Infrastructure in the News: November 13, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Baltimore Sun: Rendell urges business group to back "essential" public works projects
Infrastructure could be the least sexy word in the English language, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell admitted to his audience Monday morning, but "it is essential to everything we do."
Philadelphia Inquirer: Storm repairs can create jobs
As we watch New Jersey and New York struggle through the beginning of a long recovery from Hurricane Sandy, Pennsylvanians should count our blessings. We should also use this moment to take steps toward making more substantial repairs and upgrades to the commonwealth's infrastructure, which could help revive the state's slumping economy.
Philadelphia Business Journal: With Maryland expanding casinos, Ed Rendell talks about the 'many upsides'
I had a chance to catch up with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell during his visit to Baltimore on Monday, and the talk naturally turned to casinos.
Forbes: The Truth Behind New York's Epic Gasoline Lines
Hurricane Sandy is two weeks past, but the havoc the storm wreaked on energy markets along the East Coast is far from over. Hours-long gas lines and the occasional street fight over a gallon of gasoline continue to be a problem, leaving people wondering what’s going on.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Cuomo Says He’ll Seek $30 Billion in U.S. Aid After Sandy
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he intends to ask the federal government for a special appropriation of about $30 billion to help the state recover from economic and physical damage caused by superstorm Sandy.
New York Times: U.S. to Be World’s Top Oil Producer in 5 Years, Report Says
The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by about 2017 and will become a net oil exporter by 2030, the International Energy Agency said Monday.
New York Times: Making an Energy Boom Work for the U.S.
WASHINGTON — The rapid rise in output of natural gas and, more recently, oil in the United States is transforming the country’s energy and economic landscape.
New York Times: Labor Leaders Have Obama’s Back, and Are Ready to Help
Having helped President Obama win re-election, labor leaders will meet with him on Tuesday and intend to offer their robust support for what they view as his mandate: stand tough against cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and keep pushing to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Washington Post: More women have driver’s licenses than men, reversing a long-time gender gap on US roads
WASHINGTON — Women have passed men on the nation’s roads. More women than men now have driver’s licenses, a reversal of a longtime gender gap behind the wheel that transportation researchers say is likely to have safety and economic implications.
Atlantic Cities: After Sandy, How Should We Decide What Is Worth Rebuilding?
As thousands of survivors of Superstorm Sandy still are unable to return to their homes and others remain without power, debate over public response is growing. Does the Federal flood insurance program need reform? Would a multibillion-dollar swinging gate, like one in Rotterdam, shield Manhattan at the cost of additional flooding in Brooklyn and Staten Island neighborhoods?
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett
Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Alex Guillen
AASHTO’S NEW CHIEF: The influential state DOT group will name FHWA veteran Frederick “Bud” Wright as its new executive director, according to multiple sources. An AASHTO official could not verify or comment on the selection but said the group will make a formal announcement at its annual meeting in Pittsburgh on Monday. Wright worked at FHWA for a number of years spanning several transportation bills, rising to the executive director post in 2001, a job he held until early 2008. The move comes at a critical time for states: DOT is writing new rules called for in MAP-21 and Congress will write a new transportation bill in 2014, just as the Highway Trust Fund that reimburses states faces bankruptcy. Wright will replace John Horsley, who announced this summer that he will leave AASHTO next February after more than a decade on the job. Pros get the scoop from Adam a week before it’s official: http://politico.pro/UyA3Hz
FIRST LOOK AT BROOKINGS REPORT — PPP: As part of their Remaking Federalism series out later this morning, Brookings dives into an array of government topics with the theme of “doing less, better.” Infrastructure is a big focus, with emphasis on how the government can get the private sector to contribute. First up are those public-private partnerships, of which the United States is lacking compared to our allies across the Atlantic, Robert Puentes writes. Politics, complexity and a feeling that governments are trying to pass the buck to business entities cloud the advance of PPPs, so to combat that Brookings recommends “the creation of a national PPP unit to provide public and private actors with dedicated support for integrating PPPs in the national infrastructure agenda.” Read the full PPP paper here at 9 a.m.: http://bit.ly/VXfmFp
PAB-st Blue Ribbon: Another idea from Puentes and Joseph Kane is to exempt Private Activity Bonds from the AMT, which the two see as especially beneficial to airport infrastructure. Brookings sees the exemption of PABs from the AMT in the Recovery Act as a reason to go forward, estimating that over five years such a policy would cost the government $49 million while delivering billions in infrastructure investment. “While some may emphasize the cost of an AMT exemption for PABs, the return on such an exemption far outweighs the expenditure. By making PABs more attractive to private investors, an AMT exemption can promote private and public sector involvement, which helps draw from a larger pool of investors and spread the financial risk involved in projects.” The full PAB report live at 9 a.m. here: http://bit.ly/UjTVbv
Further reading: There are a couple more recommendations than transpo watchers might be interested in, including: “Establish a Cut-to-Invest Commission to Cut Low-Priority Spending, Consolidate Duplicative Programs, and Increase High-Priority Investments” and “Revive Build America Bonds (BABs) to Support State and Local Investments.” The whole series is here: http://bit.ly/Ukxkve
VITTER READY FOR EPW POST: Sen. David Vitter is poised to become to top Republican on the EPW Committee that handles the bulk of the transportation bill, taking over for term-limited Sen. Jim Inhofe. But up first for the Louisiana senator is the first WRDA bill since 2007, a measure especially important to Vitter and his maritime-reliant state. “I think there’s a great deal of interest in following up on our highway bill … with a similar bipartisan success on a new [WRDA] bill,” Vitter told our Pro colleague Erica Martinson. The committee will hold a hearing on the bill this Thursday. But with the clock running out on the lame duck session, many view it as prep work for the 113th Congress. Pros get Erica’s story: http://politico.pro/SQRVIk
‘NOT YOU TOO RANGEL’: Adam and Burgess have a big Amtrak look coming tomorrow (Pros don’t have to wait: http://politico.pro/SiGt7q) but we have a tasty morsel to tide you over. Charlie Rangel, a native of Manhattan (the center of the Amtrak universe), told MT recently that he got called out for switching from air travel to and from D.C. to Amtrak, just like thousands of others who helped the railroad stack up an impressive market share on the route. “I used to travel before I got ill only by air. And they missed me,” Rangel recounted of the airline employees he knew from trips to Washington. “They said, ‘Not you too Rangel … all of our regular customers are going Amtrak.’”
T&I JOCKEYING BEGINS: Rick Nolan told us if he managed to win election to his fourth term in Congress (but first in more than 30 years) he would try to get on the Transportation Committee. Looks like he’s acting fast. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, the Minnesota representative-elect said he has already asked Democratic leadership to put him on T&I, which has 13 slots free, including the seat of Chip Cravaack, who Nolan defeated. MinnPost: http://bit.ly/Sfwobr
$30 BILLION>$12 BILLION: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to ask for at least $30 billion in disaster aid from the federal government to pay for recovery from Hurricane Sandy, The New York Times reports. Cuomo administration officials told the Times that Sandy left the New York region with $30 billion in damage, including repairs to roads, bridges and rail lines totaling $3.5 billion. President Barack Obama will visit the New York region on Thursday. That $30 billion is well above FEMA’s current authorization, so MT is keeping our eyes on how this shakes out. http://nyti.ms/RRNMVs
11 a.m. — The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program releases a series of policy briefs that “recommend how Washington can at once pursue fiscal discipline, invest in the fundamentals of growth, and unleash the power of state and metropolitan areas to renew the national economy and generate broadly shared prosperity.” Teleconference.
Politico Pro: The Hill’s Amtrak antagonism still on the long haul
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider
Amtrak’s century-old tunnels under New York City survived Hurricane Sandy. The next big challenge facing the railroad: two more years of a Republican-controlled House.
Created in 1971 to maintain a money-losing nationwide passenger rail service, Amtrak has become a favorite whipping boy in Washington as an example of government inefficiency ripe for the private sector. It’s a case of bad déjà vu for Hill denizens who remember bankruptcy-bound private passenger railroads screaming for federal support 40 years ago.
“We know how we got Amtrak. The private sector threw it at us,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who represents D.C., where Amtrak is headquartered. “Yet we’ve been having hearings about how the private sector could take over.”
The force behind the hearings is Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), who continues to put the railroad in the spotlight. There were three separate hearings in the months leading up to the October recess, and Mica has promised three more in the lame duck session. But attacking the popular service has riled up Democrats, who have come to the hearings to defend the railroad and even questioned Mica’s motives. The infighting and questions about the service’s future are bound to persist into the next Congress.
Through it all, Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman is quick to note the railroad’s history, telling POLITICO that “the expectation always was we took the burden of moving passengers off the freight railroads that were losing money. They were losing money on food service. They were losing money on passenger service. They were losing money all the way around.”
The hurricane that lashed the East Coast two weeks ago crippled passenger rail service into and out of New York, shining the national spotlight on a transportation recovery effort of unprecedented speed and scope. The repair costs for the damage are still being sorted out, but if Amtrak turns to Congress for help with repairs, its first point of contact will be Mica.
Mica has grilled Boardman on hamburger prices, even taking to a Capitol Hill McDonald’s to highlight the railroad’s money-losing food service. A hearing looms Wednesday on “mistakes made and lessons learned” on high-speed rail.
Amtrak’s greatest success has been on the Northeast Corridor — the busy megalopolis comprises everything from Boston to Washington. Amtrak has eaten at the market share from those two endpoint cities to New York by introducing the profitable Acela, the fastest passenger train in the country (recently hitting 165 mph during a test run). The railroad has pitched a $151 billion plan to bring speeds to 220 mph and vastly increase capacity, an ambitious vision that lacks a funding source.
Mica’s Amtrak focus has angered some Democrats, who say the chairman is overly antagonistic and focusing on pittances of waste rather than constructive policy-making. Mica likens his Amtrak leadership to that of a parent’s tough love, but Boardman said Mica’s food hearing was “a stunt” and the focus on hamburger costs — which Boardman admits surprised him — “misuses Amtrak.”
“They accused me of focusing in the weeds, getting in the weeds. $833 million food loss in 10 years is not in the weeds,” Mica said of the hearing.
The hurricane was hard on the railroad, but Amtrak will be boosted by four more years under rail-friendly President Barack Obama and noted Amtrak-loving Vice President Joe Biden. One of Mitt Romney’s most specific proposals was to eliminate all of Amtrak’s $1.5 billion in annual subsidies — an austere route Mica doesn’t embrace.
“If you didn't have an Amtrak, you would want an Amtrak, because you have to have someone that would decide how you have connectivity for a national system,” Mica told POLITICO recently. “I want to try to get them out of the operational business because they’re inefficient.
“Some routes can make money and have the potential for good return. However, other routes may have to be subsidized within a reasonable amount. I have no problem with it.”
Even with Republicans keeping control of the House, Mica’s Amtrak offensive is likely to soon end. Democrats expect a softer touch from the next chairman, likely Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), assuming Mica doesn’t get a rare waiver from his term limits.
A rail title was left off the new transportation law, which means Congress is in line to write a standalone bill next fall with Shuster in the conductor’s seat.
Multiple Democrats told POLITICO that Shuster’s lineage as son of a former chairman (Bud Shuster) and origins in rail-heavy Pennsylvania will lead to a more sympathetic stance toward Amtrak. Shuster represents a large state home to some of the country’s richest train-riding traditions.
“I think he’ll be a little more sympathetic,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “Pennsylvania is a state that's right there. I just think that Shuster would be very reasonable on that.”
Boardman hopes that Shuster will channel his father and take a broad look at the national transportation system before making policy changes. Citing a 1979 report that Bud Shuster led, Boardman said that “one of the things Bill could do here that would set us on a very different path for this next century is to really look at what the national transportation policy should be from the perspective of Congress.” The National Transportation Policy Study Commission report “really developed a comprehensive look at policies. If that is something that Shuster can put together, I think he’s really got something.”
In an interview, Shuster did not tip his hand on how he would oversee the railroad but did admit to the occasional “difference of opinion” with Mica.
“For the most part we’re coming out of a similar camp. The camp is not cut things. But it’s about reform,” said the current railroads subcommittee chairman. “If you want a vibrant passenger rail service in this country, you’ve got to change some things. In Washington D.C., we put something in place and expect it to be there forever, no matter how much it costs.”
Mica’s already hit on Amtrak subsidies, expensive food service and ineffective operations of commuter rail. Shuster has not voiced opposition to any of those conclusions — but he has been more measured than the oft-colorful Mica.
Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Shuster’s Democratic counterpart on railroads, said Mica “wants to destroy Amtrak.” Brown said she’s spoken to House Republicans on Mica’s committee who have let her know they don’t have the same stance — a sentiment echoed by plainspoken retiring Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio).
“If you’re a Republican from the suburbs of Philadelphia or Chicago or New York, it’s a big deal to people there. The Republican party isn’t one-size-fits-all when it comes to Amtrak,” LaTourette said.
During a recent interview in the House speaker’s lobby, Brown pulled veteran Democratic lawmakers into a conversation with POLITICO to tout the importance of the railroad. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Cummings all praised the railroad’s utility, with Maloney reminiscing how vital train service has proven amid disaster — like Sept. 11, when “no planes were flying, the only way to get around was trains.” Maloney’s comments underscore that in some ways Amtrak isn’t only a passenger service but also a public utility.
Boardman says the railroad is unique, something that should be taken into consideration when talking about ways it can improve: “I don’t think there is any other animal that I’m aware of in the federal government like Amtrak. No other operation runs anything like Amtrak. We’re a hotelier, we’re a food service agency, we’re a travel agency, we’re a train operator, we’re a maintainer of equipment, we’re dispatchers and police officers.”
New York Times: Federal Aid for New York Faces Hurdle in Congress
WASHINGTON — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s request for $30 billion in federal disaster aid for the State of New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy faces significant hurdles in Congress, and it may take weeks, if not months, before action is taken on it, Congressional officials said on Monday.
New York Times: 5 Simple Steps to Lead Detroit Back to Awesomeness
1. Reclaim the Highland Park Ford Plan: Designed by Albert Kahn to house Henry Ford’s Model T production, this temple of industry lies waiting for a big idea. Once revitalized, Michigan’s Woodward Avenue corridor would be re-energized.
The Hill: Sen. Lautenberg, Amtrak tout NY-NJ tunnel reopening
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) is praising Amtrak for reopening a rail tunnel that connects his state and New York City.
Railway Track and Structure: Pennsylvania state grants to help 24 freight rail projects
The Pennsylviania State Transportation Commission has approved nearly 18.6 million for 24 freight rail projects, which will improve rail access, upgrade rail infrastructure and provide repairs.
Washington Post: No holiday for us, Metro commuters complain
The Buzz blog has some of your photos showing the potentially dangerous crowding on some Metro platforms Monday morning. This is likely to be a preview of the afternoon rush, since Metrorail still is operating on reduced service and continuing the weekend maintenance program.
Washington Post: Divide separating ‘inside the Beltway’ from rest of US grows; from 8 lanes to 12, specifically
McLEAN, Va. — In a city filled with iconic landmarks, perhaps nothing better symbolizes how metropolitan Washington operates than the Capital Beltway: the physical embodiment of the gridlock that also grips Washington politics.
The Miami Herald: New Miami-Orlando passenger rail service would build big downtown station
All Aboard Florida, the proposed passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando, would build a big new train station with tracks elevated on a platform four stories up on mostly vacant land between the Government Center and Overtown Metrorail stations in downtown Miami, a report newly issued by the company says.
MySanAntonio.com: High-speed toll road has first fatality
A Lockhart woman was killed on the Texas 130 toll road in what is the first fatality since the corridor's new segment opened last month.
NorthJersey.com: Gas rationing to end at 6 a.m. tomorrow
New Jersey’s gas rationing system, put in place in 12 northern counties to deal with fuel shortages after superstorm Sandy ravaged the state two weeks ago, is ending tomorrow morning, Governor Christie announced this afternoon.
Los Angeles Times: Bullet-train planners face huge engineering challenge
Civil War veteran William Hood arrived at the mosquito-infested swamps near Bakersfield in 1874 to build a rail line that would soar through the Tehachapi Mountains, linking the Bay Area and Southern California for the first time.
Business Insider: How To Play America’s Infrastructure Boom…
Turns out our infrastructure problems in Baltimore just keep getting worse.
New York Observer: Schumer and Nadler Say Sandy Was Our Wake-Up Call for Better Disaster Infrastructure
There has been a big debate in (local) government about how best to respond to Hurricane Sandy going forward. There is the governor’s camp, which argues for redesigning great swaths of the city and state’s built environment; and the mayor’s camp, which both before the storm and after, argued that the city could never really protect itself from these kinds of disasters, so it was up to citizenry to protect themselves. The city would help with evacuations and the like, but really, don’t build near the sea or count of some fancy new sea gates to protect you, the mayor insisted.
“With the very future of federal investment in our transportation infrastructure in question, we’re standing at a generational crossroads, and we must think carefully before we choose a path.”