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Infrastructure in the News 10.21.16

NATIONAL NEWS

 

The Hill: Lyft boosts lobbying amid race for driverless cars

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/302099-lyft-ramps-up-lobbying-amid-driverless-car-race

Lyft’s federal lobbying skyrocketed in the third quarter of 2016, according to a disclosure form filed by the company.

 

PRNewswire: National League of Cities: City Leaders Say Infrastructure Investment and Strengthening the Economy Are Top Two Issues Clinton or Trump Should Address in First 100 Days

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/city-leaders-say-infrastructure-investment-and-strengthening-the-economy-are-top-two-issues-clinton-or-trump-should-address-in-first-100-days-300348949.html

A quick poll of America's mayors and councilmembers found that infrastructure investment and strengthening the economy are the most pressing issues that Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump should address in their first 100 days if elected to office.

 

Washington Post: Tesla’s deep dive into driverless: ‘This is the most exciting time to be in transportation since the Model T’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/10/20/teslas-deep-dive-into-driverless-this-is-the-most-exciting-time-to-be-in-transportation-since-the-model-t/

Tesla said Wednesday that its new cars now have all the cameras, sensors, radar technology and computing power they need to truly drive themselves. That raises the prospect that hundreds of thousands of robotic cars could be on the streets far sooner than many thought possible (at least once production ramps up, software improvements are complete and the system is switched on.)

 

Associated Press: Growing calls for railroad probe in wake of station crash

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/lawmakers-to-consider-subpoena-power-in-crash-probe/2016/10/20/721b47aa-967f-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html

New Jersey’s commuter railroad is facing growing calls for more scrutiny at federal and state levels amid questions about its safety after one of its trains crashed into a station last month, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100.

 

Washington Post: The next president should make driverless cars a White House priority, group says

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/the-next-president-should-make-driverless-cars-a-white-house-priority-group-says/2016/10/20/6c548212-9636-11e6-bc79-af1cd3d2984b_story.html

The next president should move supervision of driverless vehicles under the umbrella of the White House to better keep up with the rapid pace at which the technology is emerging, according to a report released Thursday.

 

Washington Post: Will we be able to manage outsize metropolitan growth?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/shaping-the-city-will-we-be-able-to-manage-outsize-metropolitan-growth/2016/10/20/fcbab5f8-7f3c-11e6-8d0c-fb6c00c90481_story.html

Demographers tell us that a majority of the world’s population inhabits cities and that urban populations will continue rising during this century at an increasing rate.

 

Reuters: Put People, Not Cars, First in Transport Systems : U.N

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/10/20/world/africa/20reuters-transportation-emissions-health.html?_r=0

Governments should invest at least 20 percent of their transport budgets in infrastructure that promotes walking and cycling, to save lives, curb pollution and cut climate-changing emissions from vehicles, the United Nations' environment agency said.

 

STATE NEWS

 

The Courier (Iowa): Floods caused $22 million in infrastructure damage

http://wcfcourier.com/news/local/floods-caused-million-in-infrastructure-damage/article_96efdf8b-ae34-5a63-9d4f-bc476d650010.html

Communities in 19 Iowa counties sustained more than $22 million in public damages in flooding last month.

 

Pekin Daily Times (Illinois): Tammy Duckworth promotes infrastructure spending in East Peoria visit

http://www.pekintimes.com/news/20161020/tammy-duckworth-promotes-infrastructure-spending-in-east-peoria-visit

Lawmakers need to pass a measure that would increase federal spending on infrastructure work, U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth said during a brief visit to central Illinois on Thursday morning.

 

FlaglerLive.com: Gov. Scott Orders State Transportation Department to Expedite A1A Reopening in Flagler Beach

http://flaglerlive.com/101106/scott-a1a/

Today–10 days after visiting Flagler Beach and seeing the devastation of Hurricane Matthew there firesthand–Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Florida Department of Transportation to expedite the restoration of two-way traffic on A1A in the city, and have it opened again by early December–much faster than earlier estimates–according to a release posted on the governor’s website.

 

Superior Telegram (Wisconsin): Debt exacerbates Wisconsin's transportation challenges

http://www.superiortelegram.com/news/4141374-debt-exacerbates-wisconsins-transportation-challenges

Wisconsin's ongoing transportation finance debate has mostly centered on whether to raise gas taxes and fees or delay projects, but new analyses from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance points to several issues that have been largely overlooked.

 

Journal Star (Illinois): State constitutional amendment focuses on transportation 'lockbox'

http://www.pjstar.com/special/20161020/state-constitutional-amendment-focuses-on-transportation-lockbox

A transportation amendment to the Illinois Constitution sailed through the Legislature by votes of 98-4 in the House and 55-0 in the Senate on its way to the Nov. 8 ballot. Brandon Phelps said that was closer than he expected.

 

Washington Post: Metro late-night service hearing features scathing criticism, pleas and protests from riders, advocates

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/metro-late-night-hearing-kicks-off-with-scathing-criticism-pleas-from-riders-advocates/2016/10/20/5bd7bdf6-9644-11e6-9b7c-57290af48a49_story.html

As riders and elected officials demanded Thursday that Metro reconsider a proposal to end late-night service, which would give workers more time for track maintenance, General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld indicated that he might be willing to consider a compromise.

 

Associated Press: New Jersey Transit’s longest delay: Modern safety technology

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/new-jersey-transits-longest-delay-modern-safety-technology/2016/10/21/19a4b0aa-9744-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html

Six years after New Jersey Transit won federal approval to install modern safety technology on its commuter rail lines, the project has languished and trains still operate with speed controls developed in the 1950s.

 

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/21/2016 05:41 AM EDT

With help from Jennifer Scholtes, Tanya Snyder and Lauren Gardner

WIKILEAKS: 'DIVERSITY' PICKS FOR OBAMA TRANSPO SECRETARY: Victor Mendez. Ron Sims. Ron Kirk. Those were some of the names political advisers floated for Transportation secretary a month before Barack Obama was first elected president. Mike Froman, then at Citigroup, sent Obama a list of almost a dozen possible "diversity" candidates for senior roles at DOT, according to a correspondence included in the WikiLeaks dump of supposedly hacked emails.

Where they were in 2008: At the time, Mendez had served as director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. Obama eventually picked Mendez to run FHWA and he later became DOT deputy secretary, a position he still holds. Sims, then a county executive in Washington, was later tapped as HUD deputy secretary. Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas turned lobbyist, was selected as U.S. trade representative.

Here we are: In the end, Obama chose Ray LaHood as Transportation secretary, a pick that wasn't included in any of the "diversity" lists. Anthony Foxx, the current secretary, was running for mayor of Charlotte at the time. Our Jennifer Scholtes has a full breakdown of the October 2008 lists here.

HAPPY FRIDAY: 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.

"I remember traffic jams / Motor boys and girls with tans." (h/t AAAE's Adam Snider)

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

NEW HAMPSHIRE RACE HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR FAA BILL: If Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) loses her reelection bid to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, where will that leave the Senate Commerce subcommittee for aviation, which Ayotte chairs and will be in charge of drafting an FAA reauthorization next year? If the Senate flips, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) would take over and likely start from scratch, as our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros. And with Democrats in control, House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster's crusade to separate air traffic control from the FAA will likely go nowhere. If Ayotte loses but Republicans maintain a majority, it's unclear who would take her gavel. But a change at the top might not be overly disruptive, as Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) took an active role last time and probably would again

Ayotte's contributions: In an email statement to Tanya, Thune credited Ayotte with "adding airport security reforms into an aviation bill that had originally focused more on airspace safety and provisions helping consumers." Thune said "the decision to add security provisions, which were the most comprehensive updates to aviation security in a decade, ended up being what propelled our aviation reforms into law."

RUMBLE IN THE (RURAL PENNSYLVANIA) JUNGLE: The curious case of Bill Shuster vs. Art Halvorson has taken a sharp turn toward the courtroom, with less than three weeks to go until Election Day. State police issued a harassment citation Tuesday to Halvorson — the Republican running as a Democrat against the House Transportation chairman — two months after Shuster campaign staffer Meghan Boocks accused him of grabbing her by the wrist during a conversation at a county fair. Halvorson has denied the allegations, and by Thursday afternoon his campaign notified reporters they were unleashing "a full legal counter-offensive."

'This is a desperate attempt': The Coast Guard vet is calling for District Judge Richard Kasunic II to be replaced after he scheduled an initial hearing on Boocks' complaint for December, weeks after voters cast their ballots. He's also filing a defamation lawsuit against Boocks and petitioning the county district attorney to prosecute her for filing a false report with police. "We suspect that [Shuster] knows he's in trouble electorally, and this is a desperate attempt by the incumbent to hang onto power," Halvorson spokesman Joe Sterns told POLITICO.

Shuster's camp responds: "Only after investigating this incident did the Pennsylvania State Police charge Art Halvorson with harassment for aggressively and inappropriately grabbing the victim by the wrist in an attempt to intimidate her," campaign spokesman Casey Contres said in a statement. "Not only is he attempting to continue to harass and intimidate Miss Boocks with his continued remarks in the media and threats of a lawsuit, he is now calling into question the credibility of Magistrate Kasunic" and the state police.

BOOKER, MENENDEZ CALL ON DOT TO LOOK AT NJ TRANSIT: New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez are urging DOT to examine NJ Transit following last month's fatal accident at its Hoboken terminal. In a letter sent Thursday to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the senators ask for information from a safety audit of NJ Transit that FRA started in June, which Democrats in the House have also requested.

Did lack of funding, PTC play a role? Following media reports about mismanagement at NJ Transit and the system's relatively high accident rate, Booker and Menendez want to know "whether a lack of funding impaired the ability of the agency to address safety needs," according to their letter to Foxx. In addition, they said they "need to better understand the progress the agency has made to implement PTC and whether additional steps need to be taken to meet the requirement, and whether the exemption for PTC implementation at the Hoboken Terminal should be re-evaluated in light of" the recent accident.

Meanwhile: Booker and Menendez sent a separate letter Thursday to NTSB, asking the agency to look at whether "organizational issues exacerbated by budget cuts and dedicated funding may have played a role" in NJ Transit's safety problems and whether PTC could have made a difference.

** 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. **

HOUSE DEMS TO GSA: STOP SELLING CARS WITH RECALLS: Four House Democrats say the General Services Administration shouldn't auction off its vehicles that have open recalls. In a letter to GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth, the lawmakers acknowledge that selling used cars with open recalls is legal, but they say the government "should hold itself to a higher standard." As our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros, they also say GSA should do more to make sure the agencies that lease vehicles know about recalls. "No federal agency should use or sell cars that are unsafe," Reps. Frank Pallone, Jan Schakowsky, G.K. Butterfield and Lois Capps wrote. "The GSA should lead by example by fixing all actionable recalls."

NHTSA VERIFIES 11TH TAKATA-RELATED FATALITY: Investigators have determined that the rupturing of a Takata airbag inflator under recall is connected to a woman's death last month. It's the 11th fatality that NHTSA has confirmed to be linked to Takata inflators. The 50-year-old woman died from injuries she suffered in a Sept. 30 crash in California. She was driving a 2001 Honda Civic, which was subject to recall starting in 2008. Investigators found that the woman's vehicle never underwent repairs available as part of the recall.

DIESELGATE IN THE EU: Our POLITICO colleagues in Europe have closely followed the repercussions of Volkswagen's emissions cheating scandal across the EU. On Thursday, Germany's transport minister said he wants to crack down on automakers exploiting a legal exemption that allows them to use so-called defeat devices, which can turn off an engine's emission controls, Anca Gurzu reports.

'Too much leeway': Alexander Dobrindt told the European Parliament's Dieselgate Committee that use of an exemption clause in EU law, which allows carmakers to utilize defeat devices in some cases, "must be seriously reduced." "That article allows too much leeway for interpretation," he said. "We want to move to stop those who benefit from the most number of exemptions." If an automaker takes advantage of the exemption, it should disclose information about the software it uses to manipulate its vehicle's exhaust system, Dobrindt added.

WIKILEAKS: FOXX ENDORSEMENT TALK ON PERSONAL EMAIL ONLY: Days before Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx endorsed Hillary Clinton in January, John Podesta's chief of staff told a Clinton campaign aide to send emails to the secretary's personal address, not his official government account, when discussing the endorsement, according to a supposedly hacked email released by WikiLeaks.

Why? "The aides don't appear to discuss why the communication should be directed to Foxx's personal email account, but the Hatch Act generally requires federal employees to separate their official duties from political activities and not to expend government resources on partisan political campaigns," POLITICO's Josh Gerstein reports. "Sending the message to the Cabinet official's personal account would also reduce the chance of it becoming available under the Freedom of Information Act."

SHIFTING GEARS:

Monique Waters, press secretary for Sen. Cory Booker, is leaving Capitol Hill to join EverFi, a startup for digital learning. She'll serve as EverFi's senior director of corporate communications. Waters was previously communications director for Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.)

Margo Oge, former director of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, has joined Volkswagen's Sustainability Council. The automaker says the independent group will advise VW's board of management "sustainable mobility, environmental protection, and social responsibility," among other matters.

Mark Kimberling is the next president and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, replacing Greg Principato. Kimberling has served as NASAO's director of government relations and was previously the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's national director of state government affairs.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

— "New Jersey Transit's longest delay: Modern safety technology." The Associated Press.

— "Committee granted subpoena power in legislative probe of NJ Transit." POLITICO New Jersey.

— "Tesla sets price for self-driving feature, lays groundwork for ride-hailing service." The Wall Street Journal.

— "Metro late-night service hearing features scathing criticism, pleas and protests from riders, advocates." The Washington Post.

— "Lyft boosts lobbying amid race for driverless cars." The Hill.

— "Airline on-time rates are about to get worse." Bloomberg.

— "Gateway funding starts coming together, in piecemeal fashion." POLITICO New Jersey.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 49 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 343 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 17 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,443 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

9 a.m. — The Port Performance Freight Statistics Working Group holds a meeting. DOT headquarters, Conference Center, Oklahoma City Room, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.

12 p.m. — Volpe hosts Daniel Doctoroff, chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, for a talk called "Reimagining Transportation from the Internet Up." Registration for the webinar is here. 55 Broadway, Kendall Square, Cambridge, Mass.

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/wikileaks-diversity-picks-for-obamas-transportation-secretary-019747

Stories from POLITICO Pro

WikiLeaks email reveals candidates for Obama DOT in 2008 Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 10/20/2016 08:09 PM EDT

A month before the 2008 presidential election, then-Sen. Barack Obama's political advisers recommended nearly a dozen potential "minority" picks for top DOT positions during his first term.

Obama ultimately tapped Ray LaHood as transportation secretary — a choice that didn't fall into any of the "diversity" categories — though his transition team crafted a list of female, Latino, Asian, Native American and black candidates, according to an email Mike Froman allegedly sent to Obama. The email is part of a trove of hacked correspondences released by WikiLeaks.

Victor Mendez was among those who made the list for DOT, having served as director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. Mendez would eventually have to wait on a department-wide leadership position after Obama first picked him to run the Federal Highway Administration before tapping him as deputy secretary in 2014.

Ron Sims and Ron Kirk were on the list to run either DOT or HUD. Sims, who was a county executive in Washington at the time, clinched the nomination for HUD deputy secretary. And Kirk, who previously served as mayor of Dallas, was picked as U.S. trade representative.

Maria Contreras-Sweet, who got the nod to head the Small Business Administration, was on the list for a top position at SBA, DOT or the Commerce Department.

Other names in the hat: Harold Ford, who was a congressman at the time but not known as a leader on transportation issues; Manny Diaz, who was about to hit his term limit as mayor of Miami; Jeff Morales, who has run the Chicago Transit Authority, Caltrans and now the California High Speed Rail Authority; and Kris Kolluri, who was commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

Two other women were listed as potential transportation secretaries: Lydia Kennard, CEO of a construction consulting firm, and Kathleen Brown, a California politician who lost the 1994 gubernatorial election after her father and brother served in that office. Janette Sadik-Khan, then-commissioner of New York City Department of Transportation, was floated for a deputy assistant, assistant or undersecretary position.

Obama's advisers noted that Federico Peña, a two-time Cabinet secretary who ran DOT and the Department of Energy during Bill Clinton's tenure as president, was "not able to move from Denver at the moment."

Cory Booker, who was mayor of Newark at the time and is now a ranking member on a Senate Commerce subcommittee that handles transportation issues, was not tagged for a possible DOT leadership position in 2008 but was instead floated to run HUD.

When the list of potential candidates was crafted in 2008, current Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx — then 37 years old — was running to become mayor of Charlotte after previously serving as a city councilman there.

Back

Ayotte's close race may shuffle the cards for FAA bill Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/20/2016 04:48 PM EDT

With Sen. Kelly Ayotte locked in a tough reelection battle, aviation interests are watching closely as the deadline to reauthorize the FAA — once again — looms at the end of next September.

So far, nobody seems to be panicking, even though Ayotte (R-N.H.) chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee for aviation, which will be charged with drafting an FAA reauthorization bill come next year.

That's partially because Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Senate Commerce chairman, was the main driver behind the FAA bill last time around, and likely would be again. "He was making the policy decisions, directing negotiations, etc.," a Democratic Senate aide told POLITICO. "Ayotte and her staff were only minimally involved."

The real wild card is if the Senate flips to Democratic control, which would significantly alter the landscape for a host of aviation issues, not the least of which is House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster's quest to remove the FAA from the business of operating the air traffic control system.

Ayotte's bruising reelection battle against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan has been one of the most-watched — and best-funded — of 2016's down-ticket contests, in a year with enough vulnerable Republicans that Democrats see the gold ring of Senate control within their reach.

If the Senate does flip, the gavel would go to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who likely would draft a new FAA bill from scratch, significantly upping the chances of an extension rather than a full bill come the end of September.

Cantwell, who represents Boeing and all of its Washington state suppliers, is keenly interested in aviation, with a special interest in developing advanced aviation materials in an effort to make her state "composites central." She's also worked on TSA safety and consumer issues.

Last time around, Shuster's proposal won tepid support at best even from a GOP-controlled upper chamber; a Democratic majority would likely seal its doom.

Cantwell hasn't taken have taken a strong public position on raising the cap on the passenger facility charge — a contentious issue that pits airports against airlines — but advocates say Cantwell would be much more likely to push for an increase as chairwoman.

The two most recent polls show Ayotte tied with Hassan, and Hillary Clinton's clear lead in the state could keep enough Republican voters home to push Hassan over the finish line. Ayotte's complicated relationship with Donald Trump has cost her support on all sides.

Control of the upper chamber could come down to Ayotte's race.

If Ayotte loses but Republicans retain control, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is next in line for the aviation gavel, but he's unlikely to leave his more-coveted post chairing Commerce's telecommunications subcommittee.

Next is Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who — if he manages to squeak out a victory in his own uncomfortably close re-election battle — might take a pass on the aviation chairman, as he already chairs the Rules Committee as well as a subcommittee on Appropriations.

Next in line is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), but insiders say he isn't an "obvious successor," since he previously passed on the aviation chair in favor of the Oceans subcommittee.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), next after Rubio, already chairs the Commerce Subcommittee on Space. That wouldn't be as plum a pick as aviation for most, but with NASA's Johnson Space Center in his state, he might decide to stay.

"It's wide open," said one Senate aide, noting that Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan is one newcomer without his own subcommittee and might be a contender. Sullivan currently ranks eighth out of 11 Republicans on the subcommittee.

With Thune calling the shots, though, it might not matter that much who chairs the subcommittee — as long as Republicans keep the Senate. Any Republican who took over would likely approach the next FAA reauthorization with the same set of priorities, and would remain under Thune's leadership.

Though Ayotte mostly took a backseat to Thune when it came to the FAA bill, she has a reputation for working in a bipartisan manner and played a key role in ensuring negotiations over the FAA bill didn't get bogged down with controversial, deal-breaker issues.

After two deadly terrorist attacks this spring in airports in Brussels and Istanbul, Ayotte's bipartisan measure to increase airport security became a primary justification to attach policy to the bill instead of enacting a clean extension.

She also pushed for hiring changes to make it easier for military veterans and some others to become air traffic controllers.

Should she lose, at least one observer says the chamber will be missing a sharp, level-headed negotiator.

"She brings a level of intellect and the ability to invoke common sense and common ground to many issues," said Jim Coon, senior vice president of government affairs and advocacy for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. "She's a listener. People are attracted to her because she takes time to learn the issues, and tries to make the best decision possible. I think that's rare in some cases."

Back

Booker and Menendez call on DOT to release NJT audit Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/20/2016 11:07 AM EDT

Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez sent a letter to DOT this morning asking for the release of an audit of NJ Transit that they think might have clues about a fatal train derailment in Hoboken last month.

"Reports have surfaced" that the FRA conducted an audit in June of NJ Transit's safety operations, said Booker, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee responsible for overseeing passenger rail safety, and Menendez, the top-ranking Democrat on a subcommittee with jurisdiction over public transportation.

"Questions have been raised as to what role mismanagement of NJ Transit and underinvestment in New Jersey's rail infrastructure may have played in the derailment, as well as the role of Positive Train Control in preventing this derailment," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you to investigate whether there are more systemic problems at the agency that may impair safety."

Both senators have advocated for more federal investment in transportation infrastructure, recently focusing their advocacy on funding to implement Positive Train Control, a safety technology that some speculate could have prevented the Hoboken crash. The NTSB is still investigating whether PTC would have helped.

In a separate letter, Sens. Booker and Menendez asked the NTSB to "examine the role of mismanagement and under-investment at NJ Transit in their investigation of the Hoboken crash."

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

Dems press GSA to overhaul recalled-car auction practices Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/20/2016 04:08 PM EDT

A group of House Democrats are calling on the General Services Administration to stop selling vehicles from its fleet if they have open safety recalls.

While selling used cars with unremedied recalls is legal, the lawmakers said, the federal government should be held "to a higher standard," particularly when another agency like NHTSA staunchly advocates for higher public participation in recalls. GSA's practice was recently brought to light by media reports.

"As an arm of the federal government, your agency has the responsibility to look out for the well-being of Americans," wrote Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.). "Leasing and auctioning vehicles with open safety recalls is inconsistent with that responsibility."

GSA manages vehicles across the federal government and auctions off used cars to the public. The agency already has automated procedures in place to check vehicles for open recalls, the members said, but is only responsible for providing a buyer a general disclaimer noting that the car or truck may be subject to a recall.

The members also urged GSA to do more to ensure federal agencies leasing their vehicles are notified when they're recalled.

"No federal agency should use or sell cars that are unsafe," they wrote. "The GSA should lead by example by fixing all actionable recalls."

Back

German transport minister accuses carmakers of defeat device overuse Back

By Anca Gurzu | 10/20/2016 01:24 PM EDT

The EU needs to tighten its emissions testing rules to ensure that carmakers do not overuse their right to use defeat devices, Alexander Dobrindt, Germany's transport minister, said today before the European Parliament's Dieselgate Committee.

Defeat devices, which switch off an engine's emission controls, are illegal under EU laws. However, exemptions allow car manufacturers to use them in certain cases, for example to protect an engine from different temperatures.

The use of the exemption clause "must be seriously reduced," Dobrindt said. "That article allows too much leeway for interpretation ... We want to move to stop those who benefit from the most number of exemptions."

Dobrindt also said carmakers that do make use of the exemption should have to disclose any special software they use to manipulate the exhaust system.

Volkswagen admitted last year to installing defeat devices in 11 million diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests.

While VW's use was deemed illegal, additional tests performed on other manufacturers' vehicles showed that it is not always clear whether their defeat devices fall within the legal limits of the exemption.

For example, German type-approval authorities accuse Fiat-Chrysler of installing illegal defeat devices in some vehicles to switch off exhaust treatment systems after a certain time. The Italian carmaker disagreed with this interpretation, and the European Commission is mediating the issue.

This article first appeared on POLITICO.EU on Oct. 20, 2016.

Back

Committee granted subpoena power in legislative probe of NJ Transit Back

By Linh Tat and Katie Jennings | 10/20/2016 07:48 PM EDT

TRENTON — On the eve of a joint legislative probe into NJ Transit, one of the investigating committees laid the groundwork for issuing subpoenas in case transit officials prove uncooperative.

The full Assembly passed a resolution Thursday granting the chamber's judiciary committee subpoena power in the investigation. Granting such power to a legislative committee is a rare move in New Jersey.

Assemblyman John McKeon, who chairs the judiciary committee, said while the panel now has the power to issue subpoenas, he hopes the committee won't have to go that route.

"I'm hopeful not to have to use this authority," he said Thursday. "I'm hopeful, starting tomorrow, that the leaders of New Jersey Transit, and to the extent necessary, the [Department of Transportation], will come voluntarily, will provide all the documents that we need."

NJ Transit, once extolled as a model for mass transit systems, has come under intense scrutiny, following last month's commuter train crash at Hoboken Terminal that killed one person and injured more than 100.

Federal and state lawmakers are seeking answers as to why NJ Transit has not installed Positive Train Control, a technology used to automatically stop runaway trains. The Hoboken Terminal was exempt from having to implement the technology.

It's not certain that a PTC system would have prevented the recent crash, but the incident has shined a spotlight on the rail system, which has been slow to implement the technology and only recently begun testing it out.

In addition to questions concerning PTC, McKeon said lawmakers want to understand what the agency's budgetary priorities have been, as well as an explanation for increased service delays and accidents and a discussion of fare hikes over the years.

He hopes to conclude the investigation within six months. He also noted that the Assembly Judiciary Committee would need to retain counsel should it decide to move forward with subpoenas.

The committee passed a separate resolution Thursday that laid out terms related to the issuance of the subpoenas and the handling of information retrieved as a result of the subpoenas.

Lawmakers on the Senate side have said they believe they can obtain information they're seeking through public-record requests and, as yet, have not granted subpoena power to its legislative committee.

"It's just my personal style to avoid adversarial meetings if at all possible," said Sen. Bob Gordon, who chairs the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee. "I'd like to do this without using a subpoena tool, but if necessary, we will. We'll see how forthcoming they are beginning tomorrow."

Gordon said he is expecting state Department of Transportation Richard Hammer, who also serves as the NJ Transit board chairman, to attend Friday's hearing, along with other senior executives from the agency. Steven Santoro, who was appointed the new executive director of NJ Transit last week, has been invited, but Gordon said it's not clear if he will attend.

McKeon, meanwhile, said he's hoping to speak with individuals responsible for prioritizing capital funds and to review an internal audit that NJ Transit had commissioned before the Federal Railroad Administration did its own audit of the agency.

Calls for a federal probe into the agency also intensified Thursday, as U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to investigate "whether a lack of funding impaired the ability of the agency to address safety needs," among other issues.

The NJ Transit board has yet to approve a $2.1 billion operating budget for the fiscal year or explain how it plans to close a $45 million budget hole.

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Gateway funding starts coming together, in piecemeal fashion Back

By Dana Rubinstein | 10/20/2016 06:17 PM EDT

It's been long in coming, but at least one component of Gateway, the $23 billion plan to steel the Northeast Corridor's arthritic spine, appears to be happening.

On Thursday afternoon, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, one of the several bureaucracies charged with repairing the long-deteriorating rail connection between the two states, announced "the largest commitment to Gateway to date."

The bi-state authority's board, which is controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey, approved $300 million toward replacing the Portal Bridge, the 106-year old Hackensack River span that moves to accommodate waterborne traffic, and then too often gets stuck in the open position.

Each day, 450 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains carrying 200,000 passengers use the bridge.

The $300 million will go toward servicing a low-cost federal loan for the $1.5 billion project, which will replace the existing bridge with a new one that doesn't move, but has a higher clearance to allow for the passage of river traffic. NJ Transit will provide another roughly $300 million, its spokeswoman said.

Amtrak and the U.S. Transportation Department will provide the rest.

"Today's development is a major step forward," John Porcari, interim executive director of the still-formative Gateway Development Corporation, said in a statement. "It is encouraging to see the states of New York and New Jersey, by way of the Port Authority, committing local funds to the Portal North Bridge project."

The allocation of Port Authority funding is contingent on its inclusion of an indeterminate amount of funding in its upcoming capital plan for a much more expensive element of Gateway: a new two-track Hudson River tunnel to replace the one that was already falling apart before Hurricane Sandy inundated it with corrosive saltwater.

Roughly a year ago, the governors of New York and New Jersey agreed to come up with funding for half of the projected costs of Gateway. The federal government and Amtrak would come through with the rest.

While the Portal Bridge funding represents a big step forward for Gateway, the two governors have yet to indicate how they plan to finance the rest of it. Representatives for Port Authority, which is supposed to spearhead the creation of the states' Gateway financing plan, wouldn't say on Thursday when that financing plan might be completed.

They did, however, say the Portal Bridge funding is contingent upon the inclusion of some tunnel funding in the Port's upcoming capital plan. How much tunnel funding is included will presumably be determined by that larger and still-incomplete Gateway financing framework. Port Authority chairman John Degnan hopes to have a draft capital plan out by the end of December.

"Portal Bridge North is now fully funded," Port Authority executive director Pat Foye said.

Construction is expected to begin in 2018.

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