous jobs include running gas company Transco, recruitment firm Hays and water company Severn Trent.
The new chairman will take up his post at the Highways Agency on 1 September 2014. He will be paid £130,000 for a minimum of 78 days’ work a year. This is more than Mr Cook has been getting – “to reflect the revised role, the challenges that the Highways Agency face in the coming years”, the government’s official statement said.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Colin Matthews’ appointment demonstrates the commitment we have to revolutionising our roads. His strong business record will give the new strategic highways company the leadership and focus on customer service it needs, which means taxpayers and road users will get a network fit for the future economic demands of this country.”
Mr Matthews said: “I am delighted to be taking up the chair of the Highways Agency. Roads matter to drivers and the economy. My focus will be on making them work better. Long-term stable investment will mean that all road users will be better able to get to their destination safely and quickly.”