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Infrastructure in the News 10.27.16

BAF IN THE NEWS

(Mayor Bloomberg launched a self-driving car initiative)

 

Government Technology: 3 Ways Cities Are Using Tech to Solve the Problems of Tomorrow

http://www.govtech.com/fs/3-Ways-Cities-Are-Using-Tech-to-Solve-the-Problems-of-Tomorrow.html

At the CityLab 2016 Conference held by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute, city officials were in the spotlight sharing their efforts to create a more livable space for residents.

 

Detroit Free Press: Five cities chosen for self-driving car test

http://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2016/10/26/five-cities-chosen-self-driving-car-test/92807254/

Nashville is among five global cities chosen for a self-driving cars initiative launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York and the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

 

Associated Press: Trump: I’ll run America like my business. Clinton: Let’s not

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal_government/trump-gop-look-to-obamacare-report-as-comeback-lifeline/2016/10/25/eaf4bec2-9b2a-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html

His presidential dreams increasingly in question, Donald Trump pushed his business empire to the center of his political campaign Wednesday. Taking a break from battleground states, he made the case at his newest hotel that all Americans should look to his corporate record for evidence of how well he’d run the country.

 

Associated Press: A fast track to ruin? Amtrak opponents fear high-speed plans

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/a-fast-track-to-ruin-amtrak-opponents-fear-high-speed-plans/2016/10/26/dc0fdfce-9b9b-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html

This quaint shoreline community, proud of its role as a nursery of American Impressionist art, fears the destruction of its heritage if a federal proposal to someday run an East Coast high-speed rail line through its historic center becomes reality.

 

WIRED: Inside Uber’s Plan to Take Over the Skies With Flying Cars

https://www.wired.com/2016/10/uber-flying-cars-elevate-plan/?mbid=social_twitter

IN LESS THAN a decade, Uber has redefined the idea of flexible labor and gutted the American taxi industry. The company launched a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. It’s on its way to becoming the most valuable startup ever.

 

Wall Street Journal: Slowdown in State, Local Investment Dents U.S. Economy (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/slowdown-in-state-local-investment-dents-u-s-economy-1477495758

A sharp pullback in spending by cities and states on infrastructure—from highways to sewage systems to police stations—is weighing on U.S. economic growth.

 

Wall Street Journal: Alphabet Creating Stand-Alone Self-Driving Car Business (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/alphabet-creating-stand-alone-self-driving-car-business-1477524494

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is graduating its self-driving-car project from its research lab X into a stand-alone business, said X chief Astro Teller, a major step in the vehicles’ path to commercial operations.

STATE NEWS

 

Associated Press: Riders Break Windows to Escape After Train's Motor Overheats

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/10/26/us/ap-us-smoky-train.html

A Boston commuter train's motor has overheated, causing the train to fill with smoke and panicked passengers to break windows to escape.

 

New York Times: As Evening Commute Gets Darker, It Also Gets More Dangerous, Officials Warn

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/27/nyregion/new-york-commute-dusk-and-darkness-safety-campaign.html

The end of daylight saving time next month will create a more dangerous evening commute as people find it harder to see on the streets, New York City officials say.

 

Associated Press: The Latest: Bus in Fatal Wreck Had Tires Out of Compliance

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/10/25/us/ap-us-fatal-tour-bus-crash-the-latest.html

The Latest on the aftermath of a fatal bus crash in Southern California that killed 13 and injured 31 (all times local): A National Transportation Safety Board member says the bus involved in a deadly crash with a big-rig near Palm Springs during the weekend was out of compliance with rules governing the depth of tire tread.

 

Associated Press: NJ Transit hiring consultant to address safety concerns

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/nj-transit-hiring-consultant-to-address-safety-concerns/2016/10/27/50f509b6-9c3e-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html

New Jersey Transit is hiring a former Metro-North president to help it meet federal rail safety requirements.

 

Washington Post: SafeTrack comes to Metro’s oldest and busiest line starting this weekend

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/safetrack-comes-to-metros-oldest-and-busiest-line-with-surge-10-on-the-red-line/2016/10/26/06651608-9b93-11e6-b3c9-f662adaa0048_story.html

Red Line riders, who flirted with SafeTrack single-tracking for three weeks in August, are in for a real challenge: The next surge, which begins Saturday, will shut down service along a critical corridor of Metro’s busiest line, the biggest test so far in the yearlong repair program.

 

Associated Press: New Jersey Transit moves forward with train control system

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/new-jersey-transit-moves-forward-with-train-control-system/2016/10/26/d499816c-9b9d-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html

New Jersey Transit’s board has voted to secure the final piece of radio frequency spectrum it needs to install an automatic train braking system.

 

Associated Press: Transit agency urges bus, subway riders to plan for a strike

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/transit-agency-urges-bus-subway-riders-to-plan-for-a-strike/2016/10/26/e4c1023e-9bb3-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html

Officials in the nation’s sixth-largest transit system on Wednesday urged customers to start figuring out alternate ways to get to work and school because of a strike threat looming for city bus, trolley and subway workers.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/27/2016 05:38 AM EDT

With help from Jennifer Scholtes, Tanya Snyder, Lauren Gardner and Tim Starks

TSA HITS THE BRAKES ON PRECHECK EXPANSION SEARCH: TSA has abandoned its search for companies to help enroll more passengers in PreCheck because of concerns over cybersecurity. The agency had planned to use individual passenger information to test companies' vetting systems, as our Jennifer Scholtes reports for Pros. But it said Wednesday that it decided to cancel its search "in light of the increased and evolving cybersecurity risks over the past year."

TSA said "there is risk in using personally identifiable information during the testing phase of the process," and the agency "determined it will no longer accept the risk associated with sharing the test data." It plans to come up with a new request for proposals that "will align with DHS cybersecurity best practices."

IT'S THURSDAY: 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.

"Some nights he rolls down the windows. Drives till the sky is glowing. He turns back home but he wonders. What if he kept on going?"

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

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SOMEWHERE BETWEEN FIVE AND 25 YEARS: Leaders in the tech and auto industries haven't reached a consensus on when driverless cars will roll out on a large scale — and that was made clear Wednesday during a discussion among experts on Capitol Hill, as our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros. Quartz's Washington correspondent, Steve LeVine, argued that there isn't as high of a demand for autonomous vehicles as some may think. But Henry Claypool, an advocate for disability rights, countered that there is a demand among people who lack affordable and accessible transportation options.

Meanwhile, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear predicted that consumer adoption "will take time," maybe even decades. But Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said with self-driving taxi, bus and truck projects already underway in the United States, Europe and Asia, "This is now."

FEELING LEFT OUT: ATA's president says federal regulators ignored his industry when they wrote the guidance for autonomous vehicles released last month. As Tanya reports for Pros, Chris Spear said Wednesday that the trucking industry wasn't a part of the "inclusive process" NHTSA claims to have had, adding that regulators didn't ask for the trucking industry's input before proposing guidance for vehicle cybersecurity this week. During a panel on driverless technology on the Hill, Spear called on Congress to be "inclusive" and "transparent" when coming up with policy solutions.

EYE ON THE BLOCK BUY: The Coast Guard is out this week with a general plan for getting some heavy icebreakers on the water within the next decade. In a request for information issued on Wednesday, the agency explained that it ultimately wants to pay a single shipyard to build three big icebreaking vessels. But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Transportation subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard, is hoping the service goes a step further in consolidating the contracting process by setting up a block buy for those ships.

In a letter this week to the Coast Guard's vice commandant in charge of acquisitions, Hunter said he is "very much concerned about the lost opportunity and additional costs that are likely to be incurred over time" if the agency initiates separate purchases for each of the three cutters.

'Win-win': If the Coast Guard were to use a block buy for the first heavy icebreaker, Duncan argues, it "not only would guarantee at least two vessels constructed in shorter time (to the benefit of America's efforts to enhance an Arctic presence), but it would deliver considerable savings to taxpayers — a win-win overall."

FTA: WMATA FACES 'LONG AND DIFFICULT TASK': A year after federal regulators assumed oversight of WMATA, the acting administrator of the FTA says Metrorail still has a lot of work to do to boost safety. In a blog post Wednesday, Carolyn Flowers said that "for all the safety improvements WMATA has made, it remains a long and difficult task to instill the strong safety culture that is required for true and lasting change."

She said the transit authority must make sure it's "properly managing" the corrective actions FTA has mandated and promote "internal safety capacity and culture." As our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros, Flowers also reiterated DOT's call for D.C., Maryland and Virginia to "quickly stand up an effective permanent state safety oversight agency." If the three governments don't establish a new oversight agency by February 2017, they could all lose federal funding.

SPACE JAM: European commissioners say satellite systems will play a crucial role as the auto industry rolls out connected cars and autonomous vehicles. As POLITICO Europe's Joshua Posaner reports, Internal Market Commissioner El??bieta Bieńkowska said Wednesday that before connected cars proliferate, "you have to have the surrounding area mapped." "This means a combination of 5G and data coming from space," Bieńkowska said.

Josh explains that "signals are prone to disruption in built-up urban areas, undermining driverless technology that relies on a stable connection to communicate with other vehicles." Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said Wednesday that the EU's Galileo system, which currently has 14 satellites in orbit, could offer detailed mapping tools to the industry. And the EU's goal is to have 30 satellites in place by 2020, which will improve coverage.

NJ TRANSIT BOARD AUTHORIZES SPECTRUM LEASING: The board of New Jersey Transit approved a plan Wednesday to lease a radio frequency spectrum so the system can implement positive train control. NJ Transit will pay the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as much as $725,000 to lease the spectrum for five decades, POLITICO New Jersey's Conor Skelding reports . The approval comes about a month after a commuter train slammed into NJ Transit's Hoboken terminal at double the 10 mph speed limit, killing a woman and injuring over 100 other people. Investigators haven't determined whether PTC could have stopped the crash from happening.

MT MAILBAG I: The Senate Commerce Committee's top Democrat is worried about GM's request to delay the recall of some of its vehicles that have Takata airbag inflators. GM asked for the delay last month so the company and an engineering firm could complete a study on the service life of inflators. "I am concerned that such a petition may be putting the cart before the horse," Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. Nelson said "granting any petition to delay a recall — in the absence of conclusive evidence that definitively establishes the safety of the inflators in question — could have a substantial impact on public safety."

For that reason, Nelson argues, NHTSA should "carefully and rigorously review GM's petition — and any other similar petitions filed before clear and comprehensive testing is complete — to amend NHTSA's recall schedule."

MT MAILBAG II: A coalition of free-market groups is urging lawmakers in a letter today to look into the Surface Transportation Board's proposed rule to change its standards for permitting shippers to pursue reciprocal switching, which is when one freight railroad moves goods to an interchange where another railroad takes over the rail cars for a fee. The organizations are asking the House Transportation and Senate Commerce committees and their rail panels "to investigate the STB's conduct and prevent its unlawful attempt to push the U.S. railroad industry back into the economic dark ages."

The missive comes a day after the comment period for the rule closed. The proposal has stirred up passions among freights, which oppose it as an attempt to re-regulate the railroads, and shippers that say they're bearing the brunt of high rail rates and shoddy service. STB has been weighing whether to regulate the issue for years.

Ouch: "If this is the caliber of decision-making now emanating from the STB, perhaps Congress should reconsider the need for this agency altogether," the coalition, spearheaded by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sniped in the letter.

SHIFTING GEARS: Faye Francy will serve as the first executive director of the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center, the organization announced Wednesday. Francy previously headed the Aviation-ISAC and led the Boeing Commercial Airplanes Cyber ONE engineering team.

SLICE OF PI: Uber has hired Mayer Brown's Timothy Keeler, previously chief of staff in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, to lobby on market access, our friends at POLITICO Influence report. The ride-hailing company spent $340,000 on lobbying last quarter.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

— "Toyota adds 5.8M vehicles to global Takata recall total." The Associated Press.

— "Jet noise is no joke for residents burned by report about airport complaints." WAMU 88.5.

— "Allowing Metro's continued decline could cost region $1 billion a year in lost revenue." The Washington Post.

— "Metro operator refused to operate train, said his shift was over, officials say." NBC Washington.

— "Alphabet creating stand-alone self-driving car business." The Wall Street Journal.

— "Used cars slip past recall safeguards, putting drivers in danger." The New York Times.

— "SkyWest Airlines pilot, at helm of Delta flight, arrested for suspected drunkenness." CBS News.

— "[MBTA] Orange Line riders break windows to exit smoky train." The Boston Globe.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 43 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 337 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 11 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,437 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

8 a.m. — The full Towing Safety Advisory Committee holds a meeting and Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen speaks. DOT Headquarters Media Center, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.

8:30 a.m. — NTSB and the National Safety Council hold an event called "Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems." NTSB Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza SW. A livestream will be available here.

12 p.m. — The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Boston University hold a discussion on "How Research and Innovation Can Help Address the U.S. Infrastructure Crises." ITIF, 1101 K St. NW, Suite 610A.

2 p.m. — The National Academies of Sciences' Transportation Research Board holds a webinar on rear seat passenger safety.

2 p.m. — The Japan International Transport Institute holds a seminar on new daytime services between Haneda Airport and U.S. cities. The St. Regis D.C. 923 16th St. NW.

5:30 p.m. — The Maryland Aviation Administration and FAA hold an open house to address noise complaints from people living around BWI. Lindale Middle School, 415 Andover Rd. Linthicum Heights, Md.

6 p.m. — Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) holds a roundtable on how D.C. can use bicycle and pedestrian funding included in the FAST Act. 2167 Rayburn.

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

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/10/tsa-hits-the-brakes-on-precheck-expansion-search-019832

Stories from POLITICO Pro

TSA scraps PreCheck expansion search Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 10/26/2016 04:54 PM EDT

TSA has killed its search for help to expand the PreCheck program, citing cybersecurity concerns, according to a public notice issued this afternoon.

In canceling its Request for Proposals today, the agency said the Department of Homeland Security is worried about the security of individual passenger data used to test companies' vetting systems "in light of the increased and evolving cybersecurity risks over the past year."

TSA said no traveler's personal information has been compromised because the agency had not begun testing the new vetting methods.

"As currently written, there is risk in using personally identifiable information during the testing phase of the process," the agency said in its notice. "While risk mitigations were included in the current RFP testing approach to protect the sensitive data during testing, TSA has determined it will no longer accept the risk associated with sharing the test data."

TSA noted that the agency came to this conclusion after consulting with the National Protection and Programs Directorate — the agency that handles cybersecurity issues at DHS — about "best practices in cybersecurity for protecting data."

The cancellation of the RFP comes amid a legal challenge the current contract-holder has waged against the solicitation for more help in enrolling passengers in the PreCheck program.

The agency said in its announcement today that it "intends to continue to improve access to TSA PreCheck and drive enrollment innovation" by coming out with a new solicitation "to be released in the near future."

"This upcoming solicitation will align with DHS cybersecurity best practices and TSA's continuing focus on cybersecurity and privacy to protect people and programs," the notice says.

Back

Experts spar over deployment timeline for autonomous vehicles Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/26/2016 01:43 PM EDT

A panel of experts on driverless cars today disagreed over how soon they will hit the road, with some suggesting they aren't as imminent as others have suggested.

Steve LeVine, author of "The Powerhouse" and Washington correspondent for Quartz, said Silicon Valley, investment bankers and equipment manufacturers were overhyping the imminence of driverless technology. We are "not necessarily" entering the age of fully autonomous vehicles, LeVine said at a panel discussion today sponsored by Securing America's Future Energy. He said that there's not so much eagerness for the technology on the demand side.

That assertion was quickly contested by disability rights advocate Henry Claypool, who said delays in the deployment of autonomous vehicles meant "real harms" for elderly people and people with disabilities, who lack affordable and accessible transportation. Claypool said he was "not prepared to bet against" quicker integration of driverless cars. SAFE President Robbie Diamond is also bullish on rapid deployment.

While some in the technology sector believe driverless cars will be "widespread" by 2020, Moody's credit rating service has predicted that widespread deployment is still decades away, with autonomous features in a majority of cars on the road not before 2045.

Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations, agreed that consumer adoption of driverless technology will evolve "over next few decades."

"This will take time," Spear said, noting that commercial adoption may be faster.

With self-driving taxis in Singapore and self-driving Ubers in Pittsburgh, autopiloted buses in France and autonomous beer trucks in Colorado, this technology is not decades away, said Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "This is now."

Back

Trucking CEO: NHTSA cut us out of driverless car guidance Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/26/2016 02:21 PM EDT

The head of the American Trucking Associations today complained that NHTSA's new driverless vehicle guidance excluded his industry, and called on Congress to ensure other interests aren't cut out of the process.

NHTSA is "out there saying this is the most inclusive process," ATA President Chris Spear told POLITICO today after a panel at an event sponsored by Securing America's Future Energy. "I beg to differ."

"We weren't a part of it, our OEMs weren't a part of it, and our carriers weren't a part of it," Spear said.

Spear said NHTSA also maintained what he called a closed-door process with new auto cybersecurity guidance that came out this week.

Spear told an audience today that beyond other industries, other agencies also have to be at the table. "DHS has a role in our industry. I don't think you don't want unattended cargo, especially hazardous cargo, rolling down the road without a driver in the cab attending to it."

The FCC, the EPA and the Agriculture Department also have a large stake in the development of this policy, he said.

"These are all policy questions that need to get answered, and I see no better place to have that dialogue than here on the Hill," Spear said. "This is a role I think the Hill is best positioned to do, to be transparent, to be inclusive, not just of all the modes but of all the agencies."

Back

FTA's Flowers applauds Metro safety progress, to an extent Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/26/2016 04:09 PM EDT

The top federal transit regulator today tempered praise for WMATA's work to improve safety with a warning that it has a long way to go toward solidifying safety culture throughout the organization.

In a blog post, FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers noted steps WMATA has taken since federal regulators assumed temporary safety oversight of the troubled system a year ago today. That includes certifying workers at the network's Rail Operations Control Center and within the Roadway Workers Protection program.

"However, for all the safety improvements WMATA has made, it remains a long and difficult task to instill the strong safety culture that is required for true and lasting change," Flowers wrote.

The agency must ensure it's properly managing the corrective actions FTA has mandated and foster "internal safety capacity and culture," she said.

Flowers reiterated the department's call to the D.C., Maryland and Virginia governments to hasten efforts to establish a state safety oversight agency capable of taking the reins away from FTA. If that agency isn't created by Feb. 9, 2017, WMATA could see millions of dollars in federal grant money dry up.

But Flowers vowed that FTA would continue to "temporarily" guide WMATA "until the new safety oversight agency is capable of performing its oversight responsibilities."

Back

NJTransit approves lease of radio spectrum for positive train control Back

By Conor Skelding | 10/26/2016 10:07 AM EDT

New Jersey Transit's board approved a prospective lease of a radio frequency spectrum from New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The spectrum, 218 MHz, will be used to implement positive train control, or the remote operation of trains.

NJTransit will pay the MTA up to $725,000 to lease the spectrum for 50 years.

In late September a train crashed while entering Hoboken Terminal at twice the speed limit, killing one and injuring more than 100. The National Transportation Safety Board is exploring whether PTC could have prevented the accident.

See the detailed board agenda here: http://bit.ly/2eRrPrl

Back

Wall Street Journal: Slowdown in State, Local Investment Dents U.S. Economy

 

A sharp pullback in spending by cities and states on infrastructure—from highways to sewage systems to police stations—is weighing on U.S. economic growth.

 

Such government austerity is unusual in the eighth year of an economic expansion, and it is acting as a headwind just as the worst effects of the energy-industry bust, a strong dollar and inventory drawdown are fading.

 

State and local governments spent an annualized $248.47 billion on construction in August—the least since March 2014 and down nearly 11% from its recent peak in mid-2015.

 

The decline depressed gross domestic product growth this spring and was on track to weigh on growth again in the third quarter.

 

“We’re seeing anemic [government] revenue growth and consistent austerity-oriented budgets,” said Gabe Petek, managing director for state ratings at S&P Global Ratings. States are trimming investments in infrastructure and higher education, “areas of the budget helpful for generating economic growth going forward,” he said.

 

In Kansas, officials this spring delayed 24 road-construction projects to help balance the state budget. The more than $500 million in work had been slated to start between this year and the end of 2018, including expanding U.S. 50 into a four-lane expressway near Dodge City.

 

Instead, the state will spend money to maintain existing roads. “We want to make sure the roadways we currently have are in the best condition as possible,” said Joel Skelley, director of policy at the Kansas Department of Transportation. ​ Total state and local government spending last year accounted for roughly 11% of U.S. economic output, four times as large as federal nondefense spending, and swings in public investment can have outsize effects on the growth rate. The Commerce Department will release its first estimate for third-quarter GDP on Friday.

 

Many state governments have yet to fully recover from the recession and associated steep declines in tax revenue. In late 2015, inflation-adjusted tax revenue was lower in 21 states compared with the peak before or during the recession, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

 

The situation doesn’t seem to be improving. Preliminary data indicate that state tax revenue fell 2.1% in the second quarter from a year earlier after advancing just 1.6% in the first quarter, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government. The recent drop reflected mixed stock-market returns and slowing growth in sales-tax collection and paycheck withholding.

 

Revenue declines restrain the ability of state and local governments to borrow money for capital projects. Such a situation prompted Connecticut to cancel or delay selling about $1 billion in bonds earlier this year. By law, the state has a debt limit tied to tax collections, and lawmakers must make cuts when the limit can’t be raised.

 

As a result of the lost funding, the University of Connecticut delayed a $150 million renovation of its Gant Science Complex by several months and postponed plans for a $10 million overhaul of the roof at Gampel Pavilion, home of the national-champion Husky basketball teams. Instead, the university will fix leaks.

 

“We’re trying to balance priorities,” said Scott Jordan, the university’s chief financial officer. The cuts are “forcing us to take a look at what things support our core mission and Connecticut’s economy,” he said.

 

At the same time tax revenue is falling, costs for Medicaid, public-employee health care and pension obligations are rising, leaving many states with little discretion to deploy tax dollars elsewhere.

 

Democrats and Republicans disagree on the appropriate size and role of government, but infrastructure spending often enjoys bipartisan support. President Barack Obama and the GOP-led Congress last year enacted a $305 billion, five-year highway bill. Many Republican governors advocate spending to repair crumbling roads and support basic services, though some favor public-private partnerships for infrastructure.

 

Still, some conservative economists argue the system of tax collection and government funding is inefficient and that long-run economic growth would benefit from lower public outlays.

 

For governments faced with tight funding, putting off building projects can be more politically palatable than sharp cutbacks in public safety or school budgets.

 

Through this year’s first eight months, state and local construction spending was down 1.4% from a year earlier, while federal-government construction outlays were flat and private-sector construction spending was up 7%. The data weren’t adjusted for inflation.

 

The government cutbacks could dent U.S. economic growth overall, many economists say.

 

“It’s going to be a very significant drag in the third quarter,” said Pantheon Macroeconomics chief economist Ian Shepherdson. But he said he expects a rebound in late 2016 or next year because the volatile construction-spending data are undershooting the trend suggested by government revenue numbers.

 

Construction of public buildings—courthouses, fire stations and other government facilities—should begin to rise in 2017, Dodge Data & Analytics predicted in a recent annual outlook. “This is expected to be the bottom of the cycle for public buildings, as government fiscal conditions have slowly mended,” the report said.

 

Troubled finances are weighing on state credit ratings, a report card of fiscal health. S&P downgraded its ratings of six states so far this year—the most since 1991.

 

The downgrades include states where political gridlock has upended the budgeting process, while in others, such as Alaska and North Dakota, a pullback in the energy industry is weighing on tax collections.

 

Despite the downgrades, state debt remains highly rated, including 15 states with the highest AAA rating.

 

Past economic expansions gave states an opportunity to make critical investments and build up rainy day funds and other buffers to protect against recessions. That isn’t happening in several states this time. The median state in fiscal 2016 could run on its reserves for 29.2 days, down 14 days from the level a decade earlier, according to Pew,

 

Most states are selling bonds to refinance existing debt, not to raise funds for investment in new projects.

 

“We’re not seeing a push to take advantage of the lower interest rates” to raise new funds, said S&P’s Mr. Petek. “It’s not our forecast, but you can’t rule out a recession in the next two or three years, and several states haven’t put themselves in a good position to weather it.”

 

Wall Street Journal: Alphabet Creating Stand-Alone Self-Driving Car Business

 

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is graduating its self-driving-car project from its research lab X into a stand-alone business, said X chief Astro Teller, a major step in the vehicles’ path to commercial operations.

 

The car group’s finances were separated from X on Jan. 1 this year, and now the team is completing a series of corporate and legal moves to become its own business, Mr. Teller said in an interview at the WSJDLive 2016 tech conference.

 

As its own stand-alone business under Alphabet, the car group would likely be expected to soon begin generating revenue, though not necessarily a profit at first. Mr. Teller declined to disclose the car project’s planned business model.

 

“The world is going to have cars that are sold to individuals and cars that are shared by individuals, and which one Alphabet does, we have our thinking on it,” he said. “But right now we’re very focused on safety.”

 

Mr. Teller said Alphabet will likely roll out its self-driving cars incrementally over the next several years as they improve with more time on the road. For example, the group could choose to launch the cars commercially in just a handful of cities with favorable roads and weather, before expanding to more challenging roadways and climates, he said.

 

He compared the process to teaching a teenager to drive, from parents first keeping their hands close to the wheel to letting the teenager drive alone only during daylight to eventually eliminating restrictions altogether.

 

“Any other company that’s acting rationally will probably do the same thing, which is finding constrained ways to roll out so that we’re learning safely,” he said.

 

Other companies building self-driving cars are deploying their technology gradually, though in many of those cases the auto firms are releasing semiautonomous technology that still requires drivers to be ready to take control.

 

Mr. Teller said Alphabet’s cars will be fully autonomous from the start. “You press a button and tell the car where you want to go,” he said.