Infrastructure in the News: February 11, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
StreetsBlog: Shuster Pre-empts Devolutionists With Defense of Federal Role
New House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) clearly knows he’s got some devolutionist conservatives in his caucus (and on his committee). While many Republicans would like to see the federal government get out of the business of infrastructure and just let the states raise and spend their own money, Shuster has always been clear that he is in favor of a strong federal role.
NY Daily News: Mayor Michael Bloomberg employs innovative contest style to bring bright, new ideas to meet city challenges
New York City’s billionaire mayor is increasingly bringing private-sector-style competition into the city budget process, with a growing reliance on contests to help allocate funds.
Times-Ledger: Fed storm aid funds released for city use
Queens residents whose homes and business were decimated by Hurricane Sandy may soon start to get help from the federal storm aid package with new city plans for spending an initial allocation of $1.77 billion in grants.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider Featuring Scott Wong, Kathryn A. Wolfe and Alex Guillen
HERSMAN MT READERS’ FRONTRUNNER: A full 32 percent of MT readers picked NTSB Chair Debbie Hersman as the next DOT secretary in our poll, a plurality that was followed by 26 percent who said it would be a wildcard or someone not on our list (like maybe Ed Rendell). The rest of the results: 9 percent each for both L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (in July) and DOT No. 2 John Porcari, 6 percent each for Oberstar and former Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm, 4 percent each for former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and former Rep. Steve LaTourette, 3 percent for former N.C. DOT head Gene Conti and 1 percent for current House Dem No. 3 Jim Clyburn.
Reuters: Economy, deficit top U.S. voter issues ahead of Obama speech: poll
(Reuters) - Americans are eager to hear President Barack Obama address the U.S. economy and federal deficit in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with more than half still convinced the nation is in a recession, a poll released on Monday found.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Obama to Propose Spending to Boost Jobs in Speech
President Barack Obama will use his State of the Union address this week to focus on job creation and the struggles of American families, marking a renewed emphasis on the economic issues that defined his first term.
New York Times: In Address, President Will Focus on the Middle Class
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday will seek to move beyond the politics of the moment to define a second-term agenda built around restoring economic prosperity to the middle class, using his State of the Union address to unveil initiatives in education, infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing.
Washington Post: The growth agenda we need
There should be little disagreement across the political spectrum that growth and job creation remain America’s most serious national problem. Ahead of President Obama’s first State of the Union address of his second term, and further fiscal negotiations in Washington, America needs to rethink its priorities for economic policy.
Washington Post: In State of the Union, Obama to return to jobs and the economy
President Obama will concentrate his State of the Union speech Tuesday on the economy, shifting the emphasis away from the broad social agenda of his second inaugural address to refocus attention on a set of problems that vexed his first term.
National Journal: Stuck in Traffic? Welcome to the Club
Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and Boston rank at the top of the country's worst cities for traffic congestion, according to the most recent urban mobility report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Politico: Obama’s State of the Union: Aggressive
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech will be less a presidential olive branch than a congressional cattle prod.
The Hill: This week in Transportation: 'Federal role' in infrastructure spending debated
Lawmakers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will engage in an age-old debate this week: What role should the federal government have in transportation spending?
The Hill: Shuster schedules hearing on 'federal role' in transportation spending
New House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has scheduled a hearing on the "federal role in America's infrastructure."
Clean Technica: Public Transportation Saved 865 Million Hours Of Delay On US Roads
According to the Texas Transportation Institute, public transit reduced road delays by 865 million hours, and avoided the consumption of 450 million gallons of fuel.
American Public Media Marketplace Transportation Nation: America's worst cities for traffic
Americans wasted a total of $121 billion -- or an average of $818 per person -- sitting in traffic in 2011, according to a new report from the Transportation Institute at Texas A&M.
KQED: San Francisco to Las Vegas in 5 Hours by Train? A Map for a National High-Speed Rail System
A Berkeley designer's concept for a national high-speed rail system is earning national attention this week. Alfred Twu posted a map online Sunday showing high-speed rail lines connecting San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Miami and Dallas. The map is receiving news coverage in some of the cities it lists, including Austin, Texas and Denver, Colo.
Sustainable Cities Collective: Transportation Investment: Impacts on Local and State Economies
There remains a large amount of interest at state and local levels in using transportation investment as a means to promote economic development. Cities and regions that are growing slowly or not at all view improvements to infrastructure networks, especially transportation networks, as a potential way to stimulate growth by lowering the costs of local firms and making their location a more attractive place for private investment and expansion.
WETM: Pa. Governor Proposes Higher Gas Tax
MANSFIELD, Pa. -- Gas prices could be going up in Pennsylvania this year if the Pennsylvania state budget is passed as is.
WTHITV: Rising gas prices could increase public transit riders
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - A recent report says rising gas prices could double demand for public transit. Indiana expects more than 60 million riders in the next two decades.
Wall Street Journal: Blizzard Paralyzes Northeast States
By JENNIFER LEVITZ and JON KAMP
February 9, 2013
EASTON, Mass.—The potentially historic blizzard that pummeled the Northeast Friday put parts of the region in a virtual transportation lockdown, with the Massachusetts and Connecticut governors signing state orders banning cars from the road, trains ceasing service, and airlines halting flights in and out of Boston and New York.
By Friday night, people were immobilized, and hunkered down in their homes. A major concern with loss of power is that many homes could be without heat, as temperatures were dropping over night.
The storm knocked out power to roughly 600,000 power customers in southern New England by early Saturday morning. Massachusetts—particularly the southeastern portion of the state, where electricity in several towns was almost completely knocked out—bore the brunt. Emergency officials in New England's most populous state reported about 400,000 outages at 7 a.m. Rhode Island was also hard-hit by power disruptions, while Connecticut appeared to fare better.
A thick wet snow was blowing sideways, bending tree branches and burying cars and roads. The storm was expected to dump as much as 14 inches of snow on the New York City area and as much as three feet across New England before tapering off Saturday afternoon. Five states had declared states of emergency, and forecasters warned of overnight winds of 60 miles per hour and snow drifts as high as five feet.
"It definitely looks like it has the potential to be a historic event," said Lance Franck, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass.
City and state officials were desperately trying to avoid the mayhem of the infamous Blizzard of '78, which dumped three feet of snow across the Northeast, leading to dozens of deaths and scores of drivers stranded in their cars on the highways.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick took the highly rare step of signing an executive order outright banning motorists from all roads as of 4 p.m. Friday. Certain exceptions were being made for public-health workers, emergency vehicles, media and critical services. Violators could receive a civil fine. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy issued a similar but less comprehensive order.
To the north in New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan didn't go as far as ordering cars off state roads, but she did urge residents to stop driving by early evening.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg encouraged New Yorkers to leave work early Friday. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo later declared a state of emergency to give local governments more flexibility in handling the anticipated snow fall, saying New York City and Long Island would be worst hit.
"This is a storm of major proportions," warned Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in a public briefing, in which city officials also asked people to look out for the homeless, by alerting authorities if a homeless person was seen on the street and not in a shelter.
In addition, thousands of National Guard members were standing by in Massachusetts. And Mr. Menino said the city's public-works department was at the ready with 34,000 tons of salt and more than 600 pieces of snow-removal equipment.
Meteorologists were blaming the nor'easter on the collision of two storm systems: cold air traveling south from Canada bumping into a moist low pressure system heading north from the Carolinas. Authorities warned that the recovery may take some time. "If we get the amount of snow that is forecast, the recovery will be slow and people should prepare for that," Mr. Patrick said at a televised briefing midday Friday from a state emergency bunker in Framingham, a Boston suburb.
Shelves quickly became empty and the check out lines were long at a Stop & Shop Supermarket in Somerville, Mass., on Friday.
NSTAR Electric & Gas, a Massachusetts power company, said that "tens or even hundreds of thousands of customers could lose power."
"This blizzard has the potential to deliver devastating damage to our electric system and while we are hoping for the best, we are preparing for the worst," said Craig Hallstrom, NSTAR president.
As conditions deteriorated in the Northeast, transportation all but ground to a halt. Boston's public commuter rail stopped operations. Amtrak canceled service between New York and Boston for Friday afternoon, and plans limited service for Saturday.
A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights at the three major New York-area airports alone on Friday. He said all operations at the airports would cease by late Friday afternoon, but that airlines could resume some flights on Saturday.
At Boston Logan International Airport, officials said all operations would cease at 3 p.m. on Friday and flights may not resume until Sunday.
A huge snowstorm is expected to bring blizzard conditions and hurricane-force winds to the Northeast. The massive storm could drop two feet of snow in New England, and is expected to hit Friday. Photo: AP
Mayor Bloomberg addresses concerns about the winter storm set to hit the New York region.
Massachusetts General Hospital expected to have at least 200 employees sleeping on cots Friday night, and the 1,000-bed facility was making accommodations for patients who couldn't make it home because of the storm, said Paul Biddinger, medical director for the Boston hospital's emergency department.
"We did try to discharge as many people who could be safely discharged, but the hospital is going to end up very, very full tonight," Dr. Biddinger said.
The storm's well-publicized approach prompted a run on supplies in Boston-area stores long before flakes began falling. By midday Thursday, supermarkets in west-suburban Needham, Mass., were packed. Near midnight, cars were cued in line at one of few still-open area gas stations in Brookline, Mass., just outside the city.
Handwritten signs on the pumps said "super only," with other grades apparently sold out. In an adjacent drugstore, supplies of large water jugs were picked clean.
—Jack Nicas and Tamer El-Ghobashy contributed to this article.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider Featuring Scott Wong, Kathryn A. Wolfe and Alex Guillen
THE LEDE — Busy transpo week: Buckle up, everyone, it’s going to be a wild ride this week. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, the House T&I Committee holds its first hearing of the year, the Chamber of Commerce gathers a great line-up to talk transportation, high-speed rail advocates gather for a summit and families of the Colgan Air crash victims come to the Hill to rally for action. But first, the main event. ...
State of the Union’s transportation network: Transport watchers will be on the edge of their seat to see what sort of mention Obama gives their favorite topic in his big speech. Nobody is expecting anything huge, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that Obama has a lot of time left to make a big pitch. But the past few speeches have all had transpo mentions but lacked any meaningful specifics. “It seems to be a fairly consistent theme,” an industry lobbyist said. “The big question is always — what is he proposing to do about it?” Kathryn previews the speech for Pros: http://politico.pro/14IfBFH
HSR conference: The high-speed rail summit has big names former T&I Chair Jim Oberstar and DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari speaking this morning as the three-day event kicks off. LaHood and former T&I Chair John Mica are on tap for Tuesday.
Quiet candidate: Marylander/T&Ier Elijah Cummings told MT that former Old Line State DOT Secretary Porcari could “definitely” do the job of Transportation secretary. Porcari hasn’t been getting a lot of buzz but Cummings said there’s “no doubt about it” that he could handle the balance of salesmanship and wonkiness the job requires.
Media Granholm: Granholm on Sunday tried to hush talk she could land a Cabinet position at the Energy or Transportation departments on Platts Energy Week TV — and she’s pinning it on her old job at Current TV. “Watching these confirmation hearings over the past couple of weeks, if you think it was hard getting Hagel confirmed, somebody who’s run a progressive talk show for the past year, probably poking a few Republicans in the eye, probably some of those Republicans who might be potentially casting a vote — I might be a little bit of a tough charge.” Watch: http://bit.ly/12E06QP
MT’S DOT ANALYSIS — It’s not just name floating: MT has gleaned from several top sources on the Hill that NTSB’s Hersman is under serious consideration from the White House to succeed Ray LaHood. Not just anybody goes to visit members of the committee that will hold the confirmation hearing, mind you. And we have yet to detect any negative vibes toward her possible selection for the role from members of either party, beyond the fact that her name recognition is not within striking distance of LaHood’s, who might go down as the best-known DOT secretary (though even he wasn’t a transpo star before his four years at the department). This does not mean, of course, that she is the pick, but we can say with certainty her candidacy isn’t entirely a function of the media echo chamber rattling around our head every day. And Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller’s continued push for Hersman’s candidacy continues to be key; what Rockefeller says matters.
FROM 8 MILE TO K STREET: Domestic auto manufacturers are once again keenly focusing on Washington, including those that received bailout money. GM spent a combined $17.9 million on lobbying in 2011 and 2012, while Chrysler more than doubled its spending last year to $5.6 million. Even Ford, which did not take federal dollars, upped its spending on lobbying to $6.8 million last year. The government still owns a chunk of GM, and taxpayers lost $1.3 billion on the investment they made on Chrysler — not news to John McCain’s ears. “I still think it’s outrageous that General Motors stole some $20 or 30 billion from taxpayers. I’m sure, to them, that’s chump change,” said McCain, who was running for president against then-Sen. Obama at the time of the 2008 bailout. Anna Palmer and Scott have a real American story right here: http://politico.pro/YksT64
CONTROLLERS BRACE FOR SEQUESTER IMPACT: Danny Werfel, the federal controller at OMB, told reporters at the White House the sequester will force FAA “to cut resources in a way that’s going to impact the air traffic controller workforce.” A NATCA report in December warned more than 2,000 air traffic controllers could be cut by the sequester, though that number is now likely to be significantly lower after the tax relief deal in January. NATCA’s estimate was based on an 8.2 percent cut to the FAA’s operations budget, but that number was decreased to 5.1 percent in the tax deal.
REPORT-BAG — Mississippi highway safety: NHTSA needs to improve its oversight of how Mississippi is using highway safety grants, according to a new DOT IG report. The Magnolia State has the highest rate of fatal car crashes and the third-highest alcohol-related driving deaths, according to NHTSA figures, despite the state transferring $36.3 million from road construction into safety programs from 2007 to 2010. The IG found that those the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety didn’t follow federal guidelines in those transfers. Read the report: http://1.usa.gov/VLD1tn
AMTRAK BOOST: Having healthy funding for Amtrak is key to building up high speed rail in America, said Lorenzo Simonelli, president and CEO of GE Transportation, at a coffee-break with reporters. Simonelli said they are “strong advocates that there should be financial support provided to Amtrak” and that freight rail should be “strong, vibrant.” But he's agnostic about whether Amtrak should be privatized, saying what policymakers really need to do is pick a path. “What's required is a decision on how best to move forward,” he said. “You've got models around the globe that show either [option] working.”
MI CSA ES SU CSA: ATA Vice President of Safety Policy Rob Abbott wrote MT to clarify some issues about the CSA program and his group’s opposition to how crashes factor into safety ratings. He took issue with claims from Parents Against Tired Truckers that all crashes are an accurate way to gauge trucker safety. “Claims that the driver of a truck rear-ended by a drunk car driver are more likely to be involved in a future crash are misleading and reflect ignorance of truck safety metrics,” he wrote us. “The term ‘involvement’ is used carefully [in] this context. This does not mean these drivers are more likely to cause a future crash, but rather that they operate in an environment (e.g., urban setting), where there is elevated exposure and they are more likely to be involved in a future crash. FMCSA’s own safety rating process acknowledges this fact and applies a higher acceptable threshold for crash rates to carriers operating in urban environments.”
Delay, delay: One of our smart sources writes in to point out that one piece of CSA, the safety fitness determination rulemaking, has been pushed back cumulatively for a year since August. Originally due Jan. 2013, the new sked puts it on track of Jan. 2014.
CABOOSE — A minute makes a difference: Grand Central recently celebrated its 100th birthday, and there was a lot of fun details in the stories that resulted from the big day. One of MT’s favorites: all trains actually leave a minute after their posted departure times. It’s not a mistake — the idea is that passengers rushing to catch a train won’t hurt themselves in the mad and crowded dash. Atlantic Cities has more: http://bit.ly/X09k5H
-- Murkowski mulls stalling Interior nominee Jewell over DOI ruling against Alaska road. Pro’s Darren Goode: http://politico.pro/YjRI1V
-- Things sure got ugly at the Jacksonville Port Authority last year. Times-Union: http://bit.ly/V9m5L3
- D.C. Mayor Gray gives “resounding yes” on whether streetcars will be on H Street NE by the end of the year. WTOP: http://bit.ly/XnT8vp
- New Mexico legislature kills bill to ban distracted driving. Las Cruces Sun-News: http://bit.ly/YHI779
- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants to nearly double his state’s gas tax. Detroit News: http://bit.ly/YG4ppW
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
Most transportation policy-watchers expect President Barack Obama to offer up a comment on infrastructure during his State of the Union speech — just not much of one.
One transportation lobbyist says the president will mention infrastructure “in passing. It seems to be a fairly consistent theme. The big question is always — what is he proposing to do about it?”
During last year’s State of the Union, Obama called for “nation-building here at home” and rebuilding “crumbling roads and bridges” — familiar tropes. He also reached back into the history books to reference great American infrastructure projects: the Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Interstate highway system. And he announced an effort to clear away red tape associated with some transportation projects.
Even now that the campaign is over, Obama has continued to push transportation investments, both as a means to create jobs and also as a way to boost the country’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.
A pair of speeches Obama gave recently point the way to transportation themes that could be on tap for Tuesday’s speech. The most recent, delivered at a mid-January press conference, was a brief call for a “balanced package” of revenues and spending cuts as part of a debt deal.
Americans “don’t think it’s smart to protect endless corporate loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans rather than rebuild our roads and our schools …” Obama said.
And just a few days earlier, Obama’s weekly radio address recited earlier proposals he’s had to use the “peace dividend” from ending military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to pay for more infrastructure spending.
“We will end this war, bring our troops home and continue the work of rebuilding America,” Obama said.
As always, though, questions remain about funding for the infrastructure investment Obama continues to talk about. That’s the Holy Grail for infrastructure boosters, who acknowledge that it’s unlikely to come up in his speech.
Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said he’s “very confident he’ll talk about the need for more investment. But we need to hope he amplifies.”
It isn’t enough, Ruane said, to make a generic comment in a laundry list of things that the country needs to do.
“[That] is great but it’s really not sufficient to merit anybody taking it seriously,” Ruane said. “We want to see him lead with specific ways in which they’re going to finance it, and that way it’ll engender, I think, a much more serious discussion.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who hasn't hesitated to criticize Obama's leadership on infrastructure, said Obama has never made a serious commitment to significant infrastructure investment, and recalled how the administration dragged its feet on a transportation bill when Obama first took office.
“They pulled the plug on our four-year bill and screwed [Former House Transportation Chairman Jim] Oberstar, who they had promised the next thing they would support would be a four-year transportation bill, and they didn’t do it,” DeFazio said.
Americans apparently agree in general, though they also lump Congress in with the president. According to a Pew Research Center’s annual policy priorities survey released in January, just 30 percent of Americans surveyed thought dealing with infrastructure was a “top priority” for the president and Congress in the coming year.
Ed Wytkind, head of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, said the speech probably wouldn’t be a “blockbuster,” considering that “we’re still going to be mired in a discussion about the finances of our government.”
“But what’s clear is the president and his secretary of Transportation have made these issues important elements of their economic agenda. And so, yeah, we would hope that message would continue to ring in this State of the Union speech,” he said.
In any case, Ruane said a funding solution needs to happen soon. He recounted having visited the World Economic Forum recently, where U.S. infrastructure was ranked 23rd of all countries — between Barbados and Portugal.
“We have a new rallying call and say, 'We’re number 23! We’re number 23!' It’s pathetic,” Ruane said. “They talk a good game, but the rest of the world is eating our lunch. They don’t want to pay attention to it because, ‘Oh, we might have to raise a user fee or come up with a new user fee.’”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
By Darren Goode
The fate of a proposed gravel road in southwest Alaska has become a personal issue for Sen. Lisa Murkowski — one that could threaten to hold up Sally Jewell’s nomination for Interior secretary.
Murkowski was angered this week when Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service came out against allowing a 10-mile stretch of road to run through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which would improve access to medical care for an Aleutian village on the Alaska Peninsula. Now she’s mulling whether to try to block Jewell from succeeding Secretary Ken Salazar.
“It has really caused me to question where the Department of Interior is really coming from,” the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s top Republican told POLITICO in a phone interview Friday.
Murkowski acknowledges that some may see the road as a parochial issue.
“People are looking at it and saying, ‘Holy smokes what’s got her wound up?’” Murkowski said. "This becomes very personal when I believe that the safety of an Aleutian community is at stake. … When they are asking for the bare minimum to allow for the level of safe access, then for me it’s no longer a remote fight. It is very personal, it is very emotional.”
Murkowski argues that the road would provide the residents of King Cove — population 938, according to the 2010 census — with an emergency medical route to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay.
“I’m hopeful that I don’t have to mull a hold or any of the other tools that might be out there,” Murkowski said. “But it’s going to be important that people clearly understand how significant this is from my perspective.”
Murkowski said this is not the same as fighting for something like oil and gas drilling. “This is higher than any development project that we’re talking about out there,” she said.
She’s made that importance known directly to Jewell during a roughly 10-minute courtesy call Thursday. Murkowski said that at some point, the REI chief executive will need to say whether she agrees with the Fish and Wildlife decision and what it may mean for the direction of the department.
“But I don’t expect her to be able to do that yet,” Murkowski said, adding that Jewell said she had not been briefed on the issue yet but would look into it.
Murkowski didn’t directly say Jewell’s nomination would be on the chopping block unless the Interior Department — either with Jewell in charge or not — agrees to allow the road to be built.
“I can’t give you a yes or no answer to that yet because I’ve not had a real opportunity to speak with Ms. Jewell on this,” she said.
Jewell figures to have a few weeks to think things over before appearing at her confirmation hearing, which Murkowski predicts will not occur until late March. Jewell is not expected to even start making the rounds in person to Capitol Hill offices until late February, after lawmakers return from a one-week break.
In the meantime, Murkowski said she’s spreading her message to anyone who will listen.
That includes Vice President Joe Biden, whose ear Murkowski bent on the Senate floor Thursday when Biden was there to swear in appointed Sen. William Cowan (D-Mass.).
Murkowski also talked directly this week to Salazar, who told her that the Fish and Wildlife Service needed to act as it has to respect the refuge. “And I told him you need to listen to the people who live there and respect the people who live there, not just the animals and water fowl,” Murkowski said.
When the decision was announced Tuesday, Salazar said in a statement that it “would protect the heart of a pristine landscape that Congress designated as wilderness and that serves as vital habitat for grizzly bear[s], caribou and salmon, shorebirds and waterfowl — including 98 percent of the world’s population of Pacific black brant.”
The agency’s analysis — which Congress directed in a 2009 public lands package — came after “extensive dialogue and exhaustive scientific evaluation,” Salazar said, involving more than 100 meetings and many trips to King Cove by federal officials.
Jewell has time to persuade Salazar to trump the Fish and Wildlife finding, Murkowski said.
“If the president had just nominated me to be secretary of a department as significant as the Department of Interior and I knew that there was an issue that was relating to one state that was particularly upsetting to one member … I would sure hope that the current secretary would resolve that so I wouldn’t have to deal with that,” Murkowski said. “There’s enough issues that we’re going to be dealing with that new secretary on.”
"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."