Infrastructure in the News: December 6, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
The Atlantic: The Infrastructure Cliff: Why the U.S. Desperately Needs a $2.5 Trillion Upgrade
When officials in Denver started drafting a strategic traffic plan a few years back, they concluded that the city no longer had the money to expand its roads to meet the surging demands. They would have to make do with what they had.
NY1: Bloomberg Wants Re-Evaluation Of City Preparedness For Extreme Weather
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in Downtown Manhattan this morning that he is launching a comprehensive, long-term initiative to help areas affected by Hurricane Sandy recover and to protect the city from another powerful storm and eventual climate change.
Associated Press: Mayor: NYC working on storm, climate prep
NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg says New York City will work on upgrading building codes and evacuation-zone maps, hardening power and transportation networks, and making sure hospitals are better prepared for storms.
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. Next Wednesday, Dec. 12, 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, incoming EPW ranking member Sen. David Vitter, former T&I Chairman Jim Oberstar, T&I member Tim Holden, former Pa. Gov. 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
The Atlantic: It's Not Too Late for a Real Stimulus That Creates Jobs and Lasting Growth
The United States is now in its third straight recovery from a recession in which economic growth has revived but job growth hasn't followed at anywhere near the same pace. First 1991, then 2001, now the Great Recession -- jobless recoveries appear to be the economy's default setting, and a damaging one. Since mid-2009, gross domestic product has climbed by 3.6 percent in the United States (on a per capita basis) while employment has fallen by 1.8 percent, economists Nir Jaimovich of Duke University and Henry Siu of the University of British Columbia reported in a research paper in November. This is why more than half of Americans still believe the recession hasn't ended.
New York Times: Driver in Fatal Parade Crash Has Not Yet Been Questioned
HOUSTON — Three weeks after a truck carrying wounded veterans was struck by a train at a parade in Midland, Tex., federal investigators say they have been unable to interview the driver of the vehicle.
The Hill: EPA taps new transportation emissions regulator
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named a new vehicle emissions regulator.
The Hill: Mica bids farewell to Transportation chairmanship at portrait unveiling
For veterans of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, it is hard to picture Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) being at a loss for words.
Huffington Post: Think About the Transportation Sector
Superstorm Sandy has made it clear that no matter how hard some politicians try to ignore climate change, climate change will not ignore them -- or any of us. More carbon means higher seas, the kind that inundate subways. The U.S can also thank carbon emissions for contributing to the hottest summers on record, massive wildfires, and crippling droughts. The good news is, we can take some pretty serious steps to cut carbon pretty easily -- and make lives better at the same time.
Argus Leader: Obama vows progress with tribes
WASHINGTON – President Obama promised Native American leaders Wednesday he will “keep working together” with them, and outlined policy changes across his administration that Native Americans long have sought.
Wall Street Journal: Obama Echoes CFOs on Infrastructure Spending
By Vipal Monga
December 5, 2012
As President Obama lobbies business leaders to support him in the fiscal cliff negotiations, many CFOs have already voiced support for some of his most contentious proposals.
During last summer’s CFO Network meeting, a task force of finance chiefs said that government investment in infrastructure would help boost the country’s anemic employment. That recommendation is broadly in line with Obama’s initial cliff proposal that any deal with House Republicans includea fund for infrastructure projects.
Republicans poured cold water on the idea last week, chiding the president for includingnew spending in a proposal meant to reduce the deficit. Obama has argued that fixing the U.S.’s aging infrastructure is essential for the country’s long-term competitiveness.
Just this past June, CFO Network participants in Washington D.C. agreed with Obama’s current position when they proposed $1 trillion in government spending over five years. Aldo Pagliari, CFO of Snap-On Inc. , said at the time that the stimulus spending would be a high-return investment.
The CFOs also argued, however, that any extra spending be coupled with a “grand bargain” on entitlement reform, arguing that extra spending needs to be coupled with spending restraint.
“Stimulus spending is not going to come for nothing,” Pagliari said. “There are no free rides, there’s not extra money.”
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider, Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
CHUGGING ALONG: The House may have shut down for the week, but T&I Chairman John Mica is making sure his members stick around for at least this morning. The full committee holds a hearing today on the Obama administration’s high-speed rail program, and a who’s who of the rail transportation world will attend. The big celebrity guest will be DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, but also invited are Mitchell Behm of DOT’s IG, Susan Fleming of GAO, Washington state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider and AAR President Ed Hamberger. Here’s the briefing provided to members ahead of the hearing: http://1.usa.gov/TIjTsr
All politics are golden: As a late adjustment, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and California Democrat Janice Hahn were added to the panel, a move that speaks to the drama over high-speed rail in California. Included in a brewing draft spending bill is a provision first tucked into the stalled House THUD appropriations bill that will keep federal money from the California high-speed rail project, which has “agitated” LaHood, according to one former House colleague. McCarthy is fighting to include that in the transportation funding bill that’s being drafted in Congress, to the ire of some like retiring Rep. John Olver, the top Dem on the THUD Appropriations panel: “It’s a pretty stupid thing to do.” We will let David Rogers tell you the rest: http://politico.pro/SI8SYd
More drama in Calif.: A state legislator has introduced a bill to make transportation sales tax referendums’ vote threshold 55 percent, rather than two-thirds. Measure J, which would have added billions for L.A. County infrastructure, cracked 66 percent but still fell short. The Source: http://bit.ly/VlcE7e (h/t CAHSR Blog)
THAT’S NOT ALL: A Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Sandy’s damage to transportation infrastructure chaired by New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg will compete for eyeballs this morning. First Lautenberg will question fellow Northeasterner Sens. Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez and Kirsten Gillibrand. Then LaHood’s deputy, John Porcari, will face the committee. A third — and equally impressive — panel comes next: Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman, MTA Chairman (and mayoral candidate?) Joe Lhota, PA chief Patrick Foye and New Jersey transit head James Weinstein.
STILL IN: LaHood, in comments to POLITICO, said he would stay on as DOT secretary at least until the fiscal cliff negotiations are completed. He said he and President Barack Obama “had a meeting a week or so after the election and we agreed to continue talking. … I think the president will get back to some of these discussions after some kind of a deal is reached on the fiscal matters,” he said. He declined to reveal details of his conversation with Obama but said he’s “waiting” until a deal is finished to make a final call on whether he will stay or go. Reid Epstein has more over on the 44 blog: http://politi.co/11FMi6j
AIRLINE POLICY TAKES OFF: In a move from predator to partner, the country’s beleaguered airlines are banding together to convince lawmakers of their worth. A4A, along with the major carriers it represents, is drafting a legislative proposal that would mold a national airline policy and prioritize the domestic airline industry. “Right now we are subject to really what is a hodgepodge of ill-thought-out regulations, taxes, a lack of commitment to infrastructure and really disregard for the kind of environment in which our foreign competitors operate,” A4A president Nicholas Calio told reporters at an event yesterday. He laid out a broad framework that would reduce the industry’s 17 different taxes, slough off burdensome regulation and mitigate fuel costs. The national policy would also accelerate the developing NextGen satellite system and augment international competitiveness by reforming U.S. visa policies and limiting certain subsidies to foreign carriers. Jessica delivers for Pros: http://politico.pro/WK03vg
WHO STAYS, WHO GOES — Republicans bouncing from T&I: Reps. James Lankford and Randy Hultgren will not serve on the House Transportation Committee next year, they told MT. After his selection as Republican Policy Committee chairman, Lankford said he must give up his T&I slot — though technically he will be “on leave.” Hultgren has been added to the Financial Services Committee and is requesting a waiver to stay on the Science Committee. Hultgren said he’s been informed he won’t be able to stay on T&I, leaving Illinois without a Republican member next year as Rep. Tim Johnson retires, though Hultgren does expect the state’s GOP to have a seat on the powerful committee. “We’re going to have someone on there; I think Rodney Davis from southern Illinois is going to get on, is my guess,” he said. As suspected, Chuck Fleischmann will vacate his T&I seat now that he’ll be on the powerful Appropriations Committee, a spokesman confirmed to MT.
Dem leadership: Rep. Nick Rahall was officially selected by the House Democratic Caucus to serve a second term as ranking member on the House Transportation Committee. And Corrine Brown, the top Dem on the railroads panel, will stay on T&I, a spokesman said. Democrats haven’t locked down the subcommittee leadership posts, but the spokesman said Brown is expected to keep her current spot. The only shift atop the Dems we are aware of is top aviation ranking member Jerry Costello’s retirement; Rick Larsen hopes to replace him.
NEW SENATE HOMELAND SECURITY CHAIRMAN SURVEYS SCENE: MT asked Sen. Tom Carper, the expected incoming Senate Homeland Security chairman, about his priorities for the new Congress on TSA. But he said he’s just beginning the process of setting up his committee and didn’t have a concrete answer for us … yet. “I’m going around and meeting with all the Democratic and Republicans members and their staffs, sitting down and talking to them,” Carper said, quizzing members on their interests and how they’d like to restructure subcommittees, i.e.: “Just gathering ideas from them on what we perhaps should focus on in this Congress.” He said he hoped to complete the polling of the committee membership sometime before Christmas and helpfully instructed those of us curious about the committee’s TSA agenda: “Let’s have that conversation then.”
COASTING TO A COAST GUARD BILL: The House signed off yesterday morning on the Senate’s changes to the Coast Guard bill that originally sailed through the lower chamber last year. MT caught up with T&I Chairman John Mica, who said that while it wasn’t his ideal bill and several provisions he wanted weren’t included, it was still necessary. “We had to put as much as we could in and get agreement, bipartisan and bicameral. Because you really can’t responsibly let the legislation on reauthorization lapse,” Mica told MT. “The level wasn’t going to unglue people who are concerned about spending, I think it’s a reasonable authorization. We’ve been discussing this for over a year and now we just wanted to get it concluded.”
ATA NOT PICKING UP THEIR CSA: The trucking group still isn’t sold on FMCSA’s safety program despite several tweaks to how crash data is analyzed. In a whitepaper released yesterday, ATA lays out its problems with the crash reporting data, including allegations that “the thresholds are too broad” and that “fatal crashes may not be a reliable predictor of nonfatal crashes.” Read the paper: http://bit.ly/XrbZqT
THE DAY AHEAD: All day — FAA and DOT meet to discuss the RTCA Special Committee 223, Airport Surface Wireless Communications. Seattle.
9:30 a.m. — House T&I hearing on stimulus grants for high-speed rail. Amtrak. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will testify. 2167 Rayburn.
10:30 a.m. — Senate Commerce’s surface transportation panel holds a hearing titled “Superstorm Sandy: The Devastating Impact on the Nation’s Largest Transportation Systems.” 253 Russell.
Noon — David Jeong, senior mechanical engineer in the Center for Infrastructure Systems and Engineering at Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, presents “Cracked Up — Broken Rails are Serious Business,” a talk about broken rail derailments. Cambridge, Mass.
1 p.m. — The California High-Speed Rail Authority holds its monthly meeting to discuss construction and its benefits for the community. Sacramento, Calif.
CABOOSE — Hanging Mica: Chairman Mica’s portrait was unveiled in the main T&I hearing room yesterday, drawing a number of members, lobbyists and both Mica’s predecessor, Jim Oberstar, and his successor, Bill Shuster. T&I top Dem Nick Rahall used one of Mica’s favorite targets in one of the best lines from the event: “It’s very difficult for him to see his chairmanship be no longer maintained. He likes giving it up as much as he does Amtrak cheeseburgers.” And as we expected, Mica himself had a few funny lines. Talking about his nephew Paul Mica, the chairman said “He’s the bicyclist. He’s the Earl Blumenauer of the family.” And with all the talk about his chairmanship coming to an end, Mica made sure we all knew there’s much more ahead: “I look forward to my continued service. This is not a memorial service.”
Politico Pro: California high-speed rail brawl spills onto House floor
By David Rogers
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in California is never so shy.
Or so it seems in the case of a homegrown, Golden State partisan brawl over high-speed rail that has spilled onto the House floor and into year-end budget negotiations. At stake is a multi-billion-dollar, years-in-the-works public works project — but also a government-wide spending bill that could play into the high-stakes deficit-reduction talks between Congress and the White House.
The cast of characters runs from the legendary Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and back to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a Brown ally and fellow champion of high-speed rail for Nevada.
Top aides to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are actively involved. And Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — who is scheduled to testify Thursday at a House hearing on high-speed rail — is making himself heard with phone calls to the Capitol.
“Ray’s very agitated,” said one former colleague on the House Appropriations Committee.
At issue is a House provision adopted in late June on a highly partisan vote triggered by the California Republican delegation. It would bar any new federal money from going to the Brown-backed California High Speed Rail Authority.
Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican freshman and veteran of the California Legislature, was the sponsor. And McCarthy is using his leadership post to press for the language as part of whatever compromise is reached on transportation funding for the coming year.
That transportation title is just one piece in a much bigger omnibus spending package that is largely drafted — after months of negotiations — and remains a top priority for the Appropriations panel leadership. Getting floor time in the shadow of the current budget talks will be difficult.
But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) proposed $300 billion more in savings, over a decade, from discretionary spending this week as part of his talks with the White House. And in doing so, he indirectly boosted the omnibus’s chances as the best vehicle to begin these cuts.
Indeed, the draft bill is a far more detailed, up-to-date package than the current continuing resolution that is funding agencies. And an across-the-board cut could be implemented as a down payment on whatever discretionary cut is agreed to by President Barack Obama and Boehner.
As it stands now, the package is written to meet the $1.047 trillion cap set by the Budget Control Act in 2011. So each 1-percentage-point cut could translate into about $10 billion in savings the first year, and potentially $100 billion over 10 years.
Given the state of the economy, the administration is sure to resist deep, immediate cuts to domestic spending. But faced with the threat of a much more dramatic across-the-board sequester, there is room for compromise as part of a larger deficit-reduction deal.
All of this raises the stakes of lingering disputes like the one over the future of California’s dream of high-speed rail.
In 2008, the state’s voters approved a ballot proposition authorizing the issuance of almost $10 billion in bonds to begin to finance the project, which envisions an 800-mile rail system that would ultimately connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. When the Obama administration chose to make high-speed rail a federal priority in 2009, California became a showcase and major beneficiary.
And Brown, elected in 2010, embraced the project that suits his long-held interest in environmental and energy issues — and also channels the legacy of his father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, a famous builder of California public works.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who was the Democratic majority leader in the California Assembly during Brown’s stormy first tenure as governor in the late 1970s and early ’80s, smiles at the changes in his friend.
“His father was big, and this was a guy who slept on a mattress and bought an old Plymouth as his state car and said less is more. Everything his father wasn’t,” Berman told POLITICO. “For years, he never wanted to be a throwback. But his father, as governor, is still remembered as someone who built the university system and the California aqueduct, huge projects that are still very important to California.”
Reid’s early years as a young lieutenant governor in Nevada in the ’70s overlapped briefly with Brown’s next door in California. And they share an interest in not just high-speed rail but also energy issues more generally.
Reid’s own dream of a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas rests on California getting its system up first. Brown was a featured speaker last year at a clean-energy summit that the Democratic leader hosted in Las Vegas. And the two joined up at a separate Reid event at Lake Tahoe at which Brown was a guest and speaker.
Denham, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told POLITICO that he has enjoyed good relations with Brown in the past and had supported the 2008 ballot proposition authorizing state bonds for the rail project. But as the cost estimates have more than doubled, he felt compelled to apply the brakes.
His own farm holdings in the Central Valley would not be directly affected. But he said major agriculture interests are alarmed at the prospect of the line running through farmland and disrupting operations. And among his fellow California Republicans, he has found ready support.
“I am for holding it up. I think it’s crazy,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, who as House Armed Services Committee chairman knows a thing or two about cost overruns.
“I don’t think we are overstepping at all,” Denham said of the House’s intervention. “The state government is broke. My goal is to make sure this high-speed rail project does not move forward until we have it fully funded.”
Nonetheless, his amendment provoked an almost-party-line 239-185 House vote. And Democrats argue that California Republicans are using their power in Washington to effectively overrule the judgment of elected state officials at home.
California’s Legislature passed an appropriation for the rail project in July, combining $3.3 billion in federal aid and $3.9 billion in state funding. Meetings have begun this month in Central Valley communities in preparation for land purchases and what’s hoped to be the start of the construction of the first segment between Fresno and Madera.
“Guam can apply and California can’t?” said one aide, summing up the ban, which explicitly singles out the California authority. Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), a Brown ally and longtime champion of high-speed rail for California, said Republicans were at odds with their pledge to respect states rights.
“It runs counter, certainly,” Costa told POLITICO. “One can argue even hypocritical.”
Since no new appropriations for high-speed rail are in the underlying omnibus bill, the immediate impact may be more about message than money.
Absent the language, the California rail authority could yet receive some federal assistance in the form of a TIGER transportation grant. But any such award would be small next to the huge scale and funding needs of the project. And what high-speed rail advocates fear more is the symbolism attached to seeing California and such a prominent project being targeted by Congress.
“It’s a pretty stupid thing to do,” said Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.), who manages the transportation title for Democrats on the House Appropriations panel. “That railroad system connects five of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.”
“Now is the time to get the railroad laid in the [Central] Valley, or else they will have it spread all over the place and it will make it much more expensive and virtually impossible to do. It’s the foolishness of it. The foolishness of the amendment that really gets you.”
Politico Pro: Airlines calling for national policy
By Jessica Meyers
In a move from predator to partner, the country’s beleaguered airlines are banding together to convince lawmakers of their worth.
Airlines for America, along with the major carriers it represents, is drafting legislation that would mold a national airline policy. The goal: to prioritize the domestic airline industry.
“Right now we are subject to really what is a hodgepodge of ill thought-out regulations, taxes, a lack of commitment to infrastructure and really disregard for the kind of environment in which our foreign competitors operate,” A4A president Nicholas Calio told reporters Wednesday as he sat flanked by the heads of major airlines.
He laid out a broad framework that would reduce the industry’s 17 taxes, slough off burdensome regulation and mitigate fuel costs. The national policy would also accelerate the developing NextGen satellite system and augment international competitiveness by reforming U.S. visa policies and limiting certain subsidies to foreign carriers.
Calio pointed to the railroad industry as an example of successful governmental rehabilitation and warned of a fate as dire as maritime.
“You look at the maritime industry, which is nonexistent in this country now, with consequent losses of tens of thousands of jobs, no operating shipyards,” he said. “There is an example that the government could continue to ignore the state of play in the airline industry and let that happen in this industry as well.”
Airlines lost a third of their workforce between 2000 and 2010 and are just now starting to see narrow profits. The industry makes up about 5 percent of GDP.
The group has long advocated for a national policy. But this marks the first concerted campaign to rope in policymakers. They’ve already started knocking on Capitol Hill doors, although Calio said they have not had recent talks with the White House.
“We think we will have sufficient interest on the Hill to have legislation introduced at the point we’re ready,” he said, declining to discuss conversations with specific lawmakers.
The House’s incoming Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have yet to mention the policy as a next session priority.
Airline leaders insist their agenda has to do with investment as much as profitability. Taxes eat up about 20 percent of a typical $300 ticket, they said. Changes such as repealing the jet-fuel tax or making taxes proportional to use would lower costs for consumers, boost travel and benefit tourism.
Over the past decade, GDP has grown by over 20 percent but passenger travel has remained essentially flat, said Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines president and A4A’s new board chairman. He considers it a direct reflection of cost.
“The more cost and the more regulation you pile on the system the less effective it will be,” he said. And therefore the need for a framework to make sure we articulate not only the benefits that air transportation brings but also the harm that is being caused by not having a more coherent policy.”
Atlantic Cities: Inevitable Commercialism of the Day: New Hampshire May Sell Naming Rights to Infrastructure
With the naming rights to nearly every U.S. sports stadium bought up, it was only a matter of time before public infrastructure succumbed to the trend. Already we have the "Barclays Center" subway stop in Brooklyn, sold for $4 million. (Citibank did not shell out for the 7-train stop near Citi Field; that one is simply called "Mets-Willets Point.")
Transportation Nation: New Tappan Zee Bridge Design Released
A selection committee has recommended a futuristic design for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, with suspension supports leaning outwards, giving the bridge the look of a stripped-down building by Santiago Calatrava.
Bloomberg: NYC Subway-Station-Turned-Fish-Tank Poses $600 Million Dilemma
In March 2009, Elliot Sander stood in Lower Manhattan outside South Ferry, New York’s newest subway station. Addressing a crowd, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hailed it as the first major transit project to open downtown since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Texas Tribune: Tolling Texans: Impact of Trans-Texas Corridor Lingers
Nearly 11 years ago, Gov. Rick Perry offered a vision for Texas that was covered in toll roads.
Oregonian: MetroMile launches in Portland with promise of pay-per-mile car insurance
Ditto for you, crazy-eyed Progressive lady. (What’s her name? Flo?)
San Francisco Chronicle: Bridge crash could have been prevented
A head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge that injured three women Wednesday and tied up traffic for hours could have been prevented, bridge officials acknowledged, had a long-planned movable median barrier been in place.
Minn Post: Minneapolis likes Southwest light rail concept but not the current plan
The City of Minneapolis moved a step closer to endorsing the Southwest Light Rail Line but will not accept a plan (PDF) that includes freight trains, light rail and the recreational trails running through the relatively narrow strip of land known as the Kenilworth Corridor.
NWCN.com: Pay by the mile to drive? State takes a serious look
The state is taking a serious look at possibly charging drivers for every mile they drive as a way to boost transportation coffers that are drying up while cutting gas taxes at the same time.
"There is no reason why the world's best infrastructure should lie beyond our borders. This is America. We've always had the best infrastructure. This is work that needs to be done."