Infrastructure in the News: November 19, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Bloomberg: West Coast States Partner to Finance Infrastructure Projects
A partnership among California, Oregon, Washington and Canada’s British Columbia may use state- issued debt to develop shared infrastructure projects, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said.
Ocala.com: Editorial: Let's do roadwork
Florida and other states have followed similar paths on transportation — raiding trust funds, failing to adjust tax formulas and allowing the condition of infrastructure to deteriorate.
DC Streetsblog: Poll: Who Should Be the Next U.S. Transportation Secretary?
Ryan Holeywell over at Governing Magazine has put together a pretty comprehensive list of possible contenders for the top job at U.S. DOT, if Ray LaHood makes good on his word and splits for the private sector. It’s unclear when he’s leaving, or if he even really meant to say he was definitely leaving, but odds are there will be a vacancy over there pretty soon.
Newsweek: 12 Ways to Stop the Next Sandy
The politically ambitious governors of New York and New Jersey just might secure their parties’ presidential nominations in 2016, provided they follow through on their promises to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
WBNG News (CBS): Cuomo Announces Commissions to Improve State's Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities to Withstand Natural Disasters
(WBNG Binghamton) New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday announced the formation of three commissions charged with undertaking a comprehensive review and making specific recommendations to overhaul and improve New York State’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities, as well as examining how to improve the strength and resilience of the state’s infrastructure to better withstand major weather incidents.
Politico: Harden U.S. infrastructure before it’s too late
It shouldn’t take a tragic disaster to convince Americans that the nation’s physical infrastructure is vitally important to their well-being.
Fast Lane: 495 Express Lanes: relief for Virginia motorists, an innovative financing model for American infrastructure
This weekend in Northern Virginia, in an important development for the entire Metropolitan Washington region, the "495 Express Lanes" will open to the public. These lanes are the first major improvements to the Capital Beltway in a generation, and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez was on hand last Tuesday to help Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell celebrate the new lanes.
Forbes: Carbon Tax Getting Serious Consideration As CBO Seeks To Address Regressiveness
I first learned about the concept of a carbon tax from the Green Party Platform. It was one of the things that Presidential candidate Jill Stein spoke at length about in my interview with her.
New York Times: As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Repeatedly, the Critics Ask Why
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — Even in the off season, the pastel beach houses lining a skinny strip of sand here are a testament to the good life.
Politico Pro: Mica in chairman holding pattern
By Burgess Everett
Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica has not given up on his uphill battle to continue his chairmanship for another term.
Mica (R-Fla.), who is seeking a rare waiver on term limits, told POLITICO in an interview on Friday morning outside the committee’s hearing room that it’s now up to Speaker John Boehner and the party’s Steering Committee. Republicans shot down an amendment from Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) on Thursday that would have “provided some relief” on his bid to again helm the powerful committee.
Mica said the last time he’d had a one-on-one with Boehner was before the leadership votes earlier this week. He said he hoped to talk to the speaker Friday — or whenever “he’s available for a few minutes.”
“I’m sure he’d be happy to meet with him,” a spokesman for Boehner said of the situation.
Mica also is examining the makeup of the steering committee and assessing his prospects among the membership of the organization that submits its recommendations for chairmen to the rank and file, though he admitted “that hasn’t gone well in the past, as you know, with Mr. Barton.”
After the House flipped in 2010, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) made a play for a waiver that would have allowed him to lead the Energy & Commerce Committee. That job went to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
This year is a bit different, as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will receive an exemption to the strict GOP rules. That has other term-limited chairmen arguing they should get a shot, too; the difference between them and Ryan is that the Budget Committee leader has the party’s vice presidential nomination on his resume. Should the decision not go Mica’s way and leave the gavel to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Mica indicated there won’t be hard feelings.
“It’s a unique situation, but I’ve always tried to be a team player and I want to continue that. I want to have a productive role, so we’ll see. It’s up to the speaker now and the steering committee,” Mica said, declining to speculate on where he might end up should he not receive the waiver.
Mica denied any tension between him and Shuster, a top lieutenant for Mica during this year’s wrangling over the surface transportation bill. When some in leadership earlier this year grumbled about Mica’s efforts to steer the House’s legislation to passage, Shuster vocally stuck up for Mica.
Mica said if he doesn’t receive a waiver, Shuster is his choice to run the committee.
“We’re working really closely together even right now. So it’s not right now a big thing,” Mica said. “As long as I’m treated fairly I’ll be fine.”
Shuster told reporters on Friday that his relationship with Mica remains “solid” and that he isn’t letting the lingering drama affect his own trajectory.
“I’m running for chairman and I’ve got the blinders on and I’m heading in that direction,” Shuster said. “He’s got to do what’s he’s got to do, and I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
Asked whether he would pursue a waiver if in Mica’s situation, Shuster dodged: “I don’t know. I’d have to be in that position to think about it.”
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), a rising second-term lawmaker on the committee, said he supported both the term limits and the occasional waiver.
“As a rank-and-file member, I leave it up to them whether they grant a waiver or not,” Bucshon said, adding that he didn’t believe the Ryan waiver sends a confusing message to newer members. “I don’t because there’s special circumstances.”
Either way, Mica makes it no secret that he’s proud of what he’s accomplished in his six years atop the GOP side of the sprawling panel. His resume includes passage of long-stalled surface transportation and aviation bills, the last passenger rail bill, and even a Water Resources Development Act against the objections of President George W. Bush.
“If you look at what we’ve done during my tenure — both my short tenure as chairman and four years as ranking member — it’s been very productive,” he said.
Politico Pro: MWAA hearing gets into board’s makeup, turf war
By Adam Snider
A regional tussle broke out at a Friday hearing on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, pitting two Democrats against each other as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tried to stay on the sidelines.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee met to review a DOT inspector general report that found ethical, contracting and management problems at the authority. But for two local lawmakers, it was a chance to debate how much influence Virginia and the District of Columbia should have over MWAA’s board of directors.
Virginia currently has seven seats on the 17-member board. The District of Columbia has four seats, Maryland has three and three more are appointed by the president. But MWAA has authority over Dulles International Airport, Reagan National Airport, the Dulles Toll Road and Metro’s rail extension to Dulles — all of which are in Virginia.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the first witness at the hearing, echoed a refrain often heard on the Hill, most often from Republicans talking about the federal government: Let the locals decide.
“I have long said it is inappropriate to afford Maryland and the District of Columbia disproportionate influence over facilities wholly located within the Commonwealth of Virginia and that primarily affect Virginia residents. Any logic behind the current structure collapsed, it seems to me, when MWAA took over responsibility for operating the Dulles Toll Road and constructing Dulles rail. Plain and simple, Virginians want Virginians primarily responsible for setting local toll rates,” he said in his opening statement.
That didn’t go over so well with fellow Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the House’s D.C. delegate and a senior T&I member, who said the issue was “an entirely regional matter that has been settled, I thought, by a compromise, a compromise that the District of Columbia only reluctantly accepted.”
Connolly has signed onto a bill from Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf (R) that would shrink the board from its current 17 to nine members and give Virginia a majority of the seats. The board only recently expanded from 13 to 17 members.
Under the Wolf-Connolly proposal, Virginia’s governor would appoint six members, and the president, the D.C. mayor and the Maryland governor would each appoint one. Wolf, along with Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), who chairs the appropriations panel that covers DOT, asked for the original IG investigation in 2011.
But Norton said the entire region is connected and many of the drivers and flyers who use MWAA facilities are coming from or going to the District. There are no airports within D.C. lines.
Wolf’s bill “would give Virginia essentially all the authority and the other members would have no say because they would so outnumber Maryland and the District of Columbia,” she said after Connolly spoke. “If compromise is to be the way of the lame duck, and the way of the 113th Congress, I certainly hope we won’t open that issue that was reluctantly settled to the favor of Virginia and has no place in this hearing today.”
LaHood, who was present for Connolly’s statement and testified afterwards, tried to stay out of things, not wanting to wade into a regional dispute and set precedence for other airport boards.
“I don’t really want to get involved in that. I don’t know if that’s really my responsibility,” LaHood said when asked about his recommendations for the board’s makeup. “I don’t want to be telling every airport authority around the country how many members they should have and who should be serving on their boards. That’s not our role.”
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett
MICA NOT GIVING UP GAVEL YET: T&I Chairman John Mica told MT on Friday he is still waiting for a one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner to discuss a possible waiver to his term limits. A Boehner spox told MT the speaker would be “happy to meet with” Mica — and Boehner is the last shot the chairman has after an amendment to term-limit rules was defeated last week. “I’ve always tried to be a team player and I want to continue that. I want to have a productive role, so we’ll see. It’s up to the speaker now and the steering committee,” Mica said. Both he and Rep. Bill Shuster insisted there are no hard feelings no matter who’s atop the critical committee charged with writing a new rail and surface transportation bill in the next two years; Mica said if it’s not him, Shuster would be his pick for chairman. Shuster said, “I’m running for chairman, and I’ve got the blinders on, and I’m heading in that direction.” Burgess brings it for Pros: http://politico.pro/UvJpOu
REGIONAL POLITICS AT MWAA HEARING: With allegations of nepotism, contracting irregularities and ethical problems at MWAA, two Democrats tussled over who should control the agency — specifically, the division of seats on MWAA’s board of directors. Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly said the state should have a majority of seats on the board: “I have long said it is inappropriate to afford Maryland and the District of Columbia disproportionate influence over facilities wholly located within the Commonwealth of Virginia and that primarily affect Virginia residents.” MWAA has jurisdiction over Dulles International and Reagan National airports, the Dulles Toll Road and Metro’s Silver Line extension to Dulles — all of which are in Virginia. But D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton wasn’t buying it. And Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tried to stay out of the issue: “I don’t want to be telling every airport authority around the country how many members they should have and who should be serving on their boards. That’s not our role.” Adam’s got the Pro story: http://politico.pro/Xi9fNs
OPINIONATED: ARTBA head Pete Ruane writes in a POLITICO op-ed: “It shouldn’t take a tragic disaster to convince Americans that the nation’s physical infrastructure is vitally important to their well-being. Yet sadly, the mid-Atlantic region lacked the solid infrastructure it needed — including storm barriers, buried power lines and waterproof train stations. And so now, Hurricane Sandy has killed more than 100 people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.” http://politi.co/WfFd6L
LaHOOD TALKS TRANSPO: The secretary was noncommittal about his future at DOT when asked by reporters after the MWAA hearing. “It’s up to the president, and I’m going to meet with the president and we’re going to talk about the future and see where it takes us,” he said after testifying at the House T&I hearing. LaHood said he doesn’t yet have a meeting date with the White House and noted that President Barack Obama left for a three-day trip to Asia. “He’s been a little busy these days,” LaHood said.
The news cycle: The ever-friendly LaHood, who often stops by the press table to say hi before a hearing or press conference, did so Friday, telling the reporters gathered in the corner of the T&I hearing room that “there’ll be no news today. You’ve already written about it.” Thanks, Mr. Secretary, but we prefer when you make news.
Silver Line shenanigans: A local reporter for a conservative radio station pressed LaHood on the Silver Line and Dulles Toll Road rates, which got the secretary a bit riled up in defense of the project. “The federal government has invested $1 billion. B, as in billion. Now where I come from, and where I serve, $1 billion is a lot of federal money. All taxpayer money. And I would never diminish — ever ever diminish — the fact that the federal taxpayers have invested $1 billion. That’s a lot of money,” LaHood said after repeated questioning.
SHUSTER SETTING PRIORITIES: Shuster gaggled with reporters and began to lay out a framework for his trans-priorities for 2013 and 2014. First up? “We’ve got to figure out the funding,” he said. “We’ve got to look at the entire system. Not just week to week or year to year, but something that’s sustainable for a longer period of time. I think we all know the gas tax; I don’t think you’re going to be able to fix that in the near-term.” Pressed on that, which is about to hit its 20th anniversary of being unchanged, Shuster made it clear it’s far too early to zero in on one funding source. “I’m not going to pick one or the other. Let’s look across the spectrum and see what we can do.” The gas tax seems to be something that could be a revenue raiser during the lame duck … “That’s why we need to examine it. Maybe.”
Work even without an expiring bill: The next Congress won’t have to write a new FAA bill, but there are plenty of issues to address in the interim, especially the country’s outdated aviation navigation system. “I just think we need to examine the whole aviation industry, what we do and how we operate it, because it is critical to the economy,” he said, citing the hundreds of billions in economic impact the sector has. Shuster also noted the committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over some tax decisions … and the TSA, which Mica has spent quite a bit of energy on with his gavel.
HSR DOUBLE SHOT: There were two big developments for the 130-mile initial segment since we last visited, dear readers. First came an added year to the completion schedule of the Central Valley route to the end of 2017 rather than 2016, the L.A. Times reported (http://bit.ly/S7ADHR). Next came a Sacramento County judge’s dismissal of an injunction filed by petitioners.
PREDICTING THE FISCAL CLIFF: Just like Congress, MT readers can’t agree on what will come of the fiscal cliff. A plurality (38 percent) think Congress will punt and delay it for six months. Thirty-one percent think either the tax hikes or the spending cuts will be dealt with — but not both. And driving over the cliff, Thelma and Louise-style, got the vote of 13 percent of our readers. A brave 8 percent think the cliff leads to a grand bargain that includes a much-needed gas tax increase.
LA Times: Bullet train segment's completion date pushed back
The California High-Speed Rail Authority said Thursday that it was adding 12 months to the construction schedule for 130 miles of track in the Central Valley, easing what some outside experts have contended was an overly aggressive and risky timeline.
The Star-Ledger: Experts question order allowing immediate reconstruction of N.J. infrastructure that failed during Sandy
From Sea Bright to Mantoloking last week, there were signs of a rebirth along the Jersey shore.
Idaho Press-Tribune (Associated Press Reprint): Judge backs Calif. high-speed rail over farmers
Judge backs Calif. high-speed rail over farmers
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A judge has denied a request from Central Valley farmers to temporarily block California's ambitious high-speed rail project.
Washington Post (Associated Press Reprint): Irked at road funding impasse, GOP Sen. Watkins backs fuel sales tax offset by income tax cuts
RICHMOND, Va. — A senior Senate Republican is challenging his own party’s anti-tax conservatives in Virginia’s General Assembly, proposing a sales tax on fuels offset by reduced income tax rates to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation.
Boston.com: Patrick poised to call for transportation tax hike
Nearly six years after a bipartisan commission sounded the alarm about a transportation system in a crisis so severe that it carried a shortfall of nearly $1 billion a year, Governor Deval Patrick will ask lawmakers to solve the problem with a plan that includes higher taxes.
The Journal Sentinel: Just ahead: Higher road taxes
Get ready for a late winter or spring public relations blitz to try to convince you to pay more to maintain Wisconsin transportation systems, including local roads and aging interstate highways.
New York Times: Paying to Rebuild, and Rebuild Again
To walk toward Jacob Riis Park on the western end of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, through the beaches of Belle Harbor and Neponsit, is to wonder whether severe weather has its own particular taste, its own logic for exempting certain belongings from its animosity. While Hurricane Sandy buried some of the area’s large oceanfront houses in the sand or split them in two, smashing sport utility vehicles into living rooms, other structures suffered a more artful destruction. These might be called, for the purposes of a perverse disaster tourism, the doll houses — places where the facades were ripped off to reveal rooms with collapsed flooring from which still-made beds dangled and cable boxes hung in the air from their cords; a tableau of total obliteration save for a preserved Oriental vase or an intact fireplace mantel.
Seattle Times: Op-ed: Preserve the state transportation that we have
IS there one “great big thing” that could be built to eliminate congestion? If only things in transportation were that simple. There isn’t one project or one investment that will solve the congestion that keeps us from getting to jobs, school or home on time or delays getting goods to market.
Washington Post: MWAA officials berated by House panel
Members of a House committee blasted officials at the agency that oversees the Washington area’s airports for awarding millions of dollars in no-bid contracts and cultivating a culture of ethical lapses that included rampant nepotism.
Kansas City Citizens Fund Civic Project with Donations
(Russel Newlove, Kansas City — Marketplace) After being denied a federal grant, Kansas City, MO intends to raise the money for a new streetcar system by passing around a hat. The idea is that instead of demanding more tax to fund projects, cities ask the public to donate whatever they want, in return for rewards or perks.
“[T]he United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward, and so will space.”