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Infrastructure in the News 12.6.16



Politico Playbook: NEW POLITICO/MORNING CONSULT POLL: Broad support for Trump’s tax plans -- KELLY leading contender for DHS -- PENCE to keynote Heritage event at Trump Hotel -- B’DAY: Ray LaHood

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the pride of Peoria, is 7-0, celebrating in his hometown with his wife Kathy, who he’s been married to for 49 years -- they’re going to either the Bistro or Jim’s Steak House -- read his Playbook Plus Q&A:


Politico Playbook Plus: BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

How/where are you celebrating your birthday and with whom? “I will celebrate with my wife Kathy (49 years of marriage) and family with a quiet dinner. I’m heading back to Peoria, and we’ll probably go to The Bistro or Jim’s Steak House.”


Boston Globe: This day in history

Today’s birthdays: Former transportation secretary Ray LaHood is 71. Actress JoBeth Williams is 68. Actor Tom Hulce is 63. Comedian Steven Wright is 61. Musician Peter Buck is 60. Actress Janine Turner is 54. Director Judd Apatow is 49.



Reuters: U.S. Motor Travel Increases by 2.9 Percent in September: DOT

U.S. motorists logged 2.9 percent more miles in September versus last year, new federal data showed, continuing a record-setting pace amid low gasoline prices and lower unemployment.


Washington Post: Apple finally, kinda-sorta says that it wants to build self-driving cars

The will it/won't it debate around Apple's not-so-secret desire to build self-driving cars has taken an interesting turn. In a recent letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the company gave its biggest hint yet that autonomous vehicles are on its radar.


Washington Post: Donald Trump says he wants to fix cities. Ben Carson will make them worse.

Donald Trump talked more about cities than any major-party candidate for president in decades. The picture he painted was bleak. He described “inner cities” as hellholes and depicted urban blacks as the tragic victims of generations of neglect. He visited Detroit, blaming ostensibly liberal public policies for its long depopulation and decline, conveniently overlooking decades of cuts in urban funding and a bipartisan neglect of cities that dates back to the early 1970s.


Associated Press: New VW firm to focus on mobility services like ride sharing

Volkswagen is launching a new company dedicated to car sharing and other “mobility services” in which people may need a ride but don’t necessarily want to own the car.


Los Angeles Times: As Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao is expected to chart the course for commercial drone use

They don’t transport people around, but drones would fall under Elaine Chao’s purview if President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee is confirmed as secretary of Transportation.


Reuters: U.S. could copy Canada's infrastructure model: Caisse

Incoming U.S. President Donald Trump could set up an entity similar to Canada's infrastructure bank to help fund his plans to spend $1 trillion on roads and bridges, one of the world's biggest infrastructure investors said.


The Week: America's looming infrastructure problem

Throughout the election, one of the few points Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could agree on was the country's need for improved infrastructure — transportation systems, energy, and so on. But tradeoffs between sustainability and economic growth make it unclear how exactly to proceed.


Transport Topics: House Speaker Paul Ryan Says Infrastructure Funding Is High Priority Next Year

Determining the most efficient way for boosting funds for new and existing infrastructure projects will be a top priority for the Republican-led U.S. House next year, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Dec. 5.




Associated Press: Automatic horn may be behind fatal Arkansas train crash

Automated equipment may have contributed to a deadly head-on train collision in Arkansas by resetting alarms set up to ensure the crew is alert.


Wisconsin Watch Dog: Transportation wish list could hike gas taxes 28 cents per gallon, memo finds

Republicans’ very pubic feud over the direction of transportation funding in Wisconsin is getting bitter, and it could get much more costly for taxpayers.


WMTV15: State Republicans disagree on how to fund transportation projects

Wisconsin Republicans are at odds when it comes to filling a $1 billion hole in the state's transportation budget.


Associated Press: Wisconsin GOP at odds over how to fund road improvements

Republican state lawmakers openly sparred Monday over whether to consider raising taxes and fees to improve Wisconsin's roads, with Gov. Scott Walker saying he plans to stand by his promise not to do so.


The Oregonian: Sen. Ron Wyden talks Trump, transportation, trade and taxes

As Congress considers its relationship with the incoming Donald Trump administration, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said he sees at least one natural spot for bipartisan action: a federal transportation package that could bring millions of dollars to Oregon.


The Nebraska Lincoln Journal Star: Nebraska in 'enviable position' for transportation funding, roads director says

Nebraska's highway system will have $16.6 billion in needs over the next 20 years, according to state transportation officials.


The Oxford Eagle: It’s a good time for the county to consider public transportation

I have the worst luck with cars. A couple years ago I decided cars and I were just never going to have a healthy relationship and when my last car died a slow, painful death, I didn’t get a new one. I figured having three kids with cars who live in Oxford and living only a few feet away from an Oxford University Transit bus stop, I could get around well enough.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 12/06/2016 05:41 AM EDT

With help from Tanya Snyder, Annie Snider, Nick Juliano, Lauren Gardner and Jennifer Scholtes

WIIN-S FOR PORTS: A conflict over last-minute California drought language may yet gum up the works, but all the same, maritime interests are celebrating Monday's agreement between the House and Senate on a final WRDA bill — rebranded as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, or WIIN (S. 612). As our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros, the bill changes the maximum dredging depth from 45 to 50 feet on projects eligible for a 75 percent federal contribution. It also ensures that ports will get not just a great share but also a greater amount of revenues each year from the Harbor Maintenance Tax, from which Congress has been pilfering for years.

Wiinning isn't everything: Senate EPW ranking member Barbara Boxer has threatened to block WIIN if it includes the drought provision, which temporarily relaxes environmental restrictions on pumping water from California's main water hub — the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta — as Pro Energy's Annie Snider and Nick Juliano report. The drought language, drafted as a compromise between California's other Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, would also authorize more than $500 million for longer-term projects like storage, environmental activities and desalination.

Feinstein and Boxer to chat: Boxer and others say the language would violate the Endangered Species Act and other laws, and could be the death knell for several fish currently teetering on the brink of extinction. Feinstein argues it represents the best deal Democrats are likely to see for a while, since Republicans will control both chambers of Congress and the White House come Jan. 20, and told reporters she'll speak with Boxer about the issue today. Meanwhile, EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe told reporters that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains committed to finishing WRDA this year.

Details, details: House Speaker Paul Ryan ceded some ground in his bid to block a mandate that federally funded drinking water projects make use of American-made steel and iron, ultimately agreeing to allow the requirement for fiscal year 2017. But Rust Belt Democrats found little comfort in the compromise. "This was the first major test of whether Washington establishment Republicans would live up to President-elect Trump's promises to put American products and American workers first — they failed, and American iron and steel workers will pay the price," Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement.

But wait, there's more: The 278-page WIIN would authorize 30 new Army Corps of Engineers projects, including ports, levees and a key Everglades restoration effort. It would also approve regional ecosystem restoration programs from Lake Tahoe to the Great Lakes to the Delaware River basin, along with two new Indian water rights settlements. And language changing the implementation of coal ash and oil spill prevention regulations made it in.

IT'S TUESDAY: Thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. We're celebrating Amtrak's announcement that cats and small dogs can travel with their owners along the whole Vermonter route (unless the ride is more than seven hours). Please keep sending tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to or @brigurciullo.

"One more song about moving along the highway. Can't say much of anything that's new. If I could only work this life out my way. I'd rather spend it being close to you."

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

ABOUT THAT NAME CHANGE: House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster said the bill is now called WIIN "in honor of President-elect Trump. We're ending the year with a win. He told us we're going to win so much we might get tired of it."

AWAITING POSSIBLE TRUCKING LANGUAGE IN THE CR: The text of the continuing resolution is set to drop later today, and the trucking world is eyeing it for a possible legislative fix to the hours of service "restart" requirement that lobbyists have pushed for since a drafting error made it into the fiscal 2016 omnibus. Industry advocates have pressed the issue all year, hoping that Congress addresses it to clear the way for DOT to release a study on the effectiveness of trucker work-hours rules finalized by the Obama administration.

In one chamber: As Pros know, House and Senate appropriators took different approaches to the problem. The House DOT spending bill included language to ensure the 34-hour restart rule that was in effect before the Obama administration proposed new hours of service rules in 2011 would apply to commercial truckers. It would also prohibit regulators from enforcing two requirements the administration finalized in 2013. That approach is favored by most trucking interests.

And the other: Senators, meanwhile, sought to end the debate over hours of service mandates for good by setting a cap on their own. In addition to specifying which rule would apply in lieu of the 2013 regulation, they added language to their bipartisan bill to prevent truckers who use the 34-hour "restart" from driving if they work more than 73 hours over a seven-day period.

LET ME UPGRADE YOU: A group of Senate Democrats fired off a letter to the heads of NHTSA and FMCSA on Monday, urging them to require older heavy-duty trucks and buses be retrofitted with speed limiters, our Lauren Gardner scoops for Pros. The agencies proposed a rule in the summer to mandate the installation of the devices on new vehicles but sought comment on whether they should extend the requirement to existing ones.

Know your limits? The senators noted that most companies have had speed limiters installed in their vehicles since the 1990s and pegged the cost of putting them on other trucks at "just a few hundred dollars per vehicle." But they didn't weigh in on what the speed limit should be. A spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said their focus is on the retrofitting issue and ensuring the devices are resistant to tampering.

ZEROING IN ON KELLY: The Trump transition team may be keeping quiet about who will be nominated as the next DHS secretary, but we've got super-secret insider intel that all signs are pointing to retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. POLITICO's Eliana Johnson reports Monday that three sources close to the transition are saying Kelly is the leading contender for the job. Dare we say: Today could be the day?

** A message from the U.S. Travel Association: To make America competitive again, we need to be connected, to each other and the world. Investment in our country's infrastructure is an investment in connectivity, which is vital for our people, our economy, and our place on the global stage. Learn more: **

FOOT-DRAGGING POSSIBLE FOR NOMINEES, EXCEPT CHAO: Democrats in the Senate could try to slow down confirmations for President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees as much as possible next year, POLITICO's Burgess Everett and Elana Schor report. Part of the reason may be revenge, after Republicans refused to move on Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court. But Democrats also believe that some of Trump's nominees deserve close scrutiny. One of the nominees who's likely to get through without much of a delay? Elaine Chao. Read the full story by Burgess and Elana here.

PREPARE FOR LANDING: Trump has picked three more people to join the DOT landing team: Bo Denysyk, the chairman and CEO of Global USA Inc. and a former Reagan administration official; Finch Fulton, a managing supervisor at VOX Global and former legislative aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions; and Brigham McCown, the founder of the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure and a former DOT official under George W. Bush.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Rep. Earl Blumenauer thinks it's time for the U.S. government to start using autonomous vehicles at USPS and GSA, setting an example for the rest of the country. As our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros, the Oregon Democrat said at a Brookings Institution event Monday that the postal service could switch to driverless vehicles for deliveries and GSA could contract with Uber and Lyft (which are looking to adopt self-driving technology) instead of having its own fleet. Blumenauer also pointed out that the military wants to use driverless vehicles on dangerous missions.

New approaches: Blumenauer pitched the idea of replacing the gas tax with a "nationwide road user charge" that could include a congestion fee. And he recommended that the government start shifting its focus toward jobs involving the construction of the infrastructure needed for the widespread use of autonomous vehicles.

CHECKING IN WITH STATE FREIGHT PLANS: Over 70 percent of states are trying to make sure their plans for freight comply with the FAST Act as of six months after the legislation passed Congress, according to a survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Association of Port Authorities. Fifty-seven percent have come up with over 6,000 projects to improve freight. And 35 percent have calculated $259 billion in costs for freight projects.

FAST Act deadline looming: The results of the survey are included in a report that will be released today by AASHTO and AAPA, which looks at the status of states creating freight plans and investing in freight transportation in the year since Congress enacted the FAST Act. Under the law, states need to have their freight plans approved by DOT by December 2017 to keep getting formula funding.

NOTHING TO YAWN AT: Drivers who normally get less than five hours of sleep every day, sleep for less than seven hours in a 24-hour period or sleep for one hour less than usual in a 24-hour period are much more likely to get in car crashes, according to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The study looked at a sample of over 4,500 accidents from 2005 to 2007. Drivers who got only five to six hours of sleep were 1.9 times more likely to get in a crash than drivers who slept for at least seven hours. Drivers who got less than four hours of sleep were 11.5 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

SHIFTING GEARS: Michael Cammisa is joining the American Trucking Associations as vice president of safety policy and connectivity. He comes from the Association of Global Automakers, where he worked "with state and federal officials and automakers to shape the regulatory framework for connected and automated vehicles," according to a release. Cammisa previously worked for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

SHAMELESS PROMOTION OF ONE OF OUR OWN: For WAMU 88.5's latest "Metropocalypse" episode, our Lauren Gardner chatted with Martin Di Caro about last week's congressional hearing on WMATA and FTA's oversight of the transit system. Check out the podcast here.


— "Security raised at L.A. rail line after threat warning from foreign country." Reuters.

— "Norwegian Air Shuttle may open two U.S. bases next month." The Wall Street Journal.

— "Underground cell service comes to 1.1-mile stretch of Metro tunnel system; only 49.4 miles to go." The Washington Post.

— "Uber bets on artificial intelligence with acquisition and new lab." The New York Times.

— "Prosecutors: Truck stop chiropractor falsified health exams." The Associated Press.

— "Train derailment damages 120 BMWs on their way to Port of Charleston." The Post and Courier.

— "VW enters on-demand ride services with new MOIA brand." The Financial Times.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 3 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 297 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,397 days.


9 a.m. — NTSB holds a meeting to discuss an accident report on the 2014 crash of two Union Pacific trains. NTSB Conference Center. 420 10th St. SW.

9:15 a.m. — FMCSA's Post-Accident Reporting Advisory Committee begins a two-day meeting. The DoubleTree by Hilton Washington, D.C. — Crystal City. 300 Army Navy Drive. Arlington, Va.

10 a.m. — Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the chairman of the House Transportation Highways and Transit Subcommittee, leads a roundtable on driverless cars. Rayburn 2167.

11 a.m. — The House E&C Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the Volkswagen settlement. 2322 Rayburn.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

** A message from the U.S. Travel Association: To make America competitive again, we need to be connected, to each other and the world. America has zero airports ranked in the top 25 globally, and that's more than just an embarrassment—it's a missed opportunity. Travel is critical to our country's trade balance, since it accounts for ten percent of all exports, and supports one in nine American jobs. If we're not connected through modern airports, America loses out. Investment in our country's infrastructure is an investment in connectivity, which is vital for our people, our economy, and our place on the global stage. Learn more: **

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Stories from POLITICO Pro

Conferenced WRDA bill ups federal match for port deepening Back

By Tanya Snyder | 12/05/2016 04:54 PM EDT

Monday's deal on WRDA allows for a 75 percent federal share on harbor deepening projects up to 50 feet.

With ever-larger ships entering U.S. ports, the top priority for ports was to codify a 75 percent federal cost-share for new construction — not just maintenance — up to 50 feet deep. The federal share previously dropped to 50 percent when new construction went deeper than 45 feet.

Another win for ports is a new provision ensuring that each year, the revenues that will go to harbor maintenance will be at least 103 percent of the previous year's amount. The last WRDA bill set a timetable for ports getting all the revenues collected from the Harbor Maintenance Tax, some of which have been siphoned off by Congress to mask deficits. The new 103 percent requirements ensures that, even if tax revenues dwindle, the amount that Congress forks over won't.

A 10 percent set-aside for maintenance at new or "emerging" ports is made permanent. A provision allowing donor ports — those that contribute significant amounts to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund but don't have enough dredging needs to use it — to use those funds for other needs got an extension to 2020, with the potential to extend it out to 2025. Also, three ports that were too small to be considered "donor" ports now get folded into the definition, granting them eligibility for those funds as well.

Tracy Zea, director of government relations at the Waterways Council, said, "Usually you want something to point to in a bill, but this year we didn't." The "something" they were successful in keeping out of the bill was an increase of any kind in tolls or lockage fees. "It was our number one priority for this bill," Zea said.

Zea's group was also pleased to see two key chiefs' reports allowing appropriated funds to move to their intended recipients. The reports will allocate $17 million for the Calcasieu Lock in Louisiana for safety improvements to control the amount of water that pours out when the lock opens, and $2.7 billion to build three new locks on the Upper Ohio River.

Most gratifying to advocates on and off the Hill is simply the completion of a bill this year, keeping Congress on a regular schedule for passing a new WRDA bill every two years.

However, a last-minute deal struck between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (R-Calif.) over emergency powers for federal agencies during California's drought has plunged the bill back into uncertainty, as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has threatened to torpedo the bill over the language.


California drought language throws WRDA into tumult Back

By Annie Snider and Nick Juliano | 12/05/2016 08:35 PM EDT

The last minute addition of contentious California drought language has upended calculations over the otherwise popular Water Resources Development Act.

Sen. Barbara Boxer has threatened to make it as difficult as possible for Senate leaders to move the measure — and any other measures barreling toward the year-end deadline — as long as the drought language is in the mix.

"I'm going to use every tool at my disposal," Boxer said at a hastily arranged press conference Monday afternoon. "I'll just let the clock run out."

Boxer, who has labored over the water infrastructure measure for months as the top Democrat on the committee crafting the measure, argued including the "poison pill" drought provisions violated the rules of decorum in the Senate.

"Look, I've gone into hand-to-hand combat with every Republican in the Senate at one time or another. But we never do these things to each other, we don't do these things — we don't sabotage a bill that's been worked on as a bipartisan bill for so long," she said.

The December calendar crunch will help Boxer's effort as lawmakers scramble to finish up work and head home for the holidays. She can force Senate leaders to eat up valuable floor time if she refuses to waive the procedural rules that would allow the bill to be taken up quickly. But Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Environment and Public Works chairman, told reporters that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is committed to finishing the WRDA bill this year.

"I have a commitment to get the bill done, that's what we're going to do," he told reporters, even as he lamented that the situation had come to this point. "This shouldn't have been language that was put in in the House," he said.

Still, if Senate leaders are willing to commit time to the measure, it's not clear whether Boxer would be able to draw enough Democrats to her side to support a filibuster of the bill.

The massive measure contains projects and provisions benefiting every state. It also includes a $150 million authorization to support lead water line removal and health programs in Flint, Mich., following the city's drinking water contamination — aid that Democrats have pressed for throughout this year. That language would then allow lawmakers to appropriate the funding on a year-end spending deal.

Boxer said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) also opposes the drought language, but her office did not respond when asked if she would join Boxer in holding up the measure. And some of the Senate's most staunchly pro-environment senators were not ready to weigh in on the measure tonight.

"I don't know the California drought issue," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). "I do know most of the other provisions about the bill, I was very excited about the bill, so I obviously will evaluate it. I'd like to get a WRDA bill done but I am disappointed that they parachuted in this provision."

Infrastructure advocates are optimistic that the range of goodies in the bill, rebranded Monday as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, or WIIN, will be enough to overcome the drought hurdle.

"There's not a senator in this country that will filibuster this bill," said Whit Remer with the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The drought language, which was drafted as a compromise between California's other Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, would temporarily relax environmental restrictions on pumping water from California's main water hub, the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. It would also authorize more than $500 million for longer-term projects like storage, environmental activities and desalination.

Boxer, a number of House Democrats from the Pacific northwest, and environmental and fishing advocates argue the language would violate the Endangered Species Act and other laws, and could be the death knell for several fish currently teetering on the brink of extinction. But proponents of the language say it offers a more balanced approach to water operations while still protecting species. And Feinstein contends that it's the best deal Democrats are likely to see for a while, since Republicans will control both chambers of Congress and the White House come Jan. 20.

"If we don't move now, we run the real risk of legislation that opens up the Endangered Species Act in the future, when Congress will again be under Republican control, this time backed by a Trump administration," she said in a statement this afternoon.

Feinstein told reporters this evening that she plans to speak with Boxer about the issue Tuesday.

But with the California drought language throwing WRDA's fate into question, Michigan lawmakers are preparing a back-up plan: moving the Flint aid on the year-end spending bill.

"We're still looking at everything," Sen. Debbie Stabenow told reporters. "We are comfortable because the full amount we asked for for Flint is in — what we believe has been agreed to. But I still — you know there's tons of games going on here and it's frustrating."

Anthony Adragna contributed to this report


Bipartisan coal ash provision included in final WRDA Back

By Alex Guillén | 12/05/2016 04:28 PM EDT

The final version of the Water Resources Development Act released today by House and Senate negotiators includes a tweaked version of language passed earlier this year by the Senate that would change the permitting and enforcement regime for EPA's coal ash rule.

The language will require states to get EPA approval for their coal ash disposal permitting plans, and the agency will also gain more enforcement powers, on top of potential citizen lawsuits.

"This new permitting authority fixes the main problems with the recent coal ash regulation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, by removing citizen suits as the sole means of enforcement and allowing states to tailor permit requirements on a case-by-case basis," Sens. Jim Inhofe, Joe Manchin, Shelley Moore Capito and John Hoeven said in a joint statement.

The provision won bipartisan backing, although various environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project and the Waterkeeper Alliance, raised issues with the language.

The new language would also extend EPA's timeline to review authorized state programs from every five years to every 12 years. And it gives EPA more time to review state programs, includes language allowing states to ask EPA to review a neighboring state's program, and requires EPA to operate a backstop permit program for states without authorized programs.

The bill is expected to hit the House floor this week.


Trucking industry flails for a legislative fix to a problem it created Back

By Heather Caygle | 03/07/2016 05:00 AM EDT

A single sentence missing from a massive government spending bill is making waves in the trucking industry, threatening to "unleash chaos" and roll back years of regulations governing how long truckers can be on the roads.

Tucked into the fiscal 2016 omnibus is language erecting additional hurdles federal regulators must overcome before enforcing controversial changes to trucker work hours rules that went into effect in 2013.

The problem is that the omnibus didn't address what to do if the requirements aren't met, which would mean rules governing how many hours a week truckers can drive will revert to what was in place more than a decade ago — a system that would mean less productive drivers and more error-prone driving logs, the industry says.

Now lawmakers are scrambling for a fix and fuming at the American Trucking Associations, the group many sources say drafted the legislative language and is responsible for the critical oversight that created this quandary in the first place.

"They messed up big time and now they want to write their own total fix. So they're kind of in a tougher place," said Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee. "The fix is being negotiated so it won't be everything they want."

The mishap over the language is causing a behind-the-scenes scramble and lawmakers are mulling trying to attach a fix to whatever must-pass legislation moves next, including possibly an FAA extension.

"Usually we like extensions to be clean. Whether there could be enough of a consensus around a fix to something that the appropriators--at the behest of ATA--screwed up, I don't know," DeFazio said.

The fight over the restart provision goes back years — the rule was finalized in 2011 but didn't go into full effect until 2013. But the genesis of the latest controversy dates back to the winter of 2014.

At the behest of the trucking industry, that year's omnibus spending bill included language putting on hold complicated rules governing the number of hours truckers could drive each week before the clock was "restarted." The hold was to continue while DOT did a study looking at the effectiveness of the newer rules.

The trucking industry and its supporters on Capitol Hill wanted to build on that win by tucking language into the fiscal 2016 funding bill that added new, and some say insurmountable, requirements to the DOT study.

Several sources told POLITICO the new conditions, including a requirement that DOT examine how the 2013 regulations impacted a driver's longevity, essentially rendered the federal study moot, no matter what the outcome.

But in their haste to slip the new requirements into the bill, supporters made a critical oversight: They left out a sentence stating that if the new requirements aren't met, the hours of service restart regulations in place before the summer of 2013 are to go back into effect.

Now, as a result, trucking advocates say sans a legislative fix, the mishap could do significant damage to the industry, creating a ripple throughout the economy.

ATA spokesman Sean McNally said without congressional intervention, truckers would be forced to revert to "antiquated rules" pre-2003 that required drivers to do "rolling recaps" of their hours each week, which were "fraught with math errors and therefore noncompliance."

"Bottom line: Eliminating the restart entirely would unleash chaos not just on the trucking industry, but on the law enforcement community as well, which is why ATA is looking for a bipartisan solution" McNally said.

"If the restart goes away entirely, drivers will likely revert back to working shorter, but more consecutive days, and the rolling recap — with its problematic math — would come back into play on a widespread basis," McNally said.

But far from simply inserting a directive about which set of rules to use, several sources with knowledge of the negotiations said ATA is pushing for a fix that would ensure the rule that went into effect in 2013 remains overturned, essentially allowing drivers to operate upward of 80 hours per week.

McNally wouldn't comment on the organization's negotiating strategy, but a memo from ATA President Bill Graves last month shows the group is taking a hard-line stance behind the scenes.

"This past Wednesday, the [ATA] Executive Committee voted to allow staff to pursue a potential negotiated settlement," Graves wrote Feb. 12, "but did so with a very narrow range of acceptable options, and made it very clear that any outcome that fell outside the range would be unacceptable."

While there are lots of fingers being pointed at ATA, an industry source said the group isn't entirely at fault for the oversight. DOT would've had eyes on the language to provide technical assistance, and congressional appropriators had the final say in what went into the bill, the source observed.

Still, whatever solution lawmakers agree to, even if it meets ATA's "acceptable options," could have far-reaching consequences for trucking regulations down the road.

If Congress "attempts to fashion some kind of a truck driver hours-of-service rule, it's really risky because at that point, they're codifying the rule. And this is a rule that in 65 years has never been codified," said Lane Kidd, director of the Trucking Alliance.

"It's a very complicated issue and its one that, really, people's eyes glaze over — but I think the greatest risk would be to codify language that would be very hard to amend down the road if the language is bad ... because then you've removed the agency from any purview over hours of service whatsoever," he added.

For now, at least, it seems Congress is in the mood to throw the trucking industry a life preserver.

"We're back now to hours of service before George Bush and the industry is finding that somewhat unacceptable. It was unintentional, not well thought out, so I think this merits some congressional action," DeFazio said.

But even if Congress does play ball, several lawmakers, Hill staffers and lobbyists said this is just the latest preventable trucking-related controversy to bubble up, and it's because of ATA.

For instance, the trucking industry lost a fight to allow longer trucks on the interstate after enabling language was left out of the final fiscal 2016 spending bill — despite being included in both the House and Senate Appropriation Committees' transportation funding proposals.

Separately, a trucking provision that would override rest and meal break rules in nearly two dozen states was tucked into the House's FAA reauthorization bill despite a wall of opposition from Democrats and an unsuccessful attempt to attach the language to last year's highway and transit law. DeFazio has predicted that provision alone would be enough to tank the legislation.

"It's got the bill nose down in a steep dive," DeFazio said, referencing the rest and meal break override language. "How many trucking provisions do you want to put into an FAA bill?"


Senate spending bill moving ahead with a trucking provision few seem to want Back

By Lauren Gardner | 05/11/2016 05:33 PM EDT

Trucking industry groups and safety advocates have something in common this appropriations season: They want Congress to stay out of the business of setting how many hours commercial drivers can work in a week.

Last month, Senate appropriators unveiled a fiscal 2017 transportation spending bill (H.R. 2577) that made a much-sought tweak to a rider in last year's spending package. That rider effectively put up more roadblocks for regulators to overcome before reinstating controversial changes to trucking hours of service requirements.

That rider had language specifying which rule to apply if certain new benchmarks weren't met, meaning the industry would have had to default to using hours of service regulations from more than a decade ago.

Beyond fixing that flaw, this year's appropriations bill also includes language to prevent truckers who use the 34-hour "restart" from driving if they work more than 73 hours over a seven-day period, a figure that has left some industry observers scratching their heads. Safety advocate Catherine Chase said the number seemed to be "pulled out of the air."

"We're very concerned because this is case in point of this being a completely closed process without anyone knowing what the machinations were behind closed doors to come up with this proposal," said Chase, vice president of governmental affairs at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Even the American Trucking Associations, which is leading the charge for the fix after sources said they messed up the initial drafting, opposes the change.

"We don't support a cap," Dave Osiecki, ATA's lead lobbyist, told POLITICO this week.

ATA spokesman Sean McNally had previously said that the group understood "the subcommittee's sensitivity to claims a handful of drivers might abuse the restart rule to work long hours in a week," while disputing those assertions.

What's clear is that the limit was intended to put the perennial fights over hours of service to rest for good by taking federal regulators out of the equation — and to upend the safety groups' argument that, under the 34-hour restart rule in place before the Obama administration decided to regulate further, truckers could game the system to work upwards of 80 hours a week.

"I felt that that was extremely unlikely, and the statistics show that that is extremely unlikely, but obviously I felt that's too many hours," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told POLITICO.

Collins, who leads the spending panel charged with setting DOT funding levels, said the 73-hour figure was "a compromise proposal" reached after input from Democrats and Republican appropriators. She added that the number "is far closer to the administration's figure" than the 82 hours safety organizations claimed was possible under the old regime.

"So I tried to come up with what I felt was a reasonable amount, even though the average truck driver works far fewer than that number of hours a week," Collins said.

Policymakers should be more focused on the rest the drivers are getting as opposed to the work they perform before getting extended off-duty time, ATA's Osiecki said.

"What happened prior to that rest period — what you did six days ago — you shouldn't have to worry about that going forward," he said. "And that's the point of a restart."

The Trucking Alliance, a coalition of trucking and logistics companies advocating for safe working conditions for commercial truckers, panned the provision last week for taking rulemaking power away from FMCSA. Congress has already required trucking companies to install electronic logging devices by December 2017 to track driving, a mandate that will yield valuable data they say regulators should have the freedom to act on in the future.

The 73-hour cap would also induce confusion across an industry where truckers tend to operate under a 60-hour limit over seven days, or a 70-hour maximum over eight days, the alliance said, potentially creating an extra 13 hours of work for the former group.

There will likely be interest among some Democrats to address the issue on the floor, though it's unclear what approach they might take. Chase's safety group has some ideas — lawmakers could push to strike the cap altogether, or bump the 34-hour restart up to 48 hours — but none is a solidified proposal yet.

But in an appropriations process that has already seen its fair share of drama on just one bill, it's also possible senators will defer to the compromise their colleagues already reached.

"Under current law, it is possible that a commercial truck driver could use the restart rule to work more than 80 hours in a week," Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said. "This cap eliminates that possibility entirely, strengthening the safety of our roads and reducing the maximum number of hours per week that a commercial truck driver can work by nine."


Senate Democrats call for speed limiter retrofit mandate in final rule Back

By Lauren Gardner | 12/05/2016 03:28 PM EDT

Four Senate Democrats sent a letter today to DOT officials urging them to finalize a rule mandating speed limiters on both new and old heavy-duty vehicles and to push up the compliance date for the requirement.

NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed a rule in August requiring new large trucks and buses to be outfitted with devices that can cap their speeds. NHTSA requested comments on whether it should require retrofits on older vehicles, or if the mandate should only be extended to those that already have speed limiters installed.

"It would be unacceptable to let large vehicles continue to operate without these devices, allowing unnecessary risks to remain on the road," Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to the agencies.

The senators noted that most trucking companies have had speed limiters outfitted on their fleets since the 1990s and that retrofits on even older trucks would cost "just a few hundred dollars per vehicle."

The Democrats called on NHTSA and FMCSA to accelerate the compliance timeline for the rule, which as proposed would be three years.

They also advocated for the agencies to mandate "adherence to the slowest specified speed limit that provides the greatest returns on safety without introducing any new, unintended dangers to our roads." The agencies did not propose a single speed limit to which the devices should be set.

The comment period for the proposed rule closes Dec. 7.


Democrats to give Trump Cabinet picks the Garland treatment Back

By Burgess Everett and Elana Schor | 12/05/2016 05:06 AM EDT

Senate Democrats are preparing to put Donald Trump's Cabinet picks through a grinding confirmation process, weighing delay tactics that could eat up weeks of the Senate calendar and hamper his first 100 days in office.

Multiple Democratic senators told POLITICO in interviews last week that after watching Republicans sit on Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court for nearly a year, they're in no mood to fast-track Trump's selections.

But it's not just about exacting revenge.

Democrats argue that some of the president-elect's more controversial Cabinet picks — such as Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary — demand a thorough public airing.

"They've been rewarded for stealing a Supreme Court justice. We're going to help them confirm their nominees, many of whom are disqualified?" fumed Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). "It's not obstruction, it's not partisan, it's just a duty to find out what they'd do in these jobs."

Senate Democrats can't block Trump's appointments, which in all but one case need only 51 votes for confirmation. But they can turn the confirmation process into a slog.

Any individual senator can force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold procedural votes on nominees. Senior Democrats said a series of such votes are likely for many of Trump's picks.

Democrats could conceivably force up to 30 hours of debate for each Cabinet nominee, which would be highly disruptive for a GOP Senate that usually works limited hours but has big ambitions for next year. The minority could also stymie lower-level nominees and potentially keep the Senate focused on executive confirmations for weeks as Trump assumes the presidency and congressional Republicans try to capitalize on their political momentum.

"I don't want to needlessly prevent President Trump from being successful," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). "But accelerating the confirmation of unacceptable candidates who have views that are outside the mainstream is not constructive."

Eight years ago, when the roles were reversed, with Barack Obama taking office and an all-Democratic Congress, Republicans were mostly deferential to the incoming president. On Obama's first day in office, the Senate confirmed seven of Obama's Cabinet nominees. By the end of that week, it had cleared more than a dozen senior-level positions, all without dissent except for Hillary Clinton's nomination to be secretary of state, for which the GOP demanded a roll call.

Trump almost certainly won't be receiving similar treatment.

"There should be recorded votes, in my view, on every one of the president's Cabinet nominees," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). "Having all of these hearings before the inaugural in a thorough and fair fashion seems very difficult to do."

Republicans are already chafing at the prospect of Democrats drawing out the confirmation process.

"It is always the intention, at the start of a new administration, to have a smooth transition. That's something President Obama recently called for and that Democrats always say they want," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell. "When the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans worked with Democrats to confirm the president's Cabinet in a very, very timely manner."

Some appointees, like Elaine Chao's nomination to lead the Transportation Department, are unlikely to be delayed. But Democrats will force retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to get 60 votes for a legislative waiver to become secretary of defense, and they're singling out at least four other nominations for strict scrutiny.

Trump has made selections for fewer than half of his Cabinet and senior-level positions, though he's vowing to name the rest within a week.

Democrats are likely to require roll call votes and possibly delay the nominations of Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education and Tom Price to to be Health and Human Services secretary, in addition to Mattis, Mnuchin and Sessions.

The attorney general nominee looks like he's in for an especially rough ride. Brown said Sessions "was dissed by the Senate once for his racism," a reference to his rejection by the chamber 30 years ago to become a federal judge.

Historically, the Senate began hearings before Inauguration Day for every attorney general nominee from a newly elected president since Dwight Eisenhower, with the exception of a nominee carried over by George H.W. Bush from the Reagan administration who was approved without a hearing. Incoming Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she highly doubts Sessions will be confirmed on Inauguration Day.

She, like other Democrats interviewed for this story, said that Republicans' treatment of Garland is impossible to forget.

"Past is present, and what goes around comes around. Now, those are pretty hackneyed sayings, but those are really true around here," Feinstein said in an interview.

Not all Democrats are on board with a strategy of delay.

Informed that Democrats might hold up Sessions and other nominations past Jan. 20, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia responded: "That's just bullshit."

"My God, I think we should have an attorney general in place on Jan. 20. I sure do believe that," added Manchin, one of five Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states that overwhelmingly supported Trump.

But because of Senate rules, there's little Manchin or other skeptical Democrats can do to stop individual lawmakers intent on drawing out the confirmation proceedings.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a former teacher who does not sit on the committee that will vet DeVos for education secretary, said he would wait to make a decision on her until "I bring her into my office" to discuss rural schooling issues.

"I've heard no conversations about the kind of obstruction that Mitch McConnell specialized in," said another endangered Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri. "But there may be some where there are real questions about their qualifications and some of the things in their backgrounds."

Democrats are hoping to avoid the obstructionist label by picking their fights carefully.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Trump should be able to assemble his team and called Friday for swift installation of a secretary of state. But that doesn't mean Democrats will rubber stamp all of the president-elect's picks, he said.

"I'm not going to vote for radical nominees, and I'm not going to vote for totally unprepared nominees," Murphy said in an interview. "But if a nominee is more to the mainstream of the Republican Party and has experience in the field they're undertaking to oversee, there will be Democratic votes."

That said, the days of mandated bipartisanship for critical nominations are over. Democrats ensured that when they changed Senate rules in 2013 to kill the 60-vote requirement for all nominations except the Supreme Court. Democrats then moved to approve dozens of lifetime judges, though Republicans required procedural votes to stall the nominations as long as they could.

Once Republicans took the Senate, McConnell responded in kind by tying Attorney General Loretta Lynch's nomination to an unrelated bill and then blocking Garland. The GOP counterattack will continue next year with Republicans able to approve Trump's picks on party-line votes and Democrats — thanks to their own decision to change the rules — able to do little more than run the clock.

The tit-for-tat between the parties looks like it's here to stay.

"I'm not into retribution. I really think public service should be more than that," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. "But they've set a pretty harsh standard."


Denysyk, Fulton and McCown join DOT landing team Back

By Brianna Gurciullo | 12/05/2016 11:17 PM EDT

President-elect Donald Trump named three more people to the landing team for DOT today: Bo Denysyk, Finch Fulton and Brigham McCown.

Denysyk is chairman and CEO of Global USA Inc., a business development company. He was previously an executive at IBM, assistant secretary of Commerce for export administration and assistant national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

Fulton is a managing supervisor at VOX Global who focuses on small drones, among other policy areas. He previously worked for Sen. Jeff Sessions as a legislative aide.

McCown is the founder and chairman of the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure. He previously served as chief counsel at FMCSA and acting administrator of PHMSA under President George W. Bush.


Blumenauer: Government needs to lead the transition to autonomous vehicles Back

By Tanya Snyder | 12/05/2016 12:29 PM EDT

The federal government should lead the way in adopting driverless vehicle technologies, Rep. Earl Blumenauer said today.

"It is critical that the federal government get behind this revolution," Blumenauer said at an event this morning at the Brookings Institution.

The post office can be a "proving ground" for the technology, transitioning its more than 190,000 delivery vehicles to autonomous ones. GSA, Blumenauer suggested, could get rid of the federal vehicle fleet and contract with Uber and Lyft, which are themselves driving the adoption of self-driving technology. The military, he said, is interested in utilizing self-driving vehicles in dangerous places the same way they now use drones.

He suggested the transition go along with a "nationwide road user charge" that could replace the gas tax, with the capacity to include a congestion fee.

Blumenauer also acknowledged that "many of the 12 million jobs" associated with building, maintaining, or operating motor vehicles will be at risk when more of those vehicles can drive themselves. He suggested that the government needs to start now to deploy resources redirecting workers toward jobs "rebuilding and renewing the country," including the infrastructure changes that will be necessary with the shift to driverless cars.


FTA official admits partial fault for summer WMATA derailment Back

By Lauren Gardner | 12/02/2016 12:09 PM EDT

An FTA official admitted Friday that the agency is partially at fault for a summertime Metrorail train derailment near the East Falls Church station in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Testifying at a House Oversight Committee hearing on WMATA safety oversight, FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes initially said the incident wouldn't have happened if WMATA's inspectors had followed their own standards for track maintenance and examinations, which are stricter on so-called wide gauge problems than FRA's.

The NTSB has repeatedly urged DOT to ask Congress to shift safety oversight responsibilities from FTA to FRA, but Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has refused.

"The problem here is that the culture overcomes the rulebook," Welbes said, adding that the July derailment near the East Falls Church station was "the systematic fault of all the people involved."

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs an Oversight subcommittee, pressed Welbes to take partial responsibility for the situation given FTA's role overseeing Metrorail's safety. FTA has assumed this role until a tri-region panel can be formed to take the reins.

FTA's "lack of authority has been a contributor, yes," Welbes said.

Welbes had already acknowledged that FTA has the authority to write regulations that would match an FRA requirement to fix tracks that have separated beyond a safe width. NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart cited that power as one reason why the board supports putting safety oversight of Metrorail under FRA, which also has the ability — unlike FTA — to issue fines.

"You just told me you had the authority. You can't have it both ways," Meadows said. "Are you partially at fault?"

"Sure, sir," Welbes said.

FTA can withhold federal funding from transit properties it deems unsafe, a prospect WMATA may face since Maryland and Virginia won't meet a Feb. 9 deadline to establish a safety oversight body that would assume control from FTA. But that threat will ultimately be up to the Trump administration to enforce.

Congress first gave FTA safety oversight powers in 2012, but prior to that the agency acted essentially as a grant-maker for local transit systems. But the agency is largely tasked with ensuring those systems follow safety standards they already have in place.

NTSB issued a report Thursday confirming that Metro employees knew about deteriorating rail ties near the East Falls Church station for over a year before the incident.

The independent agency previously disclosed that WMATA inspectors weren't examining crossover tracks as frequently as their own standards mandate before the derailment.