2010 Research Conference - Opening Session: How Do National Transportation Priorities Influence Local Decisions?


Keynote Speaker(s)

Eric C. Peterson, President, American High Speed Rail Alliance


  • Tim Henkel, Mn/DOT
  • David Levinson, U of M
  • Jim McDonough, Ramsey County Commissioner
  • Bob McFarlin, Metropolitan Council

Transportation infrastructure investments are guided by state and local government decisions. However, transportation priorities set at the national level can influence changes in direction at the state and local level, particularly if there are substantial resources attached to them. Decision-makers may choose to make investment trade-offs at the expense of other infrastructure needs in order to position themselves for additional federal funding.

Eric Peterson, president of the American High Speed Rail Alliance, provided the keynote presentation, "Building Momentum for sustainable American High Speed Rail.” His comments focused on the six keys to successfully designing, building, and operating high speed rail, a priority initiative for President Obama's Administration. During the panel discussion that followed, Minnesota leaders discussed how our state is being positioned to ensure it is part of a high speed passenger rail network. They shared how focusing on national priorities impacts road, bridge, and transit projects that have been identified as investment priorities in Minnesota.

About the Speaker

Eric C. Peterson

Eric C. Peterson is a 20+ year veteran of transportation issues and policy management, having played a key role in obtaining approval for the first 103 miles of the Washington Metro Rail system as well as the Metro Rail extension to Dulles International Airport, the construction and opening of I-66 within the Washington beltway, transfer of Washington Dulles and Washington National Airports from the federal government to the Metropolitan  Washington Airports Authority, the restoration and operation of Washington’s Union Station as a public/private partnership, and passage of the 2005 Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, Safetea-Lu.

Beginning in 1981, Mr. Peterson served on the staff of U.S. Senator John Warner where he helped shape legislation affecting every mode of transportation and every transportation issue facing the Commonwealth of Virginia including the creation of the Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak service to key Virginia communities.

In 1987, Eric became vice president of a national passenger transportation association (United Bus Owners of America) focused on operations safety and private/public partnerships in the provision of transportation services.  In this capacity, and later as the Deputy Under Secretary for Travel and Tourism at the U.S. Department of Commerce, Eric helped negotiate the transportation annex to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Visa Waiver program for travelers coming to the United States from 27 European, Asian and Pacific nations, and helped lay the ground work for the Open Skies multi-lateral aviation policy pursued by subsequent administrations.

Following the transfer of Dulles International Airport and Washington National Airport to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Eric was appointed by Virginia Governor Douglas L. Wilder (and later re-appointed by Governor George Allen) to the Airports Authority Advisory Committee where he served as its chairman from 1992 to 1996.  During his tenure on the Advisory Committee Mr. Peterson served as the committee’s representative to the Dulles Corridor Land Use Task Force, a body appointed by the Fairfax County, Virginia Board of Supervisors to make recommendations on the siting of stations and the use of land around the proposed Metro Rail extension to Dulles Airport.  In 2001, Eric created a non-profit advocacy organization (the Landowners Economic Alliance for the Dulles Extension of Rail (LEADER)) that drew together the support of commercial landowners in the Dulles Corridor for the purpose of establishing a tax district to fund Fairfax County’s share of the Metro Rail extension.  Without that critical first-funding the Federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia would not support the extension project and it would fail.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta tapped Eric in 2004 to lead the reorganization of the department’s research programs and to eventually serve as the Deputy Administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration.  This new agency, which had oversight responsibilities for all the department’s research programs including the Federal Railroad Administration, also directed the work of the Volpe National Transportation Research Center, the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Safety Institute, and the University Transportation Research Center programs.  Eric played a key role in designing and implementing Secretary Mineta’s congestion relief initiative that proposed among other things the use of new transportation technologies and broader use of private/public partnerships to advance transportation innovation.

In addition to his professional involvement in transportation and technological innovation, Eric founded a private foundation to further the advanced science, technology and mathematics scholarship at the nation’s leading public high school, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The foundation now provides over $100,000 in annual support for the school’s 13 science and technology laboratories.

Mr. Peterson’s management style is best characterized as “servant leader,” empowering associates to pursue their work without the burden of micro-management, while providing them the tools and resources necessary to achieve high levels of success.  Additionally, Eric promotes thought leadership and works diligently to position the organizations with which he works to establish and maintain thought leadership positions in their respective fields.  During his tenure at the Department of Transportation he supported the creation of a transportation thought leadership initiative at the Volpe Center, and most recently, as Executive Director of Rural Cellular Association, he supported thought leadership initiatives to address the competitive opportunities available to rural and non-urban-based wireless communications service providers.

Eric earned his B.S. in Political Science from Nebraska Wesleyan University, and his M.S. in Public Relations from Boston University.