Join The
Get The

Infrastructure in the News 11.28.16



New York Times: Choke Point of a Nation: The High Cost of an Aging River Lock

Luther Helland stood on a platform in the middle of the river and surveyed his dam. It was in bad shape. Several of the panels that kept the water back were missing, while others were out of true. Weeks of work stretched before him, compounded by the vagaries of the river.


Washington Post: This motorist group wants you to pay more in fuels tax. But it also wants to chuck traffic cameras.

The automobile and the call of the open road have been a part of James C. Walker’s life since he was a teenager. He became licensed to drive at 16 in Fort Wayne, Ind., sold cars after college, worked for an ad company that sold cars, and even managed the first Chevrolet dealership in Moscow. By his count, Walker, 72, has driven in 26 countries. He’s a life member of the National Motorists Association (NMA), a small group that fought to repeal the nationwide 55-mph speed limit years ago. He serves as executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation.


Associated Press: Air travel normal as Thanksgiving holiday weekend winds down

Millions of Americans made their way back home Sunday after a long Thanksgiving weekend, facing minimal stress and strain as they traveled by air, rail or road.


Washington Post: Infrastructure projects aren’t jobs programs

History has a sly sense of humor. It caused an epiphany regarding infrastructure projects — roads, harbors, airports, etc. — to occur on a bridge over Boston’s Charles River, hard by Harvard Yard, where rarely is heard a discouraging word about government.


Associated Press: Gov’t wants phone makers to lock out most apps for drivers

The government wants smartphone makers to lock out most apps when the phone is being used by someone driving a car. The voluntary guidelines unveiled Wednesday are designed to reduce crashes caused by drivers distracted by phones. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also wants automakers to make infotainment systems easy to pair with smartphones.


Herald and News: Are Trump's infrastructure promises likely to succeed?

Come Jan. 20, President-elect Donald J. Trump will start carrying out his agenda. How does he expect to turn his promises into policy? Do his plans make sense? If not, what should he do?


Forbes Energy: How to Fix the Trump Infrastructure Plan

The trillion dollar Trump infrastructure plan has been roundly criticized, for several good reasons, but also out of a basic misunderstanding about infrastructure finance and development, a complex topic. As someone who has been working in this field for over three decades and has been teaching the topic at Columbia University at the School of International and Public Affairs for almost a decade, I should know.


The Hill: Trump: Infrastructure not ‘core’ part of agenda

President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview with The New York Times that infrastructure will not be a “core” part of his agenda during the first few years of his administration.


The Huffington Post: Rep. Rosa DeLauro: To Lead On Infrastructure, Trump Should Look To Public-Private Investment

“Our infrastructure is crumbling:” It is an expression we hear often in Washington—but what we do not hear as often are concrete plans to address our nation’s failing infrastructure.


Bloomberg View: How a Trump Infrastructure Bank Could Soak Taxpayers

Politicians have fretted over, debated and vowed to fix America's crumbling infrastructure. For four decades.



Associated Press: Self-Driving Truck Hits the Road as Ohio Discusses Research

A self-driving truck will begin traveling on two Ohio roads next week after state officials announce details of new investments to support innovative transportation technology.


Washington Post: Md. and Va. won’t meet deadline for new Metro safety body. What happens now?

Maryland and Virginia have formally notified federal officials that they won’t meet a February deadline for establishing a new, tougher safety agency to oversee Metro. But with the incoming Republican administration and its yet-to-be named transportation secretary, it’s unclear whether federal threats to withhold millions in funding for failing to meet the cutoff will hold.


WCNC: National Transportation Safety Board investigates bus crash

As investigators continue to search for answers in the tragic bus crash injuring 24 children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, authorities reported on Wednesday that a sixth child has passed away.


The Seattle Times: City must avoid tunnel vision while redesigning the waterfront’s transportation infrastructure

NOW that the Bertha tunneling machine is working again, attention has turned to the redesign of surface streets that will remain after the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished. Public officials must get this right. If they fail and whittle away the corridor’s functionality at the behest of special interests, the outcome would be worse than the “Mercer Mess.”


Washington Times: Trump’s infrastructure program

Additional spending on infrastructure could deliver a powerful jolt to economic growth if President-elect Trump eschews conventional government approaches and gets the money out quickly and effectively.


NPR WAMU: Voters Backed Transit Funds. Will Congress OK Trump Infrastructure Plan?

On a night that the national election results had her discouraged, Seattle resident Anne Johnson had at least one ballot measure to celebrate: ST3, which will raise the local sales tax in the Seattle-Tacoma area to help pump $54 billion into expanding the region's rail and bus systems. It passed by a wide margin.


Associated Press: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: No easy solution for state’s $1 billion transportation budget deficit

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wants to make it clear that there are “No Easy Answers” for solving the state’s $1 billion transportation budget deficit.


Mashable: San Francisco transit system hack takes down ticketing system and email

The nightmare hacking scenario many have feared has finally happened near the heart of Silicon Valley: a major rapid transit system has been hacked.

POLITICO Morning Transportation - By Brianna Gurciullo | 11/28/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Tanya Snyder, Lauren Gardner and Kathryn A. Wolfe

LATE FOR A VERY IMPORTANT DATE: Virginia and Maryland have told Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that they aren't going to create a new oversight body for Metro before DOT's deadline of Feb. 9, 2017, the Washington Post reports. The transportation secretaries for Maryland and Virginia sent letters to Foxx saying that legislative calendars and logistical issues will prevent the states from getting an agency up and running by February.

What will Trump's DOT do? Foxx has warned that if D.C., Maryland and Virginia fail to meet the deadline, the federal government could withhold some funding. But Foxx probably won't be in charge come Feb. 9. Mortimer Downey, a former chairman of Metro's board who served as deputy secretary of Transportation under Bill Clinton, told the Post that he doesn't "see it being at the top of the new secretary's agenda." Besides, withholding funding could hurt the already financially ailing transit system. President-elect Donald Trump's administration could drop oversight of Metro, but that's unlikely and certainly wouldn't be easy to do.

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

"Take the highway. Lord knows I've been gone too long. Lot of sad days, yeah. One day you'll turn around. And I'll be gone."

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

ON THE ELEVENTH SURGE OF SAFETRACK WMATA GAVE TO ME: We're back to the Orange and Silver lines. From today until Dec. 21, trains will continuously single track from East Falls Church to West Falls Church. This one is expected to be a doozy because it's hitting an area where the lines converge, the Post reports . "The first two weeks of this surge will be the worst of anything our riders have experienced so far since we started SafeTrack," said Joseph Leader, Metro's chief operating officer. "There will be a severe reduction in train service."

CALIFORNIA'S DMV DIRECTOR TALKS DRIVERLESS CARS: California has received mixed reactions to its newly revised policy on the deployment of self-driving cars. The industry has said that California is trying to make it mandatory for autonomous carmakers to complete a 15-point safety assessment, which NHTSA included in its guidance on the developing technology but was meant to be voluntary. Our Tanya Snyder chatted with Jean Shiomoto, the director of California's DMV, who said: "What we have put out is a draft. Based on the comments that we receive and the comments that NHTSA receives, we'll talk. There could be changes." Pros can see the full Q&A here.

PROVE YOURSELF: DOT is looking for "proving grounds" for driverless cars. The department announced last week that it's taking applications for a federal government designation as a "qualified" proving ground for testing out the technology. The goal is to have the facilities exchange best safety practices. Applicants can be "test tracks or testing facilities, race tracks, cities or urban cores, highway corridors and campuses (corporate or academic)."


Tuesday — The Transit Advisory Committee for Safety begins a two-day meeting.

Wednesday — APTA begins its December committee meetings. The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility holds a briefing called "Drug-Impaired Driving: The Challenges Facing Law Enforcement." The National Press Club holds a luncheon with Paul Wiedefeld, the general manager of WMATA.

Thursday — The National Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council begins two days of meetings. NHTSA holds a meeting to "explore the risk factors associated with pupil transportation and potential solutions to prevent school transportation-related crashes." The Stimson Center hosts a discussion on the "ethical, legal, and security implications of the U.S. drone program."

Friday — The House Oversight subcommittee on transportation and public assets holds a hearing on WMATA.

INFRASTRUCTURE ISN'T TRUMP'S NO. 1 PRIORITY: Infrastructure won't be "the core" of Donald Trump's early years in office, the president-elect said during his interview with New York Times journalists last week. "No, it's not the core, but it's an important factor," Trump said, according to a transcript published by the Times. "We're going for a lot of things, between taxes, between regulations, between health care replacement, we're going to talk repeal and replace."

'More important' things to do: When Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asked whether infrastructure was a part of the president-elect's plans for creating jobs, Trump said: "I don't even think it's a big part of it. It's going to be a big number but I think I am doing things that are more important than infrastructure, but infrastructure is still a part of it, and we're talking about a very large-scale infrastructure bill. And that's not a very Republican thing — I didn't even know that, frankly."

Money for infrastructure only: Trump went on to say that President Barack Obama's stimulus "didn't work" because the administration "didn't spend the money last time on infrastructure." Trump said: "They spent it on a lot of other things. You know, nobody can find out where that last — you know, from a few years ago — where that money went. And we're going to make sure it is spent on infrastructure and roads and highways."

A HELPING OF SKEPTICISM: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who has long pushed for the creation of a national infrastructure bank, is one of the latest lawmakers to call on Trump to get more specific about his plans for upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, airports and railroads and include federal spending in his proposal. Trump has said that he wants to see $1 trillion invested in infrastructure. He promised during his campaign that his plan would rely on "public-private partnerships" and tax credits for investors. But DeLauro and other Democratic lawmakers say it's not enough.

DeLauro argues in a Huffington Post blog post that "without public funding, his plan will not get us where we need to go." And, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently did, she criticizes the idea of giving multinational corporations a lower tax rate to repatriate overseas income and invest in infrastructure.

McSALLY WOULD WANT TO REPLACE McCAUL: If Trump picks House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) to be the head of DHS, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) "would definitely go for" the chairmanship, according to a spokesman for McSally. "Congresswoman McSally brings unmatched national security experience and a firsthand understanding of how we secure our southern border with Mexico," spokesman Patrick Ptak told POLITICO's Theodoric Meyer. "If there's a vacancy there, there's nobody more qualified than Martha to fill it."

A good sign for McCaul? Our friends at POLITICO Huddle report: "McSally, who easily won reelection to a second term in an Arizona swing district, is a former Air Force colonel and is one of only three House Republicans who represents a district on the Mexican border. (One of the others, Texas Rep. Will Hurd, is also on the committee.) Her early maneuvering for the post also signals how confident Republicans are that McCaul will be tapped by Trump as his Homeland Security secretary."

TRUMP MEETS WITH BARLETTA: The president-elect met Friday with Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta, a possible Transportation secretary candidate. An early backer of Trump, Barletta serves on the House Transportation and Homeland Security committees, as our Kathryn A. Wolfe reported for Pros. But when local media recently asked him about the position, Barletta said: "I'm just happy to working on the Trump team."

ICYMI: NHTSA released proposed guidelines last week as part of an effort to help prevent drivers from getting distracted by their cellphones while on the road. As our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros, the guidelines would be voluntary and prod manufacturers to consider how they could minimize possible distractions for drivers when they design phones.

"The Guidelines encourage innovative solutions such as pairing and Driver Mode that, when implemented, will reduce the potential for unsafe driver distraction by limiting the time a driver's eyes are off the road, while at the same time preserving the full functionality of these devices when they are not used while driving," the agency said in its proposal.

SLICE OF PI: Connected-car company HARMAN International hired Edward Kutler, a former adviser to Newt Gingrich, to lobby DOT on autonomous vehicle issues. (h/t POLITICO Influence)


— "Boeing faces WTO sanctions." The Wall Street Journal.

— "TSA Instagram showcases the wacky and weird from airport checkpoints." The Washington Post.

— "Student before crash: 'Feels like the bus is going to flip.'" The Associated Press. (Plus: "Tennessee crash revives debate over school bus seat belts." The AP.)

— "Choke point of a nation: the high cost of an aging river lock." The New York Times.

— "Race-track rivalry moves to boardroom as VW brands battle for electric car jobs." Reuters.

— "Self-driving truck hits the road as Ohio discusses research." The Associated Press.

— "In Europe, is Uber a transportation service or a digital platform?" The New York Times.

— "Delta apologizes after flight passenger's rant in support of Donald Trump." Time.

— "Lufthansa pilots union pushes for second week of strikes." The Wall Street Journal.

— "N.Y.'s Cuomo finds common ground with Trump on infrastructure." The Associated Press.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 11 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 305 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,405 days.


Nothing on our radar for today.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

POLITICO Pro Q&A: California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto Back

By Tanya Snyder | 11/28/2016 05:04 AM EDT

California has been a leader in crafting state guidance for the testing and deployment of driverless cars, leading to some friction with the federal government and the auto industry.

The state DMV adopted rules for testing, but not deploying, self-driving cars in 2014. Draft regulations on deployment languished while the state waited for the federal government to act — which it did Sept. 20, with NHTSA's release of its guidance on automated vehicles. Ten days later, California released a revision of its state policy and has been soliciting comment on it.

The reaction has been mixed. The auto lobby would prefer that states stay out of the business of regulating anything but licensing, registration and insurance. The biggest complaint has been California's attempt to require a 15-point safety assessment that NHTSA intended to be voluntary. But industry officials were also alarmed by some data-sharing provisions and reporting requirements.

POLITICO talked to Jean Shiomoto, director of the California DMV, to find out more about how federal guidance looks from ground zero of the burgeoning industry. It's the first in a series of conversations with officials leading the way on regulating autonomous vehicles at the state level.

The transcript, which includes occasional comments from Bernard Soriano, a DMV spokesman, has been edited for length and clarity.

Did California start its own regulations because there was a void at the federal level, or do you think this is a state responsibility?

We were given this responsibility because of legislation passed in California in 2012 — it was Senate Bill 1298 that gave us that responsibility. That was because technology was being developed in California. It was just coming on the scene. It wasn't on a lot of people's radar. There wasn't a void.

Is there anything in the model state policy you think should be established at the federal level instead of in state regulation?

NHTSA lays out a framework for states to follow to get away from a concern of a patchwork of 50 states having different approaches to autonomous vehicles. That's what the manufacturers were asking for.

California is out front on this — you and Michigan and a handful of other states. Do you feel like a lot of eyes are on you?

[The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators] put together an autonomous vehicle work group, and it has representation from 14 jurisdictions in the United States, and also representation from Canada and from law enforcement. A lot of states are active in pursuing autonomous vehicle technology in their states.

We do share all our information on our website. Our testing regulations are on our website; our draft regulations are there. Comments that have been received from public hearings are there. We have copies of accident reports and disengagement reports from manufacturers and developers that have testing permits. States do call us and we share our experience so they don't have to reinvent wheel.

You require compliance with NHTSA's voluntary safety assessment, which some manufacturers complain essentially makes it mandatory. Would you prefer that NHTSA just flat out require it? Or is there some other way that you anticipate ameliorating those concerns?

Bernard Soriano, DMV spokesman: Our interest is making sure that what's enacted in California statute comes to fruition. That means we needed to develop the regulations to allow for testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on California's roadways. The statute also requires us to be responsible for the safety of those vehicles. With the federal guidelines, those assurances are there.

Shiomoto: We don't have to require anything of the manufacturers. They meet the 15-point assessment through NHTSA, and then what we are just asking for is a copy of the letter.

Yes, but NHTSA doesn't require that, but you do.

Soriano: NHTSA's interest is in ensuring that the vehicles are safe on the roadways. They're going through the process now of refining how that will work. Developing regulations at the federal level is a lengthy process; the technology changes on a pace that's much more rapid.

Shiomoto: Also, the manufacturers have a very long relationship with NHTSA, and so the manufacturers know how NHTSA operates and NHTSA knows how the manufacturers operate. NHTSA has more expertise at that than we do, and so we do welcome that manufacturers have to work with NHTSA in providing that information, and we're just asking that they provide that 15-point assessment letter to the DMV.

Would you advocate for NHTSA to simply require it at their level so there's no conflict between the federal government and the state about whether it's required or voluntary?

Shiomoto: What we have put out is a draft. Based on the comments that we receive and the comments that NHTSA receives, we'll talk. There could be changes. They're going to review and update the policy every year.

Soriano: To require something means that it needs to be in regulation. And regulation takes a lengthy amount of time. So what's available to NHTSA is to be able to publish policies, which have some limitations in terms of making it a requirement.

NHTSA has contemplated requesting pre-market approval authority. Would that help you? Would you contemplate setting up a regime where the state certifies cars before they're deployed or put to market?

No, we would not do that.

There has been concern about municipal laws. Are you encouraging municipalities to set their own laws and regulations? If they do, would those regulations trump the state regulations?

No, we're not encouraging that. We're getting a lot of comments on that, so we're going to revisit that and talk to local governments about it.

There have also been concerns about data sharing and intellectual property.

We're not asking for intellectual property or data sharing. That's not part of our purview.

You are asking for shared crash reports.

If there's a crash, they need to submit a report to us within 10 days, and we require a report of disengagements, and it goes on our website. The data sharing is what NHTSA is asking for; that's in the federal policy.

Manufacturers complain that the requirement to submit an annual report creates a yearlong waiting period between testing and deployment. Is that something you'll go back and work on?

It's premature for us to say exactly what we'll change, because we're still receiving comments.


Trump to meet with Barletta today Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe | 11/25/2016 02:48 PM EDT

President-elect Donald Trump will meet today with Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who has been among those rumored to be in the running for Transportation secretary.

Barletta, who sits on both the House Homeland Security and Transportation committees, was an early Trump supporter. But just earlier this week, when asked if he was in the running for the top job at DOT's Navy Yard headquarters, Barletta was coy.
"I'm just happy to working on the Trump team," Barletta said, according to local media reports.


NHTSA proposes second batch of distracted driving guidelines Back

By Lauren Gardner | 11/23/2016 09:19 AM EDT

NHTSA proposed a second phase of voluntary guidelines today to combat cellphone distractions on the highway.

The proposal aims to nudge portable electronic device manufacturers to design their products to minimize drivers' potential for distractions.

"The Guidelines encourage innovative solutions such as pairing and Driver Mode that, when implemented, will reduce the potential for unsafe driver distraction by limiting the time a driver's eyes are off the road, while at the same time preserving the full functionality of these devices when they are not used while driving," NHTSA said in the proposal.

The initial set of guidelines unveiled in 2013 were geared toward call systems built into cars.

NTSB recommended a nationwide ban on cellphone and other portable electronic device use while driving in 2011, a recommendation that also covered hands-free systems.