Infrastructure in the News: January 3, 2013
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Bloomberg Businessweek: Sandy Aid Will Get Vote This Month After Delay: Boehner
Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor pledged to New Jersey and New York lawmakers that the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on $60 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid after pulling it off the agenda Jan. 1.
Northeast Times Star Newsweekly: Dreams of 2013
The year 2012 is history. How many of you kept your New Year’s resolution all year? How many of you have already broken your 2013 resolutions? It’s once again time for the Times to check in with some local public figures to ask them if they’ve made a resolution for this year. Also this year, we’ve asked them to pinpoint one thing that can be done to improve the Northeast.
New York Times: Stalling of Storm Aid Makes Northeast Republicans Furious
WASHINGTON — Northeastern Republicans, long outnumbered and overshadowed in their own party nationally, erupted in fury on Wednesday after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives blocked a measure that sought to provide billions of dollars in aid to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states pummeled by Hurricane Sandy.
New York Times: Billions in Aid for Hurricane Victims Appears in Jeopardy
A bill to provide tens of billions of dollars in federal aid to states pummeled by Hurricane Sandy was in danger of dying Tuesday night as the House seemed headed for adjournment without taking up the legislation.
New York Times: Car Sharing Catches On as Zipcar Sells to Avis
Last year, Lane Becker and his wife, Courtney Skott, plotted out the costs of owning a car versus renting one through Zipcar, the popular car-sharing service.
Washington Post: From NASCAR to rum, the 10 weirdest parts of the ‘fiscal cliff’ bill
By now, we’ve heard all about the big stuff in the fiscal cliff bill that finally passed on Tuesday. The Bush tax cuts will become permanent for all individual income below $400,000 (and family income below $450,000). The sequester spending cuts will be delayed two months. And so on.
Washington Post: What the ‘fiscal cliff’ deal means for U.S. innovation
The not-so-grand bargain to avert the fiscal cliff has been struck. The agreement, by most standards, may not be considered particularly inventive. And the process, a political slog, could also be seen by many as falling well shy of a creative, vibrant collaboration between the parties. But the deal is done, averting billions in steep spending cuts and tax hikes. The stock market rallied in the wake of the news, even as questions remain about the nation’s debt limit.
Atlantic Cities: What Really Matters for Increasing Transit Ridership
For years, many transportation experts thought the success of a city's transit system depended directly on the strength of its central business district. Surveys supported this idea (one from 1988 showed that four in five "choice" riders worked downtown) and it's still considered the traditional view. So as cities began to decentralize and transit ridership began to decline, it was only natural to see the former as the cause of the latter.
Atlantic Cities: The 5 Most Important Sustainability Stories of 2013
In my final article of 2012, I looked back at the year in review, to honor important recent work worth celebrating. For my first one of 2013, let’s look ahead. Here are some stories I’ll be paying attention to in the coming year:
The Hill: Aviation supporters laud FAA chief's Senate confirmation
Aviation-industry representatives on Wednesday lavished praise on the confirmation of President Obama's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief this week.
The Hill: Obama requests immediate Sandy vote
President Obama requested an immediate vote on the Senate's Hurricane Sandy relief bill in the House of Representatives, hours after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signaled that he would postpone a vote until the new Congress is sworn in.
The Hill: 'Cliff' bill restores commuter tax break
The legislation that was passed by Congress this week to resolve avert the "fiscal cliff" included a long-sought increase in the tax benefits that are given to people who use public transportation systems to get to work
Politico Pro: DOT fines airlines for tarmac delays
DOT has fined two airlines for lengthy tarmac delays, the department said today. Copa Airlines of Panama must pay $150,000 for a delay of over five and a half hours where food and water weren’t offered to passengers until four hours into the delay. Virgin America Airlines was fined $55,000 for failing to tell passengers during a delay that they could get off the plane while it was stuck at the gate. DOT’s Office of Aviation Enforcement issued 49 fines totaling $3.6 million in 2012.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett, Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
SANDY AID WAITS FOR HOUSE: After refusing to take it up in the final day of the 112th Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor said yesterday that passing a Hurricane Sandy relief bill will be the “first priority” of the new Congress, which begins today. That statement followed an entire day of searing statements and TV hits by New York and New Jersey lawmakers, from Michael Grimm of Staten Island (http://politi.co/TIdMnn) to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (http://politi.co/Wf0RYe) to Pete King of Long Island (http://politi.co/Wf0Of5). The chamber has queued up a Friday vote on about $9 billion in flood insurance money but a vote on “the remaining supplemental request for the victims of Hurricane Sandy” (which would include the bulk of the transport money) has to wait until Jan. 15, the first full legislative day of the 113th, the two leaders said in a joint statement. A trio of transporters team up for the Pro story: http://politico.pro/UdNkFS
Transpo break-down: Despite all the momentum for quick action on the Sandy supplemental, there’s still some major funding differences between the two chambers. An alternative House version from New Jersey Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen would bring the measure much closer to the Senate’s $60 billion package, but the line-by-line isn’t identical. The House version, which originally would have gotten a vote in the form of an amendment to a smaller $27 billion package, includes over $2 billion for roads and bridges — more than twice the $921 million in the Senate bill. The Frelinghuysen version even boosts transit spending to $10.9 billion, slightly above the Senate’s proposal. But Amtrak, long a whipping boy for congressional Republicans, wouldn’t have fared quite as well, netting $86 million for capital expenses and $32 million for operations — still less than a third of the Senate bill’s $332 million.
TRANSIT TAX HOLIDAY: The inclusion of two additional years of tax-free benefits for public transportation costs of up to $240 per month in 2013 and retroactively in 2012 was music to the ears of transit advocates and industry groups who’ve long fought to equalize parking and transit employee benefits. The retroactive component may have limited impact, however, since most commuters have transit funds taken from their regular paychecks rather than claiming tax breaks on an annual basis, as many other deductions are handled. But the equity of $240 per month rather than the expected $125 will go a long way toward assuaging concerns about a lack of congressional focus on buses and trains.
Reactions strong: APTA President Michael Melaniphy found a lot to like, calling the provision “great American policy” and a “free market choice” now that driving is no longer favored over transit, at least for another year. The win is a bit bittersweet given its temporary nature, Amalgamated Transit Union prez Hanley said, especially since Congress chose to make other tax cuts permanent. “We believe that there’s a reason why Congress has ignored transit: because they don't feel enough heat from people that use it.” Side note: Everyone seemed to agree that the support of Chuck Schumer and his No. 3 status in the Senate was key to getting the deal done. Burgess takes it away for Pros: http://politico.pro/VjnUme
Another applauded provision: Melaniphy noted that the alternative fuels provisions in the tax relief bill are also good news for transit. Many bus systems use natural gas and other fuel sources, which should help providers control costs.
THE FIGHT THAT WON’T DIE: Rep. Don Young again submitted an amendment to House rules that would skirt some of the earmark ban that’s been in effect since 2011, but he doesn’t plan to ask for a vote on it today amid the full Republican conference gathering this afternoon. Young’s spox tells us that the Alaskan representative is in ongoing talks with leadership about changing the definition of an earmark — but that redefinition isn’t going down today.
MICA NABS OVERSIGHT PANEL GAVEL: Outgoing House T&I Chairman John Mica has been named chairman of House Oversight’s Government Operations panel, ending speculation surrounding whether he would secure a subcommittee gavel at T&I — which some in Congress privately said might create some tensions with new Chairman Bill Shuster. Mica has promised to give Shuster plenty of room, but also said he’ll be there to lend an ear should Shuster need his counsel. Oversight also went through some changes, moving from seven subcommittees last year to five in the 113th Congress. The committee’s members are frequent critics of the TSA — and there have been rumblings for months of an investigation into federal spending on California’s high-speed rail program.
ORDERLY TRANSITION: Apparently, there’s a bit more collegiality between incoming T&Ier Rick Nolan and outgoing T&Ier Chip Cravaack than there was between former Chairman Jim Oberstar and Cravaack, who apparently never spoke following Cravaack’s 2010 upset. “He’s been very gracious,” Nolan said of Cravaack, who told MT shortly before his term ended that “it’s about having an easy transition.” He said the two met for 45 minutes before the year ended, and said it’s all about serving “the people of the eighth. And doing that is creating as good a transition as possible.”
AMTRAK’S STRUCTURAL HSR ISSUE: The passenger railroad wants changes to railcar structural safety rules that will let trains travel faster, Amtrak President/CEO Joe Boardman told Bloomberg in an interview. For example, current safety rules force Amtrak to keep a locomotive at the front and rear of each train, slowing them down. New rules “would allow for less use of fuel, quicker acceleration, a different performance profile,” Boardman said. “What we’re really looking for is a performance specification here.” And looking ahead to the new year, Boardman fired a warning shot about GOP calls for more private-sector money: “Until Congress establishes that reliable funding source for rail infrastructure investment, it’s going to be very difficult to take advantage of millions of dollars available from the private sector.” Full story: http://bloom.bg/TwYvHb
MISSISSIPPI RIVER UPDATE: Waterway groups are warning that the Mississippi River traffic may suffer a partial shutdown between Jan. 5 and 15 despite recent efforts by the Army Corps to sustain navigation. The groups continue to plead with the administration to release water from the Missouri River, an action the Army Corps says could have detrimental effects. The Corps and the Coast Guard have indicated they will not close the Mississippi, but the groups worry about stalled towboats and billions in economic losses if the required 9-foot draft falls a foot as expected. “The uncertainty of this deteriorating situation for the nation’s shippers is having as much of an impact as the lack of water itself,” Michael J. Toohey, the Waterway council president & CEO said in a statement.
-- DOT issues final tarmac fines of 2012. Aviation Enforcement Office yearly totals: 49 orders and $3.6 million in fines. http://1.usa.gov/VjYPro
CLEARING THE AIR: The TSA must see a lot of misinformation out there because Blogger Bob got right down to post-holiday business on Wednesday. First he took to addressing a bunch of thinly sourced (as far as MT can tell) blog posts that say TSA workers are laughing at people’s body images on backscatter machines (http://1.usa.gov/VuDQ4N). Then Bob took to addressing a rumor that a TSA drone was spotted at an NFL game. “I just wanted to take this quick opportunity to say that TSA does not use drones. I have been accused of ‘droning’ on and on before, but other than that, we’re drone free.” There’s that trademark humor. http://1.usa.gov/VuDQ4N
Politico Pro: Irate Sandy aid backers dismiss pork charges, blast Boehner
By Jessica Meyers and Adam Snider and Kathryn A. Wolfe
When it comes to the House’s failure to move a Hurricane Sandy aid package, pork may be the greasy excuse.
In the waning hours of the 112th Congress, the House declined to take up even a scaled-down version of the bill passed by the Senate — capping a session of missed deadlines, reinforcing a legacy of inaction and prompting a frenzy of finger-pointing inside the GOP.
Opponents of the Senate bill had slammed it as pork, highlighting filling such as funding for Alaskan fishery disasters. But House backers contend that had all disappeared.
“That was taken out of the bill,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said. “The bill that was going to be voted on in the House floor was exactly in compliance with what the Republican leadership asked us to do.”
He placed the blame squarely on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who yanked the bill suddenly Tuesday evening, even though Majority Leader Eric Cantor had been “fighting to get the bill on the calendar.”
The two House leaders tried to patch things up with the angry GOP members on Wednesday, promising the House would vote Friday on flood insurance and consider a larger package on Jan. 15. "Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations,” they said in a joint statement after the meeting.
Timing also deserves some blame. The vote on a $27 billion spending package would have come minutes after the House passed a fiscal cliff package to do the opposite: delay massive spending cuts and raises taxes. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said his organization won’t need additional funds until the spring.
And even though it was sharply cut, the spending plans may have touched a nerve with this crop of House Republicans.
The House Appropriations Committee came with an aid package half the size of the Senate’s version that especially slashed transportation funding, including only half the amount that senators allotted for the Federal Aviation Administration and transit systems.
The House version omits the Senate’s $921 million for road and bridge repairs and shrank funding for Amtrak more than tenfold, down to $32 million from the Senate’s $336 million.
The GOP did draft an alternate measure that put spending more in line with the $60 billion Senate bill. But even that has significant differences with the Senate’s version. Lawmakers originally planned to let members vote on it as an amendment to the underlying $27 billion package.
That alternative includes over $2 billion for roads and bridges — more than twice the $921 million in the Senate bill — that wasn’t even in the original GOP version. The House alternative even boosts transit spending to $10.9 billion, slightly above the Senate’s proposal. But Amtrak, long a whipping boy for congressional Republicans, doesn’t fare quite as well. The passenger railroad would get $86 million for capital expenses and $32 million for operations, still less than a third of the Senate bill.
East Coast lawmakers from both parties were miffed as to why Boehner pulled the vote, especially since the leadership had assured them it would reach the floor before the clock ran out.
Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), called it “the most disgraceful action” he’d seen in 20 years of House service. A spokesman for Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) said he considered withholding his vote to reelect Boehner as speaker. And Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) said he was told the delay came because Republicans “couldn’t stomach any more votes this Congress.”
During a fiery Wednesday afternoon press conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dismissed Republicans who opposed the bill because of earmarks as “know-nothings.”
Even the Senate’s bill contained only about $400 million in dubious projects, such as the Alaskan fisheries and a roof for the Smithsonian Institute, he said.
Christie also pilloried Boehner, calling his decision to pull the bill “disgusting.” After failing to live up to the pledge for a Wednesday vote, Christie said new assurances from the speaker rang hollow.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics of what I discussed with John Boehner today but what I will tell you is there is no reason for me to believe at the moment anything they tell me,” Christie said.
Even with fading chances, lobbyists and Democratic aides worked feverishly on Wednesday to land the bill on the House floor. President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to “bring this important request to a vote today and pass it without delay for our fellow Americans.” The House adjourned without doing so.
With wounds still smarting, King insinuated that House Republicans may have been opposed to sending money to the blue-hued regions of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
And with the haphazard transition and an inauguration under way, he panned the offer to finish the bill later this month.
“Committees haven’t even organized yet. Does anybody believe … that the Appropriations Committee is suddenly going to get religion and is going to vote the full amount when we know what their attitude is?
That somehow money going to New York/New Jersey/Connecticut is corrupt money?”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
Politico Pro: Public transit riders get surprise tax gift in cliff deal
By Burgess Everett
Public transportation riders received a surprising bit of good news from the furious fiscal cliff negotiations: two years of transit benefits equal to the hefty tax break that auto commuters get.
Transit riders will be able to claim tax-free benefits for public transportation costs of up to $240 per month in 2013 and retroactively in 2012 — a positive step for riders, but one that falls short of the permanent extension many had hoped for.
But in the meantime, the temporary boon will put money back in the pockets of American workers who take buses and trains to work every day. More than 2.7 million use the benefit nationwide and about half a million do so in the New York area, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office. In some circumstances, a rider using the maximum $240 a month benefit for an entire year could stand to save more than $1,000.
The retroactive component may have limited impact, however, since most commuters have transit funds taken from their regular paychecks rather than claiming tax breaks on an annual basis, as many other deductions are handled. Otherwise American Public Transportation Association President Michael Melaniphy found a lot to like, calling the provision “great American policy” and a “free market choice” now that driving is no longer favored over transit, at least for another year.
The cost of the measure is about $220 million in 2013 and 2014 combined, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Outgoing Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation in July to extend the benefit through 2014, estimating the cost at $139 million and using a reduction in a health care prevention account to pay for it. As passed in the fiscal cliff tax relief bill, however, there is no specific pay-for or offset.
The nod toward public transportation will also benefit transit providers by altering the commuting calculus of workers to make transit more attractive, potentially boosting ridership. A permanent adjustment would go even further because the car ownership and transit ridership habits of American workers are complex and often made over the long term, but Melaniphy expects the current deal will help transit providers continue to set new ridership records.
“I think commuters are smart people,” Melaniphy said. “It drives more ridership to public transportation.”
The stimulus law put transit benefits on par with parking benefits in 2009, but that provision expired as 2011 ended without an agreement on some key tax extenders. Adding insult to injury, parking benefits ticked up by $10 per month to $240 as transit spiraled down to $125 per month a year ago.
But Senate Democrats, led by their No. 3, Schumer, continued to press on the disparity, which has been decried by public transportation advocates and urban and suburban lawmakers of both parties.
“Why are we discouraging people from riding mass transit and encouraging people to drive and park?” asked Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) in September. But advocates still believed the provision was a longshot to get into the end-of-the-session package.
“I don't think that this would have happened were it not for Senator Schumer’s efforts,” said Jeff Rosenberg, a lobbyist for the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The taint of the “stimulus” label stymied Schumer’s efforts to attach the provision to surface transportation bill that was signed into law in 2012, but ATU president Larry Hanley said the longer the provision lives, the better its chances of shedding that toxic label.
The win is a bit bittersweet given its temporary nature, Hanley said, especially since Congress chose to make other tax cuts permanent.
“We believe that there’s a reason why Congress has ignored transit: because they don't feel enough heat from people that use it,” said Hanley, who added the ATU is planning to reach out to lawmakers this year “to build a greater sensitivity to transit riders.”
Portland Press Herald: Maine Voices: Bad roads will lead Maine nowhere
We can wait for a disaster like Sandy to force us to improve our infrastructure, or we can do the smart thing and act now.
The Oregonian: Portland transportation director, Tom Miller, submits resignation letter
Motoya Nakamura/The Oregonian Tom Miller, Portland's transportation director, submitted his letter of resignation to Mayor Charlie Hales on Wednesday.
Washington Post: Loudoun sets legislative priorities
Loudoun County’s agenda for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session is focused heavily on transportation — a top issue in the region’s fastest-growing jurisdiction — but the county’s legislative priorities include issues such as land use, taxing authority and education. In the 2013 session, Loudoun officials will lobby on behalf of these positions: TRANSPORTATION
Washington Post: Tysons Corner, on the verge of a do-over
The first thing to go was the parking lot behind the Container Store. And if all goes according to plan, more lots will be bulldozed — as will dozens of mid-rise office buildings, hotels and car dealerships.
The Star-Ledger: Gov. Christie gives vote of confidence to NJ Transit director
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie today defended NJ Transit and its executive director for the ill-fated decision to leave trains in rail yards that ended up underwater during Hurricane Sandy, saying, “It’s not a hanging offense.”
The Seattle Times: Op-ed: Maintain state’s transportation network with a carbon tax
WE have a transportation problem. The governor’s Connecting Washington report identified a maintenance shortfall of almost $800 million per year over the next 10 years just to keep roads, bridges and ferries in safe working order.
Streetsblog: Queens Residents Press for Safety Fix at Car-Choked Sunnyside Intersection
Two cyclists heading northeast on Greenpoint Avenue cross Borden Avenue. One path is legal but conflicts with turning cars; the other is illegal but avoids these conflicts. Video: Jessame Hannus
Greenpoint Avenue has long been a dangerous connection between Queens and Brooklyn. The intersection with Borden Avenue in Sunnyside, where it crosses the Long Island Expressway, is often overrun with drivers heading toward an LIE onramp or exiting the highway so they can get to Manhattan via the free Queensboro Bridge. The waves of traffic make crossing Borden a dangerous mess for people trying to walk or bike around their neighborhood.
Commercial and industrial buildings account for as much as 50% of US energy use.