Former Congressman Tom Petri Named RTC’s 2016 Rail-Trail Champion

Posted 12/06/16 by Amy Kapp in Success Stories

A nostalgic image of former Congressman Tom Petri biking with his daughter Alexandra (now a columnist with the Washington Post) and wife Ann (DeDe) Petri | Photo courtesy Tom Petri

Since 2011, the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions Award honors individuals around the nation who have made significant contributions to the rail-trail movement through their work, volunteerism or support—in short, people who have gone above and beyond in the name of trails.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is pleased to name former U.S. Congressman Tom Petri as the 2016 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion in recognition of his decades of support for rail-trails and active transportation infrastructure.

RTC's Marianne fowler with the late Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and former Congressman Tom Petri (R-Wis.) | Photo courtesy RTC

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1979, Rep. Petri represented Wisconsin’s Sixth Congressional District for 18 terms until his retirement in January 2015 (at the end of the 113th Congress). Known for his innovative and creative solutions to government problems, Rep. Petri would go on to make an impact in transportation, student loan reform, the federal highway program, cost sharing for federal water projects, tax and welfare reform, and health-care reform. 

During his time in office, he served as a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee and the Highways and Transit Subcommittee (113th).

A lifelong cyclist and early supporter of the recreational trails movement, Petri helped lead a bi-partisan effort in the early 1990s to create the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which was included in the federal surface transportation bill of 1991 (the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, or ISTEA). Working with both Democrat colleagues and RTC, he assisted in drafting environmental language for the bill that would allow flexibility in eligible uses for available funds. He would also go on to develop a close relationship with RTC in the mid-1990s and become a strong supporter of the active transportation movement.

“He was an emerging leader at that time in the trails movement and one of the most respected members of Congress” said Marianne Wesley Fowler, RTC’s senior strategist for policy advocacy and a longtime friend and colleague of the former congressman.

Jeff Doppelt of the Doppelt Family and RTC President Keith Laughlin presented Rep. Petri with the 2016 Rail-Trail Champion Award on the Mount Vernon Trail on the afternoon of Jan. 10, 2017.

2016 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion Award Ceremony

RELATED: 30 Years: Birth and Evolution of the American Rail-Trail Movement

In 2003, after RTP and Transportation Enhancements (TE) (now known as Transportation Alternatives and the largest source of federal trail funding in the U.S.) came under attack in the House, Rep. Petri helped protect TE from elimination by offering an amendment to strike the provisions de-funding both programs. He also worked closely with RTC, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and other trail supporters to secure the votes necessary to win the battle on the House floor. In a dramatic 327 to 90 victory, the RTP and TE were saved.

“That was a watershed moment,” quoted RTC President Keith Laughlin in the article, “From Preserving Rail-Trails to Creating Healthier Communities,” in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Rails to Trails. “It demonstrated the bipartisan support [the rail-trail movement] had in Congress and set the stage for our victories in the transportation bill in 2005.”

With his designation as a Rail-Trail Champion, Petri joins the ranks of a select group of men and women who’ve made remarkable contributions to rail-trails, including: the late Minnesota Congressman James OberstarJoshua and Robert Hammond, founders of New York's High Line; and Linda McKenna Boxx, a driving force behind the legendary Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania.

Rep. Petri continues to support trails as a member of RTC’s Board of Directors. His decades of service to the trail movement have been recognized by the American Hiking Society and the Coalition for Recreational Trails—the latter of which renamed its award program the "Tom Petri Annual Achievement Awards" in 2014.

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