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Infrastructure in the News 6.14.17



NPR: Scant Framework in Trump's Infrastructure Plan (Gov. Rendell Interviewed)

After infrastructure week, Edward Rendell, the 45th Governor of Pennsylvania, talks about what's in the president's plan to fix the nation's "crumbling" infrastructure, a plan which critics say is scant in details.




Reuters: Senators Unveil Road Map for Self-Driving Car Legislation

A bipartisan trio of U.S. senators said on Tuesday they planned to introduce legislation to remove regulatory roadblocks to the introduction of self-driving cars, including sorting out conflicts between state and federal rules.


Washington Post: Trump wants to cut this energy innovation program. Scientists just found that it works

A congressionally mandated study has found that a key federal energy research program, which the Trump administration is seeking to defund almost entirely, is “not failing and is not in need of reform.”


Washington Post: Opinion: There’s a history of private capital ignoring critical infrastructure needs

The Trump administration wants to finance “far more” infrastructure privately, but private investors could ignore many critical needs. The building of electricity infrastructure in the first third of the 20th century suggests the danger.


USA Today: Bye-bye boarding pass? TSA, airlines test fingerprints, facial recognition to ID travelers

The Transportation Security Administration announced Tuesday that it is testing technology to identify passengers by their fingerprints at airports in Atlanta and Denver — a system that could ultimately eliminate paper boarding passes and ID documents.


CNN: Opinion: Trump's trillion-dollar infrastructure plan -- jobs boost or giveaway?

The Trump administration has just completed "infrastructure week." Though it drew little media attention and produced few details, it's worth considering how it will play into President Donald Trump's overall economic strategy.


The Hill: Opinion: Rural America left out of Trump's water infrastructure plan

President Trump recently unveiled his infrastructure plan but it did little to address the water crisis in rural America.


LA Times: Opinion: Fixing America's infrastructure is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a better workforce

Everyone knows America’s infrastructure is crumbling and in desperate need of attention. But that’s far from the only looming national deficit. Our human capital is just as depleted. There’s a growing mismatch between workers and jobs that’s threatening the American Dream for millions of families.


GreenBiz: The potholes in Trump's public-private infrastructure plan

After a turbulent start to his administration, President Donald Trump is looking for ways to change the national conversation. With controversies swirling, and following a deeply unpopular decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, last week the administration began to talk about its infrastructure agenda.



Associated Press: Christie Says He's Confident Trump Will Pay for Rail Project

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he's confident a project to build a rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York will continue even though a plan to fund it isn't part of President Donald Trump's proposed budget.


Wall Street Journal: NJ Transit Gears Up For Repairs and Surge in Customer Complaints

In a windowless conference room in Newark, NJ Transit officials last month discussed a rise in negative perceptions regarding service. (Full clip following State News)


Oregon Public Broadcasting: Oregon Transportation Bill Undergoes Surgery To Slim Some Taxes

Oregon’s massive transportation bill — which would raise taxes by about $8 billion over the next decade — is getting some nips and tucks.


The Times Picayune: Which traffic and transportation bills passed in Louisiana this year?

By and large, the success rate of traffic and transportation legislation mimicked the overall failure of Baton Rouge to push a tax overhaul or pass a budget. Meaning, in general, the small changes snuck through to the governor's desk while the big bills stumbled.


The Post and Courier: Higher gas tax to bring more money for Charleston County transportation projects

The increase in the state's gas tax will bring in millions of dollars per year for local transportation projects in Charleston County.


KTVH: MDT drafts new transportation plan

The Montana Department of Transportation is asking for your input on a draft plan for the future of transportation in Montana.


KTIC: Infrastructure to Grow Nebraska

Infrastructure provides the framework that helps bring communities together and grow our state.  Over the years, Nebraska has invested in quality infrastructure, earning us high marks nationally.  For example, the Reason Foundation rates our highway system fourth in the nation for performance and cost-effectiveness.  During my first two and a half years in office, my team has worked to maintain and invest in our quality infrastructure across the state.  Whether it’s accelerated completion of our state’s expressway system, repairing deficient bridges, or cutting red tape, we are taking steps to ensure our state’s infrastructure leads the nation for years to come.


Wall Street Journal: NJ Transit Gears Up For Repairs and Surge in Customer Complaints

By Melanie Grayce West

June 14, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET


In a windowless conference room in Newark, NJ Transit officials last month discussed a rise in negative perceptions regarding service.


“You hear from other outlets that…NJ Transit is just a terrible operation,” said Steven H. Santoro, executive director of NJ Transit. “Our customers do not convey that. They have an understanding that things aren’t going to go perfect all the time.”


In the past few months, NJ Transit has encountered a series of small derailments and regular service delays, problems that stem from its dependence on aging, outdated New York Penn Station, according to a NJ Transit spokeswoman. Penn Station, the country’s busiest station, is owned by Amtrak and jointly shared with Long Island Rail Road.


The run of NJ Transit problems have stoked rider ire on everything from delays to overflowing bathrooms and persistent overcrowding, on social media and elsewhere. NJ Transit commuters tried to organize a campaign to withhold fares from the agency during the month of May. And a local talk-radio station has established a “commuter whiner line” so riders can “rant and rave.”


As Amtrak undertakes massive repairs this summer to fix its aging infrastructure inside Penn Station, extensive outages are expected, and with that a commensurate amount of service complaints are likely.


NJ Transit’s customer-service department has 117 full-time staff, eight customer-service locations around the region, a dedicated social-media team and call centers that take more than eight million calls annually. The agency handles about 65,000 customer contacts a year, according to NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder.


NJ Transit travelers at Penn Station in New York. In March, NJ Transit had a record number of customer contacts, with 72% of the 5,450 contacts categorized by the agency as complaints.

NJ Transit travelers at Penn Station in New York. In March, NJ Transit had a record number of customer contacts, with 72% of the 5,450 contacts categorized by the agency as complaints. PHOTO: AGATON STROM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

For the summer, NJ Transit is developing a set of enhanced customer-service initiatives, Ms. Snyder said, including 200 employee ambassadors to assist customers navigating the system during the morning and evening rush. This system has been implemented for past major events such as the Papal visit in 2015, she noted.


“All front-line employees, including ticket agents and train crews, will also be familiar with the service plan to effectively respond to customer inquiries,” Ms. Snyder said.


David Spetgang, a 28-year-old who takes the train from Middletown, N.J., to Newark recently was so frustrated with NJ Transit service that he wrote a letter to the agency. It was one of many customer-service inquiries he has made, then tweeted about, copying in other Twitter users who have made it a mission to heckle NJ Transit.


NJ Transit customer service, while responsive, he said, “is like a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”


“Nothing is ever taken seriously,” said Mr. Spetgang, who works in financial services. “It’s always ‘We’re looking into this,’ or ‘We’ve forwarded it on to another department.’ It’s never an actual answer.”


NJ Transit’s Ms. Snyder said the agency “is committed to responding appropriately to all feedback.”


More riders are looking for answers. For the month of March, NJ Transit had a record number of customer contacts, with 72% of the 5,450 contacts categorized by the agency as complaints. Bus and rail gripes centered mostly on overcrowding and employee performance, according to the agency.


Also for the same month, NJ Transit reported that its “social sentiment” online was 61.9% negative; a climb from February’s negative rate of 56.5%.


NJ Transit trains arrived last year at Newark Penn Station.

NJ Transit trains arrived last year at Newark Penn Station. PHOTO: RICHARD B. LEVINE/ZUMA PRESS

Comparing Twitter conversations about NJ Transit this month to May of last year, there was a 27% increase in negative posts, according to Networked Insights Inc., a social-analytics firm. Tweets about stressful commuting almost doubled, from 25% in May of 2016 to 48% in May of this year.


Ms. Snyder countered. “Actual customers who answered our most recent customer-satisfaction survey for the last quarter gave us the highest scores since the surveys began, six years ago,” she said.


Negative social sentiment online is being driven, in part, by a number of popular NJ Transit specific Twitter users such as @F—NjTransit, which uses the F-word vulgarity in the handle, and @FixNJT.


Brian Woodward, who is behind @F—NjTransit, is a 37-year-old fashion designer who works in Manhattan, lives in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., and commutes into Penn Station on workdays, riding in the quiet car of a train.


He said he started the Twitter handle years ago with a friend to vent about lousy service. Now, the handle has taken on a humorous life of its own and tilted into public service, he said, as he tries to inform his followers about delays and pass along information he gets from sources inside NJ Transit.


“It’s like a full-time job now,” Mr. Woodward said, during a phone interview. “My wife will be like, ‘Can you put the phone down?’ And then she’s like, ‘How many followers do you have now?’ ”


The man behind @FixNJT is in his 50s, lives in Bergen County, works as a freelance editor and is regularly stuck at the Secaucus station, he said. His decision to online snipe at NJ Transit is “a way to let off steam from all the time you spend sitting in a station waiting for a train that got canceled or delayed,” he said.