Infrastructure in the News: January 26, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
The Trucker (The Associated Press Reprint): Virginia Senate vote passes $880 million highway reform
RICHMOND, Va. — The state Senate passed a sweeping, long-term overhaul to Virginia's system for funding repairs and upkeep of its highways on Saturday, giving Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell a signature legislative triumph on an initiative that had eluded several of his predecessors.
PR Newswire: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to Speak at The Cooper Union's 154th Graduation Ceremony
NEW YORK, Feb. 25, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- We are delighted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will deliver the commencement address at The Cooper Union's 154th graduation ceremony, said Jamshed Bharucha , President of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. At the May 29th commencement, Mayor Bloomberg will receive the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (honorary).
New York Times: Obama Takes Budget Warnings to Shipbuilder
WASHINGTON — President Obama will stand in the shadow of two massive aircraft carriers in Newport News, Va., Tuesday as he warns that automatic cuts to the military budget threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of workers who produce the country’s most enormous weapons of war, officials said.
New York Times: Mismeasurement of Federal Spending, Investment and Saving
Much of the motivation for deficit reduction, a goal shared by policy makers across the political spectrum, is the belief that deficits consume the nation’s seed corn. That is, deficits represent negative saving. Because saving is presumed to be the key determinant of long-term real economic growth, deficits deplete the supply of saving and thus reduce growth.
New York Times: Threat of Cuts Intensifies the Air Travel Headache
I’m not foolhardy enough to venture guesses about what, if anything, may happen in Congress this week as the deadline for deep spending cuts looms on Friday. But there is the prospect of significant effects on air travel. In recent days, Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, has been warning that the budget cuts would create major disruptions in air travel.
Governing: Is the President Just Talk on Infrastructure?
It's becoming a bit of a running gag in the transportation community: President Obama is one of the loudest supporters for spending money on improving the nation's infrastructure. But when it comes to saying how the country should pay for it, he's surprisingly quiet.
The Hill: Franken urges Obama to take on freight rail monopolies
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) urged President Obama on Monday to take steps to stop monopolies in the freight rail industry. “Farmers and businesses across Minnesota rely on freight rail to ship out their products, but a lack of competition in the rail industry harms shippers and drives up prices for their consumers,” Franken said Monday. “The freight rail monopolies that control much of our shipping infrastructure have harmed job creation and economic growth all over Minnesota and all over the country.”
HumanTransit: What if a city wants more transit than its neighbors, but they're all in one transit agency?
Large North American transit agencies generally have some revenue raising authority over an enormous and diverse urban area, and feel obliged to serve the same enormous area with something that can be justified as an "equitable" distribution of service. (As I explain in detail in Chapter 10 of my book Human Transit, there's no objective definition of "equitable," but that's another story.)
Transportation Nation: Today’s Sign That America Is Falling Behind on Transport Policy
You know we’ve reached a low point in U.S. infrastructure policy when state officials are selling off public utilities in order to fund $1.7 billion highway interchanges. Contrast American gimmicks with the progress of some of our international competitors. Systemic Failure reports today that China is now operating four high-speed rail lines at a profit, even when factoring in payments to cover construction costs.
Fast Lane: DOT continuing to help veterans transition to civilian employment
Each year between 260,000 and 360,000 service members retire from or leave the military. And as we end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we expect an additional million service members to leave the military over the next several years. Many of our returning veterans face unique challenges transitioning to the civilian labor market. But President Obama, DOT, and the entire Administration are committed to doing everything we can to assist these veterans in re-entering civilian life and finding employment.
The White House Blog: Remarks by the President and Vice President at Meeting of the National Governors Association
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. I tell you what, I didn't know Jack was as good as he is until I heard that rhyme last night. (Laughter.) Jack, if you had done that, I’d be introducing you here. (Laughter.)
New York Times: The Ant, the Grasshopper and Electricity Prices in New England
The electricity crunch in New England that I wrote about on Feb. 15 persists, and it is clearly related to a shortage of natural gas pipeline capacity relative to growing demand. But experts say the root cause is something more complicated: a structural flaw in the regional electric market. The gas industry, the electricity generators and the Independent System Operator – New England, which runs the grid, all say there is a problem, although they are not quite in agreement on how to solve it.
Washington Post: In Oklahoma, tiny airport attracts federal money, but few planes
ARDMORE, Okla. — Along a country road in southern Oklahoma, there is a place that doesn’t make sense. It is an airport without passengers. Or, for that matter, planes. This is Lake Murray State Park Airport, one of the least busy of the nation’s 3,300-plus public airfields. In an entire week here, there might be one landing and one takeoff — often so pilots can use the bathroom. Or none at all. Visiting pilots are warned to watch out for deer on the runway.
Washington Post: Editorial: Virginia shows Maryland how transportation funding can be done
WHY CAN VIRGINIA, a state evenly divided between the parties, enact a landmark transportation funding deal while Maryland, a one-party state, remains paralyzed? In a word: leadership. Two years ago, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) appointed a commission to find a fix for a transportation funding system heading toward insolvency. The commission recommended taxes and fees that would yield $870 million in annual revenue — an amount regarded as a bare minimum to maintain existing infrastructure and to build new roads and rail projects.
Washington Post: Delaware transportation budget postpones $46 million in projects
DOVER, Del. — Delaware transportation officials are proposing postponing $46 million in projects. The postponements were contained in a capital budget proposal presented to state lawmakers on Monday. The agency is working to reduce a $1.08 billion in debt. The postponed projects include 15 safety-driven improvements statewide. Construction will be delayed a few months to a few years, depending on funding.
Washington Post: Opinion: Va.’s transportation bill is unconstitutional
Those praising the Virginia General Assembly’s transportation compromise may not realize that the bill runs afoul of the plain language in the state’s constitution. Virginia’s constitution is clear that the General Assembly can impose only uniform taxes across the state for similar activities. But the bill that emerged from the House-Senate conference committee last weekend upsets the historic balance between localities and state government; it contains new provisions about taxation, some of which would effectively set up a two-tier system for residents in certain parts of the state.
Washington Post: Busch taps US deputy transportation secretary to make case for Md. revenue
President Obama’s deputy secretary of transportation is scheduled to appear in Annapolis on Tuesday to help make the case that Maryland lawmakers should boost funding for roads and mass transit.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Bill could lead to highway speeds up to 85 mph
CARSON CITY - Tired of creeping along Nevada highways at 70 mph? So is state Sen. Don Gustavson. On Monday, Gustavson introduced Senate Bill 191, which would allow the state Department of Transportation to increase the maximum speed limit in Nevada to 85 mph where the agency determines that speed is safe.
Greater Greater Washington: DDOT could put tour bus parking on Southeast Freeway
DC is having trouble finding a place for tour buses to park, but DDOT might have an answer: part of the Southeast Freeway east of the 11th Street Bridge, near 14th and L Streets, SE.
The Star-Ledger: Gov. Christie to unveil budget plan for post-Sandy N.J.
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie will release his new budget today in a Statehouse speech that is expected to tackle one of the biggest questions in New Jersey: where to find the money for a massive rebuilding effort in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The Mississippi Press: Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway delivers State of the City update
BILOXI, Mississippi -- Biloxi is well-known for its casino resort industry, but Mayor A.J. Holloway used his State of the City address today to remind people that there's a whole lot more to the city.
Wall Street Journal: AP: Mass. official: Buses pulled from road for safety
BOSTON — State inspectors say they've found serious safety problems with buses used by a popular discount bus service operating between Boston and New York City and are asking federal transportation officials to declare Fung Wah Bus an "imminent hazard," essentially shutting down the operation.
Department of Public Utilities Chairwoman Ann Berwick said that inspectors looked at nine buses used by Fung Wah Bus and found serious problems with eight, including cracks in their frames.
Berwick said the state negotiated an agreement with the company to take all 21 of their older buses off the road. Six of the company's buses are still operating.
"We have asked the federal Department of Transportation to declare an imminent hazard which would effectively shut down the company until it could operate" safely, Berwick said Monday.
Among the problems discovered by inspectors were "four undercarriage frame cracks including at the drive axle, at the cross member for the motor mounts, and at the differential and over the right front steering axle," according to a letter sent by Berwick to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Anne Ferro.
The company, which operates between the Chinatown neighborhoods of Boston and New York, has had a history of troubles.
In 2006, the company was fined $31,100 for violating federal safety regulations linked to a rollover in Auburn that injured dozens of passengers traveling from New York to Boston. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration said Fung Wah improperly hired drivers who couldn't speak English and who regularly exceeded speed limits.
In 2005 a Fung Wah bus bound for New York caught fire in Meriden, Conn. All 45 passengers were evacuated moments before flames engulfed the bus.
Berwick's letter said it appears the company had tried to repair the latest problems but in some cases only made them worse.
"The department has also noted that some of the attempted repairs made by Fung Wah to various buses appear to be substandard because the welds have not been completed and/or have failed and the cracks appear to be larger than they were when the buses were initially inspected," Berwick wrote.
A call to the company was not immediately returned Monday.
Berwick said she is asking the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to pursue the "Imminent Hazard Order" for what she called the company's "blatant disregard for federal safety regulations and putting the company's own drivers, passengers, and the motoring public at risk."
Berwick wrote that Fung Wah "is currently incapable of maintaining a fleet of motor coaches."
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe
MT EXCLUSIVE — Shuster, Thune press LaHood for answers: The two Republicans want some answers about the FAA’s spending plans before and after the sequester. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood obtained by MT, the duo says that Congress has tried to get details since August 2012, only to be rebuffed. “To date, those requests for information have gone unanswered,” they wrote. “Given the administration and the department’s recent statements on a possible sequestration’s effects on the traveling public, it is imperative that the information we have continuously sought be provided as soon as possible.” Rep. Bill Shuster and Sen. John Thune want FAA’s spending plan for normal operations, which “should have been produced” by October 2012, and two separate account-by-account plans: one for a full year of normal funding and one for a full year of a post-sequester budget. Read the letter: http://bit.ly/WnrCuX
SEQUESTER REBUTTAL: The GOP suggested on Friday that FAA has plenty of room to maneuver around the sequester’s cuts because the FAA has spent $222 million less than it expected in the first quarter of the fiscal year. From there, Republicans believe the FAA could weather the coming $600 million-plus in projected cuts by implementing a hiring freeze and slashing nonpersonnel spending by 7 percent. But that’s not an accurate reading of the way the FAA spends its money, an administration official told MT. The source explained that the savings of $222 million in the first quarter of the year “assumes that the FAA obligates and spends money equally across the year — that isn’t the case.”
Busy season: In fact, the April-to-September period during which the FAA must make the sequester cuts during comes precisely when FAA spending picks up to deal with big crowds during busy summer travel season. “The FAA historically spends and obligates more as the fiscal year goes on,” the official said. “The cuts will need be condensed in the April to September timeframe, which is when we have a higher obligation and spend rate.” That means FAA will be unable to pocket those savings and use them as a down payment on the expected cuts, as suggested by Republicans.
THE SEQUESTER SHOWDOWN: The administration and Democrats say there is little flexibility under the Budget Control Act’s sequester provisions for the FAA to shift around money to avoid the long delays predicted by Secretaries Ray LaHood and Janet Napolitano in recent days. That’s a contention disputed by Republicans, which has put industry groups in a pickle. “We've moved into a classic 'he said, she said' as far as what flexibility the administration has,” said one aviation lobbyist. One transportation analyst said many number-crunchers have no choice but to hold back until they can better ascertain what is real and what is rhetoric. “There’s too much mixed messaging out there. When will the cuts actually hit? Exactly how will adjustments be made vis-à-vis the furloughs? Will this whole thing even happen, or will we get a deal sometime over the next few weeks?” the analyst said. More on that debate from Burgess and Kathryn: http://politico.pro/YwPJqr
SHOULD RAY LaHOOD STICK AROUND? It’s been a full four weeks since Secretary LaHood said he would step down (but not until his successor is confirmed), with nary a hint from the White House that a new secretary is on the horizon. Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller told MT that it would be easy to ask LaHood to stay until the sequester is fully dealt with, but there’s other considerations as well. “The obvious answer to that would be yes, but the obvious next question would be there has to be limits,” Rockefeller told us. A minute later he clarified: “It’s a hard thing for me to answer, because otherwise I’ll just say yes easily. I don’t know what he’s facing.” Asked if he was bugged by some of the sequester rhetoric coming from transportation Republicans, Rockefeller took a wider view: “The whole situation bugs me.”
Cantwell still focused on solution: Aviation Chairwoman Maria Cantwell told MT that her goal is still to replace or delay the sequester rather than sound the alarm on its impacts. “Resolve it by the end of the week, that’s what we should do. And yes, you can write lots of stories about what may happen, but I think it’s really important for us to work together and resolve this,” she said. “If there is consensus on doing something short-term, which is kind of where I think we are right now … let’s get through this year.” And would added flexibility be a good fallback? “Maybe,” she said.
AIR TRAVEL WILL STINK, BUT KEEP BUYING TICKETS: MT readers aren’t just transportation wonks — they are everyday travelers too. So you might be wondering at this point if you should take that April trip to Europe, the business jaunt to Chi-town or pull the trigger on a weekend trip to visit a college friend. The sequester will be bad for air travel, warned Virginia Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran and Sen. Tim Kaine at an event at Reagan National Airport, but not so bad that you should stay home this spring. “My advice is go ahead and buy a ticket. And after you do, call your congressperson and tell him or her we need to have a compromise,” Connolly said. Burgess takes it away for Pros: http://politico.pro/Zvu8BQ
CUTTING — Sequester vs. red tape: President Barack Obama doesn’t want the sequester to cut spending, but he’s got his eye on cutting the proverbial “red tape” that slows down infrastructure projects. Speaking to governors at the White House before a closed-press meeting, Obama devoted about half his speech to infrastructure, including saying the administration is creating a set of “regional teams” that will help speed up projects — including one to “help the Northeast Corridor move faster on high-speed rail service.” The president once again bemoaned that transportation “didn’t used to be a partisan issue” and even used a tweaked version of one of his State of the Union lines. “I don’t know when exactly that happened. It should be a no-brainer. Businesses are not going to set up shop in places where roads and bridges and ports and schools are falling apart. They’re going to open their doors wherever they can connect the best transportation and communications networks to their businesses and to their customers,” he said. Pros get Adam’s story: http://politico.pro/V1VUqO
MERGER HEARING ON TAP TODAY: A House Judiciary panel holds a hearing this morning on the American-US Airways merger. Business Travel Coalition President Kevin Mitchell will argue that Congress looks at the merger as a single transaction that could affect some overlapping flights, but instead should consider the broad implications for how competitive the industry is. Those effects include “the future of airline competition, airfare transparency, comparison-shopping, personal data privacy and consumer protections,” according to an early version of his testimony.
POSTPONED: The Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on passenger rail and the Northeast Corridor, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed. It was put off due to a “scheduling conflict,” an aide to Surface Transportation Chairman Frank Lautenberg told MT, adding, “We expect it to be rescheduled in the next few weeks.”
REPORT WATCH — User fees & deficit reduction: The Hamilton Project has a new report today titled “15 Ways to Rethink the Federal Budget.” And you guessed it: Transportation financing is one of those ways. Former AASHTO budget wonk Jack Basso and former Assistant DOT Secretary for Policy Tyler Duvall write that funding transport projects through a user fee would lower the deficit by $316 billion over 10 years. As others have done, the two say a VMT fee could get the job done. “A major potential advantage of a mileage-based charging system over traditional taxes is the flexibility to design into such a system the ability to incorporate differential pricing based on time of day, type of vehicle, and so on,” they write. The report goes live today and you can check it out here: http://bit.ly/V1wLfM
Teenage drivers: Early data shows that more young drivers — defined as 16-17 years old — are dying on the nation’s roads. A new GHSA report out today finds a 19 percent hike in traffic fatalities over the first six months of 2012 when compared to the same period of 2011. There’s a few possible explanations: More people are driving as the economy continues to improve and the benefits of GDL policies might be leveling off. Give the full report a look: http://bit.ly/VIElev
MAILBAG — Cruising: Rep. John Garamendi, the top Democrat on T&I’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation panel, calls for a hearing on cruise ship safety. Letter: http://1.usa.gov/YunRp9
THE DAY AHEAD: All day — AASHTO 2013 Washington briefing. Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave. NW.
All day — Operation Lifesaver holds a summit on best practices for raising awareness of rail safety issues. Chicago.
10:30 a.m. — Senate Budget hearing on investment and sequestration with DOT Undersecretary for Policy Polly Trottenberg. 608 Dirksen.
By Burgess Everett
Sequestration’s effects on air travel are going to be dire, even a calamity, administration officials and Democrats say — but don’t let that stop you from buying a plane ticket.
Virginia Democrats took to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Monday morning to warn of long lines and flight delays and even service cuts at smaller airports that may occur soon after sequestration hits. But they stopped short of calling on travelers to stay home or cancel their plans.
“Yes, they should buy an airline ticket,” Rep Jim Moran said of potential travelers. “But they should get here earlier than they normally would. I think there’s going to be a lot of inconvenience, but the airline industry is not going to shut down. It’s just going to operate at a slower pace.”
Moran, Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Gerry Connolly put it bluntly: Flexibility in travel and the last-minute business trip or vacation getaway is likely to suffer under the cuts.
But amid their warnings about air traffic controller furloughs, Moran and Connolly sought to tread carefully to avoid creating panic among ticket holders — or hurting business in their Northern Virginia districts that are full of fliers who use National and its neighbor, Dulles International Airport.
All three Congress members called for a balanced approach to replacing the cuts with some spending reductions and some new revenue.
“My advice is go ahead and buy a ticket. And after you do, call your congressperson and tell him or her we need to have a compromise,” Connolly said.
But airline pilots are suggesting that it’s entirely possible that trips won’t just be delayed, they might be canceled, as there are fewer federal workers to staff the towers.
That’s bad news for the traveling public — and for the jobs of airline pilots, said Capt. Sean Cassidy, an official with the Air Line Pilots Association.
“At the very time many of our passengers are contemplating that next business trip or the family vacation, our pilots may very well be facing a future where they’re going to have to have no choice but to leave … passengers stranded at the gate,” Cassidy said.
Democrats and industry experts have been trying to ramp up the pressure on congressional Republicans, who seem increasingly disinclined to stop the automatic cuts of more than $600 million to the FAA that will be implemented in March.
Airports like National won’t shut down, Moran said, but smaller airports are at serious risk of losing service. And the placid Monday morning scene at the airport popular among traveling members of Congress will be quite different when TSA and FAA workers are furloughed, Moran said.
“Right now, the airport is relatively calm. It’s Monday morning. Passengers are getting their tickets, security lines are moving. But after Friday, after sequestration hits, this scene could look very different,” Moran said.
By Adam Snider
The White House is hoping to cut back on the “red tape” that slows infrastructure projects as the sequestration grows more and more likely to kick in at week’s end.
After again sounding the alarm about the pain that the automatic spending cuts will have on the country’s transportation network, President Barack Obama took things into his own hands Monday, announcing a set of “regional teams” that will be dispatched around the country to speed up infrastructure projects, including on the congested Northeast Corridor.
“We’re going to help the Northeast Corridor move faster on high-speed rail service,” Obama told the nation’s governors at the White House.
Obama said the biggest hurdle for some projects can be “red tape, and often times that comes out of Washington with regulations.” The administration has already taken a series of steps to speed up infrastructure projects, including the “We Can’t Wait” campaign started in 2011.
His remarks about speeding up project delivery harkened back the debate over the 2009 stimulus package that included about $48 billion in transportation spending.
“We could be putting folks back to work right now. We know contractors are begging for work. They’ll come in on time, under budget, which never happens,” Obama said Monday. After the stimulus, which came amid a major U.S. recession, some states were able to add extra transportation projects because bids from construction companies came in much lower than expected.
In total, Obama devoted about half of his speech to infrastructure.
“We’ve got to make the tough, smart choices to cut what we don’t need so we can invest in the things that we do need,” he said. “The first is infrastructure.”
Obama complained that infrastructure “didn’t used to be a partisan issue.” He continued, “I don’t know when exactly that happened. It should be a no-brainer. Businesses are not going to set up shop in places where roads and bridges and ports and schools are falling apart. They’re going to open their doors wherever they can connect the best transportation and communications networks to their businesses and to their customers.”
The president rehashed his State of the Union proposals, including a “Fix it First” program that would focus on deferred maintenance and a “Partnership to Rebuild America” designed to attract private capital to major transportation projects.
Obama pitched the programs by saying that putting off needed infrastructure repairs can cost the country more in the long run.
“Folks who think spending really is our biggest problem should be more concerned than anybody about improving our infrastructure right now,” he said. “We’re talking about deferred maintenance here. We know we have to spend the money and the longer we wait the more it’s going to cost. That is a fact.”
The president also called out the critics of his transportation proposals, saying that some in Congress oppose anything he suggests.
“I know that some people in Congress reflexively oppose any idea that I put forward, even if it’s an idea that they once supported. But rebuilding infrastructure is not my idea, it’s everybody’s idea. It’s what built this country,” he said.
“Public transportation is a vital component of the nation’s total transportation infrastructure picture, and with ridership expected to grow, dependable public transportation systems will be vital to the transportation needs of millions of Americans.”