Infrastructure in the News: January 24, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Huffington Post: Reshaping New York City's Future After Sandy
In our New York City's long history, we had never seen a storm like Sandy. Water levels at the Battery in Lower Manhattan reached 14 feet; the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had estimated there was a less than 1 percent chance of that happening. The previous record -- set in 1960 -- was 11 feet. It was a perfect storm -- a hurricane that coincided with a full moon and a high tide, and it collided with a second weather front that led it to make a left turn in about the worst possible place, devastating communities and killing 43 people. We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes, but we cannot leave it to our children to prepare for the possibility.
Brookings Up Front: Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs
Anyone who travels abroad can see that the United States no longer has a world-class infrastructure. And there’s hard evidence to back up that impression. The World Economic Forum compiles a massive annual “Global Competitiveness Report.” The 2012-2013 edition finds that the United States has fallen well behind many members of the European Union, Canada, and Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan, and South Korea in the overall quality of its infrastructure. We rank 18th in railroads, 19th in ports, 20th in roads, 30th in airports, and 33rd in the quality of our electrical system.
Bloomberg View: Drop the Federal Gas Tax and Build Better Roads
Any transportation official knows how to deal with a broken-down car blocking rush-hour traffic: Move it to the side of the road and let everyone else get where they’re going.
FastLane: America's mayors getting the job done
Readers of the Fast Lane will recall that last Friday I returned to the Motor City to announce a big step forward in federal support for greater Detroit's M-1 Rail project. As significant as that announcement is for the people and businesses of the metropolitan Detroit region, it's also important to remember that it is just the latest sign of the Obama Administration's support for America's cities.
Transportation Nation: Mica Gets Transportation Subcommittee Posts
Representative John Mica (R-FL) will retain some influence in helping set transportation policy, even though Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster has taken over as chair of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Hill: Public transit tax benefit increased
Public transportation users will be able to withhold more of their paychecks from being taxed for their trips to work in 2013, according to the IRS.
The Hill: Airlines accused of pocketing EU emission trading fees
U.S. airlines made as much as $83 million from European emission trading rules they vocally opposed, a group of environmental advocates claims.
Scientific American: Large Vehicles Begin Shift to Electric Drive
Passenger cars have been generating much of the buzz around electrified transportation, but automakers are changing that with a suite of new electrified trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles that could soon hit the market.
NRDC Switchboard: Transportation: Less Funding, More Traffic
No two ways about it, America's transportation infrastructure is falling into disrepair and failing to keep up with the demands of our growing population. Costs for our roads, bridges, railways, runways and ports steadily mount as funding for our extensive transportation system rapidly shrinks. As the primary revenue source for transportation -- federal and state gas taxes -- falls short of our nation's spending needs, elected officials continue to struggle with policy solutions to fill the infrastructure funding gap. Making their decisions all the more difficult is the fact that the American public really has no concept of how much transportation costs, the magnitute of the looming infrastructure fiscal crisis, or an appreciation for how little we actually pay for our transport system compared to other public services.
Washington Post: Metro proposes major upgrade to D.C. transit
Metro’s top managers are proposing a new rail tunnel under the center of the District, a second tunnel under the Potomac, and they estimate the transit agency will need $26 billion over the next three decades to pay for those and other improvements to an aging system that is falling behind the region’s needs.
Washington Post: Red light cameras prove effective in Arlington County
If you are destined to die in a car crash around here, the odds are almost one in four that you’ll get killed at an intersection, but your chance of avoiding a crash is improving if you live in Arlington County.
Washington Post: Connolly to be top Democrat on federal ‘uber-subcommittee’
Getting the top minority party post on new, little-known House panels isn’t always something to write home about. But when you represent Northern Virginia, and that subcommittee covers a wide range of federal government issues, the calculus changes a bit.
Detroit Free Press (The Associated Press Reprint): Amtrak has record 2012 ridership in Michigan
PORT HURON — The state Department of Transportation says a record number of people rode Amtrak trains in Michigan last year.
SF Examiner: Metropolitan Transportation Commission seeking an additional $32 million of bridge toll funds
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is expected to ask today for an additional $32 million in bridge toll funds for its controversial headquarters relocation project.
JS Online: State panel recommends raising gas tax, fees; Republican leaders balk
Madison - A state commission on Wednesday recommended raising the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon and creating a new, mileage-based fee - ideas the top two leaders in the state Assembly immediately shot down.
E&E: Rockefeller Foundation pledges support for urban adaptation initiative
By Ines Perez, E&E reporter
January 22, 2013
The Rockefeller Foundation on Friday pledged $3 million in support of a new public-private program to help cities finance and build defense systems against severe weather events and rising sea levels.
Through a national application process, the initiative will select eight cities and provide seed funding and technical support to create new "community investment vehicles" to leverage private investment in local water infrastructure. The project is a collaboration including c.dots development and CH2M Hill.
The idea behind the effort, called RE.invest, is to bundle local projects into one cohesive package, giving private investors enough incentive to invest.
"We are excited to work with the Rockefeller Foundation, cities across the country, and leading engineering, law and finance firms to create Community Investment Vehicles (CIVics), a new model of public-private partnerships for resilient infrastructure," said Shalini Vajjhala, co-founder of c.dots development, a company recently established to do that.
"When you bundle together things like investments in repaving roads so they absorb water, if you can put power lines underground, if you can put broadband cables underground at the same time, then you have companies that are very interested because they save a lot of money," she explained.
Superstorm Sandy exposed infrastructure deficiencies along the East Coast. This prompted many environmental and utility groups to call on the government to fund projects to update water, electric, communications and transit systems in preparation for the potential effects of climate change (, Jan. 16). But with austerity tightening the public budget, the outlook is bleak.
The program will empower communities to design and construct more resilient stormwater systems through innovative financing approaches, said Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin.
Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement, "Using innovative sustainable infrastructure such as replacing concrete with porous pavement, restoring creeks and wetlands, and increasing tree cover can help cities manage storm water often at a fraction of the cost of upgrading traditional concrete infrastructure."
For now, the eight-city initiative will serve as test drive for the program. If it works, according to Vajjhala, it could be a template for other cities across the United States to use
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Scott Wong
SANDY STILL STALLED IN SENATE: Another day, another Senate session without passage of the House’s Sandy aid bill. It doesn’t look like the disaster aid legislation is in trouble, but look for the Senate to handle its rules changes (getting close, Manu Raju reports: http://politi.co/VZaVbq) first before taking up the $50 billion package, replete with $13 billion for transpo. Bob Menendez took to the floor not long before the chamber recessed to voice his frustrations. “We’re already here on Wednesday and I am concerned we will lose another week ...There is no excuse for delay, Mr. President. We already have a delay in the House,” he said, adding: “And so while I am happy at this point, Mr. President, to accept the House’s version, even though I do believe that the Senate version is superior in a variety of ways, getting passage here of the House version so it can be sent to the president and so that we can get relief to citizens in the Northeast is critically important.”
The Sandy lobby: Our colleague Alex Guillén sifted through the Sandy-related lobbying disclosures, finding that the Chamber of Commerce got involved and the Southern Environmental Law Center worked to “to keep anti-environmental riders and NEPA streamlining pieces out of” the measure. The most interesting part: “Dunkin’ Brands, the parent of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, reported lobbying on tax provisions in Sandy relief legislation, while Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, asked the Senate for ‘expedited federal relief’ from Sandy devastation.” His Pro story: http://politico.pro/WVxZog
T&I GETS ORGANIZED: The Transportation Committee is officially off and running after formally adopting its rules (http://1.usa.gov/Wn4Bba), oversight plan (http://1.usa.gov/Wn4D2M) and subcommittee rosters (http://1.usa.gov/XActpV).
Special task for a special panel: But the big news of the day — aside from the standing ovation and applause for Bud Shuster that rivaled the one for his son Bill — was a special panel that will look into issues that cut across subcommittee lines, including freight movement and the “multimodalism” we hear so much about. Vice Chairman John Duncan will lead the panel, but we don’t know a whole lot about it save for what’s in the rules (same party ratio as full committee, can’t last longer than six months, requires Dem approval to set up). “When you’re talking about intermodalism, multimodalism, movement of goods, movement of people, there’s an intersection between all these modes, from the ports to the rails to the trucks to the skies,” Shuster told MT from the Speaker’s Lobby. Former Chairman John Mica called the panel “a very good idea,” adding that “we haven’t done that before.” Adam gets Pros up to speed: http://politico.pro/WtK1Xy
DAILY DREAMLINER UPDATE — Clown questions: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta are not trying to go through the decision-making process that led to the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners with the press. At the Aero Club lunch LaHood took a question, in front of hundreds of members of Washington’s aviation community, from someone who wanted to know if he had any regrets with how he has handled the process. “You know what? I’m not doing these hypothetical, 20/20 look-backs,” said a visibly irked LaHood, who has answered that question before. “I guarantee that fellow’s from the media,” LaHood said as the questioner sat down. Both men said that they are withholding any further comments about the investigation until it’s completed. In fact, LaHood said he hadn’t even spoken yet to technical staff, who are buried in the review. “I’m not going to comment on any of it in the middle of their review. Frankly, I haven’t talked to them,” he said. Burgess has more: http://politico.pro/W130vp
Proud moment: LaHood privately swore in Huerta shortly after his five-year term was approved by the Senate on New Year’s Day. But he publically gave the new administrator his due at the Capital Hilton. “It’s not the White House, it’s the Aero Club. What’s better than that?” LaHood joked. The secretary also shouted out two more notables in audience: His deputy, John Porcari, and former boss (and House Minority Leader) Bob Michel.
CHARGED UP: The Dreamliner batteries that are the focus of the investigation have a story that goes back years, to an APLA comment filing in 2007. “We are very concerned with a fire erupting in flight and being able to rapidly extinguish it,” ALPA wrote. The union requested that FAA require that cabin crews be provided a means to douse any battery fires. Kathryn has more on the intriguing wrinkle: http://politico.pro/Wg9Qws
Hearing different things: Remember Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller’s call for congressional hearings into the Dreamliner saga? He might be stepping back a bit. He'll push for hearings, he said, "if it's the right thing to do, [unless] I'm really satisfied. Shuster has similar thoughts: “Right now we don’t have any plans” for hearings, he said, although his ranking member Nick Rahall did say the certification process at the FAA is one thing that might benefit for some congressional sunshine. “It’s obviously not working. Something went wrong, so that’s a good question to ask in a hearing,” he told Adam. Kathryn and Scott have the relevant deets: http://politico.pro/10xuO8P
LaHOOD NON-NEWS OF THE DAY: Bill Shuster told Kathryn that he met with LaHood on Tuesday and reported back that the secretary said he’s going to be at DOT for “a while.” So...what’s awhile mean? “It’s like, you know, dealing with the airlines sometimes, when you’re dealing with people — the airlines say ‘We’re going to leave shortly.’ No, but he just said it’s going to be a while.” LaHood was also asked at a Dreamliner-focused press availability. “I doubt that anyone here wants to hear about that. I don't have anything about that today,” he replied. Not to contradict you, Mr. Secretary, but MT thinks there’s more than a few people out there that do indeed want to hear about it.
TSA’S TRASH PILE: Last week’s decision by the TSA to get rid of a whole-body scanner it once thought promising is just the latest example of the agency jettisoning technology meant to guard against carried-on bombs. Before the Rapiscan drama, there were the infamous “puffers,” introduced in 2004 at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, intended to detect explosive particles on people’s bodies by analyzing a puff of air. The aim was to catch people carrying explosives — including those not containing metal — without an intrusive search. But they were unreliable and TSA pulled them in 2009. Pros get more from Kathryn: http://politico.pro/UVn0gS
MORE COMMITTEE NEWS: We promise all the updates about members on the relevant transpo committees will stop one day — just not yet. The latest is House Dems announcing their subcommittee rosters on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Ed Pastor will be ranking member of the THUD panel following John Olver’s retirement. The rest of the Democratic bench: David Price, Mike Quigley and Tim Ryan. And over on Homeland Security, Cedric Richmond will be the ranking member on the Transportation Security panel that oversees TSA.
MIDWAY INCHES TOWARD PRIVATIZATION: The FAA has completed its review of Chicago Midway’s application for the Airport Privatization Pilot Program, allowing one of the country’s larger airports to move forward in the process in 2014, according to a letter (http://bit.ly/UlnYDZ) made public by the agency.
TALE OF TWO TRANSPO GUVS: Maryland Senate President Mike Miller is pushing a plan that would levy a 3 percent sales tax on gas (in addition to the state gas tax) to help the Old Line State shore up its transportation funding problems. The difference between what’s happening on the other side of the Potomac with Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan: Miller’s push hasn’t yet been fully embraced by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. A spokeswoman for the governor told MT that he “has not a seen a draft of the Miller proposal.” That said, he is still in “ongoing discussions” with Annapolis leaders including Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch and “the door isn’t closed” on getting transportation legislation passed. WaPo has the guts of the Miller plan: http://wapo.st/ViLgNw
Redistrict move could hurt McDonnell plan: A key Democratic lawmaker reportedly said the Va. transport legislation “is no longer alive … it is gone … dead.” WaPo: http://wapo.st/WVVq0N
CABOOSE — Wedding of the modes: The Rapid Commute system would allow you to put your car ON a train and then when you get to the destination, voila! You’ve still got your whip. Amtrak’s Auto-Train is similar, but MT doubt this idea gets much traction when it’s hard enough for the country to maintain its current infrastructure. http://bit.ly/10RpWRH
GAO finds DOT “lacks data, oversight, and strategic focus needed to address significant workforce challenges.” Report: http://1.usa.gov/WM1ASD
One third of America's major roads are in poor condition.