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Infrastructure in the News 10.6.16

BAF IN THE NEWS

 

Canton Daily Ledger: LaHood touts bipartisanship, voting

http://www.cantondailyledger.com/news/20161005/lahood-touts-bipartisanship-voting

(Story highlights Secretary LaHood’s speech to members of the Canto Area Chamber of Commerce.)

Leadership, bipartisanship and the importance of voting were the key elements of former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's message to the Canton Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.

 

Politico Pro: With gas tax anathema, highway boosters look for another avenue (full article follows Morning Transportation)

https://www.politicopro.com/transportation/story/2016/10/with-gas-tax-anathema-highway-boosters-look-for-another-avenue-132745

(BAF was one of the 34 groups that signed a letter addressed to both candidates, urging them to spell out long-term funding solutions for highways in their infrastructure plans. The letter is mentioned in this article.)

On Wednesday, the Chamber joined 32 business, labor and transportation groups in signing onto a letter to both candidates, urging them to spell out long-term funding solutions for highways in their infrastructure plans. Neither Trump nor Clinton has described how exactly they'd pay for their packages, beyond broad brush ideas. Clinton has pegged her plan at $275 billion over five years fueled through a corporate tax overhaul, while Trump has pledged to double her price tag and somehow utilize the bond market to cover costs.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

 

New York Times: An Alarming 10% Rise in Traffic Deaths in the First Half of 2016

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/06/us/traffic-deaths-up-more-than-10-percent-in-first-half-of-2016.html

Traffic deaths in the United States rose 10.4 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2015, maintaining a steady climb.

 

Washington Post: Nearly 18,000 killed on U.S. roadways between January and June

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/nearly-18000-killed-on-us-roadways-between-january-and-june/2016/10/05/25e796ac-8b00-11e6-b24f-a7f89eb68887_story.html

Nearly 18,000 people died on U.S. roadways in the first six months of this year, an increase of more than 10 percent from the same period in 2015, according to new estimates released Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

 

Reuters: Google Makes Progress on Self-Driving Cars, Hits 2 Million Mile Mark

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/10/05/technology/05reuters-google-autonomous.html

Google's self-driving vehicles are mastering complex situations on public roads, from cars going the wrong way to bicycles darting in front of traffic, as the technology company strives to win the high-profile race to achieve full vehicle automation, executives said on Wednesday.

 

Associated Press: US Government Sets Goal of Zero Traffic Deaths in 30 Years

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/10/05/us/politics/ap-us-traffic-fatalities-zero-deaths.html

The Obama administration says it's setting a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities in the United States within the next 30 years.

 

Associated Press: Obama Warns of Taking Dramatic Steps That Could Harm Economy

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/10/06/us/politics/ap-us-obama-economy.html

He said a major source of the slowdown in labor productivity has been self-imposed constraints, namely an anti-tax ideology that rejects virtually all sources of new public funding and a fixation on deficits at the expense of maintaining the nation's infrastructure.

 

Huffington Post: Trump On Infrastructure — The Most Fatal Flaw Of All

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leo-hindery-jr/trump-on-infrastructure_b_12354726.html

Donald Trump is suddenly all-in with his plan on investing in infrastructure — his plan, however, like so many others of his policies, is economic lunacy. It’s completely circular in that he would literally cut spending on infrastructure as part of his plan to borrow for spending on infrastructure.

 

STATE NEWS

 

Reuters: Investigators Pulling Data From Recorder of Crashed N.J. Train

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/10/05/us/05reuters-new-jersey-traincrash.html

Investigators said on Wednesday they were collecting information from data and video recorders removed from the front car of the New Jersey Transit train that crashed into Hoboken Terminal last week.

 

Associated Press: Commuter railroad changes arrival rule after station crash

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/commuter-railroad-changes-arrival-rule-after-station-crash/2016/10/06/2d71652a-8bb3-11e6-8cdc-4fbb1973b506_story.html

New Jersey Transit implemented a new rule Thursday for pulling into two of its stations a week after one of its commuter trains crashed into a terminal, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 others.

 

New York Post: Freight train derails at Amtrak station, suspends service

http://nypost.com/2016/10/05/freight-train-derails-at-amtrak-station-suspends-service/

A freight train derailed in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx on Wednesday morning — prompting Amtrak to suspend service between Penn Station and New Rochelle.

 

York News-Times (Nebraska): Sen. Deb Fischer: Securing America’s Transportation Network

http://www.yorknewstimes.com/editorial/securing-america-s-transportation-network/article_663fb78e-8b82-11e6-a45a-4fe6558c058f.html

On the evening of Saturday, September 17, a bomb exploded in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.

 

Washington Post: This one incident of ‘tremendous waste’ says a lot about what’s wrong with Metro

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/10/05/this-one-incident-of-tremendous-waste-says-a-lot-about-whats-wrong-with-metro/

It was May 6. More than 100 Metro track workers and inspectors gathered near Bethesda station. They had a scheduled five-hour window in the middle of the day to conduct crucial, uninterrupted work on the outbound side of the tracks, and they came ready — accompanied by four prime movers and an oversight agent from the Federal Transit Administration.

 

Bloomberg: Street for Cyclists May Be Solution as NYC Faces Subway Shutdown

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-10-06/street-for-cyclists-may-be-solution-as-nyc-faces-subway-shutdown

As 300,000 passengers face the temporary closing of one of New York’s busiest subways, Mayor Bill de Blasio is considering easing movement by barring a major Manhattan street to all traffic except buses and bicycles.

 

CRAIN’s New York: Transportation fuels city job gains

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20161005/TRANSPORTATION/161009949/transportation-fuels-new-york-city-jobs-gains

A rising population and tourism have led to significant employment gains in New York City, especially in the transportation sector, according to a recent report.

 

The Daily Sentinel (Colorado): Report urges more spending on alternative transportation

http://www.gjsentinel.com/news/articles/report-urges-more-spending-on-alternative-transpor

The state could save money on future road projects if it spends a greater portion of the funds it has on transit, bike lanes and sidewalks, a consumer advocacy group said Wednesday.

 

KJCT8 (Colorado): $13 million needed to improve transportation in Mesa County

http://www.kjct8.com/content/news/13-million-needed-to-imrpove-transportation-in-Mesa-County-396108101.html

A new report finds that Colorado will have to invest around $1.5 billion to maintain and expand transit, walking, and biking transportation in the state. Of that billion, nearly $13 million are needed in Mesa County annually.

 

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/06/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner, Jennifer Scholtes and Tanya Snyder

STEPPING OUT OF THE GAS TAX COMFORT ZONE: Highway and infrastructure groups are starting to concede that they need a new idea for funding road and bridge projects in the years to come - pushing for a gas tax increase alone isn't cutting it. "I think we all are committed to trying to find a long-term, sustainable funding source, and that means all options are on the table," Ed Mortimer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's top transportation lobbyist, told our Lauren Gardner. "Historically, the gas tax has been the main source of funding these programs, so obviously that is where you start, but I think it wouldn't be prudent for us to rule out other options."

What can ya do? But as Lauren reports for Pros, no one has yet suggested an alternative revenue source that would be politically viable. Mortimer spoke out against any one-time funding injection. And while the Chamber is open to a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, other groups like ATA have already written it off as a bad idea. ATA is, however, open to other suggestions, as is AASHTO.

New administration, new shot: Highway groups and other interests may be under a bit of a time crunch, as both presidential candidates have promised to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure if elected. That gives advocates just months to present a united front. On Wednesday, almost three dozen business, labor and transportation groups sent a letter to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump asking that they detail their ideas for long-term funding solutions.

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.

"I heard you had to drive him home after two umbrella drinks. I heard he's got a Prius, 'cause he's into bein' green. My buddies said he saw y'all, eatin' that sushi stuff. Baby, that don't sound like you. That don't sound like love. Sounds like it sucks." (h/t Greg Rogers at the Eno Center for Transportation)

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

DH-SAYONARA: Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is leaving DHS at the end of the month after seven years at the department. Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant, has largely focused on immigration and cybersecurity issues, our Jennifer Scholtes reports for Pros. But he also helped expand Customs and Border Protection activity at foreign airports, was involved with TSA staffing levels and worked to revamp the Visa Waiver Program.

Living your best lawyer life: After the news of Mayorkas' departure, WilmerHale announced that he would join the law firm. WilmerHale said in a release that Mayorkas "will be integral to the firm's deep civil and criminal litigation and internal investigations capabilities and augment the firm's formidable strength in strategic counseling, crisis management and cybersecurity. His experience with immigration, trade and travel and foreign investment in the United States also will be valuable to clients with global business issues."

Here's a smattering of reactions to the announcement:

- Todd Hauptli, American Association of Airport Executives president and CEO: "Whether on thorny public policy issues, managing cultural transformation across a sprawling workforce or pressing for innovation at the speed of industry rather than the speed of government, Ali has engaged fully and effectively. The phrase, 'No vision too distant; no detail too small' describes his successful approach."

- Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO: "Since his appointment, Ali has embodied the ideal that travel facilitation and smart security are not mutually exclusive. His work to enhance and expand the Preclearance, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck programs has simultaneously raised security standards at our airports and improved the travel security process for millions of pre-screened flyers both at home and abroad."

U.S. ROAD DEATHS SURGE 10 PERCENT IN FIRST HALF OF YEAR: In the first six months of 2016, almost 18,000 people died on U.S. roads, according to data that NHTSA released Wednesday. That's a 10.4 percent increase from last year. And 2015 had the largest year-over-year jump since 1966. Now, DOT is committing $1 million a year for the next three years to back groups with traffic safety initiatives, our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros. The National Safety Council has joined NHTSA, FHWA and FMCSA in launching a coalition to eliminate U.S. traffic fatalities within three decades.

But officials still haven't announced how exactly they'll reach zero. "We are on the hunt for new solutions to old problems," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said Wednesday at an event where the coalition's launch was announced. For years, anyway, the department has focused on safety recalls, automatic emergency braking, driverless car development and addressing risky driving behavior.

SWAP IT: S&P Global is recommending that taxes on the repatriated earnings of corporations be eliminated if they commit 15 percent of their money to infrastructure bonds, Pro Tax's Katy O'Donnell reports . The U.S. chief economist for the bond-rating company says the potential return on investment would give multinational companies an incentive to participate. "There is bipartisan support, including from the presidential candidates, to address our country's infrastructure problems, but there is little consensus on how to fill the huge gap between what the government can finance and how much money is needed to pay for these projects," the economist, Beth Ann Bovino, said in a statement. "Private capital can be part of the solution." Her report claims that $150 billion in infrastructure spending would create over 300,000 jobs in two years.

2 MILLION MILES DOWN: Google announced that its self-driving cars have traveled over 2 million miles on public streets as of this month. The first million miles took the cars six years to complete, while the second million took less than a year and a half. Dmitri Dolgov, who leads Google's self-driving car project, wrote in a blog post that the company has recently zeroed in on "advanced driving skills" like "detecting and responding to everything from crossing guards to emergency vehicles to construction zones." Google's technology is also "much better at reliably predicting the trajectory, speed, and intention of other road users," Dolgov wrote, and the vehicles are more ready to "confidently handle unusual situations like seeing a car (or three!) driving the wrong way down a road."

WHAT IF ... : Every driverless car should use the same algorithm for determining what to do when facing an ethical dilemma, Ford Motor Company's executive chairman said Wednesday. The company announced in August that it was planning to develop a fully autonomous car - no steering wheel, no pedals - within five years for a shared fleet. On Wednesday, Bill Ford, the executive chairman, called for "a national discussion on ethics" during a speech at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., our Tanya Snyder reports . "You and I are driving and we come across a potential accident. We act instinctively because that's all we can do," Ford said. "But these cars will have such quick computing power."

"The easy comparison is, does the car choose to hit the grandmother or the baby?" Ford continued. "But then it goes beyond that. What if the best outcome of society is to take you out - the occupant?"

SHIFTING GEARS: Brian Bailey is now director of safety and environmental stewardship at The American Waterways Operators.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

- "Official: Plane evacuated after smoke from Samsung device." The Associated Press.

- "Amtrak service resumes after CSX freight train derails in the Bronx: officials." NBC 4 New York.

- "Cuomo denies Christie appointee's Bridgegate 'theory,' mum on ally's account." POLITICO New York.

- "Democrats claim support for gas tax, as opponents celebrate delay." POLITICO New Jersey.

- "These barriers between 7000-series Metro cars pose a safety risk, say blind riders." WAMU 88.5.

- "District strikes secrecy provision from bill creating new Metro safety oversight committee." The Washington Post.

- "Passenger service returns to Crater Lake / Klamath Regional Airport." KOTI-TV NBC2.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 64 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 358 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 32 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,458 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

9 a.m. - The FAA's Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee holds a meeting. Federal Aviation Administration, 10th Floor, Round Room, 800 Independence Ave. SW.

12 p.m. - DOT's chief innovation officer, Chris Gerdes, speaks about "prototyping as a technique for rapid learning" at Volpe. 55 Broadway, Kendall Square, Cambridge, Mass. Webinar registration here.

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

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/10/what-if-not-a-gas-tax-hike-019502

Stories from POLITICO Pro

With gas tax anathema, highway boosters look for another avenue Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/05/2016 04:37 PM EDT

As a presidential transition nears, highway and infrastructure groups are focusing their efforts on identifying long-term funding sources for roads and bridges that policymakers and the traveling public can live with.

Transportation lobbyists say they aren't giving up on pushing for an increase to the gasoline tax, arguing that it's still foundational to how the country funds highway improvements. But several of the main interest groups have begun acknowledging that they need to come together behind a new idea instead of repeating pleas that lawmakers have long been unable to get behind.

"I think we all are committed to trying to find a long-term, sustainable funding source, and that means all options are on the table," said Ed Mortimer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's top transportation lobbyist. "Historically, the gas tax has been the main source of funding these programs, so obviously that is where you start, but I think it wouldn't be prudent for us to rule out other options."

Chris Spear, the new president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said earlier this week that his organization will develop a new proposal for funding highway projects in light of Congress' refusal to raise the gas tax and lawmakers' increasing reliance on raiding other federal programs to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

But, what no one is able to answer yet is what another politically viable, long-term revenue source would look like.

What it's not, Mortimer said, is an one-time injection of funding derived from something like a corporate tax overhaul - an idea that got a lot of lip service during last year's surface transportation bill debate.

"A one-time stimulus, in our opinion, is not solving our long-term nation's transportation deficit," he said.

The Chamber is examining a variety of options, Mortimer said, such as a vehicle-miles-traveled fee - which ATA and others on Capitol Hill oppose - and a wholesale sales tax akin to what exists in Northern Virginia. Mortimer said he'd also like to see the TIFIA loan and credit program utilized to bring in more private funding.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has examined a menu of possible options, ranging from a gas tax increase to freight charges to sales taxes on auto parts.

A "gas tax is really one of the many options that we think should be available to departments of transportation to raise revenue around the country, but it's not the only thing we think Congress could look at to potentially generate revenue to the Highway Trust Fund," said AASHTO spokesman Lloyd Brown, though he added that the gas tax "has been kind of the backbone" of the trust fund.

While no single idea has emerged as the best option for highway advocates, they recognize that there's a limited window to come to a consensus on something. That's especially true considering that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have touted major infrastructure plans as their top priorities entering the White House, which gives those groups just a few months to develop a workable option to pitch to the next president.

Though the next surface transportation bill is years away, the groundwork starts now.

On Wednesday, the Chamber joined 32 business, labor and transportation groups in signing onto a letter to both candidates, urging them to spell out long-term funding solutions for highways in their infrastructure plans. Neither Trump nor Clinton has described how exactly they'd pay for their packages, beyond broad brush ideas. Clinton has pegged her plan at $275 billion over five years fueled through a corporate tax overhaul, while Trump has pledged to double her price tag and somehow utilize the bond market to cover costs.

"We applaud you for your vision and willingness to address the infrastructure deficit, and we believe that an infrastructure package needs to include, as a foundation, additional sustainable revenue to ensure the permanent solvency of the Highway Trust Fund," they wrote. "The additional revenue sources must be long-term, reliable, dedicated, and focused on the users and beneficiaries of our transportation network to support the increased investment provided under your infrastructure proposal."

Regardless, hope springs eternal for a gas tax hike.

Mortimer noted that New Jersey is close to joining several other states in passing its own increase.

"And that very well could be where we end up at the federal level," he said.

Back

DHS deputy secretary announces departure plans Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 10/05/2016 02:10 PM EDT

The Department of Homeland Security's second-in-command is stepping down, DHS announced this afternoon.

Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas leaves his post after more than seven years with the department - four as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and almost three years as deputy secretary of DHS at large. His departure is effective Oct. 28.

An immigrant himself, Mayorkas came to the United States from Cuba as a young boy.

Although Mayorkas has mostly focused on immigration and cybersecurity issues during his tenure with the department, he has also worked to expand U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations at foreign airports, weighed in on CBP and TSA staffing levels at major U.S. hubs, and headed talks about participation requirements for the Visa Waiver program.

In a fact sheet DHS released in conjunction with Mayorkas' departure announcement, the department highlighted the deputy secretary's efforts to revamp the Visa Waiver Program, lead the "groundbreaking delegation to Cuba," oversee "the reengineering of travel processes and the development of new technologies," and spearhead an initiative with the Commerce Department "to promote lawful travel and tourism to the United States."

Before joining the department, Mayorkas was a partner at a major law firm and U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

Back

DOT commits to zero deaths as fatalities continue to surge Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/05/2016 10:48 AM EDT

The rise in traffic deaths seen in 2015 is continuing, with more than 19,000 lives lost on the nation's roadways in the first half of this year, officials said today.

The increase - a 10.4 percent jump over last year's - has prompted the formation of a new coalition, called Road to Zero, which hopes to achieve zero deaths within 30 years.

"We are in the midst of a public health crisis, and it isn't Zika," said National Safety Council President Debbie Hersman.

The NSC has joined with three DOT agencies - NHTSA, FHWA, and FMCSA - to launch the coalition and invited others from government, industry, and advocacy to join them. DOT is dedicating $1 million a year for the next three years to support organizations working on traffic safety.

What DOT officials didn't do this morning was say with any specificity how they plan to get to zero. "We are on the hunt for new solutions to old problems," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.

But the solutions Rosekind referenced were the same ones DOT has been working on for years: safety recalls, automatic emergency braking, driverless vehicles, and the continued search for new ways to address drunk driving, distraction, and fatigue.

Last year saw 35,092 people die on the nation's roadways, representing a year-over-year increase greater than anything the nation had seen since 1966.

Back

S&P proposes swapping dollars for infrastructure bonds in repatriation Back

By Katy O'Donnell | 10/05/2016 11:22 AM EDT

S&P Global weighed in on the repatriation debate today, calling for the elimination of tax on corporations' repatriated earnings in exchange for the companies committing 15 percent of the money to infrastructure bonds.

A new paper from S&P Global Ratings U.S. Chief Economist Beth Ann Bovino suggests the potential return on investment in interest-bearing infrastructure bonds from state and local governments would give multinationals a reason to participate in the program.

"There is bipartisan support, including from the presidential candidates, to address our country's infrastructure problems, but there is little consensus on how to fill the huge gap between what the government can finance and how much money is needed to pay for these projects," Bovino said in an emailed statement.

"Private capital can be part of the solution. Today's report suggests a one-time economic growth catalyst that could raise $150 billion for infrastructure projects if half of the more than $2 trillion in undistributed U.S. corporate earnings overseas are repatriated," she added.

The report argues that each dollar spent on infrastructure would add $1.30 to the economy and a $150 billion infrastructure spending package would create about 307,000 jobs in two years and eventually add nearly $190 billion to GDP.

As a bond-rating company, S&P could also benefit from such an initiative.

Back

Ford exec: Automakers need a standardized algorithm for driverless car ethics choices Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/05/2016 02:49 PM EDT

The executive chairman of Ford Motor Company said today that driverless cars should use the same algorithm for how to handle thorny ethical situations, as the technology continues to be rolled out to consumers.

"We need to have a national discussion on ethics," Bill Ford said today at the Economic Club of Washington.

"You and I are driving and we come across a potential accident; we act instinctively because that's all we can do," Ford said. "But these cars will have such quick computing power."

"The easy comparison is, does the car choose to hit the grandmother or the baby?" he said. "But then it goes beyond that. What if the best outcome of society is to take you out - the occupant?"

The company announced in August that it planned to develop fully autonomous cars, with no steering wheel or pedals, within five years for use in a shared-fleet model. "It will be disruptive at every level," he said - from the electric powertrain to the move toward a shared fleet of cars instead of private ownership.

He also noted that there are "lots of revenue streams and new business models that are going to come up around mobility" and that the "traditional old model may - or may not - have peaked."

Back

Cuomo denies Christie appointee's Bridgegate 'theory,' mum on ally's account Back

By Jimmy Vielkind | 10/05/2016 02:49 PM EDT

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Wednesday that he never spoke with his New Jersey counterpart, Chris Christie, about whitewashing the 2013 Bridgegate scandal - his administration's second day of responding to an assertion made in a federal courtroom in Newark.

Cuomo, a Democrat who has long observed an unofficial nonaggression pact with Christie, has been placed on the defensive by David Wildstein, a former Christie ally and authority appointee who pleaded guilty to closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retaliation against a Democratic mayor who declined to support Christie's re-election.

Wildstein testified that he was told by two top Christie appointees that the governors coordinated on a false cover story to "put an end" to the lane-closing controversy.

Cuomo and his team immediately branded Wildstein as a lying felon and said his testimony - given under oath - was "false and delusional."

But a lawyer in the case suggested that another witness, Scott Rechler - a respected Cuomo appointee to the Port Authority - will corroborate the post-scandal collaboration by the governors.

Wildstein said it was his impression that Cuomo and Christie told Pat Foye - the Cuomo-appointed executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the bridge - to stand down. He said he was told that the governors agreed on the creation of a report that would back up the Christie-backed explanation that the lane closures had been part of a traffic study.

"It didn't happen, and you know it didn't happen because there was no report," Cuomo told reporters after an event at the New-York Historical Society. "If there was a conversation where we said, we will do a report that does X, you know you would know? There would be a report."

Cuomo's chief of staff, Melissa DeRosa, attacked "totally irresponsible reporting yesterday from 3rd hand testimony based on nothing" after Wildstein on Wednesday said he had no actual way of knowing for certain whether the Cuomo-Christie conversation occurred.

Later, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi issued the following statement: "It is well known that Pat Foye and his New Jersey counterparts were at odds on many issues for many years. However, there was no conversation between the Governors concerning a 'plan' to have Pat Foye stand down or have a report written. Pat Foye and the Governor have both said Mr. Wildstein's account is inaccurate, he himself concedes its hearsay, and the supposed directives from it never happened: Mr. Foye never stood down and no report was ever prepared or issued."

Cuomo's aides did not respond to questions about whether Rechler - a real estate developer who is a close gubernatorial ally and donor, and Cuomo's former vice chairman at the Port - would corroborate any aspect of Wildstein's account.

While questions of what the governors knew and when they knew it are coloring the Bridgegate trial, the actual defendants are Bill Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port, and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff.

Kelly's lawyer, Michael Critchley, has sought to portray her as a lower-level figure who was not, as prosecutors say, responsible for engineering the Bridgegate coverup.

"Two top levelers: Chris Christie and Cuomo. They were both involved. They were both talking to each other. Talking what to do and how to do it," Critchley said last month as the trial opened. "As a matter of fact, you'll hear from Scott Rechler, who says he spoke with Cuomo, Cuomo said he spoke - Cuomo told him he spoke with Christie and that Christie was upset because Pat Foye was meddling in his campaign. Pat Foye, whether he says it or not, will have witnesses to say that he heard that Chris Christie was angry with him and wanted him fired."

Foye's attorney has said that Wildstein's testimony "is not accurate."

Rechler did not answer calls or emails seeking comment.

Here is a transcript of Cuomo's exchange with reporters at the Historical Society, excluding some questions about sputtering plans to overhaul the Port and hire a new CEO.

Q: Just go back to the timeline on Bridgegate. Pretty early on after the lane closures, in September of 2013, Pat Foye at the Port Authority sent an email calling it a federal crime. We now know it was a federal crime. Do you still maintain you were not aware at that time? When did you find out? Was anybody ever held accountable for not telling you?

A: "Nothing has changed from the past two years, we're just learning more facts."

Q: David Wildstein said on the stand that it was his impression that you and Christie talked about telling officials to stand down in terms of what happened in Fort Lee. Did it happen?

A: "Sometimes there's innuendo and you can't prove it one way or another. Here there are facts. If I said, 'I think Zack Fink has blond hair,' then we could find out, because we could look at [NY1 reporter and brunette] Zack Fink and he doesn't have blond hair so it's not true. This came up last year. I don't know who raised it last year, but the same gossip was spread last year, and it's factually impossible. 'Pat Foye, stand down.' Pat Foye didn't stand down. Pat Foye stood up. 'The report would whitewash.' There was no report done. So, there was no report, Pat Foye didn't stand down, he stood up. Pat Foye says it's untrue. Governor Christie says it's untrue. And I believe the gentleman himself, Wildstein, said he wasn't sure it happened. He had just heard it."

Q: The issue is not whether there's a report or he stood down. It's whether you two governors discussed a report, or asking him to stand down. Did that happen?

A: "It didn't happen, and you know it didn't happen because there was no report. If there was a conversation where we said, we will do a report that does X, you know you would know? There would be a report."

Q: How did you find out about Bridgegate?

A: "That was two years ago, Zack. I have to go back and look, but I found out basically when it became public."

Q: If this is false, then why did David Wildstein even bring you into the picture?

A: "I don't know. You'd have to ask Mr. Wildstein what the theory is and what they're trying to communicate. I don't watch it, frankly, in the way you guys do."

Q: What was the substance of your conversations with Governor Christie regarding Bill Baroni's 2013 testimony to the New Jersey Legislature when he claimed there wasn't a legitimate traffic study?

A: "There was no conversation that I can remember."

Q: Do you have a response to Rob Astorino, who claims you and Christie colluded against his campaign?

A: "He has no basis for it, but that hasn't stopped him before."

Q: Are you going to do anything to bolster what you just said, either with documents or in any other way?

A: "It's sort of irrefutable, you know. It's black and white. His point is, 'I heard a story.' Now, this is a person [Wildstein] who admitted that he's committed a crime and he's pled to a felony. 'I heard a story that the governor said to the governor that Pat Foye should stand down and we're going to do a report.' That was not accurate. That's gossip that he's passing on, and in this situation we have the advantage of knowing that it is factually not true. Pat Foye did not stand down - if anything, he was the whistleblower. And there was no report done whatsoever. Whitewashed, accurate, colorful - no report. And then he says he doesn't know that that ever happened, but he heard that. Yeah. So I, look: this is an ongoing drama in New Jersey with a lot of rumors and a lot of gossip and a lot of conspiracy theories and a lot of political connections, and I think that's all playing out, and let it play out and then at the end of the trial we'll know the facts. What I'm concerned about is getting the Port Authority reforms passed. This is all nice for the tabloids, right? And especially in New Jersey there's a lot of political intrigue. At the end of the day, it's going to be, did you pass the reforms to the Port Authority."

Q: "How tight are you with Governor Christie?"

A: "I don't even know. How do you define tight? Are you and I tight?"

Q: "However you define tight."

A: "Tight like I am with you."

Dana Rubinstein and Ryan Hutchins contributed reporting. The original version of this article has been updated with the statement from Azzopardi.

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Democrats claim support for gas tax, as opponents celebrate delay Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 10/05/2016 02:41 PM EDT

TRENTON - The State Legislature on Wednesday delayed a vote on a $16 billion infrastructure plan after failing to overcome a key procedural hurdle, but lawmakers now appear poised to pass the legislation later this week.

Both houses will return to the statehouse on Friday to vote on the landmark bills, which will raise the state's gas tax 23 cents per gallon and enact a sweeping series of tax cuts that will squeeze more than a $1 billion from the state's annual budget.

The State Senate did vote to amend the bills, suggesting it has enough support to pass the legislation on Friday morning.

The amendments to the tax bill passed with 22 "yes" votes and as many as 10 "no" votes. But without 30 votes in support, the senators were unable to call an "emergency" vote to pass the legislation. The bills must now sit for a full calendar day before lawmakers can take action.

Some opponents of the legislation - both conservatives and liberals - were overjoyed by the small hiccup. Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat who has said the tax hike should be phased in and that the state shouldn't cut so much from its budget, ran out of the Senate chambers once it became clear the vote would not happen until Friday.

"No emergency!" he shouted, speaking loud enough that some lawmakers broke into laughter. He later cheered: "We live to fight another day!"

"It gives me 48 hours to engage the public on the side of what's right," Lesniak said after the voting session ended. "And this bill is not what's right."

But supporters of the measure - none of them entirely pleased with the final product after facing months of tough negotiations - said the delay would not change anything.

"It's not a big deal - that's why I didn't call for a vote," Senate President Stephen Sweeney told reporters at the Senate floor.

"We have a critical need to fund our Transportation Trust Fund," Sweeney added. "It's been underfunded for quite some time and we're really in a crisis mode now."

Gov. Chris Christie, who hasn't signed a direct tax increase since taking office in 2010, shut down all non-essential infrastructure projects in July after he was unable to come to terms with lawmakers about what tax cuts to pair with the new infrastructure funding. The governor and some Republican lawmakers have demanded "tax fairness" in exchange for supporting a tax hike.

Christie and the Democratic leaders in the Legislature finally reached an agreement late on Friday afternoon, splicing together several forms of tax cuts they had discussed over the summer into one package.

The deal calls for $16 billion in spending on roads, bridges and rails over the next eight years. It will produce the longest-lasting funding source for the TTF since it was created in 1984, Christie said last week.

New Jersey's gas tax is currently 14.5 cents per gallon - the second-lowest in the nation - and will rise to 37.5 cents in November assuming the bills pass on Friday. The new revenue, totaling about $1.2 billion per year, will be combined with new borrowing to provide $2 billion in annual spending on transportation projects.

At the same time, the state would enact a series of large tax cuts. The 7 percent state sales tax would be reduced by 3/8 of a point - down from a full point reduction that Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto had agreed to in June. The change would save a consumer who spends $10,000 a year on taxable goods just $37.50.

The estate tax, which currently has a threshold of $675,000, would see that limit increased to $2 million in January. By January 2018, the estate tax would be eliminated entirely.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits low-income workers, would increase from 30 percent of the federal level to 35 percent. Democrats had initially discussed increasing the credit to 40 percent of the federal level.

And the amount of retirement income eligible for tax exclusion would increase from the current $15,000 to $75,000 for a single taxpayer, from $20,000 to $100,000 for married couples filing jointly, and from $10,000 to $50,000 for married couples filing separately.

Veterans would also be able to claim a personal exemption.

All told, the tax cuts would cost the state $1 billion in revenue by the 2019 fiscal year and about $1.3 billion in fiscal 2020, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. The sales tax cut alone will slice about $600 million from the budget.

Over eight years, the entire plan could cost the state as much as $9.1 billion in revenue, OLS estimates.

Sponsors say the final legislation isn't perfect - it's just the best bill they could get the governor to sign.

"We have an obligation. We need to get this done. We need to invest in our economy. Our economy is starting to [falter], our infrastructure's crumbling. This is obligation we've all taken as part of our oath of office," Sen. Paul Sarlo, the budget chairman and a sponsor, said after the session ended.

"This is a difficult vote. This is not an easy vote," he added, noting how many members of both parties seem reluctant to support a tax increase. "Anybody who says this is an easy vote in kidding themselves. This is a very, very difficult vote."

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto canceled a vote that was planned for Wednesday afternoon and scheduled a new voting session for Friday afternoon. The Senate is scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday.

Lawmakers are sure to receive continued pressure in coming days to vote against the gas tax hike, which has become a piñata for some Republicans to rally around.

Conservative radio host Bill Spadea, who has spent months firing up listeners on New Jersey 101.5, was on the Senate floor Wednesday celebrating the brief respite. The anti-tax group American for Prosperity said its members were flooding the phones lines of lawmakers with calls urging them to vote against the legislation.

With the entire Legislature up for re-election next year, there is some fear that lawmakers in competitive districts may lose their seats if they vote for the bills.

Sen. Jen Beck, a Republican who has organized rallies to protest the legislation, said she thought one reason a vote didn't happen on Wednesday was because lawmakers have been "hearing from outraged residents of this state, and it gave them pause."

"A $1 billion tax increase is going to have a huge impact on the working families of this state," she said. "It's regressive - many of our people commute to work, they have no choice but to drive their vehicles. And this is going to impact the quality of their lives."

Democrats said they understood why people don't like the bills, on both sides of the aisle, but said they have no choice but to proceed.

"I'm not overjoyed with this," Sweeney said. "This is a piece of legislation that was tough for me to deal with, because it's a lot. But we can't let our Transportation Trust Fund go for another 14 months."

--additional reporting by Matt Friedman

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(FROM BAF IN THE NEWS) With gas tax anathema, highway boosters look for another avenue Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/05/2016 04:37 PM EDT

As a presidential transition nears, highway and infrastructure groups are focusing their efforts on identifying long-term funding sources for roads and bridges that policymakers and the traveling public can live with.

Transportation lobbyists say they aren't giving up on pushing for an increase to the gasoline tax, arguing that it's still foundational to how the country funds highway improvements. But several of the main interest groups have begun acknowledging that they need to come together behind a new idea instead of repeating pleas that lawmakers have long been unable to get behind.

"I think we all are committed to trying to find a long-term, sustainable funding source, and that means all options are on the table," said Ed Mortimer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's top transportation lobbyist. "Historically, the gas tax has been the main source of funding these programs, so obviously that is where you start, but I think it wouldn't be prudent for us to rule out other options."

Chris Spear, the new president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said earlier this week that his organization will develop a new proposal for funding highway projects in light of Congress' refusal to raise the gas tax and lawmakers' increasing reliance on raiding other federal programs to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

But, what no one is able to answer yet is what another politically viable, long-term revenue source would look like.

What it's not, Mortimer said, is an one-time injection of funding derived from something like a corporate tax overhaul - an idea that got a lot of lip service during last year's surface transportation bill debate.

"A one-time stimulus, in our opinion, is not solving our long-term nation's transportation deficit," he said.

The Chamber is examining a variety of options, Mortimer said, such as a vehicle-miles-traveled fee - which ATA and others on Capitol Hill oppose - and a wholesale sales tax akin to what exists in Northern Virginia. Mortimer said he'd also like to see the TIFIA loan and credit program utilized to bring in more private funding.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has examined a menu of possible options, ranging from a gas tax increase to freight charges to sales taxes on auto parts.

A "gas tax is really one of the many options that we think should be available to departments of transportation to raise revenue around the country, but it's not the only thing we think Congress could look at to potentially generate revenue to the Highway Trust Fund," said AASHTO spokesman Lloyd Brown, though he added that the gas tax "has been kind of the backbone" of the trust fund.

While no single idea has emerged as the best option for highway advocates, they recognize that there's a limited window to come to a consensus on something. That's especially true considering that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have touted major infrastructure plans as their top priorities entering the White House, which gives those groups just a few months to develop a workable option to pitch to the next president.

Though the next surface transportation bill is years away, the groundwork starts now.

On Wednesday, the Chamber joined 32 business, labor and transportation groups in signing onto a letter to both candidates, urging them to spell out long-term funding solutions for highways in their infrastructure plans. Neither Trump nor Clinton has described how exactly they'd pay for their packages, beyond broad brush ideas. Clinton has pegged her plan at $275 billion over five years fueled through a corporate tax overhaul, while Trump has pledged to double her price tag and somehow utilize the bond market to cover costs.

"We applaud you for your vision and willingness to address the infrastructure deficit, and we believe that an infrastructure package needs to include, as a foundation, additional sustainable revenue to ensure the permanent solvency of the Highway Trust Fund," they wrote. "The additional revenue sources must be long-term, reliable, dedicated, and focused on the users and beneficiaries of our transportation network to support the increased investment provided under your infrastructure proposal."

Regardless, hope springs eternal for a gas tax hike.

Mortimer noted that New Jersey is close to joining several other states in passing its own increase.

"And that very well could be where we end up at the federal level," he said.