Infrastructure in the News: December 10, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider, Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
BIG TRANSPO NAMES AT PRO EVENT: Ever wonder why you should go Pro? Here’s a great reason. This Wednesday, we’re hosting a discussion of all things transportation, including a look back at 2012 and a look ahead to 2013. And we’ve locked down some great names: T&I Chairman John Mica, former T&I Chairman Jim Oberstar, T&I member Tim Holden, former Pennsylvania Gov. and Building America’s Future Co-Chairman Ed Rendell and two state DOT secretaries: Sean Connaughton of Virginia and Gene Conti of North Carolina. Pros can RSVP here: http://politi.co/TG7mpm
New York Times: Timeline of the New York City Housing Authority’s Response
SATURDAY, OCT. 27 As Hurricane Sandy approaches, the New York City Housing Authority contacts tenant associations in its 26 developments in Zone A, with more than 45,000 residents, to review the evacuation plan. It begins shutting down elevators, boilers and electrical systems.
America Blog: Why do Democrats always ask for small items when negotiating?
In the looming fiscal cliff, fiscal showdown (gunfight at Fiscal Corral) discussions, the Republican “ask” is a bunch of big-ticket items — roll back social insurance; lower taxes for billionaires; lower taxes for corps (check out the “territorial taxation” proposal sometime); a pony; Santa’s sleigh; Rudolph’s head on a plate.
Bloomberg TV: U.S. Must Invest in Infrastructure, Katz Says
New York Times: The Cracks in the Nation’s Foundation
Across the coasts of New York and New Jersey, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage are spilling into waterways and the ocean. The immediate cause is equipment damage from Hurricane Sandy, but as Michael Schwirtz recently reported in The Times, aging plants like one in Nassau County on Long Island were leaking long before the storm, flooding neighborhood streets with sewage during downpours.
Fast Lane: America's cities: Transportation innovators
I've wasted no opportunity in the past four years to talk about the short-term benefits--jobs--and the long-term benefits--economic competitiveness--of investing in transportation. And yesterday, I brought that message to the 2012 UIC Urban Forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The Hill: This week in Transportation: GOP revives Amtrak privatization push
Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will renew their push to privatize rail service in Amtrak's most profitable region this week.
Washington Post: The auto bailout didn’t decide the election
Poli-Sci Perspective is a weekly Wonkblog feature in which Georgetown University’s Dan Hopkins and George Washington University’s Danny Hayes and John Sides offer an empirical perspective on the issues dominating Washington. In this edition, Hopkins summarizes research showing that the auto bailout didn’t have nearly the effect on the election that commentators thought.
Washington Post: With a natural gas tax, everyone can benefit
Every once in awhile, one of those economic policy dogfights comes along that involves huge sums of money and pits one powerful industry against another. The K Street lobbying machine goes into overdrive, dueling studies are commissioned, the think tanks start churning out policy briefs and rival committee hearings are scheduled on Capitol Hill. As a journalist, my rule has been to never let such a donnybrook go to waste.
Washington Post: Obama’s second-term agenda will be shadowed by budget woes
Even if President Obama succeeds in getting Republicans to agree to tax hikes on the wealthy as part of a “fiscal cliff” deal, the country’s grim budget realities will still cast a long shadow — limiting his ambitions as he begins plotting a second-term agenda.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider, Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
SHUSTER REACHING OUT TO DEMS: Incoming House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster has already met with ranking member Nick Rahall about next year’s committee agenda and what issues are most important. “They have been talking and plan to get together more. Senior staff are also getting connected,” a source familiar with the talks told MT. While the chats likely aren’t very detailed, it’s a good sign for groups hoping that Shuster will take a bit more of a bipartisan and/or diplomatic approach than outgoing Chairman John Mica. They’re not exactly strangers, though: Rahall and Shuster have already been working together over the past few years with Rahall as ranking member and Shuster as railroads panel chairman. And Rahall knows Bill’s father and former T&I Chairman Bud Shuster well.
DID YOU MISS IT? The White House submitted its Sandy disaster funding request to Congress late Friday. The request includes $30 million for FAA facilities and equipment, $308 million for highway restoration, $32 million for Amtrak damages and $6.2 billion for transit. Check out the full request (http://1.usa.gov/XA6B4O) and read the (David) Rogers report on the request: http://politi.co/SMh21Y
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers’s response: “My committee will consider the White House request for recovery assistance very thoroughly.”
NORMALIZING POST-SANDY: The Hugh L. Carey (previously known as the Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel is open for normal operations this morning, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls “yet another step toward normalcy after this devastating storm.” The tunnel’s operations had been affected since late October. The Long Island Rail Road will operate a full rush hour schedule today after Amtrak repairs to signals in an East River tunnel. It’s the first full rush service the New York MTA commuter service has operated since the Hurricane hit.
THE MIGHTY MISS-I-SIP: In a congressional fight over water, the Army Corps is getting soaked. The Corps has rejected Midwestern lawmakers’ requests to increase the flow of water into the drying Mississippi River. Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy said the agency lacks the authority to alter current water flow and cited damaging repercussions for doing so in a recent letter. Waterway groups and lawmaker supporters warn that a portion of the Mississippi will shut down without extra water from the Missouri River basin. The affected area stretches from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. This could impact everything from coal shipments to food products, they say, and cause $7 billion in losses. Pros, Jessica has you covered: http://politico.pro/XzGc7g
TAKE A MICHI-GANDER: President Barack Obama will be in Redford, Mich., today for an event at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant. Before the election, an event like this might have featured a dozen auto bailout references. But the hot topic now is a controversial “right to work” law the state Legislature is pushing through that has drawn strong Democratic opposition. MT is on the lookout for a mention of the anti-union bill and perhaps a bailout/rescue reference thrown in for good measure.
BOUSTANY CRUISES: Rep. Charles Boustany easily beat T&I member Jeff Landry in Saturday’s contest, bringing the 2012 cycle to a close. Boustany nabbed 61 percent of the vote to Landry’s 39 percent and will return for a fifth term in Congress. The unofficial turnout, according to the Louisiana secretary of state: 19.3 percent. A Republican was going to get the seat either way, but the 113th breakdown is now finalized: 234 Republicans, 200 Democrats and one open seat after Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned. Alex Isenstadt has more on the Louisiana race: http://politi.co/TV8hQR
TRANSIT BENEFITS STILL AT STATION — And gas tax evasion: Want to know where the Senate’s package of tax provisions, including bringing transit benefits ($125) up to the level of parking ($240), stands? Select Revenues Chairman Pat Tiberi told MT pretty simply: “The extenders are nowhere right now. They’re a backseat” to the fiscal cliff. So, could they be a part of negotiations? “There’s no negotiations going on. So I don’t think anything is a part of anything.” What about the gas tax? “There’s nothing on the table. There’s nothing to talk about.” A day later, we asked the same question to Kevin McCarthy. The GOP whip gave us a similar state o’ play on the gas tax: “We need to get into negotiations to find out what’s in it.” Readers, we are trying!
‘Still pushing’: Rep. Randy Hultgren, one of the most passionate Republicans on the importance of public transportation, said he keeps working on the tax benefits, too, but is aware things like this are on the backburner. “We’re still talking about it, we’re still pushing it,” Hultgren said. “Until we have significant tax reform, it’s going to be piecemeal no matter what. This is it. Let’s get this taken care of for at least the next year, the next few years.” Hultgren is leaving the committee in January.
TRANSIT OPERATING ASSISTANCE: FTA has put out an updated list of transit agencies eligible for federal operating assistance. MAP-21 tweaked the criteria to include agencies with fewer than 100 buses running at peak hour. The full list is in table 3-A right here (be warned, it opens as a speadsheet): http://1.usa.gov/11TecMf
WHERE ARE THE JOBS? You’ve probably already heard that unemployment fell to 7.7 percent in November, according to BLS. But let’s break out the bullet points for you: The transportation and warehousing sector inched by 3,500 jobs, but air transport decreased by 3,900. Motor vehicle and parts dealers were up 3,300 jobs, as well, but the biggest bump MT spotted was in the transportation equipment manufacturing sector, where jobs were up 8,500. Heavy and civil engineering was down 3,800. Parse the numbers yourself: http://1.usa.gov/aYBX8V
NOW ON VIDEO: We try our best, but sometimes print stories just aren’t the same as being there. To that end, here’s the video of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s exchange with Rep. Jeff Denham at last week’s high-speed rail hearing that Adam covered in his story (http://politico.pro/VME2xd). Give it a watch: http://bit.ly/SLUQVz!
CABOOSE — Chesapeake transit map: Our Caboose recently featured six transit maps that mapped everything but transit. Here’s one more, via GGW, which depicts the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed as a transit system. Check it out: http://bit.ly/TDCKWF
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ)
- Today is FedEx’s busiest day of the year, with 19 million shipments. Infographic: http://at.fedex.com/TV93gT
Politico Pro: Corps: Hands tied on Missouri River release
By Jessica Meyers
In a congressional fight over water, the Army Corps is getting soaked.
The corps has rejected Midwestern lawmakers’ requests to increase the flow of water into the drying Mississippi River. Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy, in a letter to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said the agency lacks the authority to alter current water flow and cited damaging repercussions for doing so.
Waterway groups and lawmaker supporters warn that a portion of the Mississippi will shut down without extra water from the Missouri River basin. The affected area stretches from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. This could impact everything from coal shipments to food products, they say, and cause $7 billion in losses.
“The corps has identified the potential for significant negative effects on the Missouri River system,” Darcy said in the letter, made public Friday. She cited endangered drinking water, increased irrigation costs, harm to wildlife and a reduction in hydropower production.
Communities — and their lawmakers — further upstate have balked at water sharing. They say it will harm their already-parched river system.
Durbin on Friday conceded, saying he would convene a stakeholder meeting to discuss alternatives to the Missouri River water release. Darcy’s letter followed a conversation with Durbin last week where she agreed to assess consequences of drawing water from the Missouri.
“The Army Corps believes that we can maintain navigation on the Mississippi through means other than the release of water from the Missouri River,” Durbin said in a statement. “I hope they are right and I want them to meet with those directly impacted by this challenge.”
South Dakota Sen. John Thune had a more enthusiastic response. “I’m pleased that the corps followed the law and rejected the demand to unlawfully increase flows from the Missouri River reservoirs specifically for the benefit of Mississippi River navigation interests,” he told POLITICO in an email, “particularly with low water levels and the drought that is occurring in our region.”
Thune — along with three governors, eight senators and four House members — sent the administration a letter last week challenging any change to the current water flow.
The weather may prove the true arbitrator. In her letter, Darcy said recent wet weather forecasts “could reduce the rate of decline” and allow shipping to continue.
The corps has already agreed to accelerate the removal of dangerous rock formations, which could impede navigation on the Mississippi River. Darcy said that may begin as early as December.
Groups that depend on the bustling river called the rock removal only half of the solution. And they reiterated their demand for a presidential emergency declaration if the corps fails to act. The agency says it needs additional authority from Congress.
“Our research shows the amount of water would not impact upstate navigation in any significant way,” said Debra Colbert, the Waterways Council senior vice president.
She pointed to barges already forced to carry lighter loads.
“All the agriculture exports are being impacted,” she said, “so the economic crisis is upon us.”
Politico Pro: Rockefeller questions leave Commerce hanging
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller won’t say whether he’ll run for reelection again, setting off klaxons at industries invested in the protracted feud between freight rail and shippers.
If Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) decides not to return to the upper chamber, companies that ship bulk goods — primarily public utilities and industrial plants, including those in coal country — stand to lose. Big. And the freight railroads, which fight tooth and nail against shippers’ challenges to the rates they charge, stand to gain in equal amount.
Rockefeller has been a staunch advocate for so-called “captive shippers,” companies served by a single railroad that say they’re the victims of monopolistic practices by an industry almost entirely controlled by four railroads.
But the freight railroads are unapologetic about the rates they charge, saying they have to sink as much money as they can into keeping up with and improving their aging, far-flung infrastructure, which is a capital-intensive affair. They also counter that shippers can just use another method — such as trucks — if they don’t like their prices.
It’s an arcane, difficult, long-running fight between interests with constituencies and clout — not the sort of thing most lawmakers are eager to take on. But Rockefeller has not only waded into the fight, he’s come out swinging, saying in the past that the railroads are “grossly overcharging” and vowing that “railroad reform is going to happen.”
He has repeatedly pushed for changes at the Surface Transportation Board, the agency charged with adjudicating rate disputes brought by shippers.
“I've been working on this for 26 years, so there's a good deal of frustration in me,” Rockefeller said at a 2010 hearing on the subject.
Shelley Sahling-Zart, general counsel at Lincoln Electric System, said losing Rockefeller would be a big blow, not only because of his advocacy on behalf of the captive shippers' interests, but also because of the time it would require to bring someone else up to speed.
Sahling-Zart called Rockefeller a “champion” and a “leader” who has “years and years of institutional knowledge” who would be tough to replace on their issues. The other lawmaker often at the forefront of this fight, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), has already announced his retirement.
Airports also are preparing for a possible Rockefeller departure, again with potentially large consequences — though it’s a more mixed bag depending on the size of the airport.
For small, particularly rural airports, no longer having Rockefeller atop Commerce would be an enormous loss. But big airports might find something to cheer.
In the Senate, rural interests generally have a lot more juice than they do in the House. It’s been particularly important for rural airports to have a champion on top of the Commerce Committee who can fend off challenges to the Essential Air Service program, which was created as part of airline deregulation in 1978.
This small but controversial program, which regularly gets eyed for the budget ax, pays subsidies to airlines to keep them flying into small airports that otherwise wouldn’t be profitable enough to provide regularly scheduled service. Communities often believe having scheduled airline flights helps attract and maintain businesses, and so they fight to keep airline service. The program’s structure and funding was one of the flashpoints on the last FAA reauthorization, enacted earlier this year.
“That is going to be a target for Republicans going forward,” said one former committee aide. He noted that in Rockefeller’s absence, the lawmaker with the next biggest stake in the Essential Air Service program is Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who isn’t senior enough to exert much leverage on the subject.
On the flip side, larger airports may benefit if Rockefeller leaves, because he has staunchly opposed one of the marquee requests the airport lobby had as part of the FAA bill — raising the current cap on per-segment flight fees, called the Passenger Facility Charge. PFCs are now capped at $4.50 per flight segment. Many airports aren’t yet charging the maximum PFC, but airports that are maxed out are almost always large ones.
Rockefeller’s view, according to one airport source, was that people flying into and out of small airports typically have to travel through hubs to get almost anywhere. The more flights a person has to take, the more they’ll pay in PFCs.
That dynamic could change especially dramatically if Rockefeller is replaced by a Democrat from a more urbanized state. The next most senior person on Commerce would be Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose state includes Boston Logan International Airport — although Kerry, regularly discussed as a potential second-term Cabinet member for President Barack Obama, may not be a senator much longer.
Next in the seniority list is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who has several large airports in her state.
But Boxer, who has made her bones as a progressive and environmentalist, would have to give up her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to take the reins at Commerce, and opinion is divided about whether she would take that route.
Some aides and lobbyists say Boxer would never want to give up her environmental bully pulpit, while others speculate that she might want to jump to Commerce because of the enormous swath of jurisdiction it claims, which includes technology and telecom issues.
Also, chairing Commerce would allow Boxer to oversee regulatory areas of transportation, along with the sort of consumer issues she likes to be involved with. For instance, Boxer was instrumental in pushing through a Passengers Bill of Rights that mostly guarantees air passengers protections from extended tarmac delays — including the ability to deplane, access to bathroom facilities, and an adequate supply of food and drinking water.
If Boxer wasn’t interested in making the switch, that could tee up someone like Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), whose public role on Commerce has mostly been as an advocate for spaceflight programs and jobs at Kennedy Space Center. However, given how important tourism is to Florida, Nelson would probably be a reliable voice in favor of the airline industry.
“Very few people are getting to Florida by bus — and airlines are a huge part of that equation,” said an airline lobbyist.
Politico Pro: GOP hits high-speed rail funding, LaHood fights back
By Adam Snider
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham publicly sparred Thursday over controversial language that would block federal funds for California’s high-speed rail project, a day after reports of a private feud surfaced.
At a sparsely attended House Transportation Committee hearing — the House has already adjourned for the week — Denham used two rounds of questioning to hammer LaHood over cost overruns, changes in the construction schedule and the lack of private-sector investment in the project to eventually link Los Angeles to San Francisco with trains going 220 miles per hour.
As first reported by POLITICO, Denham, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans want the prohibition included in an omnibus appropriations measure being drafted. The language, originally offered by Denham, was passed as part of the House’s transportation funding bill, which along with other spending bills has since stalled.
A former colleague said LaHood, a Republican, was “very agitated” by the push, and it showed at the hearing.
“I’ll just be honest with you, Mr. Denham. I would hope you could find members of Congress that wouldn’t prohibit the federal government from funding high-speed rail projects. That’s a good first start,” LaHood said. “As long as there’s language in bills that prohibits us from funding, we’re going nowhere. So if you would withdraw your language in the appropriations bill, or tell Mr. McCarthy to do that, that would be a good first start for us. We’re not going to get one dollar as long as there’s language in appropriations bill that says that no federal money can be spent on California high-speed rail. That doesn’t help us.”
“The amendments are meant to stop this project until we see a plan,” Denham responded.
But that only irked LaHood further. “The last time we talked about it, I suggested that you sit down with Mr. Richard, [California High-Speed Rail Authority President Dan Richard], and go over the plan and review it. I’ll be happy to have Mr. Richard call on you and sit down with you and review in detail what the plan is,” LaHood said. “If he does that will you withdraw your language?”
“When you can show me that this project is fully funded and we have a private investor,” Denham replied before LaHood cut him off.
“We’re not going to get it fully funded as long as there’s language in bills that says you can’t have any money,” LaHood said while raising his voice — a rarity for the typically diplomatic former congressman. “How do we fully fund it?”
The Denham language is mostly about message — Republicans have blocked any additional federal money for high-speed rail since taking back the House in the 2010 election. And it’s not the only “poison pill” Democrats aren’t happy with — the underlying bill also includes language by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) that would prevent DOT from even studying a vehicle miles traveled fee, which many experts say is one of the best long-term alternative to the current gas tax. But the next appropriations package will last only six months — from the end of March through September — so the Denham and Cravaack provisions, if they make the cut, would be up for debate again next summer when Congress works on a full-year funding bill.
After the hearing, speaking to a crowd of reporters, LaHood said he has been in touch with his former House colleagues about the language but would not venture a guess on the outcome. “I have no idea. I wouldn’t predict what happens around here,” he said.
In Denham’s first, less fiery round of questioning, he asked LaHood about waivers of the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act that govern construction projects.
Denham noted that California has waived CEQA for the construction of several sports stadiums, including AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play.
LaHood said he hasn’t talked with California officials about waiving the state law. “I’ve never had any discussions with anybody about this, including my own staff. First I’ve heard of it,” he said.
Denham wasn’t satisfied. “It should seem that this would be a very simple topic that should be at the top of both the state and federal government’s interest point if we’re going to get this project done,” he said.
McCarthy and California Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn both spoke at the hearing before LaHood.
McCarthy left immediately after his testimony, but Hahn stuck around and took a seat on the dais after Chairman John Mica allowed them to participate in the hearing.
Speaking to POLITICO after his testimony, McCarthy said the appropriations bill approved earlier this year including the Denham prohibition is “the will of Congress” and that the language will be included in a House spending bill “at the appropriate time.” As for whether Californians should be concerned that they will be left with a stub line in the Central Valley because federal funds are needed to be complete the entire system, McCarthy said it's preferable to the alternative of more debt being applied to the system’s ballooning costs.
“We’re in a fiscal debt right now. It was passed before the [California] voters that you’d have private funding,” McCarthy said. If you are “not capable of building in the way you passed it to the voters, then don’t build it at all.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
Kansas City Star: Transportation would suffer because of fiscal cliff and impact on economy
WASHINGTON -- If Congress and the White House fail to deliver a deal on spending and taxes, funding for an array of federal transportation programs could suffer. But the bigger impact could result from an economic downturn that reduces travel and transportation demand.
Washington Post (Associated Press Reprint): Storm-battered coastal areas in NJ, NY race to fix boardwalks _ some without the boards
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. — They’re the places where generations of families savored fast-melting ice cream cones and chowed down on garlicky slices of pizza, where teens scoped out potential dates, where a tipsy Snooki tottered unsteadily, and under which the Drifters sang about falling in love.
Washington Post: Cleaning the waterways of Washington
ONE OF THE District’s largest environmental projects planned for coming decades is a system to prevent a noxious mixture of urban runoff and raw sewage from flowing into Rock Creek and the Anacostia and Potomac rivers every time there is a big storm. As The Post’s Darryl Fears reported last week, a legally binding agreement requires the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority to construct, at a cost of $2.6 billion, three huge tunnels into which this filthy water could be stored until treatment. But everyone in government seems to agree the city might be better served by a different approach: investing in “green infrastructure” that absorbs rainwater — things such as retention pools and grass rooftops. These have the potential not only to project local rivers but also to improve the city’s air quality and provide buildings with added insulation.
Boston Globe: Mass. has the vision to fix transportation
F our decades ago, the two of us were part of an extraordinary process that reinvented the way the state thinks about transportation and set the stage for an economic revival that we continue to enjoy today. That process was triggered by one of the most politically courageous decisions made by any modern Massachusetts governor: Governor Francis W. Sargent’s 1970 moratorium on new highway construction in Greater Boston.
Atlantic Cities: 2/3 of Sandy-Damaged Homes in N.Y. Were Outside the 100-Year Flood Zone
New York, and every other city, was built with certain climactic baselines in mind. This much rain, this much snow, this much heat, this many floods. They form a core set of assumptions about the kind of infrastructure the city needs. Institutions grow up around that set of givens; they are a fixed point in the otherwise tumultuous process of urban governance. Maps are created showing the 100-year flood zones; they show the places that have a one-percent change of being flooded in any given year.
The Times-Tribune: Fund bridges, roads, transit at same time
Few issues expose the rural/urban divide in Pennsylvania politics like transportation. So, when Gov. Tom Corbett said last week that he will present the Legislature with a long-awaited proposal on transportation, House Republican leaders immediately said they wanted to separate road and bridge funding from mass transit funding.
“Our roads, our bridges……it’s a core function of government. But it’s also an economic development issue.”