Infrastructure in the News: January 4, 2013
Bloomberg Businessweek: Fiscal Cliff Is Latest Disaster for Sandy Victims
With the tax portion of the fiscal cliff deal finally sealed, the wider public has temporarily been spared a crisis. Not so the millions of Hurricane Sandy victims. In the last-minute frenzy to pass legislation averting the cliff, House Republicans ditched the disaster-aid relief bill that would have provided New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut with $60 billion to clean up the mess.
New York Times: Subway Deaths Haunt Those at Trains’ Controls
Late one December morning in 2005, Tracy Moore was pulling her R train into the Steinway Street station in Queens. It is a sloping stretch of track, undulating “like a roller coaster,” Ms. Moore said. She was traveling about 30 miles per hour.
New York Times: Experts Advise Cuomo on Disaster Measures
ALBANY — Two panels of experts charged with studying how New York can better prepare for disasters like Hurricane Sandy said Thursday that the state should create a strategic fuel reserve, require some gas stations to install generators and update its building codes.
New York Times: Congress Renews Credit for Biodiesel Industry
The Congressional budget deal brokered this week kept tax breaks in place for a variety of industries, but biodiesel got something even better: a retroactive reinstatement of a dollar-a-gallon credit going back to January 2012, when it lapsed.
Washington Post (Associated Press Re-Print): Congress to vote on $9.7 billion flood insurance package for Superstorm Sandy victims
WASHINGTON — At last, the storm-racked Northeast is getting a House floor vote on billions in disaster relief aid for victims of October’s Superstorm Sandy, but only after a host of East Coast Republican lawmakers threatened a near mutiny against GOP Speaker John Boehner.
The Hill: Shuster lays out agenda for House Transportation Committee
New House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said this week that the panel will make sure transportation is a high priority in the 113th Congress.
The Hill: Sens. Scott, Cruz, Fischer join Senate transportation panel
Newly inaugurated Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) are joining the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, GOP officials announced this week.
Fast Lane: Pipeline Safety Act one year later
One year ago today, President Obama signed into law the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act (PSA). Our nation's pipelines offer the safest and most cost-effective way to transport the natural gas and and other products we need to heat our homes and power our economy, and this legislation gave our Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration the ability to make those pipelines even safer.
Shuster: Strengthen Our Transportation Network
By Rep. Bill Shuster
Jan. 2, 2013
I am honored that my colleagues selected me to serve as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I thank them for the confidence they have placed in me and will work hard to be worthy of their trust.
Transportation is important. It’s about people and how they live their lives. How they get to work; get their children to school; go to stores to buy food, clothing and other necessities; and how they visit family and friends.
It’s also about business. Transportation is a critical part of how the supply chain functions, how raw materials get to factories, how finished products get to markets, how food gets from farms to our kitchens and how energy products move from production areas to consuming areas. An efficient national transportation network allows businesses to lower transportation costs, which lowers production costs and enhances productivity and profits. It allows American businesses to be competitive in the global marketplace and for our economy to prosper and grow. One need only to look at our Interstate Highway System to see how investment in our national transportation network has benefited our nation and spawned tremendous economic growth.
And it is about America. Our national transportation system binds us together. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower observed, without the unifying force of transportation, “we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.” Working together in the 113th Congress, the committee will focus on strengthening America’s national transportation network to make us more efficient, more competitive and more prosperous. This is an important responsibility of government — especially the federal government.
Adam Smith, the 18th-century economist who developed the underlying principles of a capitalistic market economy, recognized the need for government to erect and maintain public works to facilitate commerce. And our Founding Fathers understood the important role of the national government in carrying out this responsibility.
The Articles of Confederation failed in large part because of barriers erected by the states. The Founders remedied this in the Constitution by clearly tasking the national government with facilitating the free flow of commerce throughout our nation. Proudly, it has long been a Republican tradition to take this obligation seriously — from President Abraham Lincoln’s support for the transcontinental railroad to President Theodore Roosevelt’s construction of the Panama Canal to President Eisenhower’s establishment of the Interstate Highway System.
Our committee will continue that work in the 113th Congress. Reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act will be a top priority. Inland waterways and seaports link our nation directly to the global economy and our country’s export potential directly depends on the ability to get goods to market.
Federal passenger and freight rail safety programs expire in 2013. This reauthorization will provide an opportunity to look for more cost-effective and innovative approaches to delivering modern and efficient passenger rail service. Our success will require Amtrak, labor and Congress — Republicans and Democrats — coming to the table and working together. If done right, what has been a liability in the past can become an asset generating American jobs and economic development in the future.
Additionally, the committee will pursue an aggressive oversight agenda. Oversight of the recently enacted MAP-21 will be critical to ensure its major reforms, including the streamlining of the bureaucratic approval process for transportation projects, are implemented in accordance with congressional intent. Ensuring we move forward with important aviation modernization reforms is also essential to reduce air traffic delays, cut down on emissions and pollution, and lower costs for consumers. We will also focus on holding federal agencies accountable to ensure common-sense regulations and to restore regulatory balance to provide the certainty necessary to create jobs.
Finally, preparing for the reauthorization of surface transportation programs, which expire on Sept. 30, 2014, will be a priority of the committee. Our national surface transportation network is the foundation on which our economy and our way of life are built. Without significant improvements to this network, and additional reforms to federal programs, transportation will become increasingly inefficient and unreliable, will be a drag on our economy, and will hurt the ability of our businesses to remain competitive in the global economy. We cannot let this happen and must modernize our national transportation systems.
Key to that effort will be paying for the investments responsibly. With the Highway Trust Fund facing its own version of a fiscal cliff in the coming years, we must find a way to pay for transportation improvements without borrowing from our children. We cannot borrow our way to a better future. We must work together, listen to all ideas and opinions, and build a consensus on what is best for America and our future prosperity. I am committed to this effort and to working with my colleagues to make it happen.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider, Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Jessica Meyers
SENATE GOP FLESHES OUT COMMITTEE ROSTERS: The Senate Republicans have their new committee assignments. After a wave of retirements by senior lawmakers, the Commerce Committee will see the biggest shake up, with five new GOP members: Dan Coats and Ron Johnson plus first-term Sens. Ted Cruz, Deb Fischer and Tim Scott. John Boozman, Johnny Isakson and Pat Toomey are all leaving the panel. Fischer and Roger Wicker will join the EPW Committee as Lamar Alexander and Mike Johanns depart. And Tom Coburn and Dean Heller will join the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees transit, as Wicker leaves that panel. Members of the committees are in the process of selecting ranking members, which are currently expected to be John Thune on Commerce, David Vitter on EPW and Mike Crapo on Banking.
Some MT takeaways: Some eyebrows were raised by Isakson leaving Commerce, due to the Georgia presence of Delta Airlines. His office said it’s simply because he’s on to Finance, an “A” committee. Cruz’s appointment to Commerce is fitting; the panel had a Texas-sized hole awaiting it with former ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison now out of the Senate. And with EPW set to soon consider a WRDA bill, Wicker’s move to the committee could be of major importance, given Mississippi’s strong maritime legacy.
And the Dems? It seems so long ago we almost forgot, but the Senate Dems named their membership in mid-December (http://1.usa.gov/UC8kli). But there is a bit more uncertainty on Commerce, which John Kerry may soon leave for the administration. Daniel Inouye’s seat on the committee also remains open.
FEDS WORKING ON RETROACTIVE TRANSIT BENEFITS: Transit advocates were cheered to find out that driving and riding the train to work would be treated equally by the taxman in 2013. But confusion persists about how riders will be able to pocket what could amount to hundreds of dollars from a benefit also extended retroactively through 2012. “At this point because most payrolls are closed for the 2012 tax year … it’s difficult to know how employers could take advantage,” said Jody Dietel, the chief compliance officer at WageWorks, which provides transit benefits to more than 600,000 people. She said her company has contacted Treasury and the IRS to see if any guidance is forthcoming. Treasury tells us they are working on it: “We are aware of these retroactivity questions and they are currently receiving the attention of Treasury staff,” a department official said in an email.
EXTRA CREDIT: There’s another transport extender in the deal that actually has a larger effect on the budget than the transit benefit. The short-line freight railroad tax credit was also extended through the end of 2013, which according to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association helps install hundreds of thousands of additional rail ties a year and has led to $1.2 billion in investment since 2005. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the 50 percent tax credit extension will cost $331 million over the next three years.
Two-wheeling: The cliff bill, now law, also includes a tax credit of 10 percent, up to $2,500, for two- or three-wheeled electric vehicles, which covers motorcycles but not bicycles (they don’t go fast enough to count). Oh yeah, and a “7-year recovery period for certain motorsports racing track facilities.”
SHUSTER SPEAKS: MT caught up with new T&I Chairman Bill Shuster — but he was rushing to a meeting so we only got about ten seconds. Asked about the agenda for 2013, Shuster kept it short: a new WRDA bill, an Amtrak reauthorization and starting work on the next highway/transit bill. “But the big question is how do we pay for it all?,” he asked us. And before we could even ask him, as he was hopping on the elevator, Shuster said, “I haven’t decided subcommittees yet.”
Lonely King: There’s been a lot of buzz around Pete King’s criticism of his party’s House leadership over the handling of the Sandy aid bill, but transport heads know he often goes his own way. Last year a trio of moderate Republicans — Bob Dold, Charlie Bass and Judy Biggert — signed onto Earl Blumenauer's letter to Speaker John Boehner asking that he simply put the Senate’s transportation bill on the House floor for an up or down vote. We spent a lot of shoe leather time trying to found out if any other Republicans supported it — and King was the only one whose office said on the record that he would. Dold, Bass and Biggert are now gone, but King remains. The Long Islander also has been a generous supporter of that pesky transit benefit, co-sponsoring a bill with Nan Hayworth last year. GOP leaders didn’t pick it up, even though it used an ObamaCare health fund as a pay-for.
MICA NOT GIVING UP TRANSPORTATION OVERSIGHT: Mica told MT yesterday that he’ll still be working on transportation issues in his new role: “I hope to focus on some of the areas, work with the Transportation Committee, work with every committee of jurisdiction. But we’ll continue on major areas of government waste.” Mica said he’s already talked to Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul about TSA issues and said “you better bet” that the two will hit TSA at some point. Mica also put out a warning shot to some government agencies, without naming names: “There will be some federal agencies that will not be having a good day in 2013.” But most important to MT, Mica said he thinks we’ll get some transport stories out of it all. “We’ll give you lots of copy, don’t worry,” he joked.
Jurisdictionally speaking: Are House Republicans trying to draw a bright line between T&I and Homeland Security when it comes to TSA oversight? A new House rule “clarifies that the Committee on Homeland Security’s jurisdiction includes the general management of the Department of Homeland Security. This change is intended to clarify the Committee’s existing jurisdiction.” Maybe we’re reading too much into it; Homeland Security staff told MT it’s “no substantive change.”
ALL’S WELL FOR ELWELL: Former FAA assistant administrator for aviation policy Dan Elwell joins Airlines for America in February as a senior veep for safety, security and operations. Elwell will report directly to CEO Nick Calio, who said Elwell will be a “key advocate” for the national airline policy.
Amtrak track: Amtrak on Thursday named Magdy El-Sibaie as its new chief safety officer and Robin McDonough as chief of business operations. A former FRA official and AAR engineer, El-Sibaie moves over from DOT's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. McDonough has been with Amtrak for more than 30 years, most recently as chief of business operations and technology.
-- MWAA, builder of the Silver Line and operator of the two N. Va. airports, has cut way back on travel spending. Examiner: http://bit.ly/132vib8
Politico Pro: Company says time ran out for '12 tax fix
By Burgess Everett
A top provider of commuter benefits said there is currently no practical way for employers to implement the retroactive component of a transit benefit passed by Congress on New Year’s Day.
“At this point because most payrolls are closed for the 2012 tax year … it’s difficult to know how employers could take advantage,” said Jody Dietel, the chief compliance officer at WageWorks, which provides commuter benefits to companies.
Dietel said her company contacted both IRS and the Treasury Department for guidance on how commuters could retroactively claim benefits on their tax returns for 2012 that could put hundreds of dollars back in their pockets.
“We are aware of these retroactivity questions and they are currently receiving the attention of Treasury staff,” a Treasury official said in an email.
President Barack Obama signed into law a tax relief bill this week that gave a two-year extension of tax parity for transit commuters with drivers, setting off cheers from public transportation advocates. But the retroactive provision generated confusion about how workers can benefit from savings usually realized on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, an aspect unique to this particular tax provision.
If the legislation had gone through in December, providers of the commuter benefits may have been able to work out something, but with the books closed in January the onus falls on the feds to figure out how workers can take advantage of the transit boon.
“There is no creative way for employers to take care of that for 2012,” Dietel said.
Still, workers can use the extension in the monthly pre-tax benefit that lasts through the end of 2013, as long as their benefit providers have done the marathon work — as Dietel said WageWorks has done — to adjust to a new maximum benefit that is widely expected to be set to the 2012 level. But that is not certain either.
Currently, most transit groups are assuming that the transit benefit level will rise to equal the benefit available for parking in 2012, at $240 per month. But Dietel said there’re rumblings that both benefits could grow by being indexed to inflation. The parking benefit rose from $230 in 2011 to $240 per month in 2012 and the tax extender language passed by Congress does not explicitly say what the benefit will be in 2013.
“Latest I heard is we do expect an index,” Dietel said.
Politico Pro: Pork trimmed, but Sandy relief still looks costly
By Kathryn A. Wolfe and Jessica Meyers
The most berated Senate provisions have been pulled from the House's Hurricane Sandy package, but its lofty $60 billion price tag means Republicans will still have to choke down a big spending bill.
Gone from the House’s bill is $150 million for fisheries in places untouched by the storm. And the Senate’s $336 million for Amtrak — much of which would have gone toward a proposed tunnel project from New Jersey to Manhattan — has been trimmed to no more than $150 million. Both had faced heat from Republicans.
But taking a knife to those accounts merely snips around the edges. House lawmakers will still need to vote on a total package that is more than double the amount Senate Republicans had initially proposed, making it virtually the same as the Senate-passed bill.
The House GOP leadership knew it would be a tough vote for their members, so leadership devised a plan to split up the pain. The original notion, before they yanked the bill earlier this week, had lawmakers voting on House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers’s (R-Ky.) amendment, a $27 billion package that resembled a GOP alternative proposal floated in the Senate by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.). It includes the least controversial disaster relief provisions, with the single biggest pot — $5.4 billion — replenishing FEMA’s disaster relief fund.
An amendment to Rogers’s package by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) was set to receive a separate vote. It contains the $33 billion balance that caused some Republicans heartburn. Much of that money addresses risks from future storms.
Rep. John Mica, (R-Fla.) former House Transportation Committee chairman, told POLITICO the House proposals pare down the Senate version. “They threw all kinds of stuff in,” he said. “We were trying to take that apart and see what they actually needed. What they asked for and what they actually need are two distinct things.”
But the Frelinghuysen amendment is closer to that Senate bill than he and some House Republicans may like. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and a slew of other lawmakers have accused the Senate of stuffing its bill with pork. Now a number of those same items are tacked onto the New Jersey Republican’s addition.
The amendment focuses on efforts to prevent future disasters, a view East Coast lawmakers have promoted but that skeptical conservatives have derided. The House, after all, avoided voting on the Sandy spending package in the 112th Congress largely because it would have occurred just minutes after a fiscal cliff vote that delayed spending cuts and raised taxes.
And there’s little certainty the new Congress will accept the return of $2 million for Smithsonian roof repairs, $20 billion for the Community Development Fund, $50 million for Army Corps investigations into flood reduction, and $16.3 billion for transit.
The amendment also includes previous targets, such as repairs and upgrades to NOAA’s hurricane reconnaissance aircraft, funds for some federal agencies to replace damaged vehicles and money for historic projects impacted by Sandy.
The two-pronged approach would have enabled Republicans to tell their constituencies that they voted both yes and no for disaster relief. The most conservative among them can vote yes for the Rogers amendment, and no on the Frelinghuysen amendment. Supporters had hoped to offset any Republican defectors on the second package with a strong showing from Democrats.
Lawmakers expect to resurrect the same two-step tactic when the bill lands on the House floor Jan. 15. The two amendments up for consideration are identical to earlier versions, minus $9.7 billion for flood insurance that will receive its own Friday vote.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who also helped manage the bill, told POLITICO that “the idea is to get it to $60 billion. We get the vote. That’s all we can ask for.” In advance of the earlier planned vote, King said he was optimistic that with a solid bloc of Democrats behind him, he could win enough Republicans to push the entire bill through.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who worked with Freylinghuysen and others in the affected delegations to move the bill, said Wednesday that a majority would vote for the $27 billion package, but fewer would back the $33 billion amendment.
“By splitting it up … they would get to a majority of the House,” Christie said. “And based on what I heard over the weekend … I am absolutely confident that the bill would have passed.”
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), who also helped manage the bill, echoed the sentiment.
But by the time the vote rolls around later this month, the political calculus will have changed. There are now 13 new senators and 84 new House members who will weigh in on the bill.
Adam Snider contributed to this report.
Politico Pro: House to take up Sandy aid bill on Friday
By David Rogers
Chastened by the debacle over Hurricane Sandy aid, House Republicans are moving quickly to win approval this week of a $9.7 billion increase in financing to pay flood insurance claims arising from the October storm.
The measure, filed Thursday for floor action Friday, would temporarily raise the borrowing authority for the national flood insurance program, which is now expected to hit its ceiling between Jan. 7 and Jan. 9.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), a prominent fiscal conservative, is the lead sponsor, and Speaker John Boehner appears anxious to show some unity and purpose after being dressed down publicly by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for failing to respond to the crisis.
According to the most current government estimates, 120,000 flood insurance claims would be left unpaid unless there is additional funding. And most of those claims — about 115,000 — are attributed to losses incurred from Sandy, which cut a devastating swath through New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
The Senate approved the same flood insurance increase last week as part of a larger $60.4 billion disaster aid package backed by the White House. But that measure died Thursday at noon with the end of the 112th Congress because Boehner blocked House action.
Friday’s vote is a first step to try to begin to reconstruct it now in the 113th Congress. And Boehner has promised Northeast lawmakers a second series of votes on Jan. 15 on additional aid, but more immediate action was needed on the flood insurance request.
In a sign of good faith, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) intends to refile his own revised Sandy aid package of $17 billion on Friday, as well. And when that comes to the floor in two weeks, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) — a member on Appropriations — has been promised the chance to offer an amendment, adding about $33.6 billion more.
The idea is that the three components — the flood insurance money plus the Rogers and Frelinghuysen pieces — will add up to something close to the Senate bill. But Frelinghuysen said the numbers have been “scrubbed” and don’t include any of the parochial projects added to get over the threat of a Senate filibuster.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been beating the drum on cable television, complaining that the Sandy aid package is too prone to pork barrel projects.
“He is not being helpful, and he is reading from an old script,” Frelinghuysen told POLITICO. “He has a big bully pulpit, but I have worked with Hal Rogers and the committee staff and it doesn’t have the stuff that Issa is spouting.”
Boehner won reelection as speaker for the 113th Congress Thursday, but the Ohio Republican’s margin was reduced by a surprisingly large number of defections in his own ranks. In this context, the turmoil this week over his handling of the Sandy aid looms larger. Looking back, his speakership might well have been in serious jeopardy — if he had not moved quickly to try to make amends.
Northeast Republicans were livid late Tuesday night when the speaker abruptly pulled the plug on addressing the disaster aid in the closing days of the 112th Congress. In doing so, Boehner overruled his second in command, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, a Christie ally. The governor said that Boehner failed to return repeated calls, and the next morning, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) went to the House floor to accuse the speaker of putting “a cruel knife in the back” of the Northeast region.
By afternoon, Boehner had calmed the storm with new promises of action. But in a remarkable 40-minute news conference on Wednesday, Christie was unsparing and made clear that he would keep up the pressure until the full package is done.
“Gov. Cuomo and I are not wallflowers.” Christie said, speaking of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. “We are not shrinking violets, and we have resources at our disposal too, and we’re going to continue to work together and fight together to make sure that this happens.
“And I still believe it will happen because I do believe there are more good people in Congress than bad, and that eventually this will happen, but if the people of New Jersey feel betrayed today by those who did this in the House last night, then they have good company. I’m with them,” Christie added.
In the case of the flood insurance bill Friday, the House expects to move the measure under expedited procedures limiting debate. And with senators already leaving town Thursday night, the Senate leadership said it had clearance now to approve the measure by unanimous consent.
WAMU (NPR): Transportation, Education Top McDonnell's 2013 Agenda
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has already started rolling out initiatives for his final General Assembly session.
Washington Post: Water-main breaks fall slightly in 2012
Topsy-turvy temperatures in November and a cold snap in late December led to a spike in water-main breaks across the Washington region, but a relatively warm year overall helped keep the total number of breaks for 2012 to the lowest count in six years.
Boston Globe: Transportation system grapples with frigid temperatures
Single-digit temperatures Thursday morning — the coldest day in almost a year — sparked a slew of transportation delays around the region, leaving riders disgruntled at late arrivals and missed appointments.
St. Cloud Times: Minnesota traffic deaths increase in 2012, ending downward trend
Drunken or distracted drivers, and those not wearing seat belts, likely played a large role in Minnesota's increased traffic death toll in 2012, after five years of decreasing numbers.
Tampa Bay Times: State report: Crashes down at intersections with red-light cameras
TALLAHASSEE — Crashes are down across Florida at intersections equipped with red-light cameras, according to a new state report.
Denver Post: RTD's West Rail Line sees glitches on first full test run
The Regional Transportation District started testing the West Rail Line on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, at the Decatur Station on Federal Bouldevard in Denver. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)
The West Rail Line connecting Denver and Jefferson County is set to open eight months ahead of schedule, but electrical glitches delayed that momentum Thursday, causing the first full test run to start 80 minutes late.
Charlotte Observer: McCrory completes Cabinet, names Tata in another surprising pick
RALEIGH Gov.-elect Pat McCrory finalized his Cabinet Thursday, naming Wake County’s ousted schools leader Tony Tata to head the Department of Transportation – another surprising pick for his administration.
Atlanta Journal Constitution: After T-SPLOST defeat, transit plans slowed, but not stopped
Despite this summer’s failure of the regional T-SPLOST referendum, there’s still one place where big new mass transit plans are cooking: the city of Atlanta.
Ashbury Park Press: NJ Transit to buy natural gas buses with federal funds
The $46 million check for 84 new natural gas-fueled buses, announced in July, is in the mail to NJ Transit.
Capital New York: The year in transit: “Most people will remember the storm and the two pushing deaths”
The M.T.A. had a pretty good year, but most people will only remember the bad stuff, according to Gene Russianoff, staff attorney at NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign, which this morning issued its third annual year-end list of the M.T.A.'s best and worst moments.
Public transit users save over $9,381 per year by using public transit instead of driving.