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Petersen Throws Himself in Front of a Train

Amy Gardner

State Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax), just a few days into his first legislative session since upsetting Republican Jeannemarie Devolites Davis last November, did something pretty interesting the other day: He sent a letter to Federal Transit Administration chief James S. Simpson urging him to take a "time out" on approving federal funding for the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport so that a tunnel through Tysons Corner can be more thoroughly studied.

That puts Petersen in fairly sparse company. Most Northern Virginia officials - not to mention the head of Petersen's political party, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine - are on pins and needles this week wondering if (and hoping that) the FTA will approve the long-awaited rail line. Although every official in support of the project has said they would prefer a tunnel to an aerial track through Tysons, most have concluded that to push that point now would jeopardize the project's place in line for federal funding.

Petersen understands that, which appears to be precisely the reason for his letter to Simpson, in which he literally asks for a "time out" so that the project doesn't get bumped to the back of the funding line by yet another delay. Petersen said a tunnel deserves more scrutiny. Pausing to allow for more open and competitive bidding for the project's final design is justified, he said.

Needless to say, the letter has not been well received by project backers, who are already anxious about the possibility that the FTA will reject Dulles rail. More evidence of community division might not be helpful, they say.

Petersen has at least one like-minded ally on the issue, though: John W. Foust, the newly minted Fairfax County supervisor representing the Dranesville District. Interestingly, Foust wrote a letter to Simpson with strikingly similar wording - wording that many of us have heard countless times before from chief Scott Monett.

By Amy Gardner  |  January 16, 2008; 9:12 PM ET
Categories:  Amy Gardner  
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Let's keep our fingers crossed. The whole push for above-air

It's a shame that the Fed Govt can't just decide on a reasonable share of what meets their cost-benefit analysis and let the state decide if it wants to kick in extra.

Me, I live close to National, so it's not that big a deal personally, but I think this could be a good thing for the region, above or below.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | January 17, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

after reading the headline, the content was disappointing

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

if tunnels are so important, skip the federal funding and build it yourself. There's no reason for South Dakota to fund your urban boondoggle

Posted by: C | January 17, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

The FTA doesn't want rail to Dulles with or without a tunnel. Just listen to FTA chief Simpson's speeches and statements. You will quickly learn that the Bush administration favors a national policy of rapid transit bus service over rail.

Besides, why would FTA want to put $900 million into blue-leaning Northern Virginia in a federal election year when they could dole it out in smaller chunks to congressional districts across the nation where Republican incumbents are in trouble?

Those who have advocated the position of "the tunnel or nothing" have played into the hands of the Bush administration. They have made it easy for FTA to "just say no" to the Dulles rail project, period.

Nearly everyone but Congressmen Tom Davis and Frank Wolf agree the tunnel was the better option. It was Davis and Wolf who told Governor Kaine he couldn't support the tunnel or the entire project would be killed. (Of course, Davis has since spun the issue everyway but sideways.)

Odds are the project is lost and we will not see rail to Dulles airport for decades to come. That is a shame.

Posted by: A VA commuter | January 17, 2008 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I've always wondered who at the FTA was adamant that the Tysons proposal could not be reviewed.

Neither Rep. "I was against it before I was for it" Davis, nor Rep. Moran, nor Rep. Wolf have ever pointed to an official at the FTA who decided that the money would be lost unless the FTA had a final plan by "x" date. Just who is this anonymous person with so much power at the FTA?

Did Sen. Petersen actually do some work, find out that it's Simpson and choose to do something about it?

The final decision affects me directly and there's too much involved for me to be able to make any decision which method is more preferable for engineering and cost reasons.

It may not work, but asking that common sense be made part of this process when so much is involved should have been done long ago by all of our local politicians.

Cheers for Chap!

Posted by: ViennaVoter | January 17, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Chap Petersen said "no tunnel, no Dulles rail." The art of the deal is to get it done and make compromises when necessary. For years he was an elected official and never became part of the discussion, and never got anything done in transportation.

Now Petersen comes at this late stage? What has Petersen been doing all these years? Well we see Petersen is becoming a mouth piece for Monet. And Petersen's legacy will be trying to kill Rail to Dulles against the wishes of 90% of the people.

Oh yeah, rail for trucks on I-81. cheers for chap!

I'm with Kaine, O'Malley & Fenty on this one. Rail for Dulles now. They know how to lead and get things done.

Posted by: no cheers for Chap | January 17, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

you wanna get to dulles? drive, walk, bike, ride a horse, take a bus, or, here's one nobody's thought of... FLY

Posted by: stop taking my money | January 17, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

"What has Petersen been doing all these years?"

I don't recall that the Tunnel issue was even on the table while Sen. Peterson was a Delegate. It would seem to have been on Sen. Devolites watch, esepcially with her as a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

However, I don't fault JeanneMarie on that, because the sticking point has always been the anonymous bureaucrat at the FTA.

It's the Federal officials who dropped the ball. Tom Davis (especially with his flip-flopping), Jim Moran, Frank Wolf, John Warner, George Allen and Jim Webb (although Webb to a lesser extent as a newcomer).

It's too bad that you put generic political animosity over a politician asking that common sense be used in the process.

If you don't like Sen. Peterson, then go after him for something legitimate.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

For those who came late, Chap Petersen is a career politician in northern Virginia. Only when the democratic voters rejected him and gave him a "time out" for one year has he not been in office.

Transit has been a decades long struggle to increase ridership and stations in northern Virginia. The rail to Dulles transit has been on the table for over 20 years. Chap has never advocated for it, not for the citizens of the city and now not for Loudoun and Fairfax county residents, or the millions of visitors who fly into Dulles.

At this late stage in the game, without any apparent understanding of the issue or experience in studying the issue, or getting involoved in the issue, Chap declares himself an expert with his "no tunnel, no Dulles rail" manifesto.

If Chap Petersen can identify how many times he has testified and advocated on rail transit to Dulles, he should come out with it. That letter to Simpson was a cowardly act to satiate a small vocal minority.

Now to show his expertise in transit, Chap Petersen wants to spend billions of taxpayer's money for truck transit along I-81.

What is next? Is Chap going to pretend to be an environmentalist? Give us a break.

Real leaders like Warner, Webb, Kaine, Fenty & O'Malley have been working on these problems for the 90% of people who want transit solutions for the future.

Chap: Transit Rail for Trucks, not People!

Posted by: Chap, Anti Transit? | January 18, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Anti-Chap - Did we discover an obsession which you have with Sen. Petersen? At least be honest in your posts.

1) Petersen gave up his Delegate's seat to run for the nomination to a statewide office which he did not win.

An extremely small number of eligible Democrats voted in that election. That is not the same as being given a 'time out' by Democratic voters.

2) Although transportation in Northern Virginia has been an issue for decades, the Tysons Tunnel has not.

Sen. Petersen is now in a position which has a little more leverage in being able take some action, and he did so with his letter. Wasn't the "cowardly act" actually that of the nameless faceless bureaucrat at FTA continually telling Virginia, "It's my way, or the highway!" (no pun intended).

Petersen finally did what all of our elected Federal officials should have done before. He's called for accountability at the Federal Level on this. I kind of like that as a voter.

Surely, you're not against using common sense in public projects which cost billions of dollars, are you?

3) I prefer my elected officials making decision on things which directly affect me. Governor O'Malley and Mayor Fenty should have 'input' because they represent people who pay also; but the primary decision makers on this should be the Virginia officials. Not the Governor of Maryland or the Mayor of the District.

4) BTW - in case you don't realize it, all of our Delegates and Senators represent all Virginians when they sit in the legislature. Senator Peterson and Delegates Scott and Shannon represent Virginians in Grundy as much as they represent me; just as Sens. Warner and Webb and Reps. Davis and Moran work for the people in North Dakota and Massachusetts as much as they do Virginia. The last I heard, the Shenandoah Valley was in Virginia.

We get it that you don't like Chap. Give us some reasons that make sense.

Posted by: ViennaVoter | January 18, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The problem with Chap is that he may be piling on at a time when the Federal government may totally scrap their participation in rail to Dulles. If he had real courage he would ask pointed questions as to why the Commonwealth of Virginia gave a no-bid contract to the same firm that gave American Taxpayers the Big Dig in Boston. Will Chap ask the Governor this question in a similar letter?

Posted by: Fairfax | January 18, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

there is no reason for the federal government and taxpayers nationwide to fund a super-expensive tunnel that only benefits the super-rich developers with private property at Tysons, Tysons isn't the pentagon, it isn't the capitol, there is no federal interest and there should be no federal funding

federal employees already fly out of reagan, bwi, or dulles depending on where they live, they aren't doing to take metro to dulles to save money they aren't spending

Posted by: just say no | January 18, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Federal employees flying out of National or Dulles were never in the equation. The real issue is the traffic mess in Tysons. Fairfax County is trying to make Tysons the urban center of the County, which means more development and more traffic.

The issues were, would above ground or a tunnel be more beneficial, which truly was the best cost and was the "competition" process legitimate. What was the optimum solution, Above Ground or Tunnel?

Did we get a good management decision? No, we got railroaded by the Federal Transit Administration.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Common Sense?
No tunnel no Dulles rail for:
- the millions of people who annually fly into Dulles to visit DC & Fairfax?.
-the tens of thousands of WVa and Loudoun county workers who drive to Fairfax, Arlington & DC every day for work?

Oh, that common sense.

Or maybe rail for trucks on I-81 to relieve congestion in Fairfax?

Oh, that common sense.

Think hard about what your Senator Petersen stands against and for, it isn't common sense.

It isn't about liking the little fellow with the bow tie, it is about questioning what he says.

Posted by: Nonsensical ViennaVoter | January 18, 2008 11:14 PM | Report abuse

"The real issue is the traffic mess in Tysons. Fairfax County is trying to make Tysons the urban center of the County, which means more development and more traffic."

That is a perfect rationale for metro expansion funded exclusively by Fairfax county

Posted by: leave the feds out | January 19, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

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