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Infrastructure in the News 11.4.16



Washington Post: Cross-country trips in electric cars are about to get easier

President Obama is making it a little easier for electric car owners to make cross-country drives.


Forbes: Where Clinton And Trump Stand On Transportation

Transportation and infrastructure policy hasn’t gotten much attention so far in the 2016 election cycle, but the two major party candidates have put forth plans.


Fast Company: Uber's GM For North America Talks About The Future Of Transportation

A fleet of driverless taxis has already hit Pittsburgh. It’s anybody’s guess what transportation will look like in 10 years. Perhaps every car will be autonomous or perhaps everyone will use hired services to get from point A to point B and be less reliant on their own vehicles.


Land Line: ELECTION 2016: Voters in eight states to decide on transportation issues

The race for the Oval Office continues to dominate election news, but are there transportation-specific issues you’ll need to know about when you get to the booth? The answer is yes. Ballots in eight states will include questions next week on transportation issues that include the protection of available funds, bond authorization and tolling authority.


Wall Street Journal: GM Charts Course for Noncore Businesses (full article follows Morning Transportation)

General Motors Co. is planning for life after the light-vehicle boom ends.




Associated Press: Philadelphia commuters hit clogged roads on strike’s Day 4

Commuters are hitting clogged roads, jumping on bikes and organizing carpools as the Philadelphia’s transit strike enters Day 4.


Associated Press: Transit agency pushes strikers to work on Election Day

Philadelphia’s main transit agency asked on Thursday for assurances from the city’s striking transit union that it will suspend its walkout on Election Day if no contract agreement is reached by then. Without that promise, the agency said, it will go to court to try to force transit employees to work on Nov. 8.


Washington Post: Cutting Metro’s late-night hours could hurt Md.’s proposed light-rail Purple Line, official says

Permanently cutting back Metro’s late-night service could end up hurting Maryland’s Purple Line project by prolonging a lawsuit that has already delayed construction of the light-rail line, a Montgomery County council member said Thursday in a letter to Metro officials.


Washington Post: Metro board members, staff spar over proposal to ax late-night service

Metro board members appear resigned to accepting the agency’s proposal to cancel late-night service to provide crews more nighttime track access despite ongoing concerns about whether the time will be used efficiently.


Carroll County Times (Maryland): County officials discuss transportation priorities with state

Elected officials from Carroll County met with Maryland Department of Transportation officials on Thursday to discuss the future of a number of transportation-related projects in the county.


Daily Press (Virginia): McAuliffe: New highway partnership is a $2.5B swing in state transportation finances

Virginia jumped back into the public-private-partnership game in a major way Thursday, announcing the expansion of a key commuter route just outside of Washington, D.C.


New York Times: New York Area Has the Nation’s 3 Worst Airports, Study Says

Those who fly to or from New York are fully accustomed to long security lines, labyrinthine paths to the terminal, flight delays, cancellations and other unpleasant happenings, not to mention the arduous or expensive journey to the airport itself.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 11/04/2016 05:43 AM EDT

With help from Jennifer Scholtes, Lauren Gardner and Kathryn A. Wolfe

GROWING PRECLEARANCE: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is headed to Newark International this afternoon to publicly divulge which foreign airports will be added to the department's roster of Preclearance hubs.

From the Persian Gulf to Western Europe: During a Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council meeting two weeks ago, Johnson said Abu Dhabi has been a "very effective location" for the initiative that allows U.S. Customs officers to process travelers before they depart for the United States, rather than after they've landed on U.S. soil. And the department is looking to Western Europe, the secretary said, to expand its current list of 15 Preclearance locations.

"We've denied boarding to individuals of suspicion by the thousands as a result of Preclearance," Johnson told the advisory council. "And if we want more of these, it requires an investment in additional infrastructure."

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CONNOLLY SKEPTICAL OF METRO TAKEOVER IDEA: Our Lauren Gardner chatted with Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly after Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said the federal government should take over the transit system, a proposal that came after The Washington Post's editorial board made the same argument. Connolly said it was "an idea worth exploring." But, he said, "if it doesn't come with an infusion of federal cash on the operating as well as capital side, it's not worth it." Connolly argued that would be equal to "simply transferring the management of a troubled system from one entity to another, and we're actually denying the localities — who pay the bills, the operating subsides — any voice in the process."

How would it work? There would be several legal issues with a takeover as well, Connolly said. Evans called for a federal control board, similar to the one established in the 1990s to save D.C. from a financial crisis. But D.C. isn't the only jurisdiction with authority over Metro — Virginia and Maryland share power with the District. "Why would they give up their voting control in something they finance to an entity that doesn't provide operating subsidies at all?" he said.

'We'll see': Connolly also argued that federal management could come with its own dysfunctions. "It's an intriguing idea that's certainly not going to get widespread attention in the lame duck," he said. "But I think they planted the seed, and we'll see if it germinates."

WHITE HOUSE: METRO 'NEEDS TO GET ITS HOUSE IN ORDER': President Barack Obama seems to be interested in Metro's future, too. Eric Schultz, the White House's principal deputy press secretary, told the Washington Examiner on Thursday that Metro "needs to get its house in order, but it doesn't help that Congress has stalled funding for what has traditionally been a bipartisan priority." Schultz pointed out that Obama "could soon be a customer," as his family will remain in D.C. after his administration ends. "The president believes that a well-functioning transportation infrastructure is important for the capital region," Schultz told the Examiner.

FHWA DESIGNATES EV 'CHARGING CORRIDORS': The Federal Highway Administration is designating 48 "electric vehicle charging corridors" along highways, the Obama administration announced Thursday. The routes total almost 25,000 miles and include 35 states. "To make it easier for drivers to identify and locate charging stations, states designated as 'sign-ready' are authorized to use signs developed by FHWA that identify electric vehicle charging stations and other alternative fuels along the highways similar to existing signage that alerts drivers to gas stations, food, and lodging," according to the White House announcement. "Drivers can expect either existing or planned charging stations within every 50 miles."

BMW, General Motors and Nissan signed on to "help accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure along the Alternative Fuel Corridors," which FHWA designates.

FAA WITHDRAWS DRAFT PFC ORDER: The FAA will officially rescind today a draft order issued in August that was meant to update and make clear its authority over Passenger Facility Charges. As our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports for Pros, Airports Council International - North America and the American Association of Airport Executives complained that the agency misinterpreted the intent of Congress and would be overstepping if the order went into effect. The groups claimed in a letter to the FAA that the order would "increase the regulatory burden on airports, unnecessarily expand FAA's involvement with an inherently local program, and slow the PFC application and approval process." Airlines for America also supported the draft order's withdrawal.

LET ME UPGRADE YOU: Amtrak says WiFi on its Acela Express trains is now six times faster than the previous technology, which was six years old. It's part of a plan to upgrade WiFi service on all Northeast Corridor trains, Amtrak said in a release Thursday. The corporation plans to keep working on its "dedicated trackside wireless network, which could ultimately stretch from Washington, D.C. to Boston and would reduce reliance on cellular-based networks," according to the release.

'INSIDERS' SAY INFRASTRUCTURE BILL LIKELY IN 2017: Forty percent of lobbyists, think tank members and trade association leaders who responded to a recent survey say a "comprehensive infrastructure bill" will have the most potential for getting through Congress next year. Eight percent picked "comprehensive tax reform." The survey of "Washington insiders" was done by Prime Group, an opinion research company, and commissioned by Rasky Baerlein, a communications firm. (h/t POLITICO Influence)

SHIFTING GEARS: Airlines for America has brought on Francis Heil as managing director of safety. He held the title of senior counsel at law firm Silverberg Goldman and previously served as senior legal adviser to American Airlines during its merger with U.S. Airways. Heil will work with the FAA and NTSB as a part of his new role at A4A.


— "Takata mulls bankruptcy for U.S. unit, filing will take time: source." Reuters.

— "Metro board members, staff spar over proposal to ax late-night service." The Washington Post.

— "Air France-KLM seeks to fight back with cheaper, long-haul brand." Reuters.

— "Driver in 2-bus crash wasn't authorized to drive school bus." The Associated Press.

— "New York area has the nation's 3 worst airports, study says." The New York Times.

— "GM charts course for noncore businesses." The Wall Street Journal.

POLITICO New Jersey's coverage of the Bridgegate trial:

— "Judge denies request to alter Bridgegate jury instructions." Ryan Hutchins.

— "Following courtroom setback, Bridgegate defendants seek mistrial." Ryan Hutchins and David Giambusso.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 35 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 329 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 4 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,429 days.


Nothing on our radar for today. Have a great weekend and remember to turn back your clocks!

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Stories from POLITICO Pro

Report: Metro board chair supports federal takeover Back

By Lauren Gardner | 11/02/2016 03:17 PM EDT

The chairman of Metrorail's board endorsed a federal takeover of the troubled transit system today in an interview with The Washington Post.

Jack Evans recommended a federal control board akin to one formed in the 1990s to rectify Washington, D.C.'s financial crisis, but noted that Metro's chief lawyer doubts that would be permissible under the compact outlining the system's structure.

The newspaper's editorial board advocated for a similar course of action Tuesday night.

To effectuate such a thing may require congressional action, which would by no means be a slam dunk, considering the tight budget environment and the politics surrounding what would amount to a bailout.

The Federal Transit Administration assumed temporary safety oversight of Metro in October 2015.

Secretary Anthony Foxx has made it clear he doesn't want Metro safety to be a permanent fixture in DOT's portfolio, and has warned the governments of D.C., Maryland and Virginia that federal transit funding could be withheld from them if they fail to establish a functioning state safety oversight agency for the system by early February 2017.

But acting FTA chief Carolyn Flowers promised last week that the agency would continue to guide WMATA until the jurisdictions stand up a competent oversight body.

Foxx told reporters earlier this year that he's had "evolving thoughts" on how Metro should be structured and any federal role in that, but declined to get into more details.


FAA pulls draft PFC document Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe | 11/03/2016 01:36 PM EDT

The FAA has pulled a draft order intended to update and clarify its authority over Passenger Facility Charges after complaints from airport trade groups that the agency had in fact overstepped its authority and in some cases misinterpreted congressional intent.

The agency had intended the document to update recently-enacted statutory changes to the program and generally clarify its authority. But a letter from Airports Council International - North America and the American Association of Airport Executives complains that it goes "well beyond the limited number of new congressional mandates and imposing the agency's own long list of policy changes."

The document, which was issued in August and will be officially rescinded tomorrow, would "increase the regulatory burden on airports, unnecessarily expand FAA's involvement with an inherently local program, and slow the PFC application and approval process," the two groups wrote.

The airport groups asked that the draft order be rescinded and working groups reconvened to discuss the issue. Airlines for America also issued a letter in support of withdrawing the document for more input.

The FAA said it will issue a revised draft "in the near future."


Judge denies request to alter Bridgegate jury instructions Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 11/03/2016 01:40 PM EDT

NEWARK — U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wigenton on Thursday denied a motion from defense attorneys in the George Washington Bridge lane closure case that had asked her to reconsider an instruction she gave to jurors.

Her decision does not to appear to rule on a motion for a mistrial that the attorneys for defendants Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni filed on Thursday morning. That request was entirely redacted, and a series of hearings over the last day have been held in a sealed courtroom.

In her ruling Thursday afternoon, Wigenton said would not change her instruction to jurors, who had if they could find the defendants guilty on a conspiracy count "without the act being intentionally punitive" toward Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. The defendants — both former allies of Gov. Chris Christie — were accused of closing the lanes to the bridge as an act of revenge against the Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse the Republican governor's reelection campaign.

The judge sided again with federal prosecutors who had argued "the object of the conspiracy" was not relevant to the charges of conspiring to misuse the property of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge.

The attorneys for the defendants had fiercely objected to Wigenton's instructions. Kelly's lawyer, Michael Critchley, and Baroni's lawyer, Michael Baldassare, had tense exchanges with the judge over her response to the jurors. Critchley visibly reacted to her ruling, leading the judge to chastise him. Still, he rose and urged her to reconsider.

"By answering the way you're answering, you're directing a verdict of guilty," Critchley said. "You're directing a verdict of guilty."

The two filed their formal request for her to reconsider on Wednesday morning.

Wigenton said in her decision Thursday that the defense "failed to set forth any dispositive factual matters or controlling decisions of law that have been overlooked or newly discovered information."

It was unclear on Thursday afternoon if the judge had made any decision on the motion for a mistrial. She had placed no response on the docket, and defense attorneys refused to comment on the issue.

The jury was deliberating again on Thursday after leaving early on Wednesday amid a series of closed hearings in the courtroom.


Following courtroom setback, Bridgegate defendants seek mistrial Back

By Ryan Hutchins and David Giambusso | 11/03/2016 10:50 AM EDT

NEWARK — Defense attorneys in the George Washington Bridge lane closure case filed a motion on Thursday seeking a mistrial, marking another strange twist in a trial that has captivated New Jersey's political class for the last six weeks.

The reasons behind the motion by defendants Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly were redacted in the filing, which came after prosecutors and lawyers spent much of Wednesday debating an undisclosed legal issue in a closed court room — an unusual level of secrecy in a federal court case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Feder simultaneously filed a second motion asking Judge Susan Wigenton to seal the motion.

"Because the Filing refers to a matter that was addressed in a sealed courtroom on November 2, 2016, and because its disclosure would complicate the Court's efforts to ensure a fair trial, the Government submits that, in an abundance of caution, the Filing should be maintained under seal," Feder wrote.

The judge was set to open the court room again on Thursday morning. It was unclear if she planned to rule on the motion.

The motion is unlikely to succeed — it would essentially require the judge to reverse her stated position — but it serves to put the defense's grievances on the record in the event of a guilty verdict and subsequent appeal.

Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious counts.

The defense has made no secret of its feelings about the judge's decision to remove almost any mention from jury instructions of the alleged reasoning behind the lane closures: to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Gov. Chris Christie's re-election bid in 2013.

She sided with prosecutors who had argued "the object of the conspiracy" was not relevant to the charges of conspiring to misuse the property of the Port Authority, which controls the bridge. Lawyers said they had crafted their entire defense around the revenge plot and that her decision was a last-minute curveball that threatened to unfairly influence the jury.

The issue arose anew after the jury began deliberations when they sent the judge a question about the very same topic: "Can you be guilty of conspiracy without the act being intentionally punitive toward Mayor Sokolich?"

Kelly's lawyer, Michael Critchley and Baroni's lawyer, Michael Baldassare, had tense exchanges with the judge over her the question and, specifically, her response. She told the jurors, "Yes," and directed them to refer to the original instructions for additional guidance.

Critchley visibly reacted to her ruling, leading the judge to chastise him. Still, he rose and urged her to reconsider.

"By answering the way you're answering, you're directing a verdict of guilty," Critchley said. "You're directing a verdict of guilty."

The lawyers tried again on Wednesday morning, filing a motion saying Wigenton's instructions could lead jurors to convict the two defendants of conspiracy even if the lane closures were done for a legitimate purpose, like a traffic study, as Baroni and Kelly both claimed in their testimony.

"While it is true that motive is not an essential element of every conspiracy, it is an essential element when the grand jury charges a defendant with conspiring to do so, and in fact, doing something he is authorized to do, but doing it for an improper purpose," Critchley wrote.

He said Wigenton should either have said "no" and told the jurors to refer to the instructions she already issued, or said that the lanes would need to have been closed "in some other illegal manner" to warrant a guilty verdict on the conspiracy charge.

Wall Street Journal: GM Charts Course for Noncore Businesses

General Motors Co. is planning for life after the light-vehicle boom ends.


The Detroit auto maker expects to add $2 billion in operating profit from noncore businesses such as vehicle financing programs and car accessories by 2019, a top executive said on Thursday.


Finance chief Chuck Stevens, speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference, said revenue gains from its GM Financial lending arm, mobility services like ride sharing and other lines of business will contribute more to the company’s bottom line. The $2 billion forecast represents nearly 20% of what analysts expect the company will earn on an operating basis overall this year.


The estimate comes as U.S. auto sales cool. GM once relied on businesses outside of car-making, such as its former GMAC lending arm or Hughes Electronics, for meaningful profits and diversification, but it divested those units as it tried to save its core business.


Having spent most of the last decade slimming down and cutting manufacturing costs and other overhead, GM now is pursuing “growth opportunities,” Mr. Stevens said, in new ventures centered around transportation needs such as GM’s Maven mobility brand, which offers car-sharing services and rents vehicles to drivers for ride-sharing firms Lyft Inc. or Uber Technologies Inc.


Drivers using the Maven system have logged 23 million miles across 10 cities since its launch early this year.


GM is among several car makers looking for a role in the fast-growing business of tech-enabled transportation, like ride-sharing where companies including Uber or China’s Didi Chuxing Technology Co. have a head start. In September, Ford Motor Co. told investors a new business unit focused on transportation services like robo taxis, bike sharing and shuttle vans eventually will generate 20% operating margins, 2½ times that of its core car-making business.


Still, analysts question whether mobility can generate big profits for traditional auto makers soon. GM’s noncore profit target will come more from expanding the GM Financial lending arm and other established businesses rather than new innovations.


GM was forced to divest its former GMAC finance arm, now Ally Financial, in the cash-strapped years before the auto maker’s 2009 bankruptcy. Since then, it has gradually built GM Financial into a captive-finance operation that rivals Ford Credit, partly through the $3.5 billion acquisition in 2010 of subprime lender AmeriCredit.


GM Financial generated $837 million in operating profit last year, and GM wants to grow it by expanding inventory financing for dealers and boosting loans to well-qualified borrowers. GM said last year that the captive lender could more than double profits to as much as $2 billion annually by 2018.


The auto maker has said GM Financial also helps sell more cars by building customer loyalty through exclusive lease programs, for example. Stevens estimated that the lender adds $500 million in annual operating profit by boosting sales volumes, a figure he sees doubling in coming years.


GM also is attempting to expand parts and accessories sales, offering pricey add-ons like bigger wheels and custom exhaust systems for pickup trucks and sports cars. GM President Dan Ammann said in 2015 the parts and accessories business generates “billions of dollars” annually in operating profit, with between 30% and 40% margins among the highest of any product line.


GM also wants to boost profits from its decades-long investment in OnStar, which has included equipping nearly all of its models with a high-speed wireless connection. Last week, GM said it would introduce a service that uses International Business Machines Corp.’s Watson artificial intelligence technology to connect drivers with merchants.