Infrastructure in the News: January 18, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Washington Post: U.S. losing ground in global marketplace, report finds
Falling behind Panama and Malaysia; Lilliputians when compared to the port of Shanghai; a once mighty rail system now rated 18th in the world; an overall ranking below a dozen other nations, including Luxembourg; and sinking fast without a blueprint to compete in the burgeoning global economy.
Washington Post: Sandy spurs Rockefeller plan to fight flooding
In the hours before Hurricane Sandy turned northward to bash New Jersey and flood Lower Manhattan, there was fear it might drive a virtual tsunami up the Potomac to bury parts of the capital under water.
Detroit Free Press: U.S. transit chief Ray LaHood in Detroit Friday to make light rail announcement
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is coming to Detroit on Friday to make "a major funding announcement" that is expected to involve plans for a light rail system between the city's downtown and the cultural, medical and educational center a few miles north.
KPCC: California high-speed rail pairs with Amtrak for cost and clout
California’s high speed rail czar is in Washington, D.C. this week to mend political fences - and to find partners who can help make it tougher to derail California’s cut of new federal rail funding.
Newsday: Tappan Zee Bridge contract to get close scrutiny, comptroller vows
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is promising close scrutiny of financing for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, oversight likely to highlight uncertainties that have the potential to delay work on the span.
Patriot News: Op-ed: State metro centers deserve special transportation funding
Recently, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett indicated that he will unveil a much needed transportation funding plan to the General Assembly and citizens of the commonwealth.
This is welcome news, indeed. Largely ignored for decades, the lack of adequate funding for Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure has left a tremendous hole.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett, Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Scott Wong
Editor's note: A previous version of Morning Transportation was sent in error. This is Morning Transportation for Friday, Jan. 18.
DREAM A LITTLE DREAMLINER WITH ME: As the United States goes, so goes the rest of the world. True too for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has been grounded worldwide after the FAA blocked further flights in the U.S. There’s a lot still up in the air (pardon the pun): There’s no timetable at present for when the planes might be restored to service. It’s also unclear what exactly the problem and solution might be. It’s uncertain whether it will be a quick fix, or something complicated that might mean the entire Dreamliner fleet’s wings are clipped for days or weeks to come. Kathryn has more: http://politi.co/V9JYnX
A storied history: The woes that have grounded the Dreamliners aren’t out of the blue. The battery fires and overheating episodes troubling Boeing’s flagship jet are just the latest in a string of equipment failures that have marked the plane’s history. Its troubles during the extensive test phase included a cabin fire caused by an electrical malfunction that forced an emergency landing in early 2010, with 42 pilots, mechanics and engineers on board. A power panel that fed the 787 test plane’s electrical systems had burst into flames, crippling many of the plane’s electronics and forcing the pilots to land using a backup system. The Dreamliner was delayed for months amid the subsequent investigation and the regulatory hoops that Boeing had to jump through to satisfy the FAA that the problem had been resolved. Kathryn again: http://politi.co/VsBDci
Friends in high places: Our new transpo correspondent (more on that next week) Scott Wong digs into Boeing’s Hill ties, which include campaign contributions to both Washington senators. Patty Murray might be the company’s most high-profile champion, and was expected to call FAA head Michael Huerta last night to make sure his agency has all the information it needs to carry out its investigation into battery-related fires, sources said. One House GOP aide said he’d be “shocked” if Boeing’s lobbying outfit wasn’t already reaching out to key members of Congress. More for Pros: http://politico.pro/Xf51zw
More to come? According to a copy of the FAA's emergency directive that ended up grounding the global Dreamliner fleet, it was issued because the two battery problems that caused the release of "flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke" likely isn’t an isolated problem. To make things worse for Boeing, the directive suggests the FAA "might determine that additional action is necessary." Read it: http://bit.ly/11CBsPT
Stock price holds: Boeing shares actually increased in price yesterday and are flat over the past month, though trading volumes have been high in recent days.
AMTRAK’S BIG DAY — The order: Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority are linking up on on a combined order of high-speed train sets. The request for proposal could follow as soon as September, with an order potentially coming in 2014, officials said. The two groups envision procuring 12 new and 20 Acela Amtrak replacement train sets plus 27 for California's burgeoning effort. Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said he's seen initial cost estimates ranging from $35 million to $55 million per train set. If you are into that kind of thing, here’s the RFI request via Amtrak’s procurement portal: http://bit.ly/Wb5FzC
The relationship: Boardman and new Railroads Chairman Jeff Denham have what Boardman described as a “very minimal” relationship. That doesn’t mean they have beef, they just don’t know each other that well besides sitting across from each other at a recent T&I hearing on California’s high-speed rail program. “We didn’t know he was going to be the chair of the subcommittee until very recently. But the relationship I have with him ... has been a positive one, not negative,” Boardman told MT. Boardman and an aide to Denham said that the two men plan to soon change that with a meeting. It’s going to be a critical time for them to get on the same page: Denham will lead the House panel that will write a new passenger rail bill later this year. Burgess has more: http://politico.pro/WKTxUo
THE LAST FRIDAY OF OBAMA’S FIRST TERM. Thanks for reading POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and waiting all day for snow. If it moves, it's news. Email us: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AdamKSnider and @BurgessEv. More news: @POLITICOPro and @Morning_Transpo.
“I take it on the road; kilometers and the red lights …” http://youtu.be/l2vEtfyveeY
REMINDER — No MT break: You might have Monday off work for MLK Day and the Inauguration, but we rest for no one. You’ll still be able to get your MT fix on Monday, so fear not.
PISTOLE’S FUNNY SIDE: TSA head John Pistole spoke at the International Aviation Club luncheon yesterday and even though he knew there were reporters in the room, the normally-stoic intelligence expert cracked a few jokes during his talk. MT’s favorite part was when he mentioned that all members of Congress are being signed up for the PreCheck expedited screening program that lets “known and trusted” travelers go through relaxed security screening. “You might find this crass politicism, but we’re actually signing up all 535 members of Congress,” he said to laughs. Pistole recalled testimony last summer at a congressional hearing, where he noted that “of course most members of Congress are known and trusted,” again drawing big laughs. “One little word: most. So our budget got cut $100 million,” he added.
SZABO LOOKS AT YEAR AHEAD: FRA head Joe Szabo sent an email to a number of industry groups earlier this week rounding up the agency’s work in 2012 (“the safest year in the history of the railroad industry,” he wrote) and looking ahead to 2013. “There is more work to be done. This year we will continue to take proactive measures to prevent accidents and incidents by aggressively advancing Risk Reduction and System Safety Programs. We will also stay focused on our collaborative effort with industry and labor to eliminate electronic device distraction,” he wrote in the email, obtained by MT. Read the whole thing right here: http://bit.ly/SR9yNF
A TAXING ISSUE, IF NO LONGER VEXING: There was some confusion on whether or not businesses and their employees would be able to seize the retroactive tax benefits for public transportation commuters that were signed by President Barack Obama as part of the fiscal cliff deal. Under the deal, transit benefits for 2012 were raised retroactively from $125 per month to $230, the same level as parking benefits. We won’t give you the step-by-step because we slept through our accounting classes, but the IRS issued instructions yesterday on how employers and employees can take advantage of may put to hundreds of dollars back in peoples’ pockets. Read the full guidance: http://1.usa.gov/UxCCa0
TRANSPO SAFETY STAT PACKS — First look: MT got ahold of a new Bloomberg Philanthropies report out this morning that shows the $125 million committed to road safety by the organization has helped cover 1.6 billion people by tougher laws and helped save nearly 13,000 lives in Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam. “There is still more work to be done,” said Mike Bloomberg, New York’s mayor, who is speaking at the World Bank this morning at the Transforming Transportation event. “We look forward to spreading our efforts and contributing to the Decade of Action to reduce preventable road traffic deaths and injuries.” There’s lots of good stats in here, but one eye-popper stood out. In Turkey there is no national seat belt law, but Bloomberg pushed for a local mandate in Afyon, where seat belt usage went from 4 percent in 2011 to 49 percent in 2012, according to the report: http://bit.ly/WL9iuw
Deaths drop: U.S. transportation deaths fell 2 percent in 2011 from the previous year, the NTSB reports. After more than 35,000 transportation deaths in 2010, the number a year later dropped to 34,434. Road deaths accounted for the bulk of the fatalities in 2011, clocking in at 32,367. There were 800 maritime deaths, 759 rail deaths, 494 aviation deaths and 14 pipeline deaths, according to NTSB. Some light reading: http://1.usa.gov/11CjuNr
Recalling all of 2012: NHTSA says 2012 featured 650 safety recalls affecting 17.8 million vehicles and associated equipment. The safety agency said it played “a significant role” in influencing recalls on more than 9 million vehicles and 60,000 pieces of equipment, such as tires and car seats. Public complaints were lower last year than in previous years — there were nearly 42,000 complaints filed in 2012, down from over 49,000 in 2011 and over 65,000 in 2010. The full 2012 recall report: http://politico.pro/10hJX2x
MICA MEETS HIS MATCH: Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly will serve as ranking member in former T&I Chairman John Mica’s House Government Operations new subcommittee. Connolly said in a statement he will work on “maintaining a robust and professional federal workforce,” and one of Mica’s key goals has been to cut bureaucracy in the federal government, particularly the TSA.
METRO’S INAUGURATION WEEKEND: There’s no track work this weekend to accommodate the Inauguration crowds. We’ll bring you all the Metro and road details in Monday’s MT.
One step at time: Metro awarded a contract yesterday for $151 million that would replace or reconstruct 128 escalators by 2020. Georgia Avenue, Columbia Heights and Congress heights get seven fresh escalators each to lead the crowd. More info: http://bit.ly/S8Ga3U
LOVE FOR A LOCAL LANDMARK: DOT Secretary Ray LaHood will work with the Rock Creek Conservancy on Saturday as part of the National Day of Service ahead of Inauguration Day. The conservancy is dedicated to protect the Anacostia and the Potomac’s little bro, Rock Creek, and LaHood will be help “protect the health and beauty of the creek,” per inaugural committee guidance.
But first: LaHood will be in Detroit today to make a funding announcement for the Detroit streetcar program. That’s at 9:30 a.m., then he’s slated to speak at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington at 12:30 p.m. Good thing he’s the secretary of transportation or we’d be worried about the timing.
PORT STRIKE UPDATE: Things have been fairly quiet lately as the U.S. Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen’s Association continue talks to avert a Feb. 6 strike at East and Gulf Coast ports. But Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen broke the silence yesterday and said the two sides “conducted negotiations during the three day period January 15-17, 2013. In these negotiations the parties made progress and have agreed that the negotiations will continue under our auspices. Due to the sensitivity of these negotiations, we will have no further comment at this time.”
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ)
- The Obama campaign is relaunching as a tax-exempt group and launch into action on the first day of his new term. Team POLITICO: http://politi.co/10DgmBL
- Former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota is officially running for mayor. http://bit.ly/XGvx7O
- Tax Foundation takes a look at how states raise money for roads. http://bit.ly/XeAMsB
- Inside the devastated South Ferry Station on the New York Subway. SAS: http://bit.ly/UxZXIC
- Eastern Shore lawmakers introduce bill in Maryland legislature to study new Bay Bridge. TollRoadsNews: http://bit.ly/WaZDiA
-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett eyes raising money from increased wholesale gas, but does it violate a no-tax increase pledge? Inquirer: http://bit.ly/10CeAB1
- Michigan Gov. Snyder wants to raise car registration fees, gas tax to some level of $120 per vehicle. http://on.freep.com/S7Zpup
- New GAO report on HTF expenditures for fiscal years 2009-2011. http://1.usa.gov/13INCp9
THE DAY AHEAD: All day — House Republicans' annual retreat. Williamsburg, Va.
All day — U.S. Conference of Mayors' 81st Winter Meeting. LaHood speaks at 12:30 p.m. Capitol Hilton Hotel, 1001 16th St. NW. Registration: http://bit.ly/UBagtv
9 a.m. — Mayor Bloomberg and World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim headline a keynote session at the annual Transforming Transportation titled “Shaping the Future of Urban Transport.” World Bank Headquarters, 1818 H St. NW.
THE COUNTDOWN: The new sequestration deadline is in 42 days and DOT funding runs out in 69 days. Passenger rail policy runs out in 256 days, surface transportation policy in 624 days and FAA policy in 986 days. The mid-term elections are in 655 days.
CABOOSE — Spread around the joy: Get your kids ready for a lifetime of travel with this Playmobil Security Checkpoint. This bad boy’s got everything: Baggage machine, body scanner, two security employees and a woman with a stylish scarf. The product was made from 2003 to 2007, per the New York Times. Check out the $5000 Amazon listing, which raises some red flags that it’s not really for sale, but is good for a laugh: http://amzn.to/XHE8H6
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By Scott Wong | 1/17/13 6:13 PM EST
Boeing suffered a blow to its multibillion-dollar aircraft program and corporate reputation in recent days, but it has one big advantage: Friends in high places, and an army of lobbyists assuring regulators and lawmakers that the aerospace company is doing all it can to address the safety problems with its 787 Dreamliner.
Boeing has powerful allies in the Obama administration and on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, sending millions of dollars each year to lawmakers’ campaign coffers and employing thousands of people at plants in Washington state and South Carolina.
Those ties could come into play as lawmakers weigh whether to launch investigations into the Dreamliner’s troubles and the updated certification process the FAA created for the state-of-the-art planes.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray, perhaps Boeing’s most high-profile champion, was expected to call FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Thursday evening to make sure his agency has all the information it needs to carry out its investigation into battery-related fires, sources said. And Boeing engineers met with staffers to Washington state’s 12-member congressional delegation to better explain problems with the 787’s lithium-ion batteries.
“I think [Murray] wants to make sure the FAA is getting everything it needs from Boeing and that cooperation is strong,” said a source familiar with the call.
Murray, a member of the Democratic leadership team, has received about $173,000 in campaign contributions from Boeing and its employees since arriving in the Senate two decades ago. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who has chaired the Commerce Committee’s aviation subcommittee, has collected more than $100,000 from Boeing during her 11-year Senate career.
In a statement, Boeing President and CEO Jim McNerney said the company is committed to helping federal regulators and investigators get to the bottom of the safety problems. But Boeing did not respond to an inquiry about what it was doing behind the scenes to assure lawmakers and Obama administration officials it had the situation under control.
One House GOP aide said he’d be “shocked” if Boeing’s lobbying outfit wasn’t already reaching out to key members of Congress.
The Chicago-based company has paid lobbying firms $75 million during the past five years, including to some of the biggest shops in town: Podesta Group, Gephardt Group and Akin Gump. But until now, most of its efforts have been focused on its defense arm.
It’s the role of lobbyists to “communicate facts” to key stakeholders, including lawmakers “who have traditionally supported Boeing and have jobs in their districts,” said Kenneth Quinn, a former FAA chief counsel who now heads the aviation practice for law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in Washington.
Quinn, whose firm doesn’t represent Boeing, called the grounding of Dreamliners an “overreaction” that damaged the reputation of the new aircraft and its manufacturer. But he warned that lobbyists “should avoid the temptation of political interference.”
“The primary focus of Boeing or any other company in a crisis of confidence like this is to address the underlying engineering and air worthiness issues to regain the confidence of your regulators,” Quinn said.
A former senior Senate aviation staffer, now a lobbyist for another industry, said that as a lobbying force, Boeing is deep-pocketed and well connected. But he said the company has also earned respect among those who deal with the company regularly.
"Obviously they're a huge corporate entity and someone that, as a staffer, I think people look to as a leader," the former aide said. "They weren't overly aggressive in any form or fashion."
The aide said the company’s lobbying team was more concentrated on the defense arm of Boeing's business, "which kinda sucked the air out of the room a little bit in terms of where their focus was."
In any case, the former aide said that in more than a decade in which he dealt with Boeing as a top Senate aide, the company always had a "very competent, good staff" and was responsive to the Hill’s concerns.
"They kind of always had their story straight. I'd be curious how they're negotiating at this point — it must be difficult."
For now, lawmakers are steering clear of any talk about a congressional probe, saying the FAA needs time and space to carry out its own investigation. No hearings have been scheduled for the House Transportation Committee, said a spokesman for Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who received $10,000 from Boeing in the last election cycle.
West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees transportation issues, also has not called for separate hearings, though the Dreamliner problems could come up during a previously planned aviation safety oversight meeting, a spokesman said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the incoming ranking member of the committee, who previously was the top Republican of the aviation subcommittee, said in a statement: "I continue to follow the situation closely."
In recent years, Boeing became a cause célèbre for congressional Republicans as labor unions and the National Labor Relations Board sued the aerospace firm over its decision to open a 6,000-employee plant to build 787s in South Carolina, an anti-union, right-to-work state.
Among its loudest defenders were the Palmetto State’s two GOP senators, Lindsey Graham and freshman Tim Scott, who both trumpeted Boeing’s investments during speeches back home and at the Capitol.
“Thank God Boeing did not leave the United States,” Graham said during a news conference with GOP leaders in 2011.
Boeing has deep ties to the Obama administration as well. Bill Daley, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, served on Boeing’s board of directors before arriving in the White House. And Obama’s former Commerce secretary, John Bryson, also served on the company’s board.
In 2010, Obama tapped McNerney, Boeing’s CEO, as chairman of the President’s Export Council. Boeing contributed more than $170,000 to the president’s reelection campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Kathryn A. Wolfe contributed to this report.
By Burgess Everett | 1/17/13 1:23 PM EST
The new House railroads chairman and Amtrak’s CEO have some relationship building to do.
At an event during which Amtrak chief Joe Boardman announced cooperation with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to begin the process of purchasing new fast train sets, Boardman said his relationship with new railroads subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) is mostly limited to a hearing in December during which Denham and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tangled over the future of high-speed rail in the Golden State.
“We didn’t know he was going to be the chair of the subcommittee until very recently. But the relationship I have with him — which is a very minimal one — has been a positive one, not negative,” Boardman said in a brief interview. The CEO said he didn’t have anything on his calendar, but he intends to meet with Denham. An aide to Denham confirmed the two men would soon huddle.
Getting Denham and Boardman on the same page will be crucial: Congress only has until late September to write a new passenger rail bill and Amtrak’s existence has been regularly put to the test in Congress ever since its creation more than 40 years ago.
Amtrak just underwent a bruising set of late-year hearings from former Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, who, though a self-described ally of Amtrak and high-speed rail, had been skeptical of Amtrak’s plan to seek billions from Congress for high-speed rail in the Northeast. Denham has been the loudest critic in Congress of California’s $68 billion business plan — much of it yet unfunded — and is expected to take a microscope to the project.
Boardman, CHSRA CEO Jeff Morales and FRA Administrator Joe Szabo appeared together at D.C.’s Union Station on Thursday morning to promote a joint effort to acquire 32 high-speed trains for Amtrak and 27 for California. The trains would share a physical likeness but can be modified to run at 150 mph speeds on Acela now and at 220 mph later on the Northeast Corridor and in California.
Denham is leading a fight to prevent more federal money from funding the Golden State’s fast train effort, and Boardman said the Amtrak/California collaboration is not an end-around of Congress to fund the project, which is scheduled to break ground in the Central Valley this year.
“This is a way to get high-speed trains to the United States,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense” to not combine the orders.
There’s a hope among Democrats and rail boosters that new full committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) will be less adversarial than Mica had been toward California and high-speed rail efforts as a whole. The two have a “long” relationship, Boardman said.
Shuster chaired the rail panel last year before being elevated to full committee chairman.
“I think Bill will bring a bit of different view on this and really try to make sure whatever he does is efficient and effective for all the modes whether its rail, whether its highway or aviation,” Boardman said.
He doesn’t expect the red carpet treatment from House Republicans.
“But I believe that they see the numbers we’re putting up in terms of revenue and ridership, the things that we’re trying to get done,” Boardman said of a streak of record Amtrak ridership and profits on Acela, currently the fastest route in the country. “We have our critics and we have our extreme critics. We’ll continue to have those.”
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old questions from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.”