Infrastructure in the News: February 27, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Time: Why the Debt Crisis Has Trumped the Climate Crisis—at Least in D.C.
To a certain group of Americans, the United States—neigh, the world—faces an existential crisis, one that threatens the prosperity and even stability of the future. This problem is so big and so frightening that solving it must be the government’s singular priority. It doesn’t matter that the very drastic steps needed to address the issue are likely to cause palpable economic pain in the short term—pain likely to be borne by the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
NY1: New FEMA Flood Maps Expand Flood Zones To Include World Trade Center Site
The World Trade Center site is now listed in a flood zone, according to new flood maps released Tuesday by FEMA.
New York Times: F.A.A. Is Not Ready to Approve 787 Test Flights
Boeing is conducting laboratory tests on its proposed fixes for the lithium-ion batteries on its new 787 jets, and federal regulators said Tuesday that they would need to see the results before deciding whether to allow flight tests. The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting its own evaluation of the changes, which are meant to keep the batteries from catching fire or emitting smoke, as occurred on two flights in January.
Washington Post: AP: Spending cuts could force busy airports to operate fewer runways, air traffic controllers say
WASHINGTON — Automatic spending cuts could force some of the nation’s busiest airports to close runways, causing widespread flight delays and cancellations, the union representing air traffic controllers said Wednesday. The spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect on Friday, but furloughs of air traffic controllers won’t kick in until April because the Federal Aviation Administration is required by law to give its employees advance notice.
Washington Post: GOP lawmakers question necessity of FAA furloughs
Two Republicans leading congressional committees that oversee the Federal Aviation Administration want answers from the agency about its spending plans under the automatic spending cuts set to kick in Friday. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) are questioning the FAA’s claim that it has to furlough thousands of air-traffic controllers, jeopardizing aviation safety, under the across-the-board cuts known as a sequester.
Washington Post: The sequester and transportation
Transportation has become the latest flash point in the battle over sequestration, with Democrats and the White House warning travelers they could be in for long lines and flight delays as a result of the automatic cuts, set to go into effect on Friday. “We can fix this,” said Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) this week during a press conference at Reagan National Airport. “It doesn’t have to be this way. We need to embrace a reasonable path of deficit reduction.”
Washington Post: Sequester politics: the FAA claims of furloughs and closed towers
We spoke to experts in the airline industry, and there is serious skepticism about the administration’s math. “There’s a lot of dramatics going on,” said Spencer Dickerson of the American Association of Airport Executives. Dickerson questions why the FAA’s target list for the sequester includes closing 189 airport towers managed under contract — about 75 percent of such facilities, even though they comprise 28 percent of all tower operations.
Transportation Nation: Lawmakers Warn of Severe Air Travel Disruptions from Sequestration
The airport experience will get more aggravating if Congress does not avoid the automatic budget cuts called sequestration, three Virginia Democratic lawmakers said Monday at a news conference inside Reagan National Airport, predicting fewer flights available and longer security lines. Representatives Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran and Senator Tim Kaine, flanked by members of air travel and pilots’ groups, issued a warning for every American who plans to fly: cuts to the FAA and TSA budgets would affect key personnel who now man air traffic control towers and security screening checkpoints.
Washington Post: Republicans want more data on FAA cuts
A day after a trio of Virginia Democrats appeared at Reagan National Airport and urged their Republican colleagues in Congress to shield travelers from flight delays and long security lines by embracing a balanced solution to the spending cuts known as the sequester, two GOP leaders raised questions about whether the cuts to air service would be as drastic as portrayed.
Business Insider: Here's Barack Obama's Plan To Fix America's Crumbling Roads And Bridges
Even as Congress remains at a budget impasse, President Barack Obama continues to tout his plans to increase federal investment in the nation's ailing infrastructure, a $50 billion initiative that the White House claims will spur job creation and economic growth. What remains unclear, however, is how the Obama administration plans to pay for this and other infrastructure initiatives that the President outlined in his State of the Union speech last month.
Washington Post: Few Marylanders support tax increase to fund traffic congestion fixes
Though many Marylanders in the Washington region see traffic congestion as a major problem, there is little support for any solutions that involve raising taxes, a new Washington Post poll has found. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and legislative leaders have floated several possible ways to raise hundreds of millions of additional dollars for road and mass transit projects, including increases in sales and gas taxes.
Washington Post: US regulators, governor approve deal having private company operate Puerto Rico airport
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor on Tuesday approved turning over the operations of Puerto Rico’s largest airport to a private company as part of an estimated $2.6 billion deal that began under his predecessor and has been fiercely protested. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said that while he would have managed things differently, the U.S. territory’s government already had committed to the deal.
90.9 WBUR: AP: Temporary Extension Seen For Mass. Rail Operator
BOSTON — The company that operates the commuter rail system could be in line for a temporary contract extension while state transportation officials weigh bids for a new long-term contract. A vote on the extension is on the agenda for the state Board of Transportation at its monthly meeting on Wednesday.
CBS DC: Bill to Prevent Audio Taping of Public Transit Users Considered
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CBSDC/AP)— The Maryland Senate has voted to reconsider an audio-taping measure that was rejected by lawmakers on Monday in a 23-22 vote. The bill, voted for reconsideration on Tuesday, prohibits the Maryland Transit Administration from using audio-taping devices to record the conversations of passengers on transit vehicles.
KRQE: State officials to discuss I-40 closure
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - State officials say they’ll soon meet to discuss the 37-hour closure of Interstate 40 that stretched from Albuquerque to the New Mexico-Texas border. Around 11 a.m. Tuesday road crews started reopening I-40 to traffic. It was a welcome sight to drivers and to state Department of Transportation employees.
Hawaii News Now: DMV to unveil live webcams
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you've been dreading renewing your driver's license or getting a state ID card – some good news, you can now preview how long the lines are before heading to the DMV. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a series of new initiatives designed to dramatically reduce wait times at the Kalihi Kapalama City Square DMV this morning.
DC Streets Blog: Virginia’s Transpo Future: Charge Drivers Less to Build More Roads
Congratulations are owed to Bob McDonnell. He’s scored a victory on his transportation funding plan, cementing his legacy (though infuriating conservatives, including his hand-picked successor). His achievement is being called the first bipartisan initiative to pass in Virginia in decades. And what does this great deed accomplish?
DC Streets Blog: Niagara Falls, New York, Gets Go-Ahead for Highway Teardown
Beginning at Niagara Falls State Park, you can hike around the great gorge carved out of the base of the falls over thousands of years. But you’d best arrive in a car. If you want to access this area from Niagara Falls neighborhoods on foot, you have to climb fences, scale embankments and race across a four-lane expressway — the aptly named Robert Moses Parkway.
Fast Lane: Express Lanes in Southern California promise relief and opportunity for commuters and businesses
When infrastructure investments result in economic benefits to their communities, it's not magic. It's a formula proven time and again that improved mobility reduces the costs of road congestion and creates more opportunities for residents and businesses. We know from last week's blog post that South Florida is working to bring those very benefits to Broward County very soon.
Governing.org: How Philadelphia's Transit System Became the Best
Back in 1995, Pat Deon, a Bucks County businessman newly appointed to SEPTA's board of directors, had his first meeting with General Manager Lou Gambaccini -- who had spent decades as a living legend across the Delaware River, where he helped create New Jersey Transit. But SEPTA might as well have been on a different planet.
Atlantic Cities: Does Light Rail Really Encourage People to Stop Driving?
One of the main justifications for building a light rail line is the hope that it will reduce traffic congestion in a corridor, presumably by drawing commuters out of their cars and onto the train. When we last looked at this assumption, about a year ago, we found cautious support for the decongestive value of light rail corridors in Denver. While traffic continued to rise in these corridors, it rose even more in nearby areas without the rail.
San Francisco Chronicle: AP: Calif. lawmakers scrutinize high-speed rail plan
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California officials are using a standard bidding process for their plan to speed construction of the state's $68 billion high-speed rail line, but there are still outstanding questions about the inspection process that the Legislature should investigate, lawmakers heard Tuesday at a hearing on the plan.
Sacramento Bee: Dan Walters: California bullet-train financing still shaky
On Monday, the Assembly Transportation Committee held what was supposedly an oversight hearing on the state's nas cent bullet train project. It was a joke. The committee's chairwoman, Long Beach Democrat Bonnie Lowenthal, beamed as the boss of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Jeff Morales, emitted bland assurances that the project was proceeding smoothly and tossed a couple of softball questions.
Indianapolis Star: House approval shows merit of transit, home rule
Cost is an issue and so is the design of the proposed system; but the Indiana House has sent a clear message that expanded mass transit in Central Indiana has merit — and that Central Indiana residents ought to be trusted to decide whether to tax themselves to pay for it. Monday's bipartisan 56-39 vote to allow a 10-county referendum in 2014 on a 0.3 percent local income tax should not have been earthshaking in a legislature that claims to honor home rule.
State Impact: A New Push For Commuter Rail
Despite concern from opponents about costs, supporters of bringing commuter rail back to the Granite State are determined to keep momentum on track. For the first time in decades, state lawmakers are looking to restore commuter rail by extending existing rail lines from Lowell, Massachusetts, to Nashua, Manchester and Concord. And with her city being the first stop over the border, Nashua’s Mayor Donnalee Lozeau is leading efforts to make rail a reality.
FOX 5 San Diego: Calif. to consider increasing gasoline taxes
SAN DIEGO – If a proposed increase in gasoline taxes is approved, California will not only have the most expensive gas in the nation, but also the highest gas taxes. The price of a gallon of gas steadily increased about 58 cents last month, sitting somewhere around $4.21 a gallon. Director of Utility Consumers’ Action Network Charles Langley said we now could be facing an increase in state gas taxes.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett
T&I, COMMERCE COLLABO: House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster and top Senate Commerce Republican John Thune say it makes sense for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to stick around for a bit if the Obama administration’s warnings of long flight delays and security lines come to fruition. “Bringing somebody from the outside makes it difficult,” Shuster said. “We’re in a situation where we need somebody who has the experience and can go in there and adjust the accounts so that it’s safe to fly.” Thune said that if the administration wants to keep using LaHood as Republican “cover” for President Barack Obama’s policies, they’ll need to keep him around. “If Ray’s making all these statements, you know, it seems right now it’s a bad time to be going through a transition,” Thune said. It’s an example of how the two former T&I colleagues are in step with each other on transportation — disagreeing with the need to cut air traffic controllers and the rigidity the administration has with its budget — and how they are going to keep working closely. Burgess and Adam tell the story of two GOP leaders hitting stride together: http://politico.pro/Zzm4Qw
Numbers, man: Remember how the administration is pushing back on the Republican notion that the FAA’s savings from earlier this year can help weather the later cuts? The administration says spending typically ramps up during the busy summer travel season — right when the sequester cuts will hit, so the $222 million in Q1 savings will be eclipsed. Enter GOP aide. “The worst kept secret in Washington is that agencies go on year-end spending sprees. That’s when they buy their new computers, office supplies and park money on contracts. It’s that sort of spending they need to look at before they layoff controllers,” the aide wrote to MT. “The FAA doesn’t hire more air traffic controllers in the summer. It’s not like adding a couple of lifeguards for the local pool. It takes years to train an air traffic controller.”
YOUR DAILY SEQUESTER FIX: FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will be in in the House today for a T&I hearing ostensibly devoted to implementation of last year’s aviation law — but top Aviation Dem Rick Larsen told MT it’s going to be taken over by sequestration talk. “I was hoping it would be on implementation of the FAA bill, and I do have questions about that. So those will get asked; they will not be written about.” But maybe a bright side to the sequester is that people have stopped bugging you about the Dreamliner? “Yeah. Did that get solved when I was gone? No one asks me about it anymore,” Larsen quipped.
Your Thursday sequester fix: Fellow Pro Darren Samuelsohn reports that LaHood will be huddling with Senate Dems on Thursday to brief them on the sequester’s transportation impacts.
Your sequester aversion fix: Senate Republicans are mulling a strategy that would let the administration choose where the cuts would hit, but nothing is final yet, Manu Raju and David Rogers report. The Senate Democratic plan will get a cloture vote on Thursday, expected to fail, while the GOP gets one vote on a plan they have yet to coalesce around. http://politi.co/13m3Syq
ALL AIRPORT POLITICS ARE LOCAL: There’s an old adage that all politics are local. So too, apparently, are hearings on a major airline merger that would create the country’s largest carrier. Members turned a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing into a beauty contest to try to show off their home districts’ airports and perhaps persuade the proposed combination of American Airlines and US Airways to send some business toward them. The most impassioned response came from Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson, who only showed up at the hearing after Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen’s remarks, which included a few jabs at the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as he touted the alternative in Memphis. “This is not to take anything away from the Memphis Airport, and Memphis may in fact have the best ribs and that kind of thing, but you’ll never have an experience like you will when you go through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport,” Johnson said at the hearing. “That’s true,” Cohen interjected, to laughs from the crowd. Johnson continued: “The hospitality, the real southern hospitality, the ambiance, the warmth of the people there and the food.” Adam has the Pro story: http://politico.pro/XejGOV
Technically speaking: Sen. Claire McCaskill met Tuesday with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski over FAA regulations that keep airline passengers from using electronic devices while below 10,000 feet.
LaHOOD WRITES DOT EMPLOYEES: The looming sequester could cut Hurricane Sandy relief programs by $600 million, according to a memo LaHood sent to DOT employees. Furloughs “will be necessary” at the FAA but could also hit the FTA and the Surface Transportation Board, LaHood wrote. “Should sequestration occur, we also will need to make difficult choices about which services to continue, which services to drastically reduce and which services to completely eliminate over the coming years,” LaHood wrote. Read the memo: http://bit.ly/13fInjc
PTC AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE: The freight railroads will tell the NTSB today that getting positive train control on all 60,000 miles by the 2015 date mandated by Congress still isn’t going to be possible. “It’s simply impossible to safely install a reliable, fully interoperable PTC system everywhere it is required by the 2015 deadline,” AAR chief Ed Hamberger said.
ROCKEFELLER, LAUTENBERG UNVEIL INFRASTRUCTURE BANK BILL: Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller and Surface Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lautenberg have unveiled a bill to create a $5 billion fund to spur private, state and local spending on transportation projects. We’ve got ya covered with the bill text (http://1.usa.gov/WpwZd8) and a one-page summary (http://1.usa.gov/1291An6).
EVERYONE LOVES INFRASTRUCTURE: In a bit of a kumbaya moment at the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday, nearly everyone agreed that cutting infrastructure spending isn’t the way to go, from ranking member Jeff Sessions, to conservative Ron Johnson, to Chairwoman Patty Murray, to Tim Kaine, who went theatric on a five-member witness panel that included DOT Undersecretary for Policy Polly Trottenberg. Kaine asked how many of the witnesses thought the gas tax’s road funding was bad for the economy? Everyone shook their head. Then he asked how many think the gas tax’s spending had been “helpful to economic growth.” Everyone nodded.
Let’s talk sequester … or not: “The sequester doesn’t impact highway spending, does it?” Sessions asked Trottenberg, who responded: “Correct.” Sessions said he’s heard a “lot of talk” on the sequester’s transportation impact that has “sort of implied that roads are getting cut. And this program is one of the things that are exempt.” With that cleared up, MT tried to follow up with Trottenberg on if the sequester will distract from transportation law implementation or whether DOT can skirt sequestration’s effects on NextGen, which Trottenberg touted in her opening testimony. No dice. “I hate to do this,” Trottenberg told MT. “I don’t think I’m going to freelance on the sequester.”
MAILBAG — Truck weight battle edition: A coalition of railroad organizations is urging House members to refrain from co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation from Reps. Mike Michaud and Reid Ribble that seeks to increase the maximum truck weight on interstate highways from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds. The coalition calls the bill “premature,” saying it would be damaging to the nation’s bridges as well as the environment and “flawed public policy that would increase the subsidies other motorists provide for the damage caused by heavy trucks.” Read the letter: http://bit.ly/ZyKJEI. And the bill text: http://bit.ly/VLfwyD
Backup: OOIDA is also urging members to refrain from co-sponsoring the measure, which is unlikely to go anywhere as a standalone but could get wrapped into the next surface transportation bill. The “overwhelming majority of trucking, from independent owner-operators up to most fleets, does not see a benefit from increasing truck size and weights,” writes President Jim Johnston. http://bit.ly/XehAi1
Counterpoint: The missive is a sign that one of the most contentious battles from last year’s new transportation law is still simmering. Minutes after MT sent out an alert about the AAR-led letter, we got a competing message from ATA telling lawmakers they SHOULD sponsor the Michaud-Ribble bill, emphasizing that it gives states the option to allow heavier trucks. The current “rigid regulatory regime prevents states from allowing the most efficient vehicles from operating on the most well-constructed, safest highways, and from authorizing variances needed to meet the economic needs of their state,” wrote ATA President Bill Graves. The letter: http://bit.ly/YyaaDz
Sorry: Everyone else that wrote in on truck weights — rest assured we will keep covering it.
MORE MAILBAG — Gas prices: Responding to allegations from Americans for Tax Reform, a group of maritime shippers is arguing that they have no hand in gas prices. “A small number of misinformed individuals have blamed the increase on American shipping companies. However, we want you to know that the change in the cost of gasoline is not the result of transportation costs,” the group writes. Check out ATR’s post that started it all (http://bit.ly/WgmyO9) and then read the letter yourself: http://bit.ly/V5SMKr
PANELED: Sen. Debbie Stabenow will chair the Finance Committee’s Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure panel. John Cornyn will serve as the ranking member. The full subcommittee roster is available here: http://1.usa.gov/13fKSSw
THE DAY AHEAD: All day — CG/LA Infrastructure hosts the 6th Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum. New York. http://bit.ly/REcL16
All day — AASHTO 2013 Washington briefing. LaHood and T&I’s Tom Petri are among the speakers. Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave. NW.
9:30 a.m. — NTSB to hold forum on positive train control. 490 L'Enfant Plaza SW.
10:30 a.m. — T&I’s Aviation Subcommittee holds a hearing on the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act one year later. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will testify. 2167 Rayburn.
11:30 a.m. — Leaders from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties gather to explain the impact of sequestration on local communities and decry a move by the Obama administration to limit tax-exempt municipal bonds. National Press Club.
CABOOSE — Overhead Lines Car: Our intrepid teammate Kathryn — on her day off, nonetheless — passes along this picture of an old streetcar outside the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. Give it a look — and then ask her why she took the week of sequester off work: http://bit.ly/15NKTg0
By Adam Snider
A House hearing on an airline merger that would create the country’s largest carrier put on display the old adage that all politics is local.
Members on both sides of the aisle turned Tuesday’s House Judiciary subcommittee hearing into a beauty contest to try to show off their home districts’ airports and perhaps persuade the proposed combination of American Airlines and US Airways to send some business toward them.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), top Democrat on the Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law panel, said he had soured on mergers after the Delta-Northwest merger hurt his local airport in Memphis.
He told representatives from the two airlines that they should look to Memphis. Cohen said FedEx’s base in Memphis could help airlines move more than just passengers. “Call Fred Smith, Mr. Johnson. He’ll tell you to come to Memphis, and so will I,” Cohen told US Airways’s Stephen Johnson, referring to the FedEx founder, president and CEO.
North Carolina Rep. George Holding (R) pressed officials from the two airlines about Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which he said is “very important to my constituents” and “even finer than the Memphis Airport.”
And Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), who lives five miles from Pittsburgh International Airport, urged American and US Airways to create a hub there. After going over the bad reviews that airports in Philadelphia and New York get, Rothfus said creating a new hub at the underutilized airport makes perfect sense.
But the most impassioned response came from Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson, who only showed up at the hearing after Cohen’s remarks, which included a few jabs at the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as he touted the alternative in Memphis.
“This is not to take anything away from the Memphis Airport, and Memphis may in fact have the best ribs and that kind of thing, but you’ll never have an experience like you will when you go through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport,” Johnson said at the hearing.
“That’s true,” Cohen interjected, to laughs from the crowd.
Johnson continued: “The hospitality, the real southern hospitality, the ambiance, the warmth of the people there and the food.”
Underlying all the focus on local airports instead of broader industry implications is the sense that the merger will go through without any major objections.
Only two of the five witnesses raised concerns about negative effects of the merger. The Business Travel Coalition’s Kevin Mitchell warned that there are potential downsides but noted the merger has a “benefit in a financially viable air transportation system.”
“We’re changing the world with technology.”