Infrastructure in the News: February 8, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
CNN: Whopping winter storm nearly in Sandy's path
(CNN) -- A potentially historic winter storm was closing in on New England on Friday with tens of millions of people in its sights. The storm has canceled thousands of flights and could bring 2 feet of snow to cities like Boston.
Bloomberg: Obama Said Near Issuing Executive Order on Cybersecurity
President Barack Obama will issue an executive order aimed at bolstering U.S. cybersecurity as soon as next week, according to two former White House officials briefed on the administration’s plans.
Associations Now: STUCK IN TRAFFIC? HOW ONE ASSOCIATION IS BATTLING CONGESTION
A new report on American drive time and roadway congestion is providing fodder for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, which works to promote advancements in transportation infrastructure.
Environmental Expert: EPA Provides Technical Assistance to 43 Communities to Meet their Sustainability Goals
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that 43 communities -- rural, urban and suburban -- will receive technical assistance to pursue sustainable growth that encourages local economic development while safeguarding people’s health and the environment.
Grist: Lessons from the women who are leading the sustainable cities movement
I’ve known for a while now that the real action on sustainability is happening in cities — other than Washington, D.C., that is — but a few months back, it came to my attention that many of the people leading the charge are women, often young ones.
StreetsBlog: Does Riding Transit Make You More Civic-Minded?
Civic pride, attachment to community — what does that have to do with how you get around? According to a recent study commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, possibly quite a bit.
The Detroit News: Snyder budget calls for higher gas tax, vehicle fee, more for education
Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday called for raising taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel to 33 cents per gallon as part of a plan to raise $1.2 billion more annually to fix the state's ailing roads.
Transportation Nation (WAMU): Purple Line Design Will Stop if Maryland Doesn’t Get More Transpo Funding
(Washington, D.C. – WAMU) Local officials are asking Maryland’s Department of Transportation not to divert funding from the Purple Line, the proposed light rail line that would connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
KUT News: Map: Could Austin Be the High-Speed Rail City Of The Future?
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has promised a public vote on an urban rail system before he leaves office. Considering Austin was just ranked the fourth worst U.S. city for traffic congestion, that news could make for a lot of happy commuters.
Transportation Nation: Connecticut Gov Wants Transpo Funding to Fill Budget Holes
(Neena Satija — CT Mirror) Coming from a supposedly “pro-transportation” governor, the proposed budget of Dannel Malloy has a lot of transportation advocates confused.
Bloomberg: N.Y. Borrows $500 Million Privately to Fund New Tappan Zee
The New York Thruway Authority privately sold $500 million in notes to fund construction of a new $3.1 billion Tappan Zee Bridge without a financial plan for the project, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office said.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Private Equity Purifies Pacific to Boost California Water
After a decade of struggles to assuage environmentalists, raise almost $1 billion and win permits, Poseidon Resources Group will finally answer a critical question: Is converting seawater to drinking water a profitable venture in the U.S. when there are cheaper options?
Bloomberg: Chicago Midway Plan Draws Interest From Ferrovial, GIP
The leasing of Chicago’s Midway International Airport is drawing investor interest from Global Infrastructure Partners LP to Ferrovial SA, London Heathrow’s biggest shareholder, as privatization efforts advance.
The Kansas City Star: Unified Government mayoral candidates face a happy problem
Here’s a word that will slap a smile on the face of any local official: “Windfall.”
Yahoo! News (The Associated Press Reprint): New York expanding nation's biggest transit hub
NEW YORK (AP) — Sixteen stories below Grand Central Terminal, an army of workers is blasting through bedrock to create a new commuter rail concourse with more floor space than New Orleans' Superdome, just one of three audacious projects going on beneath New York City's streets to expand what's already the nation's biggest mass transit system.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Scott Wong
HERSMAN MAKING THE ROUNDS AT COMMERCE: NTSB Chairwoman Debbie Hersman has been meeting “quite successfully” with members of the Senate Commerce Committee, Chairman Jay Rockefeller told MT. Commerce will hold a hearing and vote on whoever the president nominates for DOT secretary, though Rockefeller was unsure if Hersman would get the nod. Rockefeller said he met one-on-one with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to talk about the open position, but didn’t have any more details. “They’re working in many ways,” he said of the White House list of candidates. Asked if there are candidates that haven’t been reported yet in media outlets, Rockefeller replied, “I’d have to assume that, but I don’t know.”
Boxer mum on backing: EPW Chairwoman and Commerce’s No. 2 Dem Barbara Boxer told MT that she wasn’t disappointed that her favorite, Antonio Villaraigosa, has effectively dropped out of the running. But she wouldn’t say who she is backing. “I think there’s plenty of good people,” she said before casting an afternoon Senate vote and hopping a plane to go home for the weekend.
SICK OF THE DREAMLINER YET? Too bad. Some of the battery tests used by Boeing in the safety certification of its troubled 787s may have been flawed, federal investigators said. Hersman said investigators have determined that one of the battery’s eight cells suffered short circuits, which caused the cell to experience “thermal runaway” that spread to the other cells inside the battery and caused a fire. But the NTSB has not yet determined what caused the short circuit, she said.
Test flights approved: Boeing will be allowed to fly 787 Dreamliner test flights over unpopulated areas "to gather additional data" about how the battery and electrical systems perform in-flight, FAA and DOT said this evening. The flights will be subject to "extensive pre-flight testing and inspections and in-flight monitoring," according to a joint statement from DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA head Michael Huerta. Kathryn has the Pro story: http://politico.pro/122PYMF
US-AMERICAN MERGER MOVES AHEAD: People watching the potential merger of American Airlines and US Airways into what would become the nation's biggest airline — which could win approval as early as next week, Reuters reports (http://reut.rs/XY8Jhl) — should expect a little saber rattling from regulators, but probably no naked steel. The only real regulatory hurdle the merger has to leap is an antitrust review by DOJ, which would take advice from DOT but would have the final say. The two airlines’ route networks largely don’t overlap, so most analysts expect the merger to pass DOJ’s test. Congress is the only other practical regulatory avenue for anyone wanting to derail the merger. But given the weight of history, that’s unlikely. In the recent past, Congress has mostly watched airline mergers from the sidelines — with a few potshots related to local interests. Kathryn has it for Pros: http://politico.pro/V27bGt
FINDING NEMO: If you are flying in the Northeast today or later this weekend, check your reservations — like, now. Thousands of flights have been cancelled, many of them in the New York area, as Winter Storm Nemo bares down on us. The latest cancellation ticker, via FlightAware: http://bit.ly/gAx8sJ
Snow problem to ride the train: Amtrak is dialing back some Northeast Corridor service starting today, when the last southern-bound train will leave Boston at 1:40 p.m. and the last northern-bound train will leave New York’s Penn Station at 1:03 p.m. Decisions on weekend service will be made today; follow @AmtrakNEC for the latest.
Your weekend on Metro: Both the Orange and Red lines have two bits of single-tracking this weekend, while all the other lines are running normally. The single-tracking is between Shady Grove and Twinbrook and between Rhode Island Ave and Takoma on the Red Line. On the Orange Line, the single-tracking is between Ballston and West Falls Church and between Stadium-Armory and Cheverly. WMATA has the details: http://bit.ly/11sstlD
FIRST LOOK: The Midwest is the perfect place for the United States’s high-speed rail manufacturing industry to take root, according to a new report out this morning from the Environmental and Law & Policy Center. Some of the factors ELPC sees coalescing into a Rust Belt revival include rising Amtrak ridership, retooling of America’s Midwest manufacturing, the expansion of fast service in the region and hundreds of rail supply chain companies clustered around the Great Lakes. Read the report here: http://bit.ly/VKntpW
Autographed: Kicking off the U.S. High-Speed Rail Summit, the coauthors of “Fast Trains: America’s High Speed Future” will be at Busboys & Poets this Sunday to sign their book and talk about the state of fast trains in America. Head on down to the B&P location at 1025 5th St. NW to see Emy Louie and Nancy Bolts.
WHAT’S THE WRDA? WRDA UP AND OTHER PUNS: Water Resources Chairman Bob Gibbs and T&I Chairman Bill Shuster aren’t exactly scholars of Boxer’s WRDA bill. “I’ve not seen it,” Gibbs told MT. “I haven’t had a chance to look really in-depth at it,” Shuster said, though he added that his staff is beginning to do so. But Boxer is not worried that her draft discussion bill hasn’t drawn the eyeballs of the House transportation leaders. “Not at all,” she replied when asked if delays would result from Shuster not having read her draft bill. “Oh, no, no, no.” Part of the reason Boxer got a jump on her legislation in November is that she was the chairwoman last session, too. Shuster, on the other hand, has been on the job for barely a month. “He’s a new chairman and he’s got to settle his staff, and I feel very confident. But I believe this bill is so popular and important that once we get it done, I have a good feeling about moving forward,” Boxer told POLITICO after a hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers’ water resources policies. Burgess and Scott break it down: http://politico.pro/14VFxyV
COMMERCE ASSIGNMENTS COMING...WE SWEAR: Senate Commerce meets on Wednesday to organize for the 113th Congress. Wondering why it took so long for the committee to set its subcommittee rosters and agenda? Ranking member John Thune attributed the delay to the Democrats, who he said are still haggling over subcommittee chairmanships. The ranking members for the Republicans are finalized — but though Thune told MT that it’s no state secret, he didn’t want to jump the gun. We tried, dear readers.
Men-endez at work: Bob Menendez is retaining the gavel on the Banking Committee’s transportation panel, a post he held in the last Congress. Menendez and the other subcommittee chairs will be formalized with a committee vote next week.
FIRST T&I HEARING NEXT WEEK: The panel will convene on Wednesday morning for its first hearing following January’s organizational meeting. The topic will be Washington’s federal role in America’s infrastructure, and we’ve got a couple witnesses for MT readers’ eyes only, before the official list comes out: LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan and Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donohue.
ATA KNOCKS CSA SAFETY DATE RULE: The American Trucking Association is continuing its push to reform the CSA safety program that has come under heavy fire from trucking groups for its use of crash data in determining a company’s safety rating. ATA wants FMCSA to immediately set up a way to remove crash records when an accident was clearly not the trucker’s fault. All crashes involving trucks are currently scored against the driver, even if another vehicle was at fault.
Not so fast: Daphne Izer of Parents Against Tired Truckers responds: “Don’t fix what’s not broken. The CSA Crash BASIC is working exactly as it should. All crashes are counted because involvement in previous truck crashes, in and of themselves and regardless of fault, is an accurate predictor of involvement in future truck crashes.”
MAILBAG — Bus safety: Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to raise questions about the record of a tour bus company involved in a California crash that killed eight people earlier this week. The letter: http://bit.ly/X9LpB2
HMTF hearing: The leaders of the PORTS Caucus — Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn and GOP Rep. Ted Poe — have written the T&I committee asking for a hearing on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The letter: http://bit.ly/12wN0Vo
SEQUESTER WATCH: The looming sequestration will slow the FAA’s effort to transition to NextGen and reduce the number of air traffic controllers on the job, according to a new report (http://1.usa.gov/VGHZCv) from House Appropriations Committee Democrats. Here’s a summary if you’re strapped for time: http://1.usa.gov/WwYbtZ
Two options: In addition to the revenue raising options to replace the looming sequester, like closing the general aviation loophole, there’s also the option of an across-the-board spending cut of 1 percent. Manu Raju has the solutions Senate Democrats are mulling: http://politi.co/11tF1sU. And the Rogers Report looks at the penny-on-the-dollar solution: http://politi.co/11tF1Jw
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING: FAA’s made some technical corrections to its pilot rest rule. You can get wonky right here: http://1.usa.gov/YHA769
DOUBLE WHOOPS: ACI-NA is getting dinged for celebrating new Aviation Chairman Frank LoBiondo’s support for higher Passenger Facility Charges, even though he voted against them in 1999. We’ll note Al Kamen’s snarky blog post about LoBiondo uses a photo of Chris Christie and Obama shaking hands rather than depicting the New Jersey congressman, so I guess we all make mistakes, right? http://wapo.st/VH7rrq
CABOOSE — Love train: No, not that catchy O’Jays song. Philadelphians looking to find their mate, ride a train and see some love-themed murals can catch a ride on a slow-speed SEPTA train, “decked out in Valentine’s Day decorations,” that offers a view of 50 murals painted by Steve Powers (aka ESPO) and his cohorts. More details: http://bit.ly/12wWaBe
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ)
- Investing $79 billion in more productive transportation systems would result in a net savings of $139 billion. Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency report: http://bit.ly/VZwaJz
- Caltrain looks to make new agreement with California High-Speed Rail Authority. SM Daily Journal: http://bit.ly/YTT2yz
- Bipartisan duo — Reps. Cedric Richmond and Michael Grimm — forms the Maritime Caucus. Release: http://1.usa.gov/14W5jTy
Politico Pro: Airlines merger likely to see approval
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
People watching the potential merger of American Airlines and US Airways into what would become the nation's biggest airline should expect a little saber rattling from regulators, but probably no naked steel.
The only real regulatory hurdle the merger has to leap is an antitrust review by the Justice Department, which would take advice from the Transportation Department but would have the final say. The two airlines’ route networks largely don’t overlap, so most analysts expect the merger to pass DOJ’s test.
Congress is the only other practical regulatory avenue for anyone wanting to derail the merger. But given the weight of history, that’s unlikely.
In the recent past, Congress has mostly watched airline mergers from the sidelines — with a few potshots related to local interests.
Mergers between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines in 2008, and United Airlines and Continental Airlines in 2010, were both successful. Congress also let through a smaller merger between Southwest Airlines and Air Tran in 2011.
Neither the House Transportation Committee nor the Senate Commerce Committee had any comment Thursday on the potential US Airways-American merger.
Spokesmen for Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the House’s aviation subcommittee, and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the subcommittee's ranking member, said neither would comment while the merger is still just a rumor.
The merger could move quickly — as in a matter of days, not weeks, according to a Reuters story published late Thursday. The wire service reported that American and US Airways will work over the weekend in an attempt to hammer out a final deal, with votes from the companies' governing boards coming as early as Monday.
The merger agreement could then follow Tuesday. Anonymous sources told Reuters that the goal is to get a deal done in the next seven days.
“You might see places that are fearing that they’re going to lose air service, representatives or senators from those states putting up some kind of protest,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation. “But unless they happen to be in some position of power … they aren’t likely to really be able to do much about it.”
The US Airways hub at Charlotte could end up being a target because of its proximity to Miami, where American has a hub, Schank said.
If the merger goes through, it would be the last shoe to drop in what former House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) used to worry would be the natural progression of airline consolidation. Oberstar had predicted an industry composed of “three global megacarriers” controlling route networks and pricing power for a majority of the country.
Indeed, if this rumored merger is completed, the three biggest carriers in the U.S. would be American, United and Delta, with Southwest a close fourth dominating most of America's skies.
In any case, it’s likely to be the last airline merger of this size for the foreseeable future, though any of these already-merged entities could make a play for smaller or regional airlines.
Schank said there probably would be some impact on airline prices for consumers, but also noted that airline prices in the United States are already low.
“They’re not consolidating because they think it would be good for the nation’s health. They’re consolidating because they think it’ll be good for their financial health,” Schank said. “That said, I would point out that consumers are still paying very low fares for air travel.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
By Burgess Everett and Scott Wong
The good news for people anxiously awaiting a new Waters Resources Development Act bill: Both the House Transportation and the Senate Environment and Public Works panels are beginning work in earnest.
The bad news: There isn’t much coordination going on between the two chambers as Congress takes an earmark-free stab at passing the first big maritime, waterways, ports and flood-prevention legislation since Congress overrode President George W. Bush’s veto to enact the last WRDA in 2007.
Senate EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) got the dialogue started in November, making public a draft discussion bill praised by maritime and business groups for trying to confront this Congress’s reticence to employ line-by-line spending directives like past WRDA bills.
Second-term House Water Resources Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) told POLITICO on Wednesday that his committee’s members and staff are now beginning to discuss “internally” what the lower chamber’s bill might look like. But has he cracked open Boxer’s 134-page draft from nearly three months ago?
“I’ve not seen it,” Gibbs said. Instead Gibbs said the idea is to “do our work in the House and then come together” with the Senate, rather than use Boxer’s draft as a starting point.
Full House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he too hasn’t studied Boxer’s bill.
“I haven’t had a chance to look really in-depth at it,” Shuster said, though he added that his staff is beginning to do so.
Gibbs said Shuster has told him he wants to move the bill out of the Transportation panel in the “next several months,” a heavy lift when starting from scratch and one that could lead to a contentious conference should the resulting two bills significantly diverge.
But Boxer pushed back on any suggestion she and Shuster were not closely coordinating their WRDA efforts.
“Not at all,” she replied when asked if delays would result from Shuster not having read her draft bill. “Oh, no, no, no.”
Part of the reason Boxer got a jump on her legislation in November is that she was the chairman last session, too. Shuster, on the other hand, has been on the job for barely a month and has yet to chair any hearings on WRDA. Boxer has discussed it frequently on the EPW dais in recent months.
“He’s a new chairman and he’s got to settle his staff, and I feel very confident. But I believe this bill is so popular and important that once we get it done, I have a good feeling about moving forward,” Boxer told POLITICO on Thursday after a hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers’ water resources policies.
“I think Congressman Shuster is a great partner,” she added. “We see eye to eye on a lot of this.”
Shuster agreed with that sentiment in a general sense, although he said once they get “in the weeds” on the legislation, that’s where he expects differences to arise between the Democratic-controlled Senate panel and the GOP-run House committee.
“We know we’ve got some things we’ve got to take care of. We’ve got WRDA and the next highway bill. We’re on the same page in that sense. She wants a bill and I want a bill,” he said in an interview this week.
Gibbs talked about some priorities of T&I’s that are likely to garner bipartisan, bicameral support. One is to concentrate federal water infrastructure funding on large projects of national significance, and another — a big Boxer priority — is including Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund reform in the bill. But he also said he’s receiving trial balloons from industry groups that want to marry the bill with environmental issues. He said such talks are preliminary and declined to get into specifics, but such a move is sure to pique the interest of EPW environmentalists.
“Outside stakeholders [want] to put some things in there that address some of the Clean Water Act stuff,” he said. “It’s a possibility, it’s too early to tell. But there’s some interest.”
By Darren Goode
Employees at several federal agencies got emails this week with virtually the same warning about spending cuts and possible furloughs tied to the upcoming sequestration deadline.
Internal memos sent to employees at EPA and the departments of Energy, Homeland Security and Transportation contain nearly identical language noting that there is less than a month until the looming March 1 across-the-board spending cuts.
“The administration remains focused on working with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that avoids these cuts,” reads the memo from Deputy EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe Thursday.
“Should these cuts occur, they would be harmful not only to the Department of Transportation, but to critical domestic and defense priorities across the government and across the country,” reads the memo from Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari Tuesday.
“However, given that less than one month remains until these cuts would take effect and given that the two-month delay would give us less time in which to make the required cuts, department leadership is engaged in extensive planning efforts to determine how we would deal with sequestration,” reads Wednesday’s memo from DHS Undersecretary for Management Rafael Borras.
POLITICO reported Tuesday that the Obama White House has instructed Cabinet officials other than Defense Secretary Leon Panetta not to talk about the looming sequester cuts unless their talking points were first cleared by the Office of Management and Budget.
All four internal memos warn of potential furloughs and that affected employees would be provided at least 30 days’ notice.
“We will also continue to engage in discussions with employee unions as appropriate, to ensure that any furloughs are applied in a fair and appropriate manner,” reads the memo Wednesday from Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman.
The memos complain of “rigid” cuts imposed by Congress. “As a result, we are closely examining contracts, grants, and other forms of expenditures across the agency to determine where we can reduce costs,” reads the Perciasepe memo. “In many cases, this could mean making cuts to vital programs or curtailing spending on contracts. We will also take steps, wherever possible, to reduce operational or administrative costs in areas such as travel, training, facilities, and supplies, areas where as you know we have already taken steps.”
An EPA spokeswoman confirmed that the Perciasepe memo to EPA employees was essentially the same sent to all federal agencies.
They were issued as President Barack Obama Tuesday asked Congress to pass a short-term package of spending cuts and to close tax loopholes to avoid the sequestration deadline.
House Republicans threw cold water on the idea of revenue increases to delay the automatic spending cuts.
Moving 10% of long-distance trucking by rail would save over a billion gallons of fuel per year.