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Infrastructure in the News 10.19.16

NATIONAL NEWS

 

Associated Press: Gov’t announces new steps to protect airline consumers

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/govt-announces-new-steps-to-protect-airline-consumers/2016/10/18/f7249b30-9577-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html

Airlines would be required to refund fees when checked bags are “substantially delayed” under a proposal released Tuesday by the Transportation Department, one of a series of steps the Obama administration says it’s taking to boost consumer protections for passengers.

 

The Hill: Aging dams could be next US infrastructure emergency

https://origin-nyi.thehill.com/policy/transportation/301615-aging-dams-could-pose-next-infrastructure-emergency-in-us

With thousands of aging dams in the U.S. now considered obsolete, policymakers should consider removing unnecessary and unsafe dams, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP).

 

Washington Post: In era of apps and automation, 17 cities partner to test approaches to tech

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/10/18/in-era-of-apps-and-automation-17-cities-partner-to-test-approaches-to-tech/

Seventeen U.S. cities have partnered with a Washington-based transportation group and Google’s Sidewalk Labs to figure out how best to tap technology to get people around more smoothly – and help tune up local communities in the process.

 

Curbed: A roadmap for America’s transportation future

http://www.curbed.com/2016/10/18/13315340/automated-vehicle-urban-planning-dot-transportation-anthony-foxx

Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx talks high-tech cars and infrastructure as a vehicle for equality

 

Washington Post: Will driverless cars really save millions of lives? Lack of data makes it hard to know.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/will-driverless-cars-really-save-millions-of-lives-lack-of-data-makes-it-hard-to-know/2016/10/18/6a678520-8435-11e6-92c2-14b64f3d453f_story.html

President Obama says automated vehicles could cut the yearly death toll on U.S. roads by tens of thousands. His highway safety chief talks about “a world where we could potentially prevent or mitigate 19 of every 20 crashes on the road.” Uber says self-driving cars “can help save millions of lives” worldwide.

 

Wall Street Journal: Trucking Volumes Declined in September (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/trucking-volumes-declined-in-september-1476825795

Pullback in shipments reflects weakness in the U.S. manufacturing industry.

 

STATE NEWS

 

Washington Post: How will Metro know if SafeTrack is working?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/10/18/how-will-metro-know-if-safetrack-is-working/

With Metro board members questioning SafeTrack’s long-term effects on ridership, the transit agency will soon have to present more information to prove that the round-the-clock, multi-million-dollar repair project is translating into improved reliability for rail passengers.

 

The Enquirer Journal (NC): Transportation facility falls short of state standards

http://www.enquirerjournal.com/news/transportation-facility-falls-short-of-state-standards/article_91bb51f0-956b-11e6-84aa-7bbb8bc3a7c6.html

In 1980, Union County had five high schools, five middle schools and 10 elementary schools, totaling about 12,000 students.

 

WJLA (VA): Va. transportation board members look at SafeTrack; first-ever ride on Metro for some

http://wjla.com/news/local/va-transportation-board-members-look-at-safetrack-first-ever-ride-on-metro-for-some

Some local transportation officials took a ride on Metro to see first hand how SafeTrack is impacting the morning rush.

 

Missoulian (MT): City agency to hold open house on future transportation plan

http://missoulian.com/news/local/city-agency-to-hold-open-house-on-future-transportation-plan/article_3517771a-f902-5563-a33b-194a969c3621.html

The Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold a transportation summit Thursday for public input and review of their proposed Long Range Transportation Plan.

 

Boston Globe: Newton wants to make it easier to zip around town

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/10/18/newton-emphasizes-new-transportation-priorities-with-capital-improvement-plan/MYwaaT1ER0aQtu04haAR4O/story.html

It will become easier to get in and around Newton in coming years if all goes according to a transportation strategy announced Monday by Mayor Setti Warren.

 

The Star (WI): Transportation funding still a statewide concern

http://www.hngnews.com/sun_prairie_star/news/article_b22bae36-953d-11e6-8ff2-3b0b1c0a6a51.html

More than 525 local units of government are calling on state officials to agree upon a sustainable solution to Wisconsin’s transportation challenge.

 

Charlottesville Tomorrow (VA): Competition to be high for state transportation funding

http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/news/article/25300-smart-scale-applications/

Funding requests for several road and streetscape projects recently made by Albemarle and Charlottesville will face stiff competition under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s new Smart Scale prioritization process.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/19/2016 05:42 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner, Jennifer Scholtes and Tanya Snyder

RULES ON RULES: Any flier who has ever dealt with delays and lost luggage just got a shoutout from the Obama administration, which revealed new regulations Tuesday that aim to improve the experience of U.S. airline customers. The package of rules comes six months after the president issued an executive order directing agencies to find ways to boost competition, our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros.

Tell us more: Among the final rules, the administration will now require the biggest airlines to report their on-time performance data on all domestic flights with which they have a code-share agreement. It also made a tweak to existing rules, which will expand the numbers of airlines that have to report flight delay statistics.

Pack your bags: DOT proposes to require airlines to refund checked baggage fees if luggage is "substantially delayed." In the FAA extension, which President Barack Obama signed in July, lawmakers mandated DOT to issue such a rule within a year. The department will also change how it keeps track of mishandled bags starting in 2018.

Could you be a little biased? Regulators are now making online ticket agents disclose favoritism they might show toward some airlines. DOT is seeking feedback on whether it should police airlines that forbid sites "from listing certain sets of the airline's fare and flight options." In addition, the department will start working on a rule to force airlines to share with ticket agents information about extra charges so potential customers can see the combined price online.

IT'S WEDNESDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Reach out: bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo.

"It's a nine-hour drive from me to you. South on I-95. And I'll do it 'til the day that I die. If I need to, just to see you." (h/t the California Association of Councils of Governments' Bill Higgins)

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

PRO MORNING TRANSPORT: Are you following EU transportation policy? Sign up for a complimentary trial to Morning Transport Europe, POLITICO's daily morning digest navigating the complex world of EU transport policy and infrastructure. Register here: https://www.politico.eu/registration/.

TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL: Here are a few reactions to the new airline rules.

- Airlines for America: The main lobby for most of the largest domestic carriers defended the way its members sell tickets to passengers, stating that airlines describe all pricing information and often offer the cheapest fares directly from their websites. "It would be difficult to find an industry that is more transparent than the airline industry; customers always know exactly what they are paying for before they buy," A4A President and CEO Nick Calio said. "Dictating to the airline industry distribution and commercial practices would only benefit those third parties who distribute tickets, not the flying public."

- Delta (which left A4A last year because it disagrees with the group's advocacy for a nonprofit air traffic control body divorced from the FAA): Delta took a thinly veiled swipe at DOT's 2012 rule that required airlines to advertise fares with all mandatory taxes and fees included in the quote, rather than publish seemingly low fares that balloon right before purchase. "We also continue to advocate for full transparency of the price of the ticket, including full disclosure of taxes and government fees in the final price of a ticket," the company said.

- Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.): "While we appreciate Department of Transportation's continued commitment to tackling this issue, this set of actions, in the final months of this Administration, punts real reform and allows airlines to continue hiding the true cost of flying under a shroud of secrecy. We need immediate action to ensure customers get an all-in-on price when shopping and full access to airline flights and schedules so they can comparison shop - not just promises of further review of these well-known problems."

- U.S. Travel Association: The group generally praised the announcement, though it urged DOT "to benefit consumers, increase connectivity and spur competition by protecting Open Skies agreements and approving the entry of new low-cost competitors like Norwegian Air International into the U.S. aviation market."

EU, U.S. COMPETE TO BE THE WORLD'S DRIVERLESS CAR LEADER: So far, the European Union is losing to the United States in the race to driverless cars. While the U.S. DOT has issued guidance on autonomous vehicles - largely earning praise from the auto and tech industries - and plans to soon propose a rule on vehicle-to-vehicle communications, the EU has fewer tangible accomplishments. "Three different European commissioners - one on digital, one on transport and one on the internal market - are each leading separate conversations to discuss elements ranging from telecoms to car-to-car communications," POLITICO Europe's Joanna Plucinska and our Tanya Snyder report for Pros. "They're all still in the consultation phase - trying to figure out what the big players, like car companies and consumer bodies, actually want to do."

RULE FOR RAIL WORKER DRUG TESTS LIKELY TO STAY ON SCHEDULE: The FRA probably won't delay a new rule - effective June 12, 2017 - that requires track maintenance workers to undergo random drug and alcohol tests, which was already put out six years late. Some organizations representing transit, maintenance and shortline railroads had petitioned the agency to give railroads and contractors another year to start complying with the rule, as our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros. Those same groups and the Association of American Railroads want the FRA to drop a part of the rule requiring railroads to share responsibility for the compliance of contractors that test workers for drugs. "The contractors are going to be lumped in the same boat," Jerry Powers, FRA's drug and alcohol program manager, said Tuesday at a Northeast Corridor Safety Committee meeting.

** 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. **

WIKILEAKS I: FOXX, BOOKER, BARRA WERE POSSIBLE CLINTON VP PICKS: Back in March, Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta included Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and General Motors CEO Mary Barra in a "first cut of people to consider for VP." As your MT host reports for Pros, Podesta said he and other top campaign staffers came up with about 40 names, and he had separated them into "rough food groups," according to a hacked email supposedly from Podesta that WikiLeaks released. Foxx and Booker, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, were in a group that also included Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Barra was in a group of business leaders, which included Apple CEO Tim Cook.

WIKILEAKS II: BLUMENAUER PROMOTED HIS GAS TAX BILL: Clinton didn't brush off Rep. Earl Blumenauer's gas tax bill when the Oregon Democrat mentioned it during a meeting between the two last year. In an August 2015 email also released by WikiLeaks, Clinton supposedly said that Blumenauer told her he wanted to endorse her and help her raise money. Later in her message, Clinton added: "Also he has a bill to raise the gas tax which has a lot of support," and she neither praised nor panned the idea. President Barack Obama ruled out backing legislation to hike the gas tax in his first term, as our Jennifer Scholtes reports for Pros.

RYAN HITS OBAMA'S CUBA POLICIES: Paul Ryan is laying into the Obama administration for amending trade and travel regulations related to Cuba. The House speaker said Tuesday the president "will only help finance the Castros' grip on power." As our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros, Ryan made clear that he opposes loosening restrictions any further. "As the past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people, I fully intend to maintain our embargo on Cuba," he said.

SHUSTER: WE'VE DONE A LOT: Amid a tougher-than-expected race for reelection, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is out with a report reviewing the accomplishments of his committee. The House Transportation chairman points out that 45 public laws and concurrent resolutions have passed through his panel, as your MT host reports for Pros. That includes the FAST Act, an STB reauthorization and an FAA extension. The next item on Shuster's to-do list is helping to send WRDA to the president's desk. At home, Shuster is up against Art Halvorson, a tea party challenger turned Democratic nominee.

LATE FOR A VERY IMPORTANT DATE: The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has missed three quarters of its mandated deadlines since 2005, according to a recently released DOT inspector general report . In that same time frame, PHMSA has implemented 173 of 263 mandates and recommendations. The report found that PHMSA's "lack of sufficient processes, project management, and oversight has impeded the agency's ability to meet deadlines." The IG also said PHMSA hasn't coordinated well with FAA, FMCSA and FRA on rulemakings. The report gave five recommendations, including making written agreements with those three agencies on how to coordinate. In response, PHMSA "proposed a standardized process for collaborating across DOT instead of developing and implementing written agreements."

DeFazio's not satisfied: House Transportation ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) had requested the IG report last year. DeFazio sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx after the report's release criticizing PHMSA's response to the IG's recommendation. "PHMSA has proposed instituting a 'policy' rather that a more permanent memorandum of agreement with the operating administrations, which would be implemented until December 2017," DeFazio wrote. "I find both PHMSA's approach and timeline unacceptable."

OUR BAD: In Tuesday's MT, we misreported the numbers in a recent poll on Rep. John Mica's race against challenger Stephanie Murphy. Murphy is actually 2 points ahead of Mica.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

- "WikiLeaks exposes that 'Metro is a mess.'" The Washington Post.

- "Bridgegate defendant testifies Christie directed profane rebuke, freeze-out." POLITICO New Jersey.

- "NTSB blames pilot error for Ohio jet crash that killed 9." The Associated Press.

- "Samsung is setting up booths at airports to exchange Note 7s." The Washington Post.

- "VW compensation for some U.S. owners nears approval." The Wall Street Journal.

- "Will driverless cars really save millions of lives? Lack of data makes it hard to know." The Washington Post.

- "May puts Heathrow vote on hold to avoid Tory resignations: PM tells cabinet they can continue voicing public opposition to favoured airport expansion until vote next winter." The Guardian.

- "Exclusive: Head of Google drone initiative leaving Alphabet." MarketWatch.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 51 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 345 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 19 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,445 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

10 a.m. - The Federal Maritime Commission holds a meeting. The open session includes a briefing on the International Maritime Organization and European Maritime Law Organisation. The closed session includes a briefing on Hanjin Shipping. 800 North Capitol St. NW. First floor hearing room. A livestream for the open session is here.

1:30 p.m. - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson speaks at a Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council meeting. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1 Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

4 p.m. - The 2016 Governor's Transportation Conference holds a discussion called "WMATA: Moving Forward." The conference continues until Friday. Hyatt Regency Crystal 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/new-airline-regulations-aim-to-help-passengers-019704

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Obama administration rolls out new airline rules to aid travelers Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/18/2016 07:33 PM EDT

The White House and DOT unveiled a suite of new regulations Tuesday intended to help travelers by requiring that airlines provide them with detailed information about their travel options and proposing to mandate refunds for lost luggage.

The effort, which stems from an April 2016 executive order that directed agencies to identify ways to promote competition, includes final rules requiring major U.S. airlines to report on-time performance data on all domestic flights that code-share with them and forcing online ticket agents to disclose any bias they might have for one airline over another when they list available fares.

Regulators also altered the rules by which carriers must report flight delay statistics, expanding the number of airlines included from 12 to 19, a DOT official told reporters in advance of the announcement. The new rule will capture the data from airlines that take in 99.5 percent of all domestic scheduled passenger revenue.

DOT is also starting the rulemaking process to eventually require airlines to refund checked baggage fees to passengers whose luggage is "substantially delayed." In the FAA reauthorization signed into law in July, Congress required DOT to issue a final rule within a year mandating reimbursement by airlines of any checked luggage fees within certain timeframes for domestic and international flights.

"If you pay the baggage fee and your bags are not returned to you in a timely manner, you've essentially paid for a service you're not getting," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters.

DOT is also changing its methodology for crunching the numbers on how many bags are mishandled. Instead of collecting information based on the number of passengers traveling and the number of mishandled bags they report, the department will examine the total numbers of mishandled bags compared to checked bags that airlines will disclose beginning in 2018.

As part of the final rules, the biggest airlines will also have to disclose how often they lose or damage wheelchairs.

The department will begin a new rulemaking to examine whether airlines should share fee information with ticket agents on items like priority boarding and seat assignments that generate extra charges so that customers can see a combined price online while shopping.

And DOT also is soliciting feedback on whether it should get involved in policing airlines that prohibit online travel sites "from listing certain sets of the airline's fare and flight options."

"DOT will be looking into whether that kind of restriction is an unfair practice that makes it harder for travelers to find the most affordable and convenient flights that match their needs," the White House said.

Back

U.S. and EU battle for first place in self-driving car sprint Back

By Joanna Plucinska and Tanya Snyder | 10/18/2016 01:53 PM EDT

The EU wants to beat the U.S. to self-driving cars.

But it's losing the race.

U.S. policymakers released guidelines for the next generation of automated driving, addressing everything from consumer protection to safety last month - to the applause of carmakers and advocates. To head off a patchwork of disparate regulations across the country, the document also offers a model state policy dealing with vehicle licensing and registration, insurance issues and more. Transportation officials are taking other steps toward regulation that will address vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology.

"All of these are really important conversations and this one is starting here in the U.S.," Ford spokeswoman Christin Baker said.

The EU is talking the same talk but has far less to show for it: Three different European commissioners - one on digital, one on transport and one on the internal market - are each leading separate conversations to discuss elements ranging from telecoms to car-to-car communications. They're all still in the consultation phase - trying to figure out what the big players, like car companies and consumer bodies, actually want to do.

The EU's Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc might offer a master plan by year's end, but it likely won't produce tangible results until 2019. Internal Market Commissioner El??bieta Bieńkowska aims to have some sort of roadmap sketched out by as late as 2018.

Navigating the EU is more complex than the U.S. because European roads are bound by the United Nations' 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic limiting self-driving cars to no more than 10 kilometers an hour. While a review process to update them was recently completed, the EU still needs to adapt new rules to national laws.

Yet the need for self-driving safety rules is growing more urgent as innovation overtakes regulators: During an Uber pilot trial in Pittsburgh, a self-driving car went down a one-way street in the wrong direction. It prompted the question of who would be responsible if that scenario happened in the future.

"There are so many actors involved in the discussion," Czech Liberal MEP Dita Charanzová said. "What's missing is getting everyone on board. ... We are lagging behind."

'Let innovation flourish'

The guidelines the U.S. released in September were developed over years and provide a vision for regulating the up-and-coming sector and remaining flexible as the technology evolves. U.S. transport officials have received widespread praise for their flexibility and for both offering direction to and taking direction from the industry.

"We don't want to say, 'You have to use radar to deal with X,'" one U.S. Department of Transportation official said when the guidance was announced. "Right now is the inappropriate time to do that. Right now is the appropriate time to let innovation flourish to make sure that we get best, safest outcome."

The guidance targets states, including Michigan and California, that have begun drafting rules for the burgeoning technology. The centerpiece is a 15-point safety assessment that outlines everything from consumer privacy rules to dealing with any lapses in self-driving technology's effectiveness.

Companion guidelines on vehicle-to-vehicle communications are set to be released in the near future. With technology farther along than autonomous vehicles, that guidance will carry more regulatory heft as well.

"The United States has become effectively a first mover from the national guidance," said David Strickland, a U.S. lobbyist for the self-driving car industry. "It's always easier for every manufacturer and innovator to have a global regulatory environment that is consistent."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said formal regulations will be needed soon.

"We're doing everything we can within our authorities. But there will come a point where our ability to do it in the executive branch is going to end and the role of Congress is going to have to" begin, he said.

Toyota has already called the new guidelines too vague - especially because at least one U.S. state, California, is thinking about making portions of the new guidance mandatory.

"I can't stress [enough] how bad this is," said Hilary Cain, director of technology and innovation policy for Toyota. "So if we don't do what's being asked of us - voluntarily - by [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration], we cannot test an automated system in the state of California. That is preposterous."

'Acting in their own microcosm'

In the EU, the car industry and consumers are concerned the conversation isn't moving forward quickly enough. There aren't even guidelines like the U.S. now has.

"It looks very fragmented," said German Socialists & Democrats MEP Ismail Ertug, who is organizing a series of events on self-driving and connected cars in the European Parliament to encourage conversation and break the legislative gridlock. "Everyone is acting in their own microcosm."

The Commission has supported the development and innovation that self-driving cars can bring but done little to draft new rules or change existing ones to foster the technology.

Negotiations are ongoing to turn the updated Vienna Convention into EU law, possibly by the middle of next year. Other types of transportation or car regulation have largely been left untouched.

"Efforts to remove these obstacles are slow and not sufficient to open up for truly autonomous vehicles on European roads by early next decade," said Anders Eugensson, the director general of government affairs at Volvo Cars. "This means Europe risks lagging behind the U.S."

Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger has urged Europe to push ahead more quickly, but with little success.

"Just think about the developments in the United States and the announcement of President [Barack] Obama to make available significant funding for connected vehicles. We have to take the step to the next stage," he told the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year. "Europe needs to be the first to deploy connected and automated driving."

Critics say that although Oettinger has touted the cause at multiple events, he has done little more than to coordinate a new group of car and telecoms companies who will work towards developing them.

Bieńkowska has been even less ambitious. In an interview with POLITICO, she acknowledged she might have to leave the bulk of self-driving legislation to her successor, who would take her portfolio in 2019.

Participants in her department's Gear 2030 roundtable, which is responsible for discussing the future of cars in the EU, have little to show for their conversations. A source involved in the discussions said they were slow-moving at best. Topics such as liability and safety were on the table but no stable conclusions have come out of the talks.

The initiative closest to being enacted comes from the EU's directorate general in charge of transport. The C-ITS discussion group will issue a master plan on vehicle-to-vehicle communication by the end of the year. They hope to begin supporting self-driving car technology ... by 2019.

Impatient countries forge own paths

That means the EU landscape will be marked by countries that charge ahead on their own.

Sweden, for example, has loudly supported its self-driving car industry and associated trials. Volvo will unleash 100 automated cars in the city of Gothenburg early next year for testing and pioneering technology. The Netherlands has tried to clarify highway and road rules to encourage testing and the development of self-driving tech.

With some EU countries leading and others lagging, self-driving car development is likely to to be very uneven. Many are resigned to the industry becoming yet another EU loss in the global tech competition.

"I'm afraid Asia and the U.S. are completely first on this," MEP Charanzová said.

This first appeared on POLITICO.EU on Oct. 18, 2016.

Back

FRA seems unlikely to delay rule on drug tests for rail workers Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/18/2016 04:29 PM EDT

The FRA doesn't appear likely to grant a petition by some railroad industry groups to delay the effective date of a new rule requiring random drug and alcohol testing for track maintenance workers.

Groups representing transit agencies, maintenance companies and shortline railroads asked FRA to provide an additional year - until June 12, 2018 - for railroads and contractors to comply with the new regime, which the agency finalized in May.

Those groups, along with the Association of American Railroads, also urged regulators to ditch a requirement in the rule for railroads to share responsibility for the compliance of contractors who test rail workers - a mandate they say runs counter to rules allowing carriers and third-party service providers to determine the compliance burden through contracts.

AAR didn't join the other organizations in asking for a deadline extension.

"The contractors are going to be lumped in the same boat," Jerry Powers, FRA's drug and alcohol program manager, said today at the Northeast Corridor Safety Committee meeting.

Powers noted the agency was already six years late putting out the rule, which was required under a 2008 law. Statistics publicized by the agency last month show the violation rate for its random drug tests exploded more than 43 percent in 2015 from stable levels over the previous five years. Meanwhile, the post-accident positive result rate has jumped to a record high 7.7 percent so far in 2016.

"I don't think [FRA Administrator Sarah] Feinberg was too thrilled by that," he said of the extension request.

The petition is still under review, FRA Chief Safety Officer Bob Lauby told POLITICO.

Back

WikiLeaks email: Podesta floated Foxx, Booker, Barra as possible Clinton running mates Back

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/18/2016 12:02 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman included Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Sen. Cory Booker and General Motors CEO Mary Barra on a list of possible vice presidential candidates, according to an allegedly hacked email released by WikiLeaks today.

A March email sent by Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta to Clinton says that he and other top campaign staffers "did a first cut of people to consider for VP." The email included about 40 names that Podesta said he had divided into "rough food groups." The Clinton campaign has neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the emails that WikiLeaks has released.

Booker, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Foxx were in a group that also included Columbia, S.C. Mayor Steve Benjamin, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Barra was listed in a group of business leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Michael Bloomberg.

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WikiLeaks email: Blumenauer touted gas tax bill to Clinton Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 10/18/2016 03:17 PM EDT

Rep. Earl Blumenauer stumped for his gas tax bill during a meeting last year with Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic presidential hopeful didn't shoot down the idea.

According to an alleged email to campaign chairman John Podesta in August 2015 released by WikiLeaks, Clinton said the Oregon Democrat had bent her ear about support for his legislation (H.R. 680) - an initiative she neither cheered nor criticized.

In her recap of the meeting with Blumenauer, Clinton told her staff the congressman wanted to support her with an endorsement, fundraising and by helping her broach the topics of marijuana legalization and animal welfare to "turn out young people."

"Also he has a bill to raise the gas tax which has a lot of support," she added in her message.

In endorsing Clinton in December, Blumenauer commended her for prioritizing investment in public transit, as well as biking and pedestrian infrastructure.

President Barack Obama decided during his first term that his administration would not support legislation to raise the gas tax.

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Ryan slams Obama's 'unilateral' changes to Cuba policy Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/18/2016 11:25 AM EDT

House Speaker Paul Ryan today accused President Barack Obama of helping "finance the Castros' grip on power" by weakening the trade embargo and travel ban on Cuba.

"The Castros continue to jail pro-democracy activists at a rate of hundreds per month, yet it is full steam ahead for the Obama administration's efforts to appease this oppressive regime," Ryan said in a statement this morning. "As the past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people, I fully intend to maintain our embargo on Cuba."

So far, congressional attempts to finish Obama's work to definitively end the travel ban have failed. Ryan's comments make clear that he firmly opposes further efforts to promote trade and travel with Cuba.

On Monday, the Obama administration waived several key components of the embargo and opened the door for Americans to assist Cubans in improving aviation safety.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has called on Congress to "finally drop the embargo" and allow Americans to travel to the island. Donald Trump has pledged to "reverse" Obama's initiatives to normalize relations with Cuba.

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Shuster touts House T&I record amid tough reelection fight Back

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/18/2016 03:01 PM EDT

Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who is in a closer-than-expected re-election battle, released a report today touting the accomplishments of the House Transportation Committee.

In the report, Shuster points out that 45 public laws and concurrent resolutions have passed through his committee during the 114th Congress, including the FAST Act, PIPES Act, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, the STB Reauthorization Act of 2015 and the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016.

"The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has demonstrated the ability to work together to produce legislation that is fundamental to a safe, efficient infrastructure network that promotes America's competitiveness," Shuster said in a release.

Shuster said the next item on the committee's to-do list is wrapping up the Water Resources Development Act. The House's version of that water infrastructure bill must be conferenced with the Senate's bill.

Shuster is facing Art Halvorson, whom he defeated in the Republican primary. But the Tea Party challenger then won the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate in the Republican-dominated district, putting him on the ballot for Nov. 8.

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Wall Street Journal: Trucking Volumes Declined in September

Truckers confronted a gloomy freight market in September, several reports released Tuesday showed, as both the volume and price of shipments declined.

 

Analysts took the data as a sign that despite growth in the consumer economy, continued weakness in manufacturing and other sectors is weighing on the transportation industry.

 

Overall shipments fell by 3.1% in September compared with the same month last year, while freight expenditures fell 3.8%, according to research firm Cass Information Systems Inc.’s monthly freight index. The decline in freight volume marked the 19th straight month of falling shipments.

 

“There have been a few areas of growth, mostly related to e-commerce, with lower levels of expansion being experienced in transit modes serving the auto and housing/construction industries,” wrote Avondale Partners analyst Donald Broughton in a report accompanying the index results. “Bottom line, the industrial recession in the U.S. that began in March of 2015 continues to weigh on overall volumes.”

 

Also on Tuesday, the American Trucking Associations, the largest trade group for big-rig truckers, reported that truck tonnage fell 5.8% in September from the previous month, and fell 0.7% compared with the previous year. It was the first year-over-year decline in trucking tonnage since October 2015, the group said.

 

September’s declines come on the heels of a strong August: the ATA reported last month that tonnage rose 5.2% in August compared with August of 2015.

 

“Freight is soft and will continue to be until inventories improve and manufacturing sees better days,” said Bob Costello, chief economist at ATA.

 

The data reflect weakness in the U.S. manufacturing industry as well as slow imports this year. In September, the Institute for Supply Management reported that its index of manufacturing activity fell to 49.4 in August, down from 52.6 in July. Any reading below 50 indicates that factory activity is contracting.

 

The index’s reading rose back above 50 in September, to 51.5, a shift that economist hope sticks, but it is too early to expect to see signs of a pickup in factory activity trickle down to the freight industry.

 

In July, consultancy Drewry Maritime reported that prices for ocean container shipping had bottomed out amid tepid demand, while import volumes at most U.S. ports remained flat year-over-year over the summer, ahead into the usual late-summer, early-fall peak season.