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Infrastructure in the News 10.17.16

BAF IN THE NEWS

 

CityLimits: Clinton Presidency will be a Steel Dawn if Mayors Get Their Way

http://citylimits.org/2016/10/14/clinton-presidency-will-be-a-steel-dawn-if-mayors-get-their-way/

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did send a surrogate: former Philly mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Rendell said all the right things: Noting that U.S. infrastructure investment is half of what it was in 1981; pumping Clinton’s plan to spend $275 billion over five years on roads, bridges, aviation, freight and broadband; endorsing infrastructure investment as helpful not just the people who use it but the workers who build it and the firms that make the machines that create, repair or operate it.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

 

USA Today: On-time performance of U.S. airlines dropped in latest report

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/todayinthesky/2016/10/17/-time-performance-us-airlines-dropped-latest-repoprt/92210088/

Nearly one in four U.S. flights were late in August, and some planes sat on the ground so long that the airlines could get fined.

 

TechCrunch: U.S. Department of Transportation bans Galaxy Note 7 from all flights

https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/14/u-s-department-of-transportation-bans-galaxy-note-7-from-all-flights/

In the latest instalment of Samsung’s ongoing Note 7 saga, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued an official, blanket ban against bringing the Galaxy Note 7 on airplanes. The ban applies to all Note 7 devices, and covers both carry-on and checked baggage, as well as prohibiting anyone from carrying the phone onto a plane on their person. The ban will go into effect beginning October 15 at 12 PM ET.

 

Wall Street Journal: N.Y. Senator Urges Caps on Truck Speeds (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/n-y-senator-urges-caps-on-truck-speeds-1476656223

Commercial trucking companies should be required to install speed-capping technology in all vehicles in their fleets, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

 

Wall Street Journal: Hanjin Reaches Out To Europe Shipping Giants to Sell Ships (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/hanjin-reaches-out-to-europe-shipping-giants-to-sell-ships-1476456753

Debt-ridden Hanjin Shipping Co. will reach out to major European shipping companies as early as this week to tap interest for at least five of its vessels as it tries to raise funds to unload stranded cargo, pay off creditors and re-emerge as an Asia regional carrier, people involved in the matter said.

 

Reuters: Volkswagen to pay $175 million to U.S. lawyers suing over emissions

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-volkswagen-emissions-idUSKBN12E2AH

Volkswagen AG, in another step to move past its costly diesel emissions cheating scandal, has agreed to pay $175 million to U.S. lawyers suing the German automaker on behalf of the owners of 475,000 polluting vehicles, two people briefed on the agreement said on Friday.

 

Washington Post: This start-up wants to revolutionize the bus commute and make lives better

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/this-start-up-wants-to-revolutionize-the-bus-commute-and-make-lives-better/2016/10/15/66e31b58-8f20-11e6-9c52-0b10449e33c4_story.html

Indiana college student Wyclife Omondi likes to be punctual. But that’s a lot more difficult when he’s back home in Nairobi.

 

STATE NEWS

 

Associated Press: Additional tracks reopen at Hoboken Terminal

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/additional-tracks-opening-monday-morning-at-hoboken-terminal/2016/10/17/ef34d8cc-9423-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html

Rail service was fully restored Monday at a New Jersey transit station damaged last month when a train traveling more than twice the speed limit crashed, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 other people.

 

Associated Press: Lawmakers to feds: Give $10M to NJ Transit for train safety

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/lawmakers-to-feds-give-10m-to-nj-transit-for-train-safety/2016/10/14/d77dc5e0-921b-11e6-bc00-1a9756d4111b_story.html

Lawmakers from the New York and New Jersey region and beyond want the federal government to step in to help address safety concerns at New Jersey Transit in the wake of last month’s deadly train crash in Hoboken.

 

Washington Post: Train engineer, conductor tell NTSB nothing unusual happened before fatal Hoboken crash, report says

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/10/14/train-engineer-conductor-tell-ntsb-nothing-unusual-happened-before-fatal-hoboken-crash-report-says/

A New Jersey Transit train accelerated from 8 mph to 21 mph in the seconds before it slammed into a wall at the Hoboken station at twice the speed limit, according to a preliminary report on the incident last month that killed one person and injured more than 100 others.

 

The Observer: Governor Christie Affirms New Transportation Funding

http://observer.com/2016/10/governor-christie-affirms-new-transportation-funding/

In a late Friday afternoon news dump, Governor Chris Christie this afternoon authorized funding for the Transportation Trust Fund Authority (“TTFA”), a controversial plan that includes a 23 cents gas tax hike.

 

Charleston Gazette-Mail: DOT joins 4 cities in West Virginia Paving lawsuits

http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-cops-and-courts/20161014/dot-joins-4-cities-in-west-virginia-paving-lawsuits

The West Virginia Department of Transportation and Division of Highways filed an antitrust lawsuitagainst West Virginia Paving and other asphalt companies Friday, following similar lawsuits filed earlier in the week by Charleston and three other cities.

 

MyStatesman (Texas): Talking transportation bonds with Austin Mayor Steve Adler

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local/talking-transportation-bonds-with-austin-mayor-ste/nsq84/

Mayor Steve Adler has been the driving force in shaping and shepherding the $720 million transportation bond on the November ballot. He recently sat down with the American-Statesman to answer questions about the proposal.

 

Chicago Tribune: Illinois unions, road builders pushing transportation lockbox amendment

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-illinois-transportation-funding-amendment-met-20161014-story.html

For years, Illinois lawmakers and governors have turned to the state's road fund in times of financial distress, repeatedly using money drivers cough up at the pump and secretary of state's office to patch budget holes instead of repaving highways or repairing railways.

 

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/17/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Jennifer Scholtes and Lauren Gardner

NEW CALLS FOR TRANSIT INVESTMENT: While it remains uncertain whether Positive Train Control could have stopped a train from crashing into New Jersey Transit's Hoboken terminal last month, the accident has reignited calls for investing in the technology - and generally investing in transit systems. Just on Friday, Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urging DOT to approve NJ Transit's request for $10 million in funding for the third phase of a system made to interact with Amtrak's PTC setup and technology that freight railroads plan to install. "Although we do not yet know the cause, the recent fatal rail crash at Hoboken Station is a stark reminder of the need to improve safety for the nation's transit riders," the senators wrote in the letter on behalf of the entire New Jersey delegation.

The federal government's role: The investigation into the Sept. 29 accident, which left a woman dead and over 100 people injured, is ongoing. Findings so far have pointed toward human error. The NTSB has confirmed that the train was traveling at double the 10 mph speed limit at the time of the crash and the air brake system seemed to be functioning properly. Meanwhile, the incident has drawn attention to NJ Transit, with reports by The Associated Press, New York Times and others on the system's high accident rate and years of neglect, which raises another question: Could the federal government take over NJ Transit?

Foxx doesn't take it off the table: "Well, there is precedent," Foxx said Friday at a press conference for the Gateway Program. "Actually, we are actually very much engaged in the Washington Metro Transit Authority, because their state safety oversight organization had basically failed ... So without getting too much into the dynamics here, I would just say this - that we will continue monitoring this situation." As POLITICO New York's Dana Rubinstein reported , Foxx pointed out that FRA has already "taken steps to identify 25 areas" that NJ Transit must improve. "If more aggressive steps are needed to ensure that these things get done, we will take all appropriate steps at appropriate times," he said.

HAPPY MONDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo.

"She got on the ghost bike. And rode it all night long. She got on the ghost bike. She was there and then she was gone." (LA Metro's Doreen Morrissey)

Want to keep up with all of MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist.

LEMME SEE: Three Democrats on the House Transportation Committee want DOT to hand over the FRA's audits of NJ Transit. As our Jennifer Scholtes reported for Pros, the lawmakers - Reps. Peter DeFazio, Mike Capuano and Albio Sires - requested "detailed information," including the number of safety violations found and a description of each one, within a month. In their letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, they also point to a New York Times report on NJ Transit's decline in recent years. "The horrific tragedy in Hoboken and the deterioration of NJ Transit only underscore the need for increased investment in our transit systems," the lawmakers wrote. "Safety must be our No. 1 priority, and that is something that we believe the Christie administration ignored."

ICYMI: The Obama administration announced Friday a slew of amendments to Cuba trade regulations and travel restrictions. As Jen reported for Pros, the government authorized Americans to help Cubans improve safety for both commercial and civil aviation. It also authorized air cargo to Cuba.

What the U.S. government scrapped: the restriction preventing foreign freight ships from entering U.S. ports for six months after carrying certain goods to Cuban ports; the ban prohibiting Americans from sending money to foreigners for travel related to Cuba; the $100 limit on Cuban goods that people can bring in their luggage to the United States; and the limits on packing Cuban alcohol and tobacco (for personal use).

No turning back: President Barack Obama said the changes will "make our opening to Cuba irreversible." His administration has allowed the first commercial flights between Cuba and the United States in decades, but Congress has yet to lift the trade embargo, which prevents Americans from visiting Cuba for tourism. In theory, future presidents could overturn Obama's policy with their own executive action. But, as Jen reported for Pros, a senior administration official said it's "highly unlikely that any future president would try to cancel the direct flights that Americans are taking to and from Cuba," adding that U.S. citizens are "very excited" about them.

** A message from the National Association of Manufacturers' Building to Win infrastructure initiative: Whoa! Clinton and Trump actually agree on something: a major infrastructure investment from the next president in his/her first 100 days. The time is now. Join with the National Association of Manufacturers to advance a REAL plan that will create jobs, save lives and restore our infrastructure. NAM.org/BuildingToWin. **

DOT BANS GALAXY NOTE 7 ON PLANES: DOT has banned airline passengers from carrying any Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones on flights to, from or within the country after reports that their batteries can catch fire. As our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros, passengers are now prohibited from carrying the devices on their person or in any luggage. The ban also includes air cargo.

"We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "We are taking this additional step because even one fire incident in flight poses a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk."

NEW JERSEY TO RAISE GAS TAX: As expected, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a state infrastructure plan Friday that includes a 23-cent gas tax hike. The state currently has the second-lowest gas tax in the country, behind Alaska. Starting Nov. 1, it will have the sixth-highest at 37.5 cents per gallon, according to The Associated Press.

As Ryan Hutchins reported for POLITICO New Jersey, Christie also on Friday lifted an order that had frozen transportation spending for months. The gas tax increase, "combined with new charges on diesel fuel, will raise an additional $1.2 billion in revenue over the current gas tax," Ryan reported. "It will allow the state to replenish its Transportation Trust Fund, which became insolvent in July after years of mismanagement under numerous governors. The new revenue will be combined with additional borrowing to provide $2 billion in state transportation spending each year for the next eight years."

THIS WEEK:

Tuesday - The Mobile Sources Technical Review Subcommittee of the EPA's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee holds a meeting. The Northeast Corridor Safety Committee meets. NTSB has a meeting and will consider the report for a November 2015 plane crash. The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the United States Naval Institute hold a discussion on maritime security. The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee holds a two-day meeting.

Thursday - The National Boating Safety Advisory Council and its subcommittees begin three days of meetings.

Friday - The Port Performance Freight Statistics Working Group meets.

OPEN THE GATE(WAY): DOT has put the Gateway Program's Hudson Tunnel Project on the "president's permitting dashboard," in the hopes of allowing those working on the project to easily track permitting reviews and make sure they happen on time. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony Coscia and lawmakers from New York and New Jersey announced the move on Friday, as our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros.

DOT also released a new credit planning tool for large programs like Gateway. Additionally, the department announced that Gateway partners had sent a rating package for Portal North Bridge to FTA. If the agency gives the project a high enough score, DOT will recommend it for the new president's fiscal year 2018 budget. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's board is expected to vote on a $300 million commitment to the Portal North Bridge project when it meets this week, POLITICO New York's Dana Rubinstein reported.

Litmus test: Dana reported that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, looking to the next administration, said Friday he wouldn't approve a nomination for the new transportation secretary unless the person strongly backs the Hudson Tunnel Project, like current Secretary Anthony Foxx has. "I'm going to tell you this, Secretary," Schumer said to Foxx. "You won't be here, but as long as I have a position in the Senate, the next Secretary of Transportation won't get confirmed unless they're as enthusiastic about this project as you."

PAGING SCOTUS: The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association want the Supreme Court to take up a case on aircraft product liability. In April, an appellate court ruled that manufacturing and design safety should be viewed separately from FAA rules on in-flight operations, which preempt any state aviation laws. The opinion backed an attempt by a pilot's widow to sue the company that manufactured his plane's engine for damages under state law.

AOPA says lawmakers intended for the agency to uniformly regulate civil and commercial aviation, while still allowing individuals to sue for damages under state laws. As our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros, the group argues that the appellate court decision could cause manufacturers to pass liability costs onto customers or leave the market. On Friday, AOPA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association filed separate "friend of the court" briefs making similar arguments.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

- "Volkswagen to pay $175 million to U.S. lawyers suing over emissions." Reuters.

- "This start-up wants to revolutionize the bus commute and make lives better." The Washington Post.

- "Hanjin reaches out to Europe shipping giants to sell ships." The Wall Street Journal.

- "Metro sues transit union, refusing to negotiate over punishment guidelines." The Washington Post.

- "Germany to Tesla: Don't use the term 'Autopilot' in ads." MarketWatch.

- "'Nuclear' verdicts have insurers running from trucks." The Wall Street Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 53 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 347 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 21 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,447 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

All Day - The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association continues its "Summit of the Americas" in Mexico City.

All Day - The second Unmanned Maritime Systems Summit begins. Sheraton Pentagon City, Arlington, Va.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at transpocalendar@politicopro.com.

** A message from the National Association of Manufacturers' Building to Win infrastructure initiative: Our country's crumbling infrastructure is a national embarrassment: We rank 16th in the world! While other countries modernize and move forward, we're sitting in traffic and stuck in the 20th century. This means lost jobs, lost economic output and lives at risk.

Thankfully, Clinton and Trump have caught on and want to do something about it. But manufacturers aren't going to sit by and hope for the best. We're going to be strong partners and make sure America gets the infrastructure it deserves.

The National Association of Manufacturers has developed a blueprint for the next president and Congress, "Building to Win." (NAM.org/BuildingToWin.) We identify the problems and the solutions-a rare thing in Washington.

Let's seize this rare moment of bipartisanship to secure our place of economic leadership in the world. Learn more and join the cause at NAM.org/BuildingToWin. **

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/10/with-nj-transit-under-scrutiny-fresh-calls-for-investment-019658

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Foxx doesn't entirely rule out a federal takeover of NJ Transit Back

By Dana Rubinstein | 10/14/2016 02:06 PM EDT

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Friday declined to completely rule out a federal takeover of NJ Transit.

During a press conference at Penn Station in Manhattan regarding a new cross-Hudson rail tunnel, a reporter asked Foxx if there was any precedent for a U.S. transportation department takeover of a failing transit system and, if so, whether that was something he would consider doing in the case of NJ Transit.

"Well, there is precedent," Foxx said. "Actually, we are actually very much engaged in the Washington Metro Transit Authority, because their state safety oversight organization had basically failed.

"So without getting too much into the dynamics here, I would just say this - that we will continue monitoring this situation," he said.

"Our Federal Railroad Administration has taken steps to identify 25 areas that they need to work on," said Foxx, referring to dozens of violations discovered by the feds before last month's derailment in Hoboken that killed one and injured more than 100. "If more aggressive steps are needed to ensure that these things get done, we will take all appropriate steps at appropriate times."

Since the Hoboken crash, NJ Transit has been under intense legislative and media scrutiny. Many have described it as money-starved and failing.

A spokeswoman for NJ Transit had no immediate comment.

The focus of Friday's press conference was the Gateway Program, which will create a new rail tunnel between Penn Station and New Jersey. It will be owned by Amtrak, but NJ Transit will use it most. The New Jersey railroad did not send a representative to the event.

Back

House Democrats ask DOT to fork over NJ Transit safety audits Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 10/14/2016 01:12 PM EDT

Three House Democrats are calling on DOT to "take immediate actions" to ensure safe operation of NJ Transit following the train crash last month in Hoboken and new reports of the system's deterioration.

Reps. Peter DeFazio, Mike Capuano and Albio Sires - all House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members - wrote today to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx requesting "detailed information" on the Federal Railroad Administration's safety audits of NJ Transit.

The lawmakers want extensive specifics on those oversight assessments within the next month, including the dates of each inspection, the number of violations detected, a description of each violation, the fines that may be assessed for each violation, settlement amounts and copies of communications between FRA and NJ Transit since the beginning of the year.

The three House members reference a New York Times report this week on budget cuts imposed on NJ Transit under Chris Christie's governorship and the commuter rail's subsequent decline.

"At this moment, there is an $86 billion backlog to bring our nation's public transit systems to a state of good repair," the lawmakers write. "The horrific tragedy in Hoboken and the deterioration of NJ Transit only underscore the need for increased investment in our transit systems. Safety must be our No. 1 priority, and that is something that we believe the Christie administration ignored."

The legislators note that FRA records show that accidents and incidents on NJ Transit have increased from about 1,500 from 2004 to 2009, to about 2,400 from 2010 to 2015.

Back

Obama administration amends Cuba travel restrictions Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 10/14/2016 10:41 AM EDT

The Obama administration has granted new authority allowing Americans to assist Cubans in improving aviation safety, according to an announcement today amending U.S.-Cuba trade regulations.

The fresh guidance is aimed at enhancing both civil and commercial aviation safety by allowing people subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide aviation safety services to Cuba and Cuban nationals.

The Treasury Department has also waived an existing restriction that prevents foreign freight ships from entering U.S. ports for six months after carrying certain goods to Cuban ports. And it has authorized air cargo to Cuba, to go along with existing authority allowing cargo aboard ships.

The administration has lifted the ban keeping Americans from sending money to foreigners for Cuba-related travel. It has scrapped the $100 limit on Cuban goods travelers can bring into the United States in luggage. And it has done away with limits on stashing Cuban alcohol and tobacco in luggage.

Those goods will still have to be for personal use, though, and normal limits on duty and tax exemption will apply.

Back

Obama administration seeks to make U.S.-Cuba travel policy 'irreversible' Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 10/14/2016 12:13 PM EDT

White House officials contend that Americans are so thrilled about U.S.-Cuba air service that future presidents are unlikely to touch the policy.

In announcing new tweaks today to U.S.-Cuba trade regulations, senior Obama administration officials acknowledged that their actions are meant to concrete their new policies despite the fact that Congress has yet to lift the broader travel ban and future administrations could reverse course with their own executive action.

"We think it is highly unlikely that any future president would try to cancel the direct flights that Americans are taking to and from Cuba," a senior administration official told reporters on a call, saying that Americans are "very excited" about the flights.

"We are doing everything we can to make these changes irreversible by raising the cost for anyone who would seek to turn back the clock," according to the administration.

Even though the administration opened commercial air service to and from Cuba in late August, Congress has not lifted the long-standing trade embargo that bars U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba for tourism. Without that action, travelers must sign an affidavit that they are headed to Cuba for educational, humanitarian or religious reasons.

Senate legislation (S. 299) that would scrap that ban currently has 51 co-sponsors, while the House's version (H.R. 664) has 131.

"We believe that this debate has largely been settled among the public. And it's time for Congress to follow suit and do its part," a senior administration official said. "The most efficient way to open things up is to lift the embargo. But as long as it's in place, we will continue to find ways to promote openings as we can consistent with the law."

Back

DOT bans Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices from U.S. flights Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/14/2016 04:08 PM EDT

DOT today issued an emergency order prohibiting passengers from carrying any Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices onto flights departing from, arriving to or moving within the United States after several fiery incidents involving the product's battery.

Travelers may not carry the phones on the plane in any capacity, be it on their person or in checked and carry-on luggage. The ban also extends to air cargo. The move comes after Samsung issued two recalls in September and October for the original device and its replacement.

"We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "We are taking this additional step because even one fire incident in flight poses a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk."

The ban will essentially be up to airlines to police; the order notes that if a passenger attempts to carry one on a plane, the airline must deny boarding until the passenger "divests themselves" of the device. Those attempting to flout the ban will be subject to fines and possible criminal prosecution.

The emergency order, issued jointly with FAA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is effective tomorrow at noon Eastern.

Back

Christie signs $16B infrastructure plan, raising gas tax 23 cents Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 10/14/2016 06:03 PM EDT

Gov. Chris Christie on Friday signed New Jersey's first gas tax increase in nearly three decades, delivering a $16 billion infrastructure spending plan and ending nearly four months of economic tumult.

The Republican governor, who has never before approved a tax increase, simultaneously lifted an order that has frozen spending on transportation since early July. Thousands of construction workers are unemployed and billions of dollars in major road, rail and bridge projects have fallen months behind schedule.

In a statement, Christie said he had achieved his goal of providing "tax fairness" to the state's residents, combining the new infrastructure spending with a series of large tax cuts that will cost the state about $9 billion in revenue over the next eight fiscal years.

"Through this legislation, we are continuing our commitment to providing tax relief for working New Jerseyans of all income levels, senior citizens, military veterans and property owners, while ensuring solid, reliable, state-of-the-art roads, bridges and mass transit systems," Christie said. "Over the next eight years, a record $32 billion in state and federal funds will be invested in infrastructure improvements and modernizations in New Jersey."

The governor and state lawmakers, who passed the two bills (A10 and A12) a week ago Friday, agreed to increase the state's tax on gasoline 23 cents to 37.5 cents per gallon. The state currently has the second-lowest gas tax in the nation, after oil-rich Alaska. The increase should kick in next month, thought it may be felt at the pump before then.

The hike, combined with new charges on diesel fuel, will raise an additional $1.2 billion in revenue over the current gas tax. It will allow the state to replenish its Transportation Trust Fund, which became insolvent in July after years of mismanagement under numerous governors. The new revenue will be combined with additional borrowing to provide $2 billion in state transportation spending each year for the next eight years.

"This is one of the most significant investments in New Jersey's infrastructure and economy in recent history," state Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation with Republican Sen. Steve Oroho, said in a statement. "We can now put people back to work on stalled transportation projects and launch the renewed Transportation Trust Fund with the sustained investments needed to repair and improve the state's infrastructure and to support economic growth."

But many were angry Friday, with both Republicans and Democrats taking issue with the legislation. Some conservatives have been railing against the idea of any gas tax increase for months, saying it will hurt families and possibly the state's economy.

Sen. Kip Bateman of Somerset County said he was immediately launching a repeal effort and plans to introduce legislation to roll back the tax and find "fiscally responsible alternatives."

And Sen. Jen Beck, who has organized anti-gas-tax rallies in her Monmouth County district, took on the leader of her own party, saying she was "disappointed" that the governor approved the final legislation.

"I have no doubt that his office, just like my office and those of most legislators, was bombarded with calls from the many people of this state who oppose this billion dollar tax increase," she said in a statement. "Defying the will of so many people on such an important affordability issue will not help us to change the perception shared by too many residents that they are being taxed out of New Jersey."

Some Democrats and liberals objected to the tax cuts included in the legislation. Under the new laws, the seven percent state sales tax will be reduced by 3/8 of a point, providing a small amount of relief for consumers - just $37.50 per $10,000 in taxable goods - while costing the state more than $600 million in annual revenue.

The estate tax, which has a threshold of $675,000, will now have its limit increased to $2 million in January. By January 2018, the estate tax will be eliminated entirely. That will also cost the state upwards of $600 million in annual revenue.

The legislation will also increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits low-income workers, from 30 percent of the federal level to 35 percent. The amount of retirement income eligible for tax exclusion will be increased to as high as 100,000. Veterans will also be able to claim a personal income tax exemption.

Liberals had raised concerns the loss of revenue from the tax cuts would force the state to cut important social programs, skip further payments into the state's troubled public employee pension system or even reduce aid to school districts.

Senate Democrats had fought the governor all summer over his insistence that the legislation include a sales tax cut, saying it was far too costly. They had been seeking a tax-cut package that would have cost the state less than $900 million in annual revenue once fully phased in, but said they had no choice to end their stalemate by compromising.

Tom Byrne, the chairman of the State Investment Council and a potential Democratic candidate for governor, said Friday that Christie's successor as governor may need to repeal the sales tax cut. "I think it's patently ridiculous and frankly a ploy to make the next governor look bad early on," he said.

There have been warnings since early last decade about a coming infrastructure funding crisis, but there had never been enough political capital or political willpower in Trenton to touch the gas tax or find another revenue stream. All the while, the state continued to over leverage debt on the TTF program, selling long-term bonds and using the proceeds to pay for short-term resources until the state's coffers finally ran dry this year.

The new law authorizes the trust fund for another eight years.

"This will allow the state to make much needed improvements and repairs, while also paying down debt. At the same time, it will create thousands of jobs and kick start the state's economy. This is the kind of solution New Jersey needed," said Tom Bracken, who leads the state Chamber of Commerce and chaired the Forward New Jersey coalition, which has been pushing for the legislation. "Today represents a historic moment in our state's history."

Back

Foxx, lawmakers tout Gateway Program progress Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/14/2016 11:51 AM EDT

Federal partners working to advance the Gateway Program today announced benchmarks that the project has achieved as boosters aim to win it more money in fiscal 2018.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx joined Amtrak officials and New York and New Jersey lawmakers at Penn Station in Manhattan to mark the Hudson Tunnel Project's inclusion on the federal "permitting dashboard" for infrastructure projects, a move they say will ensure the project's permitting reviews all occur on time by establishing a tool for relevant agencies and project developers to readily track the process.

DOT also unveiled a new credit planning tool for large infrastructure projects like Gateway to utilize, based on major changes made to a popular rail financing program under the FAST Act. The overhaul to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program now requires loan recipients to begin repayment after a project is completed, and a project's creditworthiness is determined based on its cash flow potential instead of credit history.

Gateway partners filed paperwork in early September for the Portal North Bridge portion of the project, which has already been through the environmental review process, for FTA to assess as part of its Core Capacity grant program. A positive evaluation means DOT will recommend the project for the next president's fiscal 2018 budget request, putting it one step closer to obtaining funding through the congressional appropriations process.

Back

Feds say they've done all they can on Gateway, now it's up to the states Back

By Dana Rubinstein | 10/14/2016 04:19 PM EDT

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has a litmus test for the next president's transportation secretary.

Schumer on Friday said he will not approve a nomination unless the would-be official fervently supports building a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan, part of a project known as Gateway.

"I'm going to tell you this, Secretary," Schumer told outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx during a press conference at Penn Station. "You won't be here, but as long as I have a position in the Senate, the next Secretary of Transportation won't get confirmed unless they're as enthusiastic about this project as you."

It was latest exhibit of the federal government's ardent support for building a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River to replace the one now falling apart. That the feds are doing all they can and now it's the states' turn to step up was, in fact, the tacit theme of Friday's press conference.

"From the federal side, we are doing everything we need to do and will continue to do so," said New Jersey's senior senator, Democrat Robert Menendez. "But at the end of the day, we need the two governors."

Nearly a year ago, Foxx, along with governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, as well as the states' U.S. senators, announced a cost-sharing agreement for the Gateway Program. New York and New Jersey would pick up half of the cost, and the federal government and Amtrak would pick up the other half.

The approximately $23 billion project will, among other things, create a new rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and Penn Station to replace the existing tunnel that, as Foxx put it, is "older than the Titanic," and falling apart. It will also replace the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, which is also more than a century old and represents a major bottleneck along the Northeast Corridor.

At next Thursday's Port Authority board meeting, the bi-state agency is expected to vote on a $300 million commitment for the Portal Bridge replacement, according to a knowledgeable source.

But what was left unsaid in last year's announcement - and what is likely to remain unsaid at Thursday's Port meeting - is how New York and New Jersey will split their half of the multi-billion dollar cost.

Neither governor's office responded when asked when they planned to release their Gateway funding plan.

Schumer, a Democrat and New York's senior senator, said he had breakfast with Cuomo on Columbus Day, and Cuomo promised him the Port Authority would provide long-term Gateway funding in its 10-year capital plan, which it is in the process of updating.

Menendez, meanwhile, said he has "seen indications from Governor Christie that suggest that he's fully supportive. But at the end of the day, in order to attract all of these federal dollars, we are going to need the states of New York and New Jersey ... to come through."

The officials were addressing a dozen TV cameras in Penn Staton's inaptly named "rotunda." (Rotundas normally have domes. This one has a flat ceiling and ads for "chronic dry eye" treatments.)

They were there to announce a series of bureaucratic steps they said amounted to a "significant announcement."

"I have said the federal government will do its part to make this a reality," Foxx said. "And today, I'm here to tell you that we have met our commitments to do everything we can to move this project forward."

The U.S. Department of Transportation has added the tunnel project to the presidential dashboard, which officials said amounts to fast-tracking the permitting process. Foxx announce a new way for mega-projects like Gateway to navigate the government's railroad improvement financing program. The Portal Bridge and Hudson River tunnel projects are now in the "project development" phase of the process that allows them to access New Starts capital grants.

Schumer said construction is expect to begin on the new Portal Bridge in July 2018, and that construction on the new tunnel could begin in early 2019.

"We are doing it," said Anthony Coscia, the chairman of Amtrak, which owns Penn Station and the existing cross-Hudson tunnel. "We turned the hourglass over. We are building this project. There is no turning back."

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AOPA asks the Supreme Court to intervene on aircraft product liability ruling Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/14/2016 03:51 PM EDT

Some general aviation interests are pressing the Supreme Court to weigh in on an appellate court decision they say gives states an outsize impact on aircraft product liability, driving up what it costs pilots to fly.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association filed a "friend of the court" brief to the high court today urging the justices to take up the case of Precision Airmotive Corp. A pilot's widow sued Precision Airmotive over what she argued was an engine design defect that caused his plane to crash. As Jill Sikkelee's case wound through the court system, questions arose about whether the FAA's authority to regulate civil aviation preempted state standards for certain aviation safety claims.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April that the safety of aircraft product manufacture and design should be viewed separately from FAA rules governing in-flight operations, including pilot certifications. That clarified a 1999 opinion by the same court finding that federal aviation safety law generally supersedes state laws in that space.

AOPA argues that Congress intended the FAA to uniformly regulate the civil and commercial aviation sectors, while preserving the ability of individuals to sue for damages under state laws. Manufacturers can't change a product's design without the FAA's sign-off, a fact it says preempts any state-law duties.

"National uniformity in aviation design standards is necessary for the safety and affordability of general aviation aircraft. There is no room for state supplementation," the group said in its brief. "Consequently, a lay jury has no authority to impose state-law duties upon a manufacturer."

AOPA also argued that the appeals court decision could have a ripple effect on the GA industry by causing parts manufacturers to either pass liability costs on to customers or exit the market altogether - outcomes that could make private flight more expensive and less safe.

"Aircraft owners and pilots need a single body determining the design standards for an aircraft and, as a corollary, the obligations for ensuring continued operational safety of approved designs," AOPA wrote.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association is also expected to file a brief in the case today.

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Wall Street Journal: N.Y. Senator Urges Caps on Truck Speeds

 

Commercial trucking companies should be required to install speed-capping technology in all vehicles in their fleets, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

 

Mr. Schumer, a Democrat, called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve a proposed rule that would require the installation of devices to set maximum speeds for vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds.

 

Mr. Schumer recommended that truck drivers limit their speed to 65 miles an hour.

 

The rule was proposed in August by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

 

In 2015, 126 people died from truck accidents in New York state, the most since 2009, according to the NHTSA.

 

In 2014 nationally, more than 3,900 people were killed and 111,000 people were injured in crashes involving large trucks nationwide, according to the NHTSA.

 

In 2014, police reported 10,742 large-truck crashes in the New York state, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Of those crashes, 990 involved speeding.

 

“For every New Yorker or commuter who’s been next to or in the cross hairs of a speeding big rig, the technology like this can’t be installed fast enough,” said Mr. Schumer, who spoke about the issue as a news conference in Manhattan. “Requiring electronic speed limiters on trucks would save lives, prevent injuries, make our roadways safer by preventing high speed damages.”

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation didn’t respond to a request for comment.

 

Steve Owings, president and co-founder of Road Safe America, a nonprofit group that advocates for truck safety, said the mandate was long overdue. Most trucks already have the speed governors installed and some companies voluntarily adhere to a maximum speed, he said. But some companies, seeking an edge, don’t.

 

“The only reason is you want to use speed as a competitive advantage. They cannot deliver your shipment as quickly as somebody who can drive at any speed,” said Mr. Owings, who had a son killed by a tractor trailer going over the speed limit.

 

Chris Glanden, an operations worker at the Delaware-based Reed Trucking Co., which serves the Northeast, said it already required its drivers to limit their speeds to 65 mph because of safety concerns and to save money on fuel.

 

Wall Street Journal: Hanjin Reaches Out To Europe Shipping Giants to Sell Ships

 

Debt-ridden Hanjin Shipping Co. will reach out to major European shipping companies as early as this week to tap interest for at least five of its vessels as it tries to raise funds to unload stranded cargo, pay off creditors and re-emerge as an Asia regional carrier, people involved in the matter said.

 

“The sale sign is up,” one of those people said. “They will reach out to Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co. and others to sell some of their biggest ships that can go for up to $90 million each.”

 

The South Korean bankruptcy court handling Hanjin’s insolvency proceedings said Thursday it plans to dispose of the firm’s sales and marketing network for its Asia-U.S. route as well as some ships. Hanjin said it would receive letters of interest from potential bidders by Oct. 28 and binding bids by Nov. 7.

 

A.P. Moller Maersk A/S, the Danish conglomerate that owns Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container operator, said last month it is looking for acquisitions to grow its market share. Geneva-based MSC is the second biggest operator and is also looking for acquisition opportunities.

 

But another person said Korean peer Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. will be first in line to cherry-pick on Hanjin’s ships, which include five 13,000-container ships. Both the Korean government and Hanjin’s main creditor, Korea Development Bank, have said they would back HMM in buying Hanjin assets, provided such a move would help it stay competitive. KDB is also HMM’s main creditor.

 

HMM is looking to secure Hanjin’s slice of moving Korea’s exports to Western markets, but would need more capacity to achieve it and keep bigger competitors like Maersk and MSC from winning major shipping contacts from electronics behemoths like Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Corp.

 

HMM is negotiating to join the 2M Alliance, comprising Maersk and MSC. This puts the two European giants into a dilemma: Buy Hanjin’s ships and grow their capacity, or stay put and allow HMM to make the move and reap the benefits of a partner becoming a major player in trans-Pacific routes. Alliance partners share ships and port calls that save them millions of dollars in operating costs.

 

The Port of Long Beach said Wednesday that container volumes in September fell 16.6% from a year ago, as the effects of the Hanjin bankruptcy reached West Coast ports.

 

Hanjin Shipping accounted for about 12.3% of the port’s total containerized volume.

 

Hanjin filed for bankruptcy protection in August. At the end of the second quarter, Hanjin had total debts of $4.2 billion.

 

Hanjin has until December to submit a rehabilitation plan to the bankruptcy court, which will then decide whether it can continue operating or be liquidated.

 

Hanjin hopes the court will accept the plan which will see it continue operating as in intra-Asia operator. Before the bankruptcy protection filing, Hanjin was the world’s seventh-largest operator in terms of capacity serving major trade routes across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

 

But with much of its fleet now idle and many of its chartered ships returned to owners, it has slipped to 17th place.

 

“The court’s decision will largely depend on whether KDB and other creditors will extend Hanjin a lifeline to operate as a regional carrier,” said Lars Jensen, chief executive SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen. “The choice is liquidate Hanjin and take significant losses or keep it alive as a small operator, hoping its assets will appreciate in the future.”

 

Beyond the five 13,000-container vessels, the remaining of Hanjin’s 37-ship fleet are mostly Panamaxes, which carry fewer than 10,000 containers. Such vessels are becoming obsolete in the wake of the widening of the Panama Canal earlier this year. That expansion allows ships moving 12,000 containers or more to pass through the isthmus.