Infrastructure in the News: January 2, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
New Hampshire Union Leader: Another View -- Lou D'Allesandro and Ed Rendell: Our deficit spending must end
In our long careers in public service, both of us have proud histories of fighting to ensure that the governments we have served could balance their budgets while protecting the most vulnerable citizens. We have been fortunate to be joined in this fight by a great many devoted public servants from both sides of the political divide, and it is in this spirit of coming together to address our fiscal problems that we have joined the Campaign to Fix the Debt.
WNYC News : Predicting When the Next Sandy Will Hit
The day after Sandy hit, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo repeated a joke he said he had told President Barack Obama in the days leading up to the storm: “We have a 100-year-flood every two years now."
Wall Street Journal: Strengths, Challenges Ahead
As 2012 comes to a close, most in the real-estate industry are looking back at it as a year of slow but steady growth.
The city economy expanded, adding more than 66,000 jobs in the 12 months through November, according to the state Labor Department. The cost of renting an apartment soared to record levels and sales of condominiums and co-ops stayed strong for most of the year.
In another positive sign, ground was finally broken in December on the first tower in the planned 26-acre Hudson Yards development—an office building anchored by Coach Inc. COH +1.45% Situated on Manhattan's largest tract of undeveloped property, on the West Side, Hudson Yards eventually is expected to include enough office space and apartments for 40,000 people.
But 2012 had its disappointments as well. Office leasing remained slow, especially in the second half, as the financial-services industry contracted and companies remained concerned about the direction of the global economy.
Commercial property, along with the rest of the city, also got beaten up pretty bad by superstorm Sandy. Some downtown buildings still are uninhabitable. Photos of a wind-damaged construction crane dangling precariously over West 57th Street emerged as one of the symbols of the storm.
With the industry still skittish about "fiscal cliff" talks in Washington as well as the economy, The Wall Street Journal asked some of the industry's top developers, architects and other executives for their thoughts on what's ahead. Here are their responses:
Joseph J. Sitt
Chief executive, Thor Equities
New York City's retail and residential real estate remains white-hot coming into the New Year, with all signs pointing to another banner year in 2013.
With crime continuing to trend downward, a new industry exploding (tech), and travelers (business and pleasure) descending on New York in record numbers, New York City has reclaimed its status as the city on the hill.
On the residential side, foreign billionaires from all over the world who were buying in London a decade ago are now buying in New York City, and those establishing tech hubs in the five boroughs are bringing in tremendous numbers of well-paid employees, all of whom need housing.
On the retail side, the "highest" of all High Streets, Fifth Avenue, has expanded by half a mile; Madison Avenue is soaring; the Meat Packing District—with the emergence of the Standard Hotel, High Line, Apple Store and top-flight eateries—is on fire; and SoHo, following a cooling-off period during the early 2000s, has stormed back with record rents and popularity.
All told, 2013 looks to be a continuation of the record-setting year of 2012 when it comes to residential and retail in New York City.
Mary Ann Tighe
Chief executive, New York Tri-State Region, CBRE Group CBG +1.41% Inc.; outgoing chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York
The office market trends to watch in 2013 have already begun in New York City. First, the strong and growing belief among CEOs that geographic boundaries no longer exist in locating their businesses. This frees them to move to neighborhoods they might not have considered in the past in order to realize cost savings, attract talent and revitalize their corporate culture. Advertising's "Mad Men" are no longer bound to Madison Avenue; financial services firms can flourish in Midtown South as well as on Wall Street or in Midtown; and tech companies are putting down stakes all over Manhattan and in business-friendly Brooklyn.
Second, the change from traditional office layout to collaborative open space and the use of alternative workplace strategies has resulted in the more efficient use of space. Concurrently, the need for modern or modernized office product is growing more acute, as 20th-century properties struggle to support 21st-century office population density.
A further challenge is that every prospective site is more valuable as residential than commercial, presuming zoning permits both. Why construct an office building on West 57th Street for $100-plus rents if you can sell it out before completion as a residential condo at prices north of $5,000 a foot?
These factors will drive office tenants to quality products not only in Midtown, but at the World Trade Center and throughout Downtown, Hudson Yards, Brooklyn and later in this decade, to a revitalized Midtown East, if Mayor Bloomberg's visionary rezoning becomes a reality.
Co-chief executive, Tishman Speyer Properties; incoming chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York
Two pressing issues demand our attention in 2013 to help drive the long-term health of the economy and real-estate industry in our city, state and nation: infrastructure investment and immigration reform. Both speak to having a strong foundation, physically and intellectually. Both cross ideological lines and present the perfect opportunity for business, labor and government to form a real coalition to work with common cause.
Infrastructure investment would immediately provide quality jobs while creating the backbone for economic growth and innovation in the decades ahead. In China, I have witnessed firsthand both the stimulative effects and the great logistical advantages of smart infrastructure planning. We must keep pace.
The other critical issue, immigration reform, is close to my heart as the grandson of an escapee from a Nazi prison. Our openness and diversity make us special. While comprehensive solutions may take time, we can start with the least controversial. Let's stop turning away non-American graduates from our top universities and sending them elsewhere to exploit the education they receive here. Staple a visa to every diploma issued in this country and respect the legacy that made us great.
Let 2013 be the year this business, labor and government coalition aligns to make meaningful progress on these issues.
Chairman, Durst Organization
Before making a forecast about 2013, we should take a hard look at 2012, which was a year of uncertainty. The national election placed a pall of anxiety on the New York real-estate market and many businesses postponed making space decisions until the election was sorted out.
Despite this uncertainty, we managed to do better than 1.3 million square feet of commercial transactions in 2012. And we immediately saw an uptick in interest in One World Trade Center after the election had concluded.
We see 2013 as a year of significant growth. Stability has returned and we believe businesses are now comfortable making the expansion and real-estate decisions that they have been postponing.
Partner, SHoP Architects
In 2013, we must rebuild from superstorm Sandy with resilience and intelligence to protect us from impending storms and against climate change generally. Task forces at the federal, state and city levels are being convened to generate recommendations—look for their results in the next six months.
Second, the traditional "hub and spoke" model of a central business district, in which everyone commutes in and out of the same place, is giving way to a citywide network of business districts. From Downtown to Dumbo, people have discovered new forms of working and living that bears little resemblance to "Mad Men Manhattan." As a consequence, the city's proposal to rezone the heart of our network, Midtown East, for competitive new office buildings and great public spaces, is imperative to accomplish this year.
Third, the advent of modular construction at Atlantic Yards is poised to transform the way we build nationwide. Modular, union-built, mixed income, transit-based housing will create a denser, greener, more equitable New York.
Finally, we must press the mayoral candidates on whether they will build upon the Bloomberg legacy by supporting the density, infrastructure, public spaces, education and affordability we need to stay competitive globally.
President, New York City Economic Development Corp.
The year 2013 is shaping up to be among the busiest yet for Mayor Bloomberg's economic-development agenda, as several of the administration's most critical projects complete the approvals process and we continue to develop initiatives designed to make New York the capital of 21st-century innovation.
One of the most high-profile projects of 2013 is the partnership between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which emerged as the first winner of the City's Applied Sciences competition. It just received the support of the local community board and could see City Council approval by the end of May. Meanwhile, the NYU-led Center for Urban Science and Progress in Downtown Brooklyn and Columbia's new Institute for Data Sciences will also show significant progress in the year ahead.
Other major projects for which we are seeking approval in 2013 include Willets Point in Queens, the first phase of which will remediate more than 20 acres of contaminated land and transform a long-blighted area; the redevelopment of St. George, Staten Island, with the construction of the world's tallest observation wheel, a high-end retail outlet and a hotel; a state-of-the-art new cancer facility for Memorial Sloan-Kettering and a new nursing school for CUNY Hunter on Manhattan's Upper East Side; a new plaza and cultural facilities in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District; and a major renovation of the South Street Seaport's Pier 17, with construction set to commence this summer.
We are also planning groundbreakings on more than 900 units of affordable housing at Hunter's Point South; the Randall's Island Connector to the South Bronx; the redevelopment of Staten Island's Homeport; the restoration of the historic Loew's Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and the second tower of the Alexandria Center for Life Science at the East River Science Park. Further south, in Coney Island, we expect to open up the new Steeplechase Plaza in time for the 2013 season, as well as unveiling an enhanced lighting display for the legendary Parachute Jump.
Meanwhile, in the Bronx, we hope to designate a developer for the Kingsbridge Armory, vacant for nearly two decades, and before the end of the year, we plan do the same in Seward Park, on the Lower East Side—Manhattan's largest undeveloped city-owned site south of 96th Street.
Simultaneously, we will continue to make progress on countless initiatives designed to spur entrepreneurship, help immigrant entrepreneurs and create work opportunities for low-income workers while developing important programs and plans to help the city rebuild after Hurricane Sandy and address the anticipated future impacts of climate change.
Association for a Better New York
Chief executive, Rudin Management
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we must focus on making our infrastructure and buildings resilient in the face of unpredictable weather. We have already seen—and I expect it to continue next year—an excellent collaboration of federal and local authorities and the private sector. In 2013, Downtown Manhattan will be stronger, better, more vibrant and more environmentally conscious than ever.
Managing partner, Skidmore Owings & Merrill
Today, for the first time in history, more people live in urban areas than in rural—and New York is the quintessential proof that man is an urban species. But to capitalize on the intellectual and social power of this change, we have to fundamentally rethink our urban environment.
Hurricane Sandy has taught us what we've long known, but haven't really faced: that climate change is going to be a defining issue for all cities—but especially New York—going forward, and that we are going to have to merge the issues of density with this new climate reality. We must now invest smartly in our infrastructure like America did in the 1950s to foresee our changing world.
These are issues of all scales, micro to macro, from individual buildings, to neighborhood rezoning, to regional infrastructure. Downtown and other low-lying areas that suffered could benefit from rezoning and incentive programs, like the ones that made Lower Manhattan a 24-hour community. Building codes should be revised just as they were after 9/11, but now to accommodate rising water levels. Consideration must be given to protecting and upgrading our housing, subway system, commuter rails and power-distribution systems.
Most of all, it is time to invest in new infrastructure. As architects, for years we have been designing new ways for people to live sustainably in urban areas of Asia and the Middle East—but not at home in New York. Our ports, airports, rail systems (both passenger and freight) and bus terminals, as well as bridges and tunnels, are all in need of an upgrade, at minimum. It is not glamorous, but for too long we have stretched thin these investments that were made by earlier generations. New York should organize itself to bring these issues to the forefront. This is what I hope starts to happen in 2013.
Washington Post: WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT
Many of President Obama's top advisers are unlikely to stick around for a second term. Use this page to track who's staying, who's going, and who's coming in -- and what those newcomers might bring to the president's team.
Forbes: Fiscal Cliff? What We Really Need Is Another Stimulus
Yes, you heard me right. Another Stimulus. With new technologies rising faster than sea level on a hot planet, America is headed for the biggest energy boom in 60 years. But we’re also headed for a big disappointment if we don’t have another stimulus package that will allow us to take advantage of this wealth of energy.
Washington Post: Congress approves ‘fiscal cliff’ measure
Congress approved a plan to end Washington’s long drama over the “fiscal cliff” late Tuesday after House Republicans surrendered to President Obama’s demand to let taxes rise on the nation’s richest households.
New York Times: Grand Deals Give Way to Legislative Quick Fixes
WASHINGTON — The confusing struggle to head off a national fiscal crisis has made one thing crystal clear: The era of the Big Deal is over.
Philadelphia Inquirer (Associated Press Rep-Print): President Barack Obama's remarks on the "fiscal cliff" legislation passed Tuesday by the House, as provided by the White House
Happy New Year, everybody. A central promise of my campaign for president was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working middle-class Americans. Tonight we've done that. Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America.
The Atlantic: The Most Important Thing Missing from the Proposed Fiscal-Cliff Deal
Well, it's about time to say goodbye to the fiscal cliff. But don't worry if you're a fan of manufactured crises -- Congress has already created a new cliff to replace it, the debt ceiling cliff, that will hit in a few month's time. The era of perma-emergency is far from over, even if the fiscal cliff might be.
New York Times: Study Finds Flaws in Pipeline Leak Detection Systems
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/22/us/study-finds-flaws-in-pipeline-leak-detection-systems.htmlA forthcoming federal report on pipeline safety has found that members of the general public are more likely to identify oil and gas spills than the pipeline companies’ own leak detection systems.
Fast Lane: Improving the Department of Transportation
Readers might recall that DOT was the most-improved large agency in this year's "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" rankings. Recently, I spoke with Tom Fox, a guest writer of the Washington Post’s On Leadership section and its Fed Coach blog. Mr. Fox is also the vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, which publishes the rankings, and he heads up the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.
Fast Lane: MAP-21 makes 2012 a good year for transit
One of the best things about MAP-21, the surface transportation law that President Obama signedearlier this year, is what it does for public transportation. Transit advocates should be cheered that MAP-21 declares: "It is in the interest of the United States, including the economic interest of the United States, to foster the development and revitalization of public transportation systems."
Fast Lane: High-speed rail stays on track in 2012
High-speed rail has been one of the defining initiatives at the Department of Transportation since President Obama took office in 2009. His vision for safe, efficient, and convenient high-speed intercity train service is a vision shared by travelers all across the country. And from coast to coast, 2012 saw many exciting developments on the high-speed rail front.
Fast Lane: New Year brings new approach to transit projects
In Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012, our Federal Transit Administration signed more capital construction agreements for transit projects through its New Starts and Small Starts Program than in any two-year period in the agency’s history. That means that FTA is getting more transit projects started than ever before, bringing more communities the transportation options they want and need, and creating more jobs --hundreds of thousands of them-- at a time when families really need them.
Bloomberg: Amtrak Seeks Safety Changes to Allow U.S. Bullet Trains
Amtrak will recommend new U.S. rail- safety regulations to allow it to replace its Acela trains in the Northeast U.S. with lighter, faster equipment, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman said.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider, Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
THE LEDE: A whole lot went on over our break, so let’s get you up to speed in an extra stuffed post-holiday edition of Morning Transportation. Congress signed off on a last-minute tax deal that increases the pre-tax transit benefit and puts off sequestration for two months — just enough time for the issue to come up again in the debt ceiling debate. The Senate took precious floor time to approve a Hurricane Sandy aid bill but the House adjourned without voting on it or a smaller GOP counter-proposal, dumping it on the lap of an already busy 113th Congress. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta shed his acting title with Senate confirmation and an East and Gulf Coast port strike was put off — at least for 30 days.
HOUSE PUTS OFF SANDY AID: We might have pumped the brakes before the cliff, but Congress didn’t get everything done in its last hours. After approving the tax bill last night, the chamber adjourned without voting on the Sandy supplemental. That means that things will have to start all over again come Thursday — the Senate had put a lot of floor work into getting the bill done in the last days of the 112th. House Appropriations had trimmed the Senate package by more than half, down to $27 billion (http://1.usa.gov/VhMIuV), but had planned to hold a vote on boosting it back to the upper chamber’s $60 billion figure. That might be the framework for action early in the 113th Congress. David Rogers has the latest: http://politi.co/12X99e3
New York delegation peeved: Lawmakers from the affected areas weren’t happy at all. One by one, members gave one-minute speeches pleading with House Speaker John Boehner to put the bill up for a vote. New York Democrat Jerry Nadler said the move was “unprecedented, disgusting, unworthy of the leadership of this House. They should reconsider or they should hang their heads in shame.” Republican Peter King said the no-vote was “absolutely indefensible,” adding later that “everybody played by the rules. Except tonight, when the rug was pulled out from under us.” Fellow GOPer Michael Grimm said he now has to go home and tell his constituents that they’ll have to wait even longer for something they should have had a month ago. “I’m not proud of the decision my team’s made,” Grimm said of the “inexcusable” decision.
Not quite K Street: It’s all for naught now, but the Senate passed a $60 billion Sandy bill over the break. John McCain ended up pulling his amendment (http://bit.ly/VY4Fg5) that would have required all aid for Amtrak be storm-related and also asking for more details on how the $336 million in funding would be spent. Asked why by a fellow transport reporter, the Arizonan said he removed it “because it’s not going to pass. Amtrak’s too strong. Amtrak’s one of the strongest lobbies around here.” He predicted the “ridiculous” provision would face problems in the House.
HUERTA GETS FIVE-YEAR TERM: During the dying embers of the 112th Congress, the Senate finally unstuck the nomination of Michael Huerta and gave him a five-year term atop the FAA. Huerta’s path to the long-term administrator job was sidetracked by a Jim DeMint hold, but Huerta was included in a large, long-negotiated packages of nominees without objection yesterday evening. Other transpo nominees went through, too: Polly Trottenberg for DOT undersecretary for policy, Christopher Beall and Yvonne Burke for the Amtrak Board of Directors, William Doyle as a Federal Maritime Commissioner and seven Coast Guard promotions. Burgess has the story: http://politi.co/VZ0twC
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood reacts: “Huerta has demonstrated extraordinary leadership as he continues to focus on enhancing the safety and efficiency of the largest aviation system in the world. … Trottenberg's extensive transportation background and her demonstrated ability to put forward innovative initiatives that improve the lives of Americans make her uniquely qualified to lead the department's policy efforts.”
SKIRTING THE CLIFF: Last night the House signed off on the Joe Biden-Mitch McConnell negotiated package that sets a number of key tax rates, puts off sequestration for two months and even boosts the transit benefit back up to the level enjoyed by drivers. The Senate approved it way early (2 a.m.) that same day and President Obama is expected to quickly sign it. Bill text: http://politi.co/12VpDn9
Transit gets a nod: It turns out transpo was at the table during the fiscal cliff after all. Senate Democrats were able to include two years of Chuck Schumer-championed parity of mass transit and parking tax benefits through this year, retroactive into last. It’s not the permanent solution that public transportation advocates had been seeking but gives 2012 and 2013 transit riders a nice chunk of change. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the cost at $190 million this year and $30 million in 2014. Here’s the score: http://1.usa.gov/U5uhNZ
Political football and all that: Sequestration may have been delayed, but only for a few weeks. Burgess’s story on its transpo effects (mostly aviation related) was relevant Monday — and stays relevant today as we gear up for two more months of debate on the automatic cuts: http://politico.pro/XffPUu
Keeping score: Another handy resource as you shovel yourself out from holiday emails and new members’ press releases, we give you the CBO score for the Senate tax bill, which was made public at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, about 12 hours after the Senate voted and about nine before the House had cast votes on the legislation. http://1.usa.gov/UiY8x9
Further reading: David Rogers parses the CBO score: http://politi.co/WcXXTW
INFRASTRUCTURE AN OBAMA PRIORITY: Asked about his second-term priorities on Meet the Press last weekend, President Barack Obama listed infrastructure as a way to “stabilize the economy”: “Part of it is also making sure that we're investing, for example, in rebuilding our infrastructure, which is broken. And if we are putting people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, in part paying for it by some of these broader long-term deficit reduction measures that need to take place that will grow the economy at the same time as we're also setting our path for long-term fiscal stability.” Transcript: http://bit.ly/10KWawx
But... What remains to be seen, however, is whether Obama will put forward new ideas as Congress looks at MAP-21’s successor or will simply push the same stimulus spending or infrastructure bank he’s unsuccessfully lobbied for the past few years.
Obama last night after House passage of the cliff bill: “The fact is the deficit is still too high, and we're still investing too little in the things that we need for the economy to grow as fast as it should. And that's why Speaker Boehner and I originally tried to negotiate a larger agreement that would put this country on a path to paying down its debt while also putting Americans back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, and providing investments in areas like education and job training.”
COMMITTEE SHUFFLES — Senate Commerce: With John Kerry’s nomination as secretary of state, Barbara Boxer will be the second-highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. Boxer stood at fourth a few weeks ago, but the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (second) and Kerry’s pending resignation (third) mean she’ll be the second in seniority on Commerce while also chairing EPW — both of which have major parts of the surface transportation bill.
House T&I Aviation panel: Rep. Rick Larsen, whose been pining for a leadership spot on aviation, says he's pretty sure he has it. "I've talked to the last person ahead of me on the Democratic side and they're not interested either so that checks the box on everybody," he told Jessica. It makes sense that Larsen, now ranking member on the Coast Guard subcommittee, would desire the move. Much of Boeing's airplane parts are made in his district.
PORT PIVOT: Union and management have staved off a potential East Coast port strike — at least for another month. The International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance have agreed to an extension of contract talks. This buys the groups until Jan. 28 to settle disputes over royalty payments and work rules, and prevents a January port strike from Maine to Houston.
MORE MISSISSIPPI WARNINGS: Waterway advocates are warning of a partial shutdown of the Mississippi River in mid-January, if water levels do not rise. This pushes back earlier estimates by several weeks. The Army Corps has released more water from a lake near St. Louis and begun removing rock formations that impede navigation. The low water levels have sparked a tiff between Midwestern lawmakers eager to prevent economic losses and their counterparts near the Missouri River Basin who want to protect their own water flow.
THINKING MULTIMODALLY: Local transportation planners agree: It’s time to think “multimodal.” Despite gains for bicycle and pedestrian projects at the federal level in the past 20 years, local officials across the country say Congress is still missing the boat when it comes to their needs. The key word, they say, is “multimodal.” While Congress has traditionally funded transportation projects by mode — be it highways, bicycles and pedestrian, rail or transit — planning at a local level is increasingly multifaceted. A new tunnel might include a bike path, for example, or a new transit station might include increased pedestrian access. Tal Kopan flexes her reporting muscle for Pros: http://politico.pro/WdYViF
PRO STORIES YOU MISSED OVER THE BREAK: While you were maybe warming up by a fire or eating too much food, we were busy publishing stories on all sorts of transport issues. Here’s a quick rundown of what you missed over the break.
T&I’s desirability: Burgess looks at how desirable the House T&I Committee is. In short: very much so for Democrats, who consider it an “A” committee and had several former members return to the panel. But for Republicans, it’s a “B” committee that has seen a number of promising lawmakers flee for other, more recognizable panels like Financial Services and Energy & Commerce. That’s led to some talent leaving for greener pastures, a worry for Bill Shuster and his new panel. http://politico.pro/UtcmiL
MAP-21’s long road: After a long summer of debate and years of delays, Congress finally passed a 584-page transport bill last year. But that’s only the beginning. DOT must now turn to the numerous rulemakings called for in the law. They carry a wide range of timelines and sometimes have broad goals that aren’t spelled out in detail. And with a two-year bill, the regulatory process on a number of big-ticket issues could last well beyond the bill’s life. Adam takes a look at three issues that we could still be talking about long after Congress passes a new bill: performance standards, tolling interoperability and crash safety. http://politico.pro/RrNrLM
Issues with a VMT fee: Many say it’s the future of transportation financing, the last hope for maintaining the user-pays concept that’s been a staple of road funding for half a century. But a vehicle miles traveled fee has a number of immediate hurdles to win support in Congress and quell the American public’s concerns. Kathryn and Adam take a look at five reasons why a VMT won’t be happening anytime soon: it’s easy to demagogue, there’s still concerns about privacy, it needs more technological legwork, it’s complexity could be its downfall and the ever-present concerns over its impact on rural drivers. Give it a read: http://politico.pro/TENPVX
The best and worst of 2012: Jessica gets in on the 2012 best/worst fun with a look at the big moments — good and bad — of last year. The best: MAP-21, the FAA bill, Amtrak’s record ridership amid congressional scrutiny, and new transpo power players on the Hill. The worst: MAP-21, the loss of some senior, powerful transpo lawmakers, Hurricane Sandy and the TSA witchhunt. Good or bad — you can decide: high-speed rail and L.A. voters rejecting 30 more years of the transit tax. Jessica takes it away: http://politico.pro/UBHtYt
Bikeshare on a roll: It’s a burgeoning option in D.C. and many other U.S. cities — bike-sharing kiosks that allow visitors and residents to rent a bicycle for a few hours at a minimal cost. Most bike share programs have plans for expansion, and the new year should be a big one for cities looking to implement their first system. In 2013, bike share will roll into Portland, Ore.; Chicago; the San Francisco Bay area; Columbus, Ohio; and its biggest market yet: New York City. Caitlin Emma has the story: http://politico.pro/WiHv4I
ALSO PASSED: The House approved a bill (H.R. 5859; text: (http://1.usa.gov/12W6GAH) repealing a requirement that auto dealers hand out a booklet on insurance options, sending it to the White House. And after some back and forth with the Senate, a bill (H.R. 6328; text: (http://1.usa.gov/VZJM4g) to have TSA give unclaimed clothes to homeless veterans is headed to Obama’s desk.
DOT REGULATORY AGENDA: DOT’s new regulatory agenda came out over the break. The semi-annual posting is a look at all the department’s rulemakings and where they stand in the process. Pick DOT in the agency tab and have fun: http://1.usa.gov/VtXReb
DOT IG CATCH-UP — Air traffic controllers: The DOT investigator was busy over the break. The big news is OIG is starting an audit (http://1.usa.gov/U5ta0X) of FAA’s efforts to improve air traffic controller efficiency, such as “matching controller staffing to facility workload and reducing overtime costs.”
Open recommendations: In a letter to House OGR leaders Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings, the IG rounds up all the recommendations its made from 2004 to now and includes a top-ten list of the highest-priority ones. The damage: “637 open recommendations, which were included in 217 audit reports issued between September 2004 and November 2012.” Read the letter: http://1.usa.gov/UGrdGo
By Burgess Everett
Sequestration’s deep, automatic spending cuts won’t have a sudden dramatic effect on the nation’s transportation systems but will drain resources for a multitude of programs if the money doesn’t return soon, with aviation bracing for the hardest hit.
The cuts don’t appear to pose an immediate threat to travel in the United States or the jobs of the thousands of Department of Transportation employees, and one aviation lobbyist said the Office of Management and Budget could direct agencies to maintain current spending rates — without cuts — under the assumption that Congress would act expediently in January and avert much of the damage.
In a letter sent to federal agencies, top administration officials said there won’t be immediate furloughs, and added that spending reductions could be made through Sept. 30, rather than right away. One such letter went out to DOT employees from Deputy Secretary John Porcari, according to Bloomberg News.
Still, the sector still must be prepared for blunt spending cuts detailed by the White House. After a shove from congressional legislation, the administration released a report on the across-the-board cuts in September that laid out spending reductions — generally about 8 percent for nonexempt programs. OMB’s Acting Director Jeff Zients has warned the percentages could grow if a deal eludes Congress into the spring.
Air traffic control facilities, the much-needed new aviation navigation system NextGen and the country’s air security operations all face deep cuts, although the largest federal transportation commitment, the nation’s highway program, is mostly exempt from sequestration’s scythe.
But the number of air traffic controllers to be furloughed or flights that could eventually be delayed remains either unknown or is tightly under wraps. An OMB spokeswoman said the September report remains the latest public information, and the FAA and DOT did not give more detailed information.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has estimated that more than 200 air traffic control facilities could be shuttered in January if Congress fails to act.
FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta has called the cuts “drastic.”
“They would result in significantly less efficient and less convenient air travel service for the American traveling public,” Huerta said in an October speech. “We will always, however, maintain the highest levels of safety.”
Based on its annual budget, the TSA would lose more than half a billion dollars for air marshals and aviation and surface transportation security. Essential Air Service subsidies to rural areas would be reduced and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund and operations would suffer from more than $1 billion in cuts combined, according to the White House. The Aerospace Industries Association has predicted the biggest losers will be future programs rather than day-to-day operations, especially the new satellite navigation system NextGen, which is needed to help unclog the U.S. skies.
Roads and rail are mostly exempt, but as the Sandy aid package stalls in Congress the emergency relief program would lose $136 million. The federal highway program would see a cut of less than 1 percent of its $40 billion in annual disbursements. A payment to the Transportation Trust Fund would be shaved by $471 million.
Amtrak would lose more than $100 million in grants and the Federal Transit Administration would have to pull back nearly 10 percent of the federal government's $150 million contribution to Washington’s Metro system plus $156 million in nationwide capital improvements. The TIGER program would also take a hit.
A bevy of smaller programs would see the approximately 8 percent in cuts, though safety programs will be mostly unscathed, besides the National Transportation Safety Board. DOT’s general salaries and expenses, however, would not be.
By Tal Kopan
Local transportation planners agree: It’s time to think “multimodal.”
Despite gains for bicycle and pedestrian projects at the federal level in the past 20 years, local officials across the country say Congress is still missing the boat when it comes to their needs.
The key word, they say, is “multimodal.” While Congress has traditionally funded transportation projects by mode — be it highways, bicycles and pedestrian, rail or transit — planning at a local level is increasingly multifaceted. A new tunnel might include a bike path, for example, or a new transit station might include increased pedestrian access.
But as cities, regions and states try to think creatively and broadly, they say federal support has become less effective.
Officials from Madison, Wis., to Denver to the state of Washington all face different transportation needs, yet their approach to planning projects is largely the same: It’s about offering their citizens a choice in how they get around.
“A fossil-fueled transportation network is not sustainable in the long run,” said Arthur Ross, pedestrian-bicycle coordinator for Madison. “And [choice] is important to our community — it’s what the citizens of Madison demand.”
For the Denver Department of Public Works, in the decades after World War II, transportation was largely about moving automobiles — but now the city wants to look instead at moving people, however they move. In fact, Denver’s 2008 strategic transportation plan stopped measuring vehicular trips and started to count “people trips,” according to Crissy Fanganello, the department’s director of policy and planning.
“Everyone wants there to be one way to solve the problem, and there isn’t. We’re always going to have cars, or at least for the foreseeable future,” Fanganello said. “You really do have to work it from all angles and try to address all modes, and to say there’s one silver bullet out there to fix the problem, whether it’s high-speed rail or streetcars or bike-pedestrian lanes — there isn’t.”
To address their populations’ needs, the states of Wisconsin and Colorado as well as the cities of Denver and Madison have “complete streets” policies — meaning that any major transportation project undertaken by local governments must factor in bicycle and pedestrian needs as part of the effort, whether it’s highways, bridges, construction or renovation.
According to the Complete Streets Coalition, 27 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and more than 400 local communities have complete streets policies. Ideally, the coalition says, those policies make sure new and retrofit transportation projects apply to “all users,” including pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, and people of different abilities and economic situations, as well as transit. They also encourage planners to think of a city or state’s entire road and path system as a connected network, rather than as separate thoroughfares.
Those policies have helped states place an emphasis on projects that include bike-pedestrian components.
“If something’s multimodal, the economic benefits from the project would help make it rise to the top” of the funding pile, said Debra Perkins-Smith, director of the division of transportation development for the Colorado DOT.
Ross echoed the sentiment. Transportation Alternatives (previously “Transportation Enhancements”) have been a part of federal transportation funding since the “TEA” authorization bills, starting with 1991’s ISTEA and followed by TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU, Ross says. The policies put in place with those laws ensure that today, in the Madison area, if you want to federally fund a project “and it doesn’t include bicycle and pedestrian components, then it’s not going to rank high enough to be funded.”
But federal policy isn’t keeping up with the new multimodal focus, the transportation planners say.
A major complaint of local officials is that federal funds come with a one-size approach, so the same red tape applies to a $30 million highway project as applies to a $3 million bike lane project — and that can cause major headaches and even add costs to the project.
Roger Millar, vice president of Smart Growth America, which advocates complete streets policies, says a 1997 Portland, Ore., streetcar project, for example, received a $5 million federal grant, but that was expected to cause a delay and add to the cost of the project because Portland would have to start over and conduct new analysis to meet federal regulations. Before, the project had been ready to break ground.
“One thing that happens at the local level — a mayor, a city council, a city manager wants to build a little project, they are increasingly looking at building them with local money and state money, or local money or local and private money, and then they need a little bit of federal money to fill the gap, and with that federal money comes a complete federal process,” Millar said. “Whether the project is 95 percent federal or 5 percent federal, you have to go through the federal process.
“So at the local level, people want a little more flexibility on how the money is spent,” he said. “We hear from people, ‘All I want is to build a bike path.’”
Fanganello agreed, adding that the practice of dividing funds by transportation mode — cars, bicycles, walking, etc. — is troublesome at a local level.
“There are categories that are clear for bike and ped, and there are categories for roadway, but there isn’t really a category for a bike-ped project that contains a roadway component,” she said.
The timing seems to be right for many governments, as they begin a new phase of planning for their transportation needs.
“As I became [Transportation Committee] chair about six years ago, it was starting to become evident that, yes, we had a backlog of projects, but people were looking at transportation as more multimodal, not just wanting road projects,” said Washington state Rep. Judy Clibborn, who chairs the state House’s Transportation Committee.
“In the past, we have funded a huge number of projects that were congestion relief, freight sensitive, connecting rural markets to the ports and that type of thing,” she added. “If we reflect a multimodal approach, we get the support of both sides of the mountain, both the rural and urban, and get the support of the whole state.”
Millar sees the citizens leading the way and local governments responding, but he said it’s time to deal with the difficult questions — as “all the easy stuff’s been done.”
“Our leadership is following the lead that the public is setting, but there are a lot of inertial forces in how money gets spent and how programs get developed,” Millar said. “We’re hoping that what we’re doing at the state level and the local level will inform the federal discussion.”
By Burgess Everett
For a second straight session, the House Transportation Committee will undergo a thorough churn, with about a third of its members requiring an education on the panel from senior committee members and staff.
The story of incumbents jumping to more prominent perches is as old as Congress. No less than current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood began his career in Washington as a Transportation Committee member, only to leave for the Appropriations Committee.
But a committee with a lot of fresh faces will confront snags a more seasoned panel would not, and many staffers and lobbyists privately complained that a preponderance of freshmen on T&I resulted in the Senate taking the lead on this year’s new transportation law.
Lack of experience could delay new rail and surface transportation bills as newly elected conservatives flesh out their stances on the federal government’s role in transportation, while incoming Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) tries to convince them a national infrastructure network has long been a Republican cause.
After the wave election of 2010, T&I slashed the 75-member committee to 59 members and filled the vacancies with GOP freshmen — 18 of whom sit on the panel as the 112th Congress draws to a close. The Democrats lost their chairman but otherwise had no empty seats to fill, and tossed off junior members to reflect the Republicans’ election wins that year and smaller committee size.
Alterations in the 113th will be equally dramatic, with nearly 20 members set to join the panel in 2013 who weren’t on it during the 112th Congress. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and nine Republican freshmen will join the committee after several electoral losses and significant movement to more desirable committees.
The minority party had no first-termers on T&I in 2011 and only four true freshmen will serve in 2013. The Democrats added a seat to increase the panel’s size to 60, taken by former T&I member Rep. John Garamendi (Calif.), who will be joined by veteran Reps. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and Janice Hahn (D-Calif.).
Former Democratic Reps. Rick Nolan (Minn.), Anne Kirkpatrick (Ariz.) and Dina Titus (Nev.) all leveraged their relative seniority onto the Transportation Committee, a necessity because the Democratic slots were oversubscribed, according to Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), a top rail lawmaker in the House.
The GOP is going in the other direction, with prominent Republicans like Reps. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) moving into Republican House leadership and Financial Services roles, respectively.
That difference in desirability comes down to how the parties view the committee in the post-earmark era. In Capitol Hill vernacular, Democrats view T&I as an “A” committee, while it’s a high “B” for Republicans — more desirable than say, the Small Business or Natural Resources panels, but below Appropriations.
“I can't tell you exactly what's the most-requested second tier, but I’ve got to believe it's Armed Services and Transportation,” said Shuster, referring to T&I’s position in the committee spectrum.
Shuster said losing the likes of seasoned bicameral conferees Lankford and Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-Wash.) will be a problem, but he has focused on bringing on new members who will dig into the process and attend hearings, rather than “one-and-done” members who want a stepping stone to better things.
“There is a worry about talented people leaving. There’s the exclusive committees, and I understand it. That’s why I also look at who’s committed to be on the committee. I’m not interested in just saying: ‘Oh, you get a subcommittee and then next year you’re going to be on Ways and Means,’” Shuster said.
Still, there’s no denying T&I is a launch pad, from LaHood to Lankford, a chief GOP messenger during the surface transportation negotiations. Next year he will serve as Republican Policy Committee chair, and Lankford admitted that his moment in the conference spotlight may have improved his position within the Republican caucus.
“I was at the table with some senior leadership in some of the final negotiations. So that probably did make a difference on it. Gave me a chance to interact with some of them and see what I'm like,” he said.
Even though Transportation Committee members generally bring in more fundraising than the average member, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, T&I has been on the minus side of incumbent churn. From the 104th to 111th Congress, 42 members switched onto T&I while 69 left. During the same period 63 incumbents joined Appropriations and 11 left. The trend continues into 2013: Herrera-Beutler and Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) are headed to Appropriations after one term on T&I.
Hultgren’s move to Financial Services is likely to attract even more fundraising dollars for the Illinois Republican, according to the Sunlight statistics. A "thought leader" among Republicans on public transportation, he initially hoped to remain on Transportation but was told by party leaders “don’t even try” for a waiver as first-term members jockeyed to avoid “C” committee assignments. Rep.-elect Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) will join the panel representing the Illinois GOP as Hultgren and retiring Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) leave.
“I still think it’s an important committee, a desirable committee,” Hultgren said. “Some of our members, that’s where they want to be for the long term.”
Shuster said he initially had reservations about following the path of his dad, former T&I Chairman Bud Shuster.
“When I first came, the first thing I said was: ‘I don’t know that I want to follow in my father’s footsteps.’ And so I looked and I said,' I think I’d like to be an appropriator,'” Shuster said.
He quickly realized it would take several years to develop the needed seniority to get on the spending panel, so he chose to “hunker down” on T&I. There may be something said for his decision to choose Transportation and stick with it: Twelve years into his House career, Shuster’s got the gavel and will write some of the largest bills in Congress.back
By Adam Snider
Congress passed a hefty transportation bill six months ago, one that totaled 584 pages of largely obscure program changes, tweaks to the U.S. Code and new spending guidelines.
But even innocuous policy changes put a heavy burden on the Department of Transportation, which is tasked with turning often-vague congressional language into detailed rulemakings. That process can take years — from writing rules to soliciting stakeholder input, from sifting through comments to settling on a final rule and finally winning approval from the Office of Management and Budget, the White House arm that has final say over regulations.
To top it off, there’s a wide range of deadlines DOT tries to obey. Some rules are due in 30 days, others in a year. Some have a 90-day timespan and others have 180 days. But the underlying bill expires in 21 months, raising the possibility that many of the toughest and most complex rules won’t be finished by the time a new bill is due in September 2014.
Here’s a look at three of the bill’s provisions that might take longer to sort out than the bill’s lifespan.
The bill calls for a broad set of performance standards — in other words, guidelines on how to measure and judge whether transportation projects meet their stated goals.
DOT should start a rulemaking setting those standards within 18 months of the measure’s enactment (Oct. 1 for the bulk of the bill) and must consult with state DOTs, MPOs and “other stakeholders.” While great support exists for performance measures in general, putting the details on paper can be complicated.
Congress ordered DOT to give stakeholders at least 90 days to comment and mandated that the agency take the comments into consideration.
There’s a laundry list of things DOT must find a way to measure, including pavement conditions on both Interstate and National Highway System roads and bridge conditions on the NHS. But perhaps most vaguely, Congress asked DOT to find a way to measure “the performance of the Interstate System.”
There is no nationwide standard when it comes to electronic tolling devices — instead, a handful of systems help drivers speed through toll booths while avoiding stopping to pay. The Northeast, mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest have E-ZPass, Florida has SunPass and California uses FasTrak.
But that can prove a problem for travelers, and with all the talk of a vehicle miles traveled fee or a national revamp of how to charge drivers for road use, a nationwide standard would be a good step toward more public acceptance of tolls.
MAP-21 has a tiny provision asking companies — not DOT — to work toward such a nationwide standard. Within four years of enactment — or two years after the bill’s expiration — “all toll facilities on the federal-aid highways shall implement technologies or business practices that provide for the interoperability of electronic toll collection programs,” the bill text says.
Industry groups are pleased that they’ve been tasked with the job instead of having DOT step in and write rules that not all would be sure to support. But with the long timeframe and technological hurdles, the work will surely stretch into the next bill — and maybe beyond.
Child safety in crashes
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood often says safety is DOT’s top priority — and there are a lot of safety provisions in the bill.
Within two years, DOT must issue a final rule “to improve the protection of children seated in child restraint systems during side impact crashes.” Side airbags are a relative newcomer in the automotive world. And children are in much greater danger when safety features are designed for adults.
Also within two years, DOT must start a rulemaking on a way “to better simulate a single representative motor vehicle rear seat” for front-impact crashes. The agency then has another two years after that — again, two years after the bill expires — to issue a final rule on the front-impact testing.
With top transportation lawmakers already talking vaguely about what they’d like to see in the next bill, due in 2014, there’s a distinct chance they’ll have the chance to change DOT’s marching orders before the department is able to finalize its work on the current bill’s requirements.
By Kathryn A. Wolfe and Adam Snider
It’s a well-understood problem: The gasoline tax isn’t keeping up anymore, and hiking it is politically risky. But what some policymakers consider the most logical revenue replacement — a fee based on how many miles a vehicle travels — has its own problems, too.
Incoming House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) opened the door a crack to a “vehicle miles traveled” fee, saying it “seems to be the only way to stop the decline” in revenues during a time of increased fuel efficiency and alternative fuels. But he also acknowledged what a heavy lift that might be, particularly in the short term.
“I’ve been in rooms talking about vehicle miles traveled where the most conservative member of our committee and the most liberal both said, ‘You’re not getting Big Brother to put a transponder on my car,’” Shuster said.
His comments hint at the challenges that accompany any push to implement a VMT fee. Here are five reasons why it won’t happen any time soon:
It's easy to demagogue
VMT proposals have been around for many years, but a few recent instances of it bubbling up to the lips and agendas of federal policymakers have been slapped down, showing how tenuous the issue is.
Two incidents were particularly well publicized.
In a February 2009 interview with The Associated Press, soon after taking office, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that “we should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled.” LaHood was quickly yanked back, with then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs saying a VMT fee “is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration.”
Then, in 2011, a leaked unofficial draft of a transportation reauthorization — put together by the administration — called for a study of a VMT fee. That touched off conservative criticism and led the White House to distance itself from the entire bill, not to mention the VMT study provision.
The privacy issue
Serious privacy concerns confront the idea of a VMT fee, which conjures images of the government tracking a car’s every move through a device that’s mandated to be installed and monitored. One of the few transportation-related mentions inside the Republican Party’s 2012 platform was about VMT, saying that “we oppose any funding mechanism that would involve governmental monitoring of every car and truck in the nation.”
Conservatives aren’t the only ones with concerns about government monitoring and meddling. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has said she’s queasy about a GPS-enabled device that would be attached to people’s cars. Instead, she hinted at preferring some sort of non-intrusive method, such as relying on an odometer reading taken at some regular interval, say during an annual car inspection. Of course, that could have its own pitfalls in states that don't require annual inspections, such as Florida.
It needs more legwork
While a VMT fee might be the long-term solution to transportation’s financing woes, it’s not yet ready for primetime. Several states and localities have studied the idea, but there’s much more that needs to be worked out.
For example: To what extent will cars be tracked? Privacy concerns about transponders have led to increased talk about using a simple odometer check, which would be more acceptable for the public but raises another set of concerns over how drivers would be billed and how tamper-proof odometers really are.
There’s also the issue of ensuring drivers know exactly how much they’ll pay. A flat mile-based fee would be easy, but if rates change based on location or congestion, as proposed under the GPS model, it could mean a bevy of electronic signs scattered across U.S. roadways. Because a VMT fee is a relative toddler, the U.S. public doesn’t know enough about it yet to fully embrace the idea.
Its greatest benefit could also be its downfall
Transportation think tanks and members of the two commissions tasked with studying future highway and transit financing solutions cite one major benefit of a national, location-based VMT system: flexibility. Not only could states and localities piggyback on the system by adding a small fee, but the system could also incorporate elements of tolling, HOT lanes and other variable-pricing schemes.
The idea is that roads would cost more when they’re crowded, which would raise more money for infrastructure while encouraging drivers in congested areas to find another route, carpool or take transit. But that flexibility requires a GPS-type device that would track a car’s exact location, which carries major privacy and price disclosure issues.
The upshot: What might be best in the long-term — a system that would incorporate the best elements of other ways to pay for road use — also faces the most problems right off the bat.
Concerns about effects on rural drivers
Another stumbling block is the rural-urban geographic split among lawmakers — a divide that doesn’t always break down neatly along party lines.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said he has serious concerns about a VMT fee’s impact on the rural residents he represents. Rahall and other lawmakers with rural districts or states worry that a VMT fee could disproportionately harm rural drivers, particularly those who are poor. That is in large part because rural residents have relatively fewer transportation options, such as bus or light rail, to avoid paying the fee.
Of course, rural drivers also complain that the gas tax unfairly burdens them, too, considering that they tend to drive greater distances in less fuel-efficient cars.
A 2010 study by the Washington state DOT concluded that a per-mile VMT fee of between 5 cents and 25 cents would increase the daily work trip costs for low-income rural residents between $2.80 and $14 per day.
By Jessica Meyers
The transportation world has survived a tumultuous year of disasters, both natural and negotiated.
It’s also witnessed a leadership overhaul, a growing interest in local infrastructure investment, and the passage of bills necessary to keep airports working and highways funded.
From a myriad of options, POLITICO has selected a few as the best and worst transportation moments of 2012.
MAP-21: The $109 billion transportation bill, while little more than a Band-Aid, spared millions of jobs and ensured transportation funding for the next two years. The bill consolidated programs, established performance targets, enhanced safety provisions and expanded a federal loan program to assist with infrastructure projects. Lawmakers not only passed the bill in a session of inordinate partisanship, they did it without earmarks.
FAA reauthorization: Following 23 short-term extensions, Congress finally passed a bill to keep the Federal Aviation Administration funded through 2015. Some challenged “anti-union” provisions in the $63.6 billion bill, but it provided the agency’s first long-term funding in five years. It also bolstered passenger protections and propelled development of the NextGen satellite system, intended to modernize the country’s air traffic control system.
Amtrak popularity (outside of Congress): America’s railroad may not get much love from lawmakers these days, but passengers are jumping aboard. Amtrak hit its highest rider total this year, carrying more than 31 million people. Ticket revenue jumped to $2 billion, its highest yet. The Northeast Corridor saw a particular spike with a record 11.4 million passengers. Amtrak also became fodder for numerous hearings, with some Republican lawmakers pushing for privatization. Who can forget House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) standing outside a D.C. McDonalds to lambaste the railroad for its pricey hamburgers?
New power players: Industry and Democratic lawmakers alike applauded the selection of Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) as the next House Transportation chairman. He’s already separated himself from Mica by saying he’s willing to explore numerous transportation funding options. He follows in the footsteps of his father, known for his bipartisan leadership of the same committee. Transportation advocates are also cheering at Senate Commerce committee shifts. Ranking member Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) announced his retirement this month, leaving room for more moderate Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) to take his place.
MAP-21: Congress may have passed a transportation bill, but the two-year stopgap came far short of expectations. Among the glaring lapses, it failed to offer a real solution for dissipating revenues in the Highway Trust Fund. Once the bill expires, the same issue will be back. And it will be worse.
Transportation’s old guard disappears: Several lawmakers who pushed transportation interests are retiring, leaving a gap in institutional memory and dedicated advocates. Among them are straight-talking moderate Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), aviation subcommittee ranking member Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), Commerce ranking member and safety promoter Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Coast Guard subcommittee ranking member and adored moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Mica also gives up his gavel, which may mean — among other things —far fewer references to “smoking the funny weed.”
Hurricane Sandy: The storm ripped through America’s financial center, dismantling the country’s largest mass transit system and showcasing the East Coast’s dependency on its transportation networks. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority alone estimated $5 billion in recovery costs. The total price tag hits at least $60 billion. But the silver lining may lie in the cleanup: an enhanced, more durable infrastructure network.
Congressional spending on TSA hearings: The Transportation Security Administration turned into Congress’s punching bag this session. The House held regular hearings on the agency, with the Transportation committee, the Homeland Security committee and the Oversight committee each claiming a piece. Mica especially decried “his little bastard child” and campaigned to privatize screeners. Other issues included TSA's preparation for terrorism, X-ray scanners, unused equipment and efforts to cut bloat. Just last month, TSA refused to attend a Transportation committee hearing, saying the panel had no authority over the agency. That’s technically the Homeland Security committee’s realm.
NEUTRAL: (You classify these.)
High-speed rail: The California legislature approved a $68 billion plan for high-speed rail in the Golden State, a victory for the administration and transit advocates nationwide. The question now is how to pay for the rest of it. The bill authorizes only $5.8 billion to start construction in the Central Valley, including $2.6 billion in state rail bond funds and $3.2 billion in federal assistance. Lawmakers added another $2 billion to improve existing tracks. Some House Republicans, who view the rail line as a money suck, are working to ban any new federal money from going to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Transit dreams and drops: Voters shot down transportation tax measures in Los Angeles and Atlanta, initiatives that advocates have looked to as potential bellwethers for local infrastructure investment. The Los Angeles County proposal, a key piece of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to move the city away from cars, would have shaped the future of transportation funding. It tried to add a 30-year extension to a half-cent transportation sales tax, but just barely missed approval. A 10-year penny sales tax in Atlanta would have funded transportation projects in one of the country’s most gridlocked cities. Transit backers take solace in the L.A. proposal’s near-approval and a host of other ballot measures that did pass in small communities.
Star Tribune: Transportation beat: Twin Cities hybrid transit strategy advances
Urban planners are advancing designs for a new express transit system to run on major city streets that combines features of light-rail transit with the flexibility of bus travel.
Washington Examiner: Popular Metro NextBus app dies amid tech companies' spat
Thousands of Metro riders who rely on a smartphone app to tell them when their next Metrobus is slated to arrive have been left in the dark after a divorce between tech companies took a nasty turn.
Washington Post: ecaying D.C. bridge reflects state of thousands of such structures nationwide
A dozen blocks from the dome of the U.S. Capitol, a bridge rots as 70,000 drivers roar across it each day.
Washington Post: Get Maryland moving
MARYLAND HASN’T been quite the laggard that Virginia has been in terms of raising enough money for the state’s roads, rails, bridges and tunnels, but it’s close. Virginia last raised its per gallon gas tax — the major source of transportation funding — in 1986. Maryland last raised its own levy, albeit to a higher level, in 1992. In both cases the outlook is bleak.
New York Times: Hurricane Sandy Alters Utilities’ Calculus on Upgrades
After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc with power systems in the Northeast, many consumers and public officials complained that the electric utilities had done far too little to protect their equipment from violent storms, which forecasters have warned could strike with increasing frequency.
“Infrastructure is a bipartisan issue because we all deserve safe bridges, uncongested roads, and sustainable transit options.”