Wednesday, November 7, 2012
News Roundup

Infrastructure in the News: November 7, 2012







NY Post: City parks to close at noon tomorrow as Nor'easter set to hit

Hurricane-battered New Yorkers are bracing for another violent storm that’s expected to hit tomorrow, as Mayor Bloomberg ordered parks, playgrounds and beaches closed.


Huffington Post: Lessons Learned From Hurricane Sandy and How We Need to Apply Them Everyday

Hurricane Sandy has caused mass devastation and has ruined the lives of many. People have died and homes have been destroyed. It is difficult to see any silver lining when millions are out of power (as I was also) and people are running low on food and water as they try to pull things together. I am a native New Yorker and it hurts to see New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in anguish. But we will grow, rebuild and become even stronger. There are many lessons to be learned from this historic and tragic event. These lessons need to be applied to our everyday lives, not only in tragedy.





Washington Post: Keeping the next storm at bay

Let me propose an initiative for the next administration, starting with Day One: Get the nation started on the surge barriers, flood walls and other big infrastructure projects that can protect our coastal cities from being ravaged by the next Hurricane Sandy.


Washington Post (Bloomberg Reprint): Sandy’s blackouts pressure utilities to bury power lines

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Super storm Sandy’s record blackouts and prolonged recovery laid bare the U.S. electrical grid’s vulnerability to wind and flood, renewing calls for utilities to invest billions to toughen their defenses against extreme weather that may become more common.


New York Times: We Need a Little Fear

THE voters have spoken. So, what now? How will our still divided government deal with our mounting threats and challenges?


New York Times: The Big Barrier Question

As the storm chugged toward the Eastern Seaboard at 3 p.m. on Oct. 27,  an engineering crew in Stamford, Conn., was at the ready. It was time.


New York Times: U.S. Fuel Economy Is at All-Time High, Researchers Say

University of Michigan researchers said Monday that new cars and light trucks sold in the United States in October had the highest average fuel economy ever recorded on American vehicles — 24.1 mpg combined.


Atlantic Cities: 8 Urban Policy Ideas for Obama's 2nd Term

America's cities may not have been a focus of this year's presidential campaign, but the economy certainly was. And all the evidence we have is that our urban areas, where some 80 percent of us live, are the true drivers of our economy. If the next president wants to find a way to jump start innovation and entrepreneurship, consumer spending, the housing market, and yes, the creation of jobs, focusing on policy areas that strengthen America's cities is a no-brainer, regardless of party affiliation. (Or at least, it should be.)


Fast Lane: FMCSA works to speed up fuel delivery to storm-stricken communities

As states and communities continue recovering from Hurricane Sandy, President Obama has asked us to ensure that fuel reaches them as quickly as possible.


CNN: Obama will get little time to celebrate

(CNN) -- It hardly seems fair. After a grueling campaign, Barack Obama will have virtually no time to celebrate his re-election. Enormous challenges await.


Huffington Post: The Two Key Investments to Build Back Better Post-Sandy

Last week, Hurricane Sandy hit the world's media capital -- and because of that, it's likely we'll hold focus on longterm infrastructure problems for at least a day or so. What disempowered New Yorkers most wanted during the storm, in addition to safety and electricity, was a way to communicate. My suggestion: Prioritize rebooting communications infrastructure for New York City and its environs at the same time that we think seriously about water barriers and other infrastructural needs.


Politico: Morning Transportation


By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett


Featuring Kathryn A. Wolfe and Jessica Meyers



HOUSE STAYS GOP — Nearly all T&I members win: The biggest changes to the House Transportation Committee came well before election day, in stark contrast to 2010, when a third of the panel’s Democratic roster lost reelection. This time around, only three sitting members lost: Reps. Leonard Boswell went down to Appropriations THUD Chairman Tom Latham, Rep. Laura Richardson lost to fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn and freshman/former pilot Chip Cravaack was defeated by former Rep. Rick Nolan. Louisiana Reps. Jeff Landry and Charles Boustany will have another month to ding each other on ports issues — the two are headed to a runoff on Dec. 8 after nobody won 50 percent in the state’s “jungle primary.” Between retirements and defeats, at least 12 sitting T&I members — a fifth of the current lineup — won’t be back next year.


Mica, Rahall coming back: The committee didn’t see any major changes at the top: Chairman John Mica easily beat his underfunded opponent and Rep. Bill Shuster, the presumed chairman for the 113th, also cruised to victory. Top Democrat Nick Rahall beat Rick Snuffer and will return to the ranking member position under another two years of GOP House control. Other T&I members winning reelection in races once thought to be tight: Reps. Jeff Denham, Tim Bishop, Mike Michaud, Steve Southerland, Larry Bucshon, Richard Hanna and Reid Ribble. Now, how will the committee get along with the White House? That remains to be seen.


HSR foes get nod: House Republicans will be happy to see Denham is back, and the almond rancher from the Central Valley will be joined by Doug LaMalfa to create a strong anti-HSR duo. LaMalfa led an ultimately unsuccessful effort to turn back the voter referendum which created state financing for the Golden State’s fast train system, and Denham has been one of the loudest opponents in Congress. LaMalfa, a former state senator, easily won election to Congress in California’s 1st District.


Bounced: Remember when Republican Reps. Robert Dold, Judy Biggert and Charlie Bass sent Speaker John Boehner a letter asking him to put the Senate’s transportation bill on the House floor? Those memories of crossing leadership from the moderate pack are about to get more distant: All three lost bids for reelection last night. 


DEMS RETAIN SENATE — Boxer, Rockefeller hang on to gavels: Democrats surprised just about everyone by not only maintaining their majority in the upper chamber but also adding to it. Less of a surprise is who will be piloting the committees that will be tasked with writing new rail and surface transportation bills in the next two years. Barbara Boxer will keep a progressive bent atop the EPW committee charged with overseeing the nation’s roads and bridges, Jay Rockefeller will again helm the Commerce Committee with broad oversight of the skies and rails and Tim Johnson will again helm the Banking Committee which writes bill’s transit components.


Minority shifts: But the Republicans they work with will all be new faces. With Jim Inhofe term-limited, David Vitter looks likely to assume the ranking membership of EPW and Richard Shelby too will have to give up the top GOP slot on Banking to Mike Crapo. We already knew that Kay Bailey Hutchison was out as the top Republican on Congress; now we know that Jim DeMint will be the committee’s ranking member, not the chairman. MT will be watching closely to see how the Democrats get along with their new Republican leadership — particularly whether DeMint and Rockefeller can indeed find common ground and if Vitter is ready to be a top infrastructure cheerleader as Inhofe has been.


TRANSPORTATION BALLOT MEASURES — California transpo taxes: L.A.’s 30-year extension of a half-cent sales tax, a key part of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to expand the city’s transit network and secure TIFIA assistance, was trailing Wednesday morning. As the clock ticked toward 5 a.m., and with nearly half of the ballots counted, Measure J drew support from 64.7 percent of voters, just shy of the two-thirds needed. And a few hours to the north, Alameda County narrowly voted down a measure to double — to a full penny — and extend the transportation sales tax that would have brought in nearly $8 billion over 30 years. Measure B1, which also needed two-thirds support, got 65.54 percent of the vote.


Detroit bridge: Michigan voters rejected a ballot measure that would have required a statewide referendum before building an international crossing and could have halted plans for a publicly financed bridge between Detroit and Canada. Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun poured more than $30 million into a campaign pushing for the referendum. With an overwhelming majority early on, Taxpayers Against Monopolies has declared victory.


Memphis gas tax: Memphis residents voted against a one-cent increase in the gas tax to fund the Memphis Area Transit Authority. Federal lawmakers have struggled to gain traction on a gas tax boost and transit advocates were eager to see how it would play out on a local level.


KEEPING IT RAIL: Kirk Caldwell put away former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano in the Honolulu mayoral race, seemingly securing the future of a $5 billion heavy rail system in a city known for its bad traffic. Cayetano had run heavily on scrapping the rail line, which is already under construction, but lost out to citizens like Eric Cassera, who told the Star-Advertiser: “I’m supporting Kirk Caldwell because of the fact that I want the rail.”


DAILY SANDY CHECK: It increasingly looks like it’s going to be a long slog back to normalcy in New York. The subway continues to add service and the MTA announced that both the L and G train tunnels were clear of water, but no service return date on those busy lines has been announced and workers are toiling to clean out the R tunnel too. New Jersey Transit has three lines up and running and a fourth, the Coast Line, had service temporarily suspended Tuesday due to overcrowding (Alex Goldmark has a good report on how crowded NJT has been: The Queens Midtown Tunnel is open to buses and the Hugh L. Carey remains closed, but New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said late Tuesday night that the Holland Tunnel will be open today to all traffic. MTA’s Long Island Rail Road resume service between Speonk and Montauk today and will  be running buses between Island Park and Lynbrook.


No Black Friday deals: One of the biggest problems bedeviling NJT as the Garden State digs out may be replacing waterlogged cars and engines. According to Businessweek (, 23 percent of its rail cars and 35 percent of its engines got hit by the storm and it’s not clear how many can be repaired. Replacing these kinds of heavy machinery is no easy lift — they’re often delivered as part of multi-year contracts with manufacturers.


All about timing: MT gets that there are realities to running a transit system, but we can’t imagine that New Yorkers appreciate having a fare increase hearing today in Brooklyn while some of the system’s subway line remain crippled. The full schedule:


Jesse Jackson Sr. to our colleague Darren Samuelsohn, on Obama’s second term: “Now is the time, given he has a mandate and given the hurricane which exposed the need for infrastructure and what happened in Katrina, this is the time to really push the need to really invest in infrastructure.”


MICA’S BUS CRUCADE: T&I Chairman Mica is trying to get Greyhound to move its West Orlando bud depot next to the Lynx public transportation headquarters, The Orlando Sentinel reports ( Mica said he wants the facility to be an intermodal hub for the area. It’s the second time he’s pushed for a central bus location — just recently he attended the grand opening of the new Greyhound/Peter Pan station in D.C.’s Union Station.


AGREEING TO AGREE: AASHTO has inked an agreement of standards with ASTM International that should serve as the bedrock for development and publication of highway standards, AASHTO said Tuesday.


‘DELAYED STIMULUS’: That’s what the National Association of Railroad Passengers is calling the high-speed rail money in the wake of a critical IG report. “As it is generally recognized that the economy is still not producing enough jobs, the ‘delayed stimulus’ which the high speed rail program is producing is valuable … the result is that we have the best of both worlds — funds spent more responsibly than would have been likely under a ‘quick outlay’ approach, and useful jobs still being produced today when the economy still needs them,” NARP said in a Tuesday release.


CABOOSE — New York: The Atlantic has an amazing compilation of old pictures of New York City, including lots of great transpo shots of bridges, roads, rails and even a bike race. It’s worth your time:


Politico Pro: Transportation road map stays with Obama


By Kathryn A. Wolfe



Many with a stake in federal infrastructure spending had a reason to celebrate on election night: Democrats kept the keys to the White House.


President Barack Obama has championed high price tag spending for infrastructure in his budgets, and on the campaign trail he repeatedly sounded off on the idea that building roads and bridges creates jobs, bolsters the economy and is a worthwhile investment for the country.


But those infrastructure boosters, in particular the transportation unions that backed Obama, may find a victory short-lived. The balance of power in Congress appears poised to stay largely the same, likely spelling more gridlock at least in the short term. Republicans maintained control of the House, and Democrats still hold the Senate.


A Democratic White House and a divided Congress couldn’t agree to more than a two-year transportation bill. While the bill was desperately welcomed after so much hand-wringing and wrangling over financing, it was by all accounts deemed a modest effort that did little more than postpone difficult financing decisions.


The Republican presidential ticket did hold some appeal those with transportation interests: Mitt Romney would likely have taken a hard line against the sort of regulations that businesses complain can gum up productivity and harm profits. But running mate Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which proposed holding infrastructure spending to what the Highway Trust Fund can sustain without raising the deficit, caused significant heartburn. And in the absence of more specifics from Romney himself, Ryan’s plan became a proxy for the ticket.


With a Congress that’s likely to be even more polarized, transportation stakeholders will be looking for the White House to play a leadership role in pushing forward a plan to shore up the ailing Highway Trust Fund — a task in which, so far, the White House hasn’t engaged.


While Obama has put forward budgets with big-ticket transportation spending figures — his last budget called for $476 billion in spending over the next transportation bill — he has yet to produce a realistic way to pay for that spending. His fiscal 2012 budget contained no pay-for; his fiscal 2013 budget suggested paying for the spending with the “peace dividend,” which has repeatedly been rejected in Congress.


The president’s budgets in the past have also included $50 billion in “immediate investment” in roads, rail and aviation, a rehashed proposal for which Congress has shown no appetite. And he’s also repeatedly called for creating a National Infrastructure Bank, despite similar congressional opposition to the idea.


Obama’s first budget proposed that the infrastructure bank be located under the Transportation Department; his last budget instead proposed it as an independent agency to be initially capitalized with $30 billion of unspecified funding.


An Obama White House will likely continue to focus on his signature program, high-speed rail, in which the country has invested $10.5 billion so far. Though the desire to keep spending that kind of money seems to have dwindled in Congress, Obama and his administration continue to talk up the idea of building out a nationwide network.


He also has championed the consolidation of infrastructure programs, a Republican mantra. And he has adopted a “fix it first” focus, prioritizing maintaining what’s already there instead of focusing on new projects.


Barring some big reveal later this year, Obama’s next opportunity to make a major statement about transportation will come with his budget, which will be released early next year. It remains to be seen, however, how much of these ideas his budget for transportation might rehash, considering that many of them have repeatedly been considered and rejected by lawmakers.


Obama’s second term also raises the question of what will happen to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Months ago LaHood said he wasn’t interested in serving a second term, but lately he’s made comments suggesting that could change, depending on the president’s preference.


The dynamic for transportation in the House will be little changed, except for possibly an even more conservative tilt to the body, which could complicate efforts to push through the next transportation bill.


Some transportation stakeholders are holding out hope that a long-term revenue fix for the Highway Trust Fund might be included as part of any impending deal on the fiscal cliff, but hopes for any kind of lame duck deal appear to be dwindling. And the House GOP’s position on holding the line on taxes appears to be hardening at least in the short-term, which will make finding enough revenue to slake the thirst for infrastructure spending all the more difficult.


The biggest race facing members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this cycle was the contest between the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, and his challenger, Rick Snuffer.


Rahall managed to avoid the fate of the former chairman of the committee, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who was knocked off by Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack, who himself is in a difficult race this year. Unlike Oberstar, who political observers believe didn’t take his challenger seriously until it was too late, Rahall went all in on his contest from the outset and managed to hold on to his seat.


The committee is expected to have new leadership as its current chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), is term-limited out of his gavel. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is widely expected to take his place.  Shuster is a reliable Republican who has been concerned with fiscal restraint while also preaching the gospel of infrastructure investment.  He also took a run at privatizing Amtrak earlier this year, an effort that had to be abandoned in the face of dissatisfaction from industry, labor and even some Republicans.


In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee, which will write much of the highway financing mechanisms for the next transportation bill, will have a new leadership dynamic at play. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who was instrumental in pushing through the last bill, is expected to be partnered with Sen. David Vitter (R-La). Vitter will replace Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the current ranking member on EPW, as Inhofe is term limited from the leadership spot at year’s end.


Vitter is not as vocal a booster for infrastructure spending as Inhofe has been, though he has trumpeted the benefits of the last transportation bill back home. And Vitter was involved in writing the bill last time around, which he cosponsored and praised. But how he and Boxer may work together as they write the next bill remains to be seen.


Vitter will be well-positioned to advocate for inclusion of some sort of life cycle cost analysis for transportation projects in the next bill. He’s been a vocal proponent of the practice, which prices into the creation of a project not only the construction costs but repair and maintenance over many decades. Vitter had introduced a bill that would’ve required a life cycle cost analysis of projects with a federal cost share exceeding $5 million.





Pilot Online: Light rail referendum on track to approval in Va. Beach

Light-rail supporters wanted a decisive approval of a referendum they hoped would spur the city to bring The Tide here.


New York Magazine: How Did the MTA Restore Subway Service in Time for Monday’s Rush Hour?

This morning, temperatures dropped, vast parts of the region remained without power, and New Jersey commuter lines were in a stranglehold. But there was one major, if improbable, sign of hope: Some 80 percent of the New York City subway system was up and running. Not everything went perfectly — there were delays and crowds and, for those living on defunct lines, long walks or bus rides to open stations — but it was a far cry from the prolonged collapse many feared after the wrath of Sandy.


Los Angeles Times: Measure J transportation tax is still too close to call

Los Angeles County voters appeared to be favoring a 30-year extension of a half-cent transportation sales tax, according to early returns Tuesday, but it's unclear whether the measure will receive the two-thirds majority necessary to pass.


Los Angeles Times: Anaheim transit project goes retro with streetcars,0,2350202.story

It's a city where tourists can spot a monorail slithering overhead, where construction is underway on an expansive transit hub envisioned as a cathedral for transportation, and where hopes run high that hordes of passengers will one day blast into town on a high-speed rail.


Washington Post: Metro has some explaining to do

As far as we know, the shutdown of subway service in the nation’s capital early Sunday morning was well-coordinated and came off without a hitch. From the operations control center that monitors the trains to the staffers in the 84 stations open that night, everyone did as they routinely do in closing gates, shutting off nearly 600 escalators and halting more than 250 elevators.


The Herald Sun: Orange County approves transit sales tax

CHAPEL HILL – Orange County voters on Tuesday approved a half-cent sales tax supporters say will greatly improve transit service throughout the county.


New York Times: Some Brooklyn Riders Are Left Behind in Revival of the Subway System

With the L line operating at only a handful of stations in Brooklyn and the G line closed since Hurricane Sandy, riders have turned to alternatives like the East River Ferry. Some told themselves that this was a new era in northern Brooklyn, where runaway ridership growth had spurred added train service along what was once one of the system’s forgotten corridors.


Capital New York: Now, Andrew Cuomo is a governor who talks about transit

Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally, unequivocally, taken ownership of the M.T.A.


The Providence Journal: Monnica Chan: For smarter infrastructure in New England

A $1 billion investment in smart infrastructure could create nearly 27,000 jobs and increase New England's gross domestic product by $9 billion, according to a new report by the New England Council (NEC) and Deloitte Development LLC.


Chron: Voters extend Metro's tax-sharing plan

A referendum authorizing the Metropolitan Transit Authority to continue diverting part of its sales tax revenues for road projects passed by a wide margin Tuesday.

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