Infrastructure in the News: January 22, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Progressive Railroading: U.S. port capacity continues to slip behind global competitors, Building America's Future says
U.S. ports continue to fall behind in infrastructure compared with other countries, and port traffic in Shanghai, China, last year outpaced the top eight U.S. ports combined, according to an updated report released by Building America's Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials who advocate a new era of U.S. infrastructure investment.
NRDC Switchboard: America faces a growing infrastructure deficit
Lord knows you'd be hardpressed to find many Americans who like paying a tax on gasoline, let alone any who favor raising it. Of course, folks like me who work on transportation policy by and large understand that the primary user fee -- taxes paid at the pump -- doesn't come close to generating enough funding to pay for our nation's transportation infrastructure.
Examiner: Ohioans sideline sale of Ohio Turnpike
In a victory for state sovereignty, property rights, and taxpayers, the grassroots managed to defeat Ohio Governor John Kasich’s proposal of selling off the Ohio Turnpike to a private toll operator using a controversial public private partnership (P3). The state officially pulled the plug on the P3, announcing the turnpike would stay public but the state will issue bonds backed by future toll revenues to generate needed cash. Kasich considered the turnpike an ‘unused asset’ that he could sell-off for a half century to get $3 billion now for other road projects. But Ohioans had a different opinion.
New York Observer: Concrete Plans: Mayor Bloomberg Tells World (Bank) Pedestrian Plazas Are Here to Stay
On Friday morning, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan cut the ribbon on Willoughby Plaza, the first permanent pedestrian plaza in the city. Afterwards, she told The Observer that even after she and Mayor Bloomberg are out of City Hall, the plazas will persist thanks to public support.
Washington Post: U.S. losing ground in global marketplace, report finds
Falling behind Panama and Malaysia; Lilliputians when compared with 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: Obama’s concrete goals at home, wishful thinking abroad
PRESIDENT OBAMA inaugurated his second term Monday with something approaching a liberal manifesto: a clear statement of what he hopes to accomplish over the next four years.
Washington Post: In inaugural address, Obama outlines second-term economic plans
In the rich oratory of an inaugural address, President Obama sketched out a vision Monday for addressing the problems that have been afflicting the American economy — not just since the financial crisis and recession but for long before.
New York Times: Obama’s Second-Term Options on the Environment
President Obama and his family, during a visit to Yellowstone National Park in 2009.
As President Obama prepares to embark on his second and final term, it’s worth exploring what he can do to foster progress on environmental issues and the nation’s, and world’s, energy and climate challenges. In November, I sought reader input as I reported a piece on this question for Men’s Journal. The focus is on steps that can be taken even with tight budgets and polarized politics.
Transportation Nation: In Second Inaugural Address, President Obama Says Building Infrastructure, Combating Climate Change Part of “Obligation”
In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama wove in specific policy recommendations for building roads and combatting climate change into a speech urging Americans to join in collective action for a better future.
Transportation Nation: “It’s Like Costco”: Why Calif. High-Speed Rail is Teaming Up with Amtrak
Amtrak and the California High Speed Rail Authority are teaming up to bulk buy rail cars for high-speed rail. “It’s like Costco,” Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority tells KPCC, “you get better prices.”
DC Velocity: BNSF sets 2013 capital budget of $4.1 billion, largest budget in U.S. rail history
BNSF Railway, one of the two major western U.S. railroads, has set a 2013 capital expenditure budget of $4.1 billion, the first time any U.S. railroad has budgeted more than $4 billion in capital spending in one year.
The Hill: This week in transportation: Shuster's first meeting
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) will gavel in his first meeting as House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman this week after President Obama takes his second oath-of-office.
The Atlantic Cities: Voice-Operated Texting While Driving: As Unsafe As It Ever Was
With the new year a new law went into effect in California that lets drivers send and receive text messages or emails so long as they communicate through a hands-free or voice-operated system. Dictating an outgoing message or listening to an incoming one while behind the wheel is now fair game. When the bill first passed its author, then-Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Orange County, said it allowed Californians to text and drive "safely and responsibly."
New York Times: 100 Years of Grandeur
One hundred years ago, on Feb. 2, 1913, the doors to Grand Central Terminal officially opened to the public, after 10 years of construction and at a cost of more than $2 billion in today’s dollars. The terminal was a product of local politics, bold architecture, brutal flexing of corporate muscle and visionary engineering. No other building embodies New York’s ascent as vividly as Grand Central. Here, the tale of its birth, excerpted from “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America,” by Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, to be published later this month by Grand Central Publishing.
The Hill: DC Metro carried nearly 780,000 passengers on Obama Inauguration Day
More than 779,000 people rode Washington, D.C.’s MetroRail subway system on the day of President Obama’s second inauguration, officials with the transit agency said.
Los Angeles Times: L.A. transit officials release analysis for closing '710 gap'
Los Angeles County transportation officials have released the final version of their analysis of alternatives for closing the so-called 710 gap between Alhambra and Pasadena, setting the stage for more vigorous environmental review.
The Star-Ledger: Gov. Christie to get support of Port Authority police union
TRENTON — The Port Authority’s police union will endorse Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday.
WBEZ (Associated Press Reprint): FAA OKs request to privatize Midway
Federal authorities have given a green light to Chicago to press ahead with plans to privatize Midway International Airport.
MinnPost: Seeking the transit-friendly highway
As I first started exploring Metro Transit’s bus network in college, I was struck by how much freeway mileage in the Twin Cities doesn’t carry any transit service. Having grown up near Rochester and typically only visiting or driving through the metro area a few times per year, my mental map was mostly built up of Interstates and other major highways, so many of the landmarks I wanted to visit would require long, slow trips on urban local bus routes, and many destinations were simply out of reach with the time I had available. That might not have been the case if there were more freeway-running routes that had more symmetrical schedules throughout the day.
San Francisco Chronicle: Ed Lee talks of tearing down end of I-280
Mayor Ed Lee is floating the idea of tearing down the stub end of Interstate 280 in San Francisco in hopes of creating a new neighborhood and speeding up the arrival of high-speed rail service downtown.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider Featuring Caitlin Emma
1/22/13 5:32 AM EST
NORQUIST TAKING ON McDONNELL: Americans for Tax Reform is going even harder at Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan than we expected. Grover Norquist’s group is launching a spirited “write your legislator” email campaign (http://bit.ly/SuHRZI) that is playing up the increased revenue that McDonnell — a fellow Republican — is pitching to raise the state’s sales tax to shore up the state’s dwindling infrastructure funds. ATR is playing the entire thing up as a “2.4 billion tax hike on Virginia families” — but McDonnell has already rejiggered his plan after ATR indicated it wouldn’t tax a state gas tax hike sitting down either. It didn’t do enough, and it shows as Norquist’s group is getting personal: A large image created as part of the “Fix the Plan” campaign shows McDonnell cruising with a pair of legislators in a truck with money flying out of it (http://bit.ly/WRSimq) and says the plan will most benefit “well-heeled Richmond lobbyists” — depicted as fatcats in a limo. DMV residents will get a kick out of the description of the Silver Line extension. ATR calls it a “special train route,” and shows pigs drinking cocktails in a Metro car.
TAKE A BOW METRO: There were some downtown delays, some station entrances closed due to crowding and troubles getting out of parking lots, but the big takeaway is that our subway system avoided a high-profile meltdown with its Inauguration Day in the national spotlight. Metro got it done by putting out tons of information via Twitter and email, running rush-hour service nearly all day and by keeping the trains on time the majority of the day. Metro should give us the final number today, but as of 8 p.m. 719,000 people had entered Metrorail versus about a million at that point in 2009. Potentially, Obama’s second inauguration could go down as one the system’s busiest days of all time, depending on how many rode it all the way to closing at 2 a.m. Caitlin and Burgess bring the early returns: http://politi.co/XtZm9D
Busy skies: MWAA warns that today will be “a busy day” for the D.C.-area airports, saying that Reagan National and Dulles airports should have traffic similar to the day before Thanksgiving. “Airport staffing will be optimized to handle the expected crowds,” the agency says, even making a media rep available at 6 a.m. today (just a skosh early for these two scribes).
UP TO SPEED: President Barack Obama had a few transport shout-outs in his first official speech as a second-term president. Early on, he singled out how transportation has helped the country become what it is: “Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers,” he said. And later on, Obama listed infrastructure as one of the things that can be improved not by an individual, but by the country. “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people,” he said.
LaHOOD’S LATEST, VIA TWITTER: NBC’s @KellyO: “Secretary of Trans LaHood just told us this is the best job he's ever had and he'll be around a bit longer #NBCPolitics”
INSIDE THE CHAMBER LOBBYING EFFORT: We heard another call from Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue for a national look at the gas tax and transportation user fees, so we wondered what the key is to getting enough lawmakers on board. The Chamber’s resident top transportation lobbyist told MT the key to getting more transportation revenue from Congress — either through the gas tax or other methods — is going to be through comprehensive legislation. Janet Kavinoky said the way to get 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate is “by not asking them to vote, necessarily, for a standalone user fee. I am under no illusion that any sort of standalone package asking people to increase user fees for transportation to go anywhere.” So Kavinoky is going with a three-step plan: 1. Remind Congress and the White House that transportation has its own cliff: the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (see below). 2. Reminisce on that fateful day, 20 years ago, when the gas tax was last raised. 3. Look for any opportunities during the larger economic discussions for more transport revenue.
HIGHWAY TRUST FUND UPDATE: CBO has released transpo analyst Sarah Puro’s presentation on the HTF and how it’s impacted by MAP-21, given at the recent TRB meeting. The slideshow (http://1.usa.gov/SsAq50) includes estimates of $33 billion into the highway account and $5 billion for the transit account this fiscal year. But the stunning part is on page eight, where the long-term balances are shown on a steeply declining graph that shows a deficit of nearly $80 billion by 2022.
TIFIA IN DEMAND: There are 27 TIFIA applications consisting of $38.5 billion in projects seeking a part of the $750 million in expanded authority DOT has this year due to new transportation policy. An official told MT there is “sufficient budget authority to fund additional projects.” That doesn’t mean everything is going to get assistance from the feds -- in fact, we see some pie-in-the-sky proposals mixed in there — but it’s far too easy to say who will get a hand from Washington and who won’t. DOT is working to review the letters of interest “on a timeline that makes sense for that project,” the official said, adding that the department is working “closely” with sponsors to “resolve financial structuring, project scope, procurement, legislative, regulatory and environmental issues.”
DENHAM GEARS UP: The full T&I Committee organizes tomorrow, which then lets the six subcommittees formally get to work. New Railroads Chairman Jeff Denham told MT that the first hearings could come as soon as March, though nothing is set in stone. We know he’s got his eye on California’s high-speed rail project, asking officials for more info on private sector funding and ridership figures. “We’ll do a series of meetings over the next couple months and then we’d look at starting to hold hearing in probably March,” he told MT recently.
CUMMINGS — Mica ‘breath of fresh air’: Top Oversight and senior T&I Dem Elijah Cummings told MT that he is optimistic in how former T&I Chairman John Mica will handle his new Government Operations gavel. Cummings called the job “very broad and very important” because of the national stature the committee has. That exposure should suit Mica, who has a flair for clever and fiery rhetoric and taking on what he sees as government waste at TSA and Amtrak, even if the minority disagrees with him. Mica and Cummings have worked closely on the two panels for more than a dozen years. “We may not agree on a lot, but in the end I find that he’s one that’s finally able to compromise,” Cummings said, pointing to the successful legislative run T&I had in the 112th Congress under the Floridian’s guidance. “Mica, to be frank with you, is almost like a breath of fresh air in getting something done.”
STREETSBLOG IN THE WINDY CITY: The biking and sustainability supporters behind Streetsblog are expanding for the first time in four years with new site dedicated to transportation in Chicago. John Greenfield and Steven Vance will anchor the new Windy City site that goes live today. Check it out at: http://bit.ly/11Cpjuh
CABOOSE — Century-old Inauguration: To cure your inaugural hangover, here’s some hair of the dog that bit you. Check out Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural crowd from a century ago — back when the ceremony was in March and held on the east front of the Capitol. Ronald Reagan later had it moved to the west front — a tradition that stuck and made possible the bigger crowds we see now. Shorpy: http://bit.ly/Uevi4g
Freight railroad bottlenecks cost about $200 billion (1.6% of GDP) per year.