Infrastructure in the News: February 19, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Greene County Messenger: Shuster convenes first committee meeting
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster conducted his first transportation and infrastructure committee hearing this week that emphasized the importance of the network of roads, rails and waterways to the nation’s economy.
Transport Topics: Groups React to Obama State-of-Union Speech
Transportation industry groups expressed mixed reactions to calls for highway infrastructure upgrades that President Obama made during his Feb. 5 State of the Union address.
The Car Connection: Gas Tax Hikes Or Pay-Per-Mile: How Should The U.S. Fund Roads?
After 20 years, we may finally be getting a raise -- and by "raise", we mean "an increase on the federal gas tax". A growing number of voices suggest that, though not perfect, an increase on the tax that motorists pay for gasoline is the best way to bring America's infrastructure up to snuff and keep the U.S. fatality rate hovering near record lows.
Clean Technica: Can 10,000 Charging Stations Make New York City America’s Top EV Market?
Michael Bloomberg may be entering his last year as New York City’s Mayor, but one final policy push could keep the city’s electrified transportation outlook growing for years and years as falling prices make electric vehicles affordable for more drivers.
New York Times: Obama Faces Risks in Pipeline Decision
President Obama faces a knotty decision in whether to approve the much-delayed Keystone oil pipeline: a choice between alienating environmental advocates who overwhelmingly supported his candidacy or causing a deep and perhaps lasting rift with Canada.
New York Times: Uniting for Cyberdefense
The discussion on cyberthreats has finally gone public. For years, governments have treated damage from cyberattacks as classified information, while the private sector has kept damage secret in order not to scare off customers and investors.
New York Times: A Sensible Deal Can Avert a 'Sequester' Disaster
WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans in Washington agree: It would be a disaster if the “sequester,” with its more than $1 trillion of cuts to U.S. defense and domestic spending, took effect on March 1, as scheduled.
NPR: High-Speed Rail Buzz Overpowers Daily Chug Of Freight Trains
From the steam engine to visions of a national high-speed rail system, railroads have made their mark on American culture.
Talking Points Memo: Climate Bill Supporters Urge Obama To Move Unilaterally — And Fast
The least expected but most fanciful moment in President Obama’s State of the Union address came less than halfway through when he called on Congress to revive a long-dead bipartisan consensus in favor of addressing climate change.
StreetsBlog: Ray LaHood: “It’s Not Just About Emissions”
This is the third and final installment of our exit interview with departing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. In the first, he talked about his proudest accomplishments, why he decided to leave, and why it’s important to fund bike/ped improvements with federal dollars – and he made it clear he’s still not giving us any answers about where to find more money for transportation. In the second, he talked about Republicans who get it, why TIGER was a game-changer – and he let slip some good news about the Chicago Riverwalk. Part three is more of a grab-bag — I hadn’t expected to get almost 40 minutes one-on-one with the secretary!
New York Times: Like the Ohio River, a Bridge Project Divides a Community
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Long ago, the Ohio River helped make this Rust Belt city a national pacesetter in manufacturing and transportation, providing it with an identity and an anchor. But as American life shifted toward the automobile, the river also became an impediment.
Chicago Tribune: Bill would merge transportation, planning agencies
In response to critics who contend the Regional Transportation Authority is broken, legislation has been introduced in Springfield that calls for merging the RTA and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning into a new entity.
San Francisco Examiner: Mayor Lee’s task force hopes to tackle transportation issues—both local and regional
A new transportation task force being convened by Mayor Ed Lee will focus on fixing Muni’s woes while also seeking to address larger transit issues facing the Bay Area, according to the mayor and people expected to serve on the panel.
Seattle Pi (Associated Press Reprint): Wash. lawmakers to propose 10-cent gas-tax hike
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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn said Monday she will seek a 10-cent-per-gallon increase to the state's gas tax.
Denver Post: $2 million transit grant fills gaps in Rocky Mountain Greenway
COMMERCE CITY — Federal transportation chiefs injected $2 million for expansion of metro Denver greenway trails to help urban residents reach the great outdoors on bike and foot.
Missoulian: Glacier Park awarded $250K to replace aging shuttle buses
WEST GLACIER – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made a rare visit to Glacier National Park on Monday to announce a $250,000 grant that will allow park officials to purchase two new passenger buses for the free shuttle service along Going-to-the-Sun Road.
WTOP: Public transit use in Frederick Co. doubles in last decade
Suzanne Carroll takes the MARC train from Monocacy Station to her job in Rockville every workday. She used to drive, but the I-270 traffic became too stressful, she said.
Washington Post: Transportation conferees take up new plan
RICHMOND — House and Senate negotiators considered an entirely new transportation funding plan Monday, as they met for a second day of haggling over what could be the most important legislation of the General Assembly session.
Newstimes (Associated Press Reprint): Vt., Quebec discuss rail link, traffic, energy
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is committed to improving rail connections between Montreal and the U.S. border, possibly taking an hour off the trip to New York, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday.
Tampa Bay Times: Editorial: Young energy pushes transit plans
Connect Tampa Bay, a burgeoning grass roots effort formed by a small but growing group of young professionals eager to promote a viable regional mass transit system, is an encouraging sign that a new generation is interested in shaping public policy. Tampa Bay remains the last major metropolitan area in the nation without a comprehensive mass transit system either in place or at least in the planning stages. Connect Tampa Bay wants to change that, and its members are challenging old attitudes about transit that have resulted in too many traffic jams.
Wall Street Journal: Hot Topic in Moscow Talks: How to Fund Infrastructure
By NATASHA BRERETON-FUKUI
February 14, 2013
MOSCOW—High on the Group of 20 agenda this week is an issue that has long bedeviled emerging markets' economic growth plans: creaky infrastructure.
Russia, the host, has made investment financing a priority for discussions here Friday and Saturday on how to kick-start global growth. The initiative brings into focus poorer countries' difficulties in paying for the construction of roads and bridges and other basic infrastructure essential for development.
Wealthier countries—which increasingly depend on emerging-market demand and which have seen investment in their own economies fade—have a stake in the matter too.
More G-20 News
India Official Calls for Better Infrastructure Funding
The topic could give the G-20, a disparate group of the world's biggest industrialized and emerging economies, a common calling at a time when the yen's tumble against other currencies has created friction between countries competing for export markets.
"Most countries are currently growing at well below their potential and prospects are not very promising. There is a need to signal the same global commitment as was evidenced in the euro-zone crisis, to restart the global growth cycle. One of the most effective starts would be through investment in infrastructure," said India's Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram.
The World Bank estimates $800 billion to $900 billion is invested in infrastructure projects in emerging-market countries each year, but that around $1 trillion more is needed to keep up with growing consumer and producer demand.
"The scope of the needed investments is widespread—in transportation, water, electricity, sanitation and other areas. Building out such infrastructure would help remove bottlenecks and unlock these countries' considerable growth potential," said Nigel Chalk, managing director for Asian research at Barclays BARC.LN +0.71% and a former senior official at the International Monetary Fund.
Global financial conditions have stabilized since the Group of 20 leading economies held its last major meeting in Mexico City in November. But some emerging-market economies, which have been an important crutch for their industrialized counterparts amid the global downturn, are becoming more vocal about the view that they cannot take the lead forever.
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said euro-zone economies need to "get their act together."
Emerging-market nations also are frustrated by the measures industrialized countries have pursued to drag their economies out of a slump. Bond buying by the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and other major central banks has forced global interest rates down to historically low levels, spurring flows of cash into emerging markets as investors seek better returns.
Amid the low interest rates and heavy debt loads, many nations have little room to boost growth with their fiscal and monetary policies, and are hoping investment in infrastructure will come from the private sector. But private companies are often leery of big, costly projects in countries with political and regulatory volatility. Projects frequently don't get off the ground due to investors' fears returns won't be high enough to compensate for the risks.
In emerging Asia, it's all too common for much-needed infrastructure projects to fall through as a result of funding problems. In one high-profile example, Jakarta's efforts to build a two-line monorail stalled in 2008 after successive investors failed to secure $500 million in financing. Dubai-based investors courted for the project demanded a sovereign guarantee, something the Indonesian government couldn't grant.
And in the Philippines, plans for the Northrail train system, which was intended to link Manila with provinces to its north, was put on hold when the Chinese government pulled the plug on a promised loan.
Economists say the G-20 can play an important role by help to lower the risks for private-sector players, making it more likely companies, banks and investors will step up to the plate. "We'll need to look at innovative ways of finding the funds," Mr. Mayaram said.
Jordan Schwartz, whose infrastructure-policy unit at the World Bank contributed briefing papers to the G-20, said encouraging multilateral development banks to increase infrastructure lending, and offer advice on projects, transactions, and improving regulation, would be a start. Expanding the use of insurance and credit guarantees would also help attract long-term funding, essential for projects that sometimes take years or decades to start producing cash flows, he said.
Many Asian banks still have room to boost lending and institutional investors such as pension funds have long-term funds to invest, making infrastructure funding potentially a good fit, he said.
"However, there's not a long history of lending to infrastructure projects in developing countries in either case so there's some match-making to be done and a big demand for better project preparation and for credit enhancements to spread risks," in order to facilitate such investment, Mr. Schwartz said.
It remains unclear how much progress will be made on the infrastructure subject at the G-20 Moscow talks, but it's likely to remain a key issue for the meetings over this year. India's Mr. Mayaram said India could propose that industrialized and emerging nations jointly set up a funding mechanism to support investment in infrastructure during the next G-20 finance ministers meeting in Washington in April.
The World Bank has estimated that countries in the East Asia Pacific region need some $407 billion of investment in infrastructure annually, while South Asia needs around $191 billion.
"We welcome Russia's efforts to set the long-term investment financing issue for the G-20's agenda, [as it is] a core element of economic growth and job creation," said an official from South Korea's Finance Ministry.
In a report this week, the Group of 30, an international forum of public and private-sector financial leaders, came up with a wide-ranging list of proposals for improving long-term financing, including for infrastructure projects. It suggested, for example, the Financial Stability Board—the G-20's regulatory task force—review regulation and accounting rules to ensure they don't unnecessarily deter investment in long-term assets, and also advised supporting the development of capital markets to improve the availability and variety of funding sources.
Asset-management firms say that they are often hampered from investing in infrastructure bonds because such securities often have unusual structures and cannot be traded easily.
"If we want to include these bonds in our mainstream bond fund, they would have to go in the so-called illiquid bucket and obviously we can't allocate too large a percentage to them," said Desmond Soon, a Singapore-based portfolio manager at Western Asset Management, which had $462 billion in assets under management as of the end of last year.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Scott Wong
HSR TUSSLE TO CONTINUE IN NEXT THUD BILL: When the six-month government funding extension hits sometime in the coming weeks, you probably aren’t going to find any evidence of the continuing fight in the House over preventing future federal funds for California’s high-speed rail project. But that doesn’t mean the disagreement is over. The Appropriations THUD panel continues work on its own spending bill, which passed the lower chamber last year with the amendment but died in January. The cardinal of that subcommittee, Tom Latham, put it this way when asked about the provision’s status: “It’s the only thing that’s not resolved in our bill.” New House Railroads panel Chairman Jeff Denham said he and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy are “insisting” on the provision’s inclusion in a future spending bill. The fight will continue, Denham said, “until they show us a plan on how they’re going to spend the money and how they’re going to come up with the money.” A Burgess production: http://politico.pro/XDXCuh
WATERWAY REFORM BILL COMING: Sen. Bob Casey plans to introduce inland waterways reform legislation when the Senate reconvenes from recess. At a news conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., Casey said his bill will require a commitment from Congress for multi-year projects, develop a 20-year investment program and raise the Inland Waterways User Fee from 20 cents per gallon of fuel to 29 cents per gallon. A draft version of the bill that MT perused includes a set of guidelines for a new Army Corps rule that calls for an external review of major projects and quarterly updates on each big project. The Waterways Council’s executive committee has endorsed the bill.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS: It sure was an up and down couple of days for the families of those who died in the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407. They had stormed Capitol Hill on the fourth anniversary of the crash demanding that pilot rest and training rules come as soon as possible. At a press conference, Sen. Chuck Schumer told them the rule would be out by October, and they were elated. But later that day, they met with FAA officials, including Administrator Michael Huerta, and were handed a document (http://bit.ly/12MvmIR) saying the rule would be put off until June 2014. Then, according to Kevin Kuwik, who lost his girlfriend in the crash, “all hell broke loose.” But the next morning, Huerta sent a note to Schumer apologizing for “misinformation” and clarifying that the rule would indeed be done by October this year. Kathryn has the Pro story: http://politico.pro/YdeibQ
SEQUESTER WATCH: This morning President Barack Obama will urge Congress to put off the automatic spending cuts slated for March 1 (http://politi.co/W0MTj4). Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recently wrote Obama to note the harm that could come to Virginia and urge that the sequester be avoided. “When fully implemented, they could force Virginia and other states into a recession. Sequestration-mandated reductions will be implemented with no regard for relative national priorities,” he wrote in the Monday letter (http://1.usa.gov/151Es7y).
IN TODAY’S FEDERAL REGISTER: DOT has issued a final rule for the categorical exclusions for FHWA and FTA projects, in compliance with the new guidelines from last year’s transportation law. The rule, which modifies the list of projects eligible for a CE and adds emergency relief to the list, becomes effective today. Read it: http://bit.ly/UooG4J
AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE: Sen. Mike Johanns announced Monday that he won’t be running to keep his seat in 2014, adding his name to a list that includes major transport heavy-hitters Jay Rockefeller and Frank Lautenberg. While he might not have the transpo-history of those two, he was a favorite MT interview during last year’s bill debate thanks to his targeting the rescission of an earmark for a Nevada rail project. Johanns argued that giving the money back to the state was a de facto earmark and offered an amendment that would have spread the money to all states, but the proposal didn’t make the final list of amendments when the Senate reached a UC to finish the bill.
TRANSPO ON EITHER SIDE OF THE DISTRICT: In Maryland, Republicans will argue at a press conference today that the state doesn’t need any new transportation money or a gas tax hike — it needs to shift spending as more has gone to transit projects and less to roads in recent years. MarylandReporter.com: http://bit.ly/XJSvbR
Virginia: State House and Senate conference negotiators have a new proposal that raises more money than the original House version, but where that money comes from is still at issue, WaPo reports. http://wapo.st/12FAfIl
LAHOOD HITS BACK AT HSR CRITICS: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Streetsblog that there’s nothing to the criticisms that the federal government is spending money on slow trains. “The idea that we’re building slow trains is baloney. It’s not true anywhere,” he said. “Our investments will get trains to go to higher speeds. In Illinois, from 79 to 110. On the Northeast Corridor, a little bit faster. In California, from nothing to 200 mph. It doesn’t get any better than that.” Read the third and final part of Streetsblog’s exit interview with LaHood: http://bit.ly/Ydp4yU
AIRLINE BATTERY NEWS — Airbus: Airbus has decided not to move forward with plans to use lithium-ion batteries in its A350 “extra wide body” jet, citing concerns over the lingering investigation into smoke and fire incidents with Boeing 787 Dreamliner lithium-ion batteries. Airbus said it plans to fall back to its “Plan B” of using more traditional nickel-cadmium batteries instead “with a view to ensuring the highest level of programme certainty.”
Boeing: The Dreamliner manufacturer has no plans to replace the lithium-ion batteries on its 787 Dreamliner fleet with a more traditional technology, spokesman Marc Birtel said several hours after the Airbus announcement. Birtel said Boeing is “confident in the safety and reliability of lithium-ion batteries” and that when used appropriately with adequate protections they “deliver significant benefits.” Birtel added that “nothing we've learned in the investigations that would lead us to a different decision regarding lithium-ion batteries.”
MAILBAG — Cruise ship hearing: Former T&I member Doris Matsui is asking the committee to hold a hearing on the recent stranding of the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Triumph. Read her letter: http://1.usa.gov/XDS0Af
Addendum: Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller: “It is time that the cruise line industry — which earns more than $25 billion a year — pays for the costs they impose on the government since it’s the Coast Guard that comes to the rescue every single time something goes wrong.”
OBLIGATED: Since the fiscal year began in October, $7 billion in federal highway funds has been obligated by federal, state and local departments of transportation, according to an analysis from ARTBA. The group’s chief economist, Alison Premo Black, said these obligation levels are “much more in line with what we expect to see in the marketplace” due in part to the “stability” provided by MAP-21. But she said $16.9 billion in highway funds that have to be obligated by the end of September are endangered if Congress blows a March deadline, when the current continuing resolution funding the government is due to expire.
CABOOSE — Alternate SOTU: Jon Stewart was aghast to learn from the president during his State of the Union address that 70,000 bridges are deficient in the United States. In fact, he thought Obama should have interrupted your regular scheduled programming as as soon as he learned that figure with this message: “Hi everybody, this is President Barack Obama. The bridges are death traps!” TN: http://wny.cc/YjrBrg
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ)
-- DOT awards $12.5 million to 29 national parks to improve access. List/map: http://1.usa.gov/Y3raDD
-- Clemson Area Transit (in Adam’s hometown) gets South Carolina’s first bendy bus. Picture: http://bit.ly/WHmELw
-- Despite all the Dreamliner headlines, the data shows passenger airlines are safer than they’ve ever been. N.Y. Times: http://nyti.ms/YBRBit
-- DOT IG starts audit of FAA’s progress with NextGen. http://1.usa.gov/Xc6qKl
-- NJ Transit sent four workers to the Super Bowl on a research mission (next year’s contest is in New Jersey). NorthJersey.com: http://bit.ly/VW6C3v
Freight tonnage is estimated to increase 88% through 2035.