Infrastructure in the News: January 15, 2013
Infrastructure in the News: January 15, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
CNN World: Your advice for President Obama
Next week sees the inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term as U.S. president, making him only the third Democrat in the past 75 years to be returned for a second term in office. But what issues should he be focusing on?
Huffington Post: Associated Press RePrint: Superstorm Sandy Aid Bill Nears House Votes
WASHINGTON — Northeastern lawmakers hoping to push a $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package through the House face roadblocks by fiscal conservatives seeking offsetting spending cuts to pay for recovery efforts as well as funding cuts for projects they say are unrelated to the Oct. 29 storm.
The Daily Pennsylvanian: Former mayor of Miami talks race, immigration at Penn
On a cool, cloudy night, a former mayor recalled the sunny city of his youth. Manny Diaz, who served as mayor of Miami from 2001 to 2009, spoke Monday night to a room of sixty about growing up — and later governing — in that city.
New York Times: 2012: The Year of Extreme Weather
The weather reports are in. 2012 was the hottest and the most extreme year on record in many places.
Washington Post: Annotating Obama’s 2006 speech against boosting the debt limit
As the saying goes, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” This is certainly true of the votes to boost the national debt limit, where almost by tradition, the party not holding the presidency refused to support an increase in the debt limit. (One big exception, as we have noted, is in 1953 during the Eisenhower presidency.)
The Hill: Transit group: Large majorities support public transportation
More than three-fourths of Americans support increasing funding for public transportation systems, the American Public Transportation Association said Monday.
The Hill: This week in transportation: LaHood's last week?
Amid speculation about his future and possible replacements, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will make a pair of trips to Detroit this week.
Governing Magazine: U.S. Chamber Chief Calls for Higher Gas Tax
The nation’s top business advocate said Thursday it was time for the federal government to “quit fooling around” with funding the transportation trust that fuels many state and local infrastructure projects and called for an increase in the gas tax.
Government Executive: Sandy amendments target federal transit benefits, spending
A Republican lawmaker is offering two amendments to the Sandy storm relief bill that would directly affect federal employees.
Chicago Tribune: Rail travel in 2013: A waiting year
Overall, 2013 is shaping up as a "more of the same" year, with only modest technical improvements and just the usual sales and promotions. Rail systems in many parts of the world are working on improvements, but you won't see any big projects completed until 2014 and beyond.
San Francisco Chronicle: BART struggling to meet surging demand
The recovering economy, high gas prices and growing environmental consciousness are driving record ridership on BART. But the surge in riders - about three times the increase that was expected - could also bring problems if the transit district doesn't act to increase its capacity and rejuvenate its aging infrastructure.
Washington Post: MWAA gets new accountability officer
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Monday that he has appointed a new accountability officer to monitor the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the entity responsible for overseeing construction of the $5.6 billion Silver Line rail extension.
The Atlantic Cities: Watch the New East Span of S.F.'s Bay Bridge Go Up in 2 Minutes
Attention, Bay Area residents: Would you like to see the bridge on which you'll soon spend hours stuck in teeth-grinding traffic jams? Webcam company EarthCam obliges with this well-put-together time lapse of the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge's eastern span rising over the past three-and-a-half years, a monumental engineering effort that's so far cost more than $6 billion. (The initial estimates amounted to one-third of that cash mountain, FYI.)
Next City: PA Awaits Long-Delayed Transportation Budget
In a radio interview last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett promised to unveil a comprehensive transportation funding plan for a state that has long struggled to deal with numerous underfunded mass transit agencies, as well as aging bridge and highway infrastructure. Pennsylvania has gone nearly 727 days without a delineated transportation funding plan, and even longer without a dedicated revenue source to cover constantly ballooning costs. Previous administrations issued debt or shifted state dollars to eke out operational budgets.
New York Times: Washington’s Economic Boom, Financed by You
One damp morning this winter, Jim Abdo was looking through architectural renderings at his office in Logan Circle, one of the many leafy Washington neighborhoods anchored by a statue of a long-dead guy riding a horse. Abdo got his start as a property developer by buying decrepit buildings and modernizing them, and his headquarters shows off the trick. The adjoining storefronts had been stripped bare and rebuilt, all warm wood and cold glass with exposed brick and beams. It looked like a Brooklyn design studio or a Silicon Valley start-up, or at least how those offices might look in a Nancy Meyers movie. But Abdo has built his business in the unstylish land of think tanks and tepid salmon lunches and boxy women’s suits.
Boston Herald: Patrick proposes $1 billion in transportation projects
Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a series of major transportation projects — from a rail service between Boston and Hyannis to expanding South Station — but was short on specifics for how exactly taxpayers will pay for an estimated $1 billion tab in a much-awaited press conference today.
Greater Greater Washington: PEDESTRIANS 8½ minutes to cross the street
When you get off the northbound bus at Route 355 and Shady Grove Road in Rockville, it takes 8½ minutes to cross legally to the other side of the street. Along the way, you traverse 28 traffic lanes.
Roll Call: Rail Funding, Online Taxes a Few of the Issues on Congress' Plate
By CQ Roll Call Staff
Jan. 14, 2013
While some House authorizers — including Shuster, left, the Transportation and Infrastructure panel chairman — support investment in high-speed rail, other Republicans remain strongly opposed to the White House plan for a nationwide system of fast passenger trains.
Beyond the president’s ambitious agenda, Congress has no shortage of other issues to tackle in the 113th Congress.
The expiration of current law in September is likely to trigger a showdown over President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail initiative. While some House authorizers, including Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., support investment in high-speed rail, at least in the Northeast Corridor, other Republicans remain strongly opposed to the White House plan for a nationwide system of fast passenger trains.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has signaled that Obama will again propose funding in his fiscal 2014 budget, even though appropriators in both chambers provided nothing for the program in their fiscal 2013 spending bills.
The issue will pose an early test of Shuster’s ability to promote transportation infrastructure investment amid growing wariness in his own caucus.
Unlike the heated political fights that accompanied past efforts to reduce emissions through cap-and-trade bills, the climate debate is likely to unfold in a more piecemeal fashion.
An early focus will be on projects designed to reduce damage to infrastructure from the kinds of extreme weather that is expected to occur more frequently as global temperatures rise. Following Superstorm Sandy, the Senate approved billions of dollars in spending on storm adaptation as part of a relief package. The House could vote as early as this week on a similar plan.
Lawmakers writing legislation to authorize billions of dollars in new spending on ports, inland waterways and clean water infrastructure will face a new challenge in trying to put together a bill free of earmarks.
Previous water bills have been collections of hundreds of projects sought by members of Congress. But self-imposed congressional earmark bans will force House and Senate authorizing committees to come up with new ways to dispense the money.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, drafted legislation in the waning days of the 112th Congress to establish standards the Army Corps of Engineers must follow in choosing which projects to fund. House authorizers are cool to that idea and have quietly asked leadership to consider modifying the earmark ban to avoid leaving spending decisions in the hands of the executive branch.
The Obama administration will determine the nature of the U.S. role in Afghanistan after 2014 and the drawdown of U.S. troops. But lawmakers will want to put their stamp on the policy, with a vocal minority advocating a more substantial presence aligned against a growing number eager to end the U.S. role in the long-running conflict.
Congress will need to authorize and appropriate funds to support military and civilian activities in Afghanistan. The House and Senate will likely also provide Afghanistan with government and military aid.
A defense policy bill has been signed into law in each of the past 51 years. But in an increasingly polarized Congress, final passage of the bill has been delayed until the final days of each of the past two sessions.
The authorizing committees are typically an oasis of relative comity, and panel leaders have worked to maintain good relations in the interests of national security. But James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who replaced Arizona’s John McCain this year as ranking Republican on the Senate panel, has taken a more partisan approach to issues including the drawdown in Iraq, gays in the military and the Pentagon’s use of alternative fuels. Inhofe’s staff contends, however, that the senator prefers to continue the panel’s tendency toward consensus because that has strengthened the Senate’s positions in conference with House lawmakers.
Top members of Congress, business groups and national security experts agree that Congress needs to enact cybersecurity legislation to defend computer networks from attack and economic espionage after not agreeing on a bill last year. But lawmakers have not resolved their differences over whether the government should create security standards for the private sector or just take steps to facilitate threat information sharing between businesses and the government.
Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees say finishing a five-year farm bill is their priority, but they face a more difficult budget situation this year with legislation carrying a multiyear price tag of several hundred billion dollars. The committees also face antipathy in the House and divisions among major commodity groups on changes to farm support programs.
Congress included a renewal and extension of selected farm programs in the fiscal cliff tax package (PL 112-240). There’s already speculation that lawmakers will extend the temporary authorization past its Sept. 30 expiration.
Violence Against Women Act
Top Democrats vow to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in the 113th Congress after renewal of the 1994 law — which funds programs to help domestic violence victims — became an unexpected partisan flashpoint in 2012. Last year, Senate Democrats sought to expand the law to include new protections for victims who are gay and lesbian, immigrants and American Indians, but House Republicans backed a narrower version that also included more oversight of the law’s many grant programs. A key question is whether Democrats insist on the broader language Republicans rejected last year.
Internet Sales Tax
Momentum has been building for legislation to allow cities and states to collect sales tax from Internet retailers. By overturning a 1992 Supreme Court decision that prevents state governments from taxing companies that don’t have a physical presence within their jurisdiction, Congress could help states generate an additional $23 billion in annual revenue, while also assisting brick-and-mortar retailers in fending off the challenge posed by online shopping. Leading proposals could advance, given the strong lobbying push from retail associations, governors and state legislators.
But the legislation faces opposition from representatives of states without sales taxes, and from anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. Internet groups, including the Computer and Communications Industry Association, as well as eBay, oppose any Internet sales tax proposal that does not exempt the bulk of small online businesses.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett, Featuring Kathryn Wolfe
AMTRAK AUDITS: The passenger railroad’s inspector general put out its semiannual report yesterday, a document that tracks and summarizes all of its audits and recommendations between April 1 and Sept. 30, 2012. MT has written about all the big ones as they popped up during that time, but feel free to browse it if you’re playing catch-up: http://bit.ly/UL1CJc
On or off the rails? Rules Committee ranking member Louise Slaughter took a few minutes at yesterday’s hearing to talk about why funding shouldn’t be cut for Amtrak and said preserving that money “makes a tremendous difference to Northeast and the entire economy of America.” Rodney Frelinghuysen also defended the Amtrak funding, telling the panel that “we’re not handing out money to Amtrak that’s not related” to the disaster. Rogers’s component has $32 million for Amtrak; Frelinghuysen’s has $86 million.
STAFFER DOMINOES FALL: The House Transportation Committee announced five new staff hires yesterday afternoon, including Murphie Barrett’s move from Jim Inhofe’s Senate EPW committee staff to T&I’s Highway and Transit panel. The other four staff hires: Former DOT advisor Clare Doherty will be T&I’s director of budget and program analysis; former DOT counsel and accountability officer for MWAA Kimberly Moore joins T&I as counsel for investigations and oversight; Beth Spivey will be director of outreach; and former staffer for T&I member Patrick Meehan Matt Sturges will be director of member services.
And then: DOT Secretary Ray LaHood moved Lynn Deavers to chief accountability officer for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, a move announced just a few minutes after the House T&I committee said that Moore would move to the Hill. Deavers is an attorney for DOT and will report directly to LaHood in overseeing the transparency, ethics and governance of MWAA, which has been dinged by Congress and federal investigators in the past for lavish spending and nepotism. Moore oversaw MWAA for a bit less than six months.
FIRST LOOK — Safety progress by the states: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are out today with their annual “roadmap” of the states — and there’s been some positive movement. MT got its hands on it a bit early and compared it to last year’s, and we found that in 2012, Advocates recommended states adopt 348 laws, down to 316 in the 2013 forecast. The largest progress has come on impaired and distracted driving: Last year, Advocates said 45 states are missing one or more impaired driving laws and 18 needed all-driver text-messaging restrictions; this year that’s down to 40 and 15, respectively. Another big change: The repeal of a motorcycle helmet law makes it impossible for a state to grab the coveted green ratings. Michigan repealed such a law last year. The full unveil comes this morning at the National Press Club; until then here’s the full report: http://bit.ly/RTQzQO
About those red states: There are now six states with red ratings, which Advocates defines as “dangerously behind in adoption of key laws”: Mississippi, Arizona, Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Both Virginia and Ohio have gone yellow. Maine, Minnesota and Michigan have been downgraded from green to yellow.
GHSA’s Jonathan Adkins emails us: “We agree on a lot of their points. The two most critical laws that are needed in many states are primary seat belt laws and motorcycle helmet laws. The advocacy community is largely silent on the ground in these states. Lawmakers mostly hear from opponents, so it is no surprise that progress is so slow or non-existent. On their point about the 2012 fatality data, any increase is a concern, but the bigger picture is still very good. We are dramatically down from where we were five or seven years ago.”
SANDY BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Today the House takes up the Sandy supplemental that was pulled in the waning hours of the 112th Congress, much to the chagrin of those representing the affected area. After four hours of testimony, the Rules Committee last night decided that a total of 14 amendments will be up for votes. While Republicans had sought to trim the transportation funding through a variety of amendments, none were made in order. The panel did approve a floor vote on a proposal from Rep. Mick Mulvaney and others to offset the base $17 billion measure with an across-the-board discretionary spending cut. Procedurally, that $17 billion from Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers and the $33.7 billion in extra funds from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen both come in the form of amendments that will be up for separate votes. The Rules report lays out the amendments: http://1.usa.gov/SBu0lp. And David Rogers has more: http://politi.co/V0yX4D
Rogers not whipping: Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers told reporters off the House floor last night that he’s “not a vote counter” and therefore wouldn’t predict whether either his or Frelinghuysen’s measures would pass. He did say his package is better than what the Senate tried to pass because it is “Sandy specific.” Rogers also said he didn’t support any of the offset efforts by his fellow Republicans because Sandy is a “true emergency.” Rogers wouldn’t say whether he supported the $33 billion piece; he said he’s still “looking at it.”
We’re shocked! Both the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America are urging “no” votes on the Sandy aid bill. And the White House wants it passed quickly — without offsets.
We still need money, MTA says: When it comes to the ongoing wait for disaster relief money, New York’s transit system may be a victim of its own efficiency. Officials in charge of subways, buses and light rail devastated by Hurricane Sandy are quick to quote dire statistics — New York City’s subway system alone had eight tunnels flooded and 12 stations damaged or destroyed, not to mention rail yards, repair shops, signal networks and substations inundated with corrosive salt water. Yet the subway is back up and running, though not at full capacity. But the rapid restoration of service is leading some to think the busy transit network is out of the woods — which is “patently false,” acting MTA head Tom Prendergast said. Kathryn has more for Pros: http://politico.pro/VFY9Q4
Streamlined: Yesterday the House signed off on a bill designed to speed up Sandy aid — including FEMA reforms and expedited environmental reviews for rebuilding damaged infrastructure. We’ve got you covered with the legislative text (http://1.usa.gov/SoE2X3) and the bill’s major provisions, via the T&I committee (http://1.usa.gov/SzoTCg).
BACK IT UP: LaHood told reporters in Michigan yesterday that the department is getting ever closer to finalizing requirements for rear cameras in new cars and trucks. “It’s a priority for me,” LaHood said. “This could end up being one of the most important rules we ever do in terms of saving what I call our treasures, our children. That’s the argument I’m making now.” The rules were originally slated to come out by the end of 2011 but have been repeatedly delayed. Detroit Free Press has more: http://on.freep.com/TVo8Sr
Clarifying the schedule: We goofed slightly in Monday’s MT — LaHood was in Detroit yesterday for the auto show and is expected to return on Friday to formally announce $25 million for the city’s M-1 light-rail project. Though nothing is official, yesterday he dropped some major hints that the rail money is on its way: “So I couldn’t be any happier. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.”
Money for something: On Wednesday, Virginia will officially ink a $150 million grant for the Silver Line Metro extension to Dulles — and LaHood will swear in new MWAA board members. Here’s the funding agreement: http://bit.ly/UZpDxR
WINTER DRIVING: The mercury might be well north of freezing in D.C., but it’s still winter ... technically. So for all the parts of the country that are actually getting some snow, MT passes along this handy set of winter driving tips from NHTSA: http://1.usa.gov/101NLoD
NO WEB SURFING FOR PILOTS: The FAA has proposed a rule (http://bit.ly/W4tpVK) that would prohibit flight crews from using personal wireless devices and laptops for “personal use” on airplane flight decks. The rule was part of last year’s FAA authorization and follows a 2009 incident in which two pilots overflew their destination by 150 miles because they were checking their laptops for personal reasons.
THE DAY AHEAD: All day — Transportation Research Board annual meeting. Washington Marriott Wardman Park, Omni Shoreham and Washington Hilton hotels. More information: http://bit.ly/J91eg4
11 a.m. — The American Society of Civil Engineers unveils a new economic study on quantifying exactly how much infrastructure assets impact economic well-being. Teleconference.
Politico Pro: MTA says it needs aid, despite quick repairs
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
When it comes to the ongoing wait for disaster relief money, New York’s transit system may be a victim of its own efficiency.
Officials in charge of subways, buses and light rail devastated by Hurricane Sandy are quick to quote dire statistics — New York City’s subway system alone had eight tunnels flooded and 12 stations damaged or destroyed, not to mention rail yards, repair shops, signal networks and substations inundated with corrosive salt water. And yet, the subway is back up and running, though not at full capacity.
“We were able to protect infrastructure and systems and come back relatively quickly, but in some cases I believe that relative quickness has been confused by people saying we weren’t damaged that much,” said Tom Prendergast, the acting head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “That was patently false.”
Prendergast is particularly aware of the optics of the situation as the House heads toward a vote later this week on a package of Sandy disaster relief firmly in the crosshairs of Republicans who want to slash funding. Many dozens of amendments have been filed, though they won’t all see the light of day — that will be determined Monday evening when the House Rules Committee meets.
Fiscal conservatives are gearing up to fight over the total amount of disaster relief the House might pass. On Monday morning, the Club for Growth urged Republicans to vote down the entire package, including the $17 billion base bill already vetted by House GOP appropriators.
“There are more responsible ways to pass disaster relief legislation. For starters, funds could be released in installments to make sure the resources are spent more wisely,” said Andy Roth, the Club for Growth’s vice president of government affairs, in a letter sent to congressional offices. “They should also strip out all immaterial line items, and fully offset all expenditures with spending cuts elsewhere.”
When the House turns to the Sandy relief bill on Tuesday, it plans to take up that $17 billion bill by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), which is all but sure to pass. Then it will take up an amendment to the bill by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), an ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has helped manage the package.
Frelinghuysen’s amendment would build on the Rogers bill with additional money for community block grants, transit, the Army Corps of Engineers and all manner of projects to mitigate future storm damages. If it is approved, it would bring the bill’s total to about $60 billion, similar to the Senate’s package.
For agencies like New York’s MTA, it’s not just an academic exercise. Prendergast said the area’s transit systems are running again, but fragile. Many of the city’s transit systems are decades old, which means MTA’s repair shops have to fabricate their own parts — and in order to get the system up and running again, they’ve depleted almost all of their stock of replacement parts. Beyond the toll on its fabrication yards, using replacement parts means more inspections and more maintenance, too.
Prendergast said the agency is going to do whatever it takes to keep things running, and that it’s not going to wait on Congress to act. But he said it needs Congress to do something eventually — preferably sooner rather than later.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes, but a lot of those funds — it’s our expectation that we’re going to get that money replaced,” Prendergast said. “We can’t just sit and wait for legislative action so we’re done a number of things on our own. But we don’t have a choice.”
And as for those lawmakers who think what happens in New York City stays in New York City, he pointed out that Manhattan's economy is 11 percent of the entire country's gross domestic product.
"New York needs to work," he said.
Freight traffic on US railroads increased more than 50% from 1990 to 2003.