Infrastructure in the News: November 26, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
CNN: NJ governor puts Sandy damage at $29.4 billion
(CNN) -- Superstorm Sandy caused $29.4 billion in damages in New Jersey, one of the hardest hit states, said Gov. Chris Christie.
New York Times: A Failed Experiment
In upper-middle-class suburbs on the East Coast, the newest must-have isn’t a $7,500 Sub-Zero refrigerator. It’s a standby generator that automatically flips on backup power to an entire house when the electrical grid goes out.
New York Times: Paying for Future Catastrophes
HURRICANE SANDY could cost the nation a staggering $50 billion, about a third of the cost of Hurricane Katrina — to date the most costly disaster in United States history.
Washington Post (Associated Press Reprint): States, cities look for ways to prepare transportation systems for new rounds of wild weather
WASHINGTON — Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country.
Fast Lane: Emergency preparedness on the St. Lawrence Seaway
One of the key lessons demonstrated by hurricanes, blizzards, and other natural disasters in recent years is the value of emergency preparedness. And that's why the professionals on the U.S.-Canadian Emergency Preparedness Committee on Civil Transportation (EPCCT) conduct annual training events.
KOIN Local 6 News (Associated Press Reprint): Extreme weather hurts transit system
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country.
CNN: To-do list for Obama and Mexico's new president
(CNN) -- On a recent trip to Mexico City as part of a delegation of Mexican-American and American Jewish leaders, I heard a joke that is circulating among the intelligentsia:
By Mike Allen
November 24, 2012
THE BIG IDEA - RAHM EMANUEL, "Time to rebuild America," on Sunday's WashPost op-ed page (A17 ): "Demographics alone are not destiny. There is nothing in this year's election returns that guarantees Democrats a permanent majority in the years to come. President Obama and the Democratic Party earned the support of key groups -- young people, single women, Latinos, African Americans, auto workers in the Rust Belt and millions of other middle-class Americans -- because of our ideas. But we cannot expect Republicans to cede the economic argument so readily, or to fall so far short on campaign mechanics, the next time around. So, instead of resting on false assurances of underlying demographic advantages, the Democratic Party must follow through on our No. 1 priority, which the president set when he took office and reemphasized throughout this campaign: It is time to come home and rebuild America. ...
"While infrastructure improvements have been neglected on a federal level for decades, Chicago is making one of the nation's largest coordinated investments, putting 30,000 residents to work over the next three years improving our roads, rails and runways ... If we want to build a future in which the middle class can succeed, we must continue the push for reform that the president began with Race to the Top, bringing responsibility and accountability to our teachers and principals. ... Democrats need to push for comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that, true to our history, we continue to be the party of opportunity and inclusion. ... Democrats at the national level must execute on the president's agenda on energy and tax reform to ensure the future of not only our party but also the middle class. ... [W]hile our victory in 2012 was aided by demographic advantages and sophisticated campaigning, our party's ideas are what sealed the deal with middle-class voters." http://wapo.st/T6YA0N
IF YOU READ ONLY ONE THING - CONDOLEEZZA RICE, "The Syrian linchpin," next to Rahm on Sunday's WashPost op-ed page: "The civil war in Syria may well be the last act in the story of the disintegration of the Middle East as we know it. The opportunity to hold the region together and to rebuild it on a firmer foundation of tolerance, freedom and, eventually, democratic stability is slipping from our grasp. Egypt and Iran have long, continuous histories and strong national identities. Turkey does as well ... Every other important state is a modern construct, created by the British and the French, who drew borders like lines on the back of an envelope, often without regard for ethnic and sectarian differences. ... The fragile state structure of the Middle East has been held together for decades by monarchs and dictators. But as the desire for freedom has spread from Tunis to Cairo to Damascus, authoritarians have lost their grip. The danger now is that the artificial states could fly apart. ...
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider
Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Caitlin Emma
THE LEDE — An exciting month for transportation: There’s not going to be much standalone transportation legislation sifting through the halls of the nation’s Capitol, but it still figures to be a busy last few weeks for infrastructure watchers. First up are the chairmanship decisions and committee assignments, the largest moves of which will be the presumed replacement of John Mica by Bill Shuster atop the House Transportation Committee. We are already hearing about plenty of shifting amid the committee’s rank-and-file, too, and there’s more than a dozen openings after the elections if the panel stays the same size. The ascent of David Vitter and Jim DeMint as the top transportation committee Republicans in the Senate will also soon be made official. That’s not all: Michael Huerta has until the end of the 112th to get confirmed as FAA administrator before his nomination must be resubmitted. And everyone is wondering whether the structural imbalance between gas tax receipts and federal transportation spending will get addressed as part of a grand bargain, as it was nearly 20 years ago with Bill Clinton in the White House.
The exciting first week: House T&I is set for another Amtrak hearing this Wednesday, according to a spokesman, the fourth in Mica’s series that he hopes will reach six by year’s end. And we might finally see some action on a message bill saying U.S. airlines won’t take part in the EU’s emissions trading program. The bill was sent over to the White House ten days ago, but the administration hasn’t yet hinted at its fate. If Obama vetoes it, as green groups have urged, Congress might try to override, which takes a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
GETTING OFF THE GAS TAX: With pencils being sharpened on a debt deal, all eyes are on the gas tax as a possible savior for transportation spending. But another option that may cause lawmakers less heartburn is being obscured by the gas tax dust: linking energy production with infrastructure spending. More revenues for infrastructure could be wrung out of a linkage with energy in a number of ways, but the most-discussed ones include instituting a fee on oil production, or expanding oil and natural gas drilling availability. That option is basically what House Republicans proposed to do as part of their failed surface transportation bill from earlier this year. Some transportation lobbyists weary of the politics of taxation say the intense focus on the political will for a gas tax hike ignores other options available, and one highway lobbyist said people have a “fixation on the gas tax” that he likened to “the bright light for a bug.” Pros get more from Kathryn: http://politico.pro/U707VU
AN ISSUE NO MATTER WHERE YOU CALL HOME: Now in the full holiday swing, busy commuters in big cities are juggling errands, gift-buying and traveling plans as they stomp up and down escalators — and past people without homes who use transit stations as a place to warm up. That forces transit providers to walk a fine line between working as a social service and policing the homeless population. In D.C., WMATA’s police force enlists the help of a Hypothermia Van — but every city handles things a bit differently. Intrepid transpo report Caitlin Emma’s got more deets from New York to Chicago on a serious winter issue: http://politi.co/V6deLL
DON’T DRIVE IMPAIRED: NTSB on Friday released several recommendations on drunk and drugged driving, one of its top-ten “most wanted” safety issues on the agency’s recent list. The recs focus on three areas: better testing of blood alcohol levels, better drug testing and identifying the “place of last drink” in DUI cases, which can help point to problematic bars or restaurants. There’s much more details in NTSB head Deborah Hersman’s lengthy letter to NHTSA chief David Strickland: http://1.usa.gov/V6gczN
RAHM SAYS REBUILD: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel writes in a WaPo op-ed that Democrats shouldn’t read too much into all the talk about how U.S. demographics means the party is set for a permanent majority. “So, instead of resting on false assurances of underlying demographic advantages, the Democratic Party must follow through on our No. 1 priority, which the president set when he took office and reemphasized throughout this campaign: It is time to come home and rebuild America,” the former Obama White House CoS wrote. Emanuel also notes the role (or lack thereof) the feds have been playing, saying that “infrastructure improvements have been neglected on a federal level for decades.” Read it: http://wapo.st/V6fgeA
READERS SAY LaHOOD WILL STAY: A clear majority of readers believe that DOT Secretary Ray LaHood will still be transportation secretary into President Barack Obama’s second term. Forty-five percent of voters said he’ll stay a year or two, and another 10 percent said he’d stay the entire second term. But 45 percent of voters said he’s a ghost when January rolls around. Know something we don’t about LaHood? Send us any juicy tips and we’ll be sure to forget your name if we need to.
MAILBAG — Crossed tracks in D.C.: Amtrak is warily watching a proposal from Union Station's redevelopment body — and the contractor that runs its retail space — to replace the eatery that's smack in the middle of the rail hub's soaring atrium with escalators leading to its basement, which currently houses a hodgepodge of mostly fast food. In a letter (http://bit.ly/TYurSC) to the redevelopment body, Amtrak says it's concerned this could hinder the rail service's plan to drastically overhaul the station to accommodate future high-speed rail lines.
Politico Pro: Link to energy production could be gas tax’s out
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
With pencils being sharpened on a debt deal, all eyes are on the gas tax as a possible savior for transportation spending. But another option that may cause lawmakers less heartburn is being obscured by the gas tax dust: linking energy production with infrastructure spending.
More revenues for infrastructure could be wrung out of a linkage with energy in a number of ways, but the most-discussed ones include instituting a fee on oil production, or expanding oil and natural gas drilling availability. The second option is basically what House Republicans proposed to do as part of their failed surface transportation bill from earlier this year.
Some transportation lobbyists weary of the politics of taxation say the intense focus on the political will for a gas tax hike ignores other options available. One highway lobbyist said people have a “fixation on the gas tax” that he likened to “the bright light for a bug.”
“We’re a lot more interested in solving a problem. The gas tax is just a means to do that. But it’s not the only means,” he said.
According to a transportation lobbyist who’s been involved in some debt deal discussions, inclusion in a big economic deal could make a gas tax hike easier — but not necessarily easy.
“I don’t know that solving the revenue problem is a gas tax; that isn’t looking real popular at the moment,” he said.
Moving the pain of a new fee “upstream” has the advantage of not being immediately obvious to an electorate jittery about the economy — certainly nothing as in your face as a tax increase at the pump. And the expanded oil and gas drilling option holds appeal for conservatives.
“My understanding at least from the House Republican side is that continues to be an area of interest,” the highway lobbyist said.
The road to some kind of energy linkage is fraught, too. Though Democrats have pushed a fee or tax on oil production as a panacea to many policy issues, the petroleum industry will fight tooth and nail against anything that smells like a new fee.
Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said an upstream fee would ultimately hurt consumers, since companies would likely pass at least some of that cost down.
Instead, Milito said API has been pushing for Congress to open more lands to oil and gas exploration as a means to bring in more revenue for whatever purpose lawmakers see fit.
“We think the way to get money is simply by providing access,” Milito said.
Milito’s suggestion is something similar to what House Republicans had proposed as part of their version of a transportation bill, which ultimately tanked under the weight of proposals that were too partisan. Democrats have been cold to this idea, particularly in protected areas of Alaska and off the coastal United States.
Beyond ideological hurdles, proponents of this part of the House’s transportation bill also ran into a money problem. That’s because expanding leases now won't start generating royalty payments until possibly 10 years from now — not an immediate enough cash infusion to help fix the looming problem with the Highway Trust Fund.
Milito agreed it's a long-term solution, saying recent study data showed expanding oil and gas drilling now will mean significant benefits to the federal coffers by about 2020.
“But if you’re not making these decisions now because you’re only looking at the short term, then you’re never going to see these benefits,” Milito said.caboose
Washington Post: How to rebuild America
Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, is mayor of Chicago and represented Illinois’ 5th District in the U.S. House from 2003 to 2009. He was White House chief of staff from January 2009 to October 2010.
Boston Globe: Massachusetts facing a transit fiscal cliff
THE FEDERAL “fiscal cliff” is consuming the news, but Massachusetts faces a transportation finance cliff (“Tax hike on the table for roads and transit,” Page A1, Nov. 17). As the state debates additional revenue for transportation, we should avoid stopgap measures or one-time fixes. We need real solutions that will generate sufficient revenue for the long term.
Columbus Dispatch: Improvement in freight rail eases logistics
YOUNGSTOWN — An $850 million investment to improve railroad infrastructure across Ohio and allow more freight from East Coast ports to travel in the Midwest is nearing its completion date of spring 2013.
New York Times: City Takes Up Zoning Changes to Erase Downtown Brooklyn’s Glut of Parking Spots
In traffic-clogged New York City, where parking spaces are coveted like the rarest of treasures, an excess of parking spaces might seem like an urban planner’s dream.
New York Times: Is This the End?
WE’D seen it before: the Piazza San Marco in Venice submerged by the acqua alta; New Orleans underwater in the aftermath of Katrina; the wreckage-strewn beaches of Indonesia left behind by the tsunami of 2004. We just hadn’t seen it here. (Last summer’s Hurricane Irene did a lot of damage on the East Coast, but New York City was spared the worst.) “Fear death by water,” T. S. Eliot intoned in “The Waste Land.” We do now.
Our nation's infrastructure includes approximately 4 million miles of roads.