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Infrastructure in the News 7.11.16


Star Tribune: On politically tricky transit projects, many cities let voters weigh in

Cities nationwide have crafted and acted on ambitious blueprints for light-rail and other forms of mass transit, but unlike the Twin Cities, many of them have asked their voters whether they want higher taxes to help pay for it.

NRDC: A New Plan for Clean Transportation

More than half of America’s population lives in areas with unhealthy levels of smog and soot. The 260 million cars, trucks, and buses that travel on our roads are a major source of this harmful air pollution, as well as the carbon pollution that fuels dangerous climate change. However, states and municipalities rarely account for vehicle-generated emissions when they plan for transportation infrastructure.

The Washington Post: After more than half a century, bridge designer calls it quits. Maybe.

When Earle “Jock” Freedman, 86, finally decided to retire in June, the memorabilia in his desk at the Maryland State Highway Administration included the calculations he did in 1951 for his first bridge design.

The Washington Post: Is the car culture dying?

Few technological breakthroughs have had the social and economic impact of the automobile. It changed America’s geography, spawning suburbs, shopping malls and sprawl as far as the eye could see. It redefined how we work and play, from the daily commute to the weekend trek to the beach. It expanded the heavy industry — steel-making, car production — that made the Midwest the economy’s epicenter for decades. And, finally but not least, the car became the quintessential symbol of American mobility, status and independence.

The New York Times: Giving the Economy the Help It Needs

Solid job growth in June, reported on Friday, provided welcome proof that the alarming performance in May was a fluke. But one month of solid growth is not good enough.

The New York Times: Long Lines at Airports? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

WE’VE all seen the long summer lines at airport security checkpoints full of angry travelers. But many of us haven’t heard the real reason: funding for the Transportation Security Administration has been sliced by 8.5 percent over the past five years, leading to a 5.5 percent drop in the number of screeners. At the same time, the number of travelers has increased by more than 15 percent.

The New York Times: Fatal Tesla Crash Draws In Transportation Safety Board

A second federal agency is investigating a fatal May 7 crash in Florida involving a Tesla automobile operating in Autopilot mode that failed to stop when a tractor-trailer turned in front of it.

The Wall Street Journal: Truckers, Railroads Slashed Jobs in June

Transportation companies stayed out of the U.S. employment surge in June, as trucking and rail operators slashed thousands of jobs, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday.

The Wall Street Journal: Roads That Work for Self-Driving Cars

In May, a Tesla “autopilot” enthusiast in Florida became the first known fatality in a self-driving car. But this was no ordinary accident. The car performed exactly as designed, and the (non)driver’s failure to take any corrective action could reasonably have been foreseen by the manufacturer. This unwelcome yet widely anticipated milestone may set back progress on what promises to be one of the most valuable technologies of the 21st century.

Huffington Post: Here’s Why The Panama Canal Expansion Has Everyone Excited

If you’re wondering where the cash comes from to fund the seemingly boundless public works projects in the works here in Panama, look no further than the sliver of water that bisects the isthmus just west of Panama City ... the Panama Canal.


The Washington Post: What to expect from Virginia’s Atlantic Gateway projects

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe came to the King Street rail station Friday morning to describe the details of the Atlantic Gateway program, which he called “the most comprehensive transportation package in Virginia history.” It brings together a grand total of $1.4 billion in road and rail projects capped off this week by a federal grant of $165 million that completed the financial plan.

Newsday (AP): Transportation stalemate affecting long-term projects

As hundreds of large and small transportation projects grounded to a halt Friday due to the state's inability to fix its depleted Transportation Trust Fund, several long-range projects with years of planning and studies behind them continue to languish.

The Inquirer: SEPTA foresees more train delays at least through August

It's increasingly likely SEPTA is facing the worst-case scenario for its diminished rail fleet.

Miami Herald: Miami Beach to weigh choices for SoBe streetcar

In an effort to jumpstart a rail connection across Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach is expediting the process to build a nearly $400 million light rail loop in South Beach by first selecting a design and then negotiating a price.

The Washington Post: SafeTrack got you down, federal workers? Transit benefits may soon apply to Uber.

Federal workers in the Washington area may soon be able to use their tax-free transit benefits to pay for ride-hailing apps and bike-sharing program for the duration of SafeTrack.

The Washington Post: Let’s avoid another transportation mistake

Two transportation mistakes generating frequent headlines are the condition of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system, which has resulted in deaths and delays, and the performance of the Silver Line, which has attracted 30 percent fewer riders than had been promised. The two mistakes are different. Metro’s mistake was failing to maintain the system. The Silver Line mistake was a failure to understand transportation demand.

The Washington Post: For Metro riders with disabilities, safety concerns and SafeTrack cause growing dread

Despite the logistical hassles of using a motorized wheelchair, Mary Jane Owen has always prided herself on her ability to navigate Metro on her own.

The New York Times (AP): Transit Woes to Linger Through Democratic Convention

The Philadelphia area's hobbled transit agency expects most of its sidelined commuter rail cars to remain out of service until at least Labor Day, but officials do not expect the problems to have a major impact on the Democratic National Convention later this month.

Miami Herald: PortMiami joins big-ship era

PortMiami officially joined the Neopanamax era Saturday when the MOL Majesty — a vessel too big to fit through the original Panama Canal — became the first ship to arrive at the port after transiting the newly expanded canal.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Lauren Gardner and Jennifer Scholtes | 07/11/2016 05:40 AM EDT

PANDA WATCH, 33???: After weeks of intrigue (How long will it last? How many new provisions can they really agree to?), MT's beloved Panda Watch, er, FAA watch, will draw to a close this week. (We'll still bring you cute animal pictures, though. Not to worry.)

The game plan: Expect the House to quickly debate and pass the bill tonight under suspension of the chamber's rules. That means the legislation needs at least two-thirds of voting members to pass, though it could just as easily sail through on a voice vote and move on to the Senate.

Left out: Rep. Peter DeFazio hasn't held back his feelings about items left on the cutting room floor, and he told MT before leaving town Friday that he's also not thrilled with language expanding the "look back" period for background checks on prospective aviation security workers from 10 to 15 years. That means potential hires who've been convicted of (or found not guilty by reason of insanity) certain crimes - ranging from murder to felony bribery - within 15 years of the person's application would be disqualified from consideration.

"They're not good things, but there's no relationship to [terrorism]. It was done under guise of protecting us against terrorists," DeFazio said.

Yawn: The T&I ranking Dem said he is happy about getting a few provisions into the bill he's worked on for a while, such as overhauling the hiring process for FAA air traffic controllers and foreign repair stations. But on the whole, he said, it was "none of the big stuff. Yawn."

Lights, camera: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune has a new video out today (shot at an aviation hub familiar to lawmakers coming back to town) promoting the bill's aviation security measures.

QUELLE INTRIGUE: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's office blasted out a statement Friday afternoon accusing Republicans of demanding the inclusion of poison-pill environmental riders in the FAA extension in exchange for extending energy tax credits that didn't make it into last year's catchall spending package, Pro Energy's Nick Juliano reports.

In the statement, Reid said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan aren't following through on their previous commitment to address the oversight and "are making new partisan demands." Thune had been reluctant to open the FAA bill up to a testy tax debate after fending off an earlier attempt in the spring when the Senate passed its original measure.
ANOTHER MANIC MONDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning into POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Reach out: or @Gardner_LM, or @JAScholtes and or @brigurciullo.

"On a warm summer's eve, on a train bound for nowhere."

METRO MOOLAH: A bipartisan pair of House members wants federal workers in D.C. to be able to use their transit benefits on alternative ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft during Metrorail's months-long SafeTrack program. Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) unveiled the bill Friday, and while MT is sure most Hill staffers would love to see this bill sail through both chambers this week before Congress skidaddles for an extended summer break, they'll most likely need to wait a tad longer to see their dreams come true. But if that's the case, Connolly told The Washington Post lawmakers could try to amend the measure so it applies retroactively to early June when the maintenance program began.

And ICYMI, Metro fired a train operator last week for running a red-light signal, nearly striking two track inspectors and almost causing a head-on collision with another railcar, WAMU reports.

COURT REVEALS REP. CORRINE BROWN INDICTMENT: Senior T&I Democrat Corrine Brown and her long-time chief of staff have been charged with multiple counts of fraud, our Brianna Gurciullo reports . The indictment, which was unsealed Friday, alleges that the Florida Democrat and others "solicited more than $800,000 in donations to a 'supposed' charity for a 'personal slush fund.'"

Transpo link: One Door for Education Foundation Inc. claimed to hand out scholarships to low-income students, but most of its money benefited Brown, her chief of staff Elias "Ronnie" Simmons and the organization's president, Carla Wiley, according to the indictment. Over $200,000 went to paying for events for Brown, and the money also was allegedly used to fix Brown's car and pay for vacations. In late August 2012, Brown and Simmons "caused a PAC affiliated with the transportation industry to make the first significant donation to One Door For Education, in the amount of $25,000," according to the indictment, which didn't name the PAC.

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THIS WEEK: This week will bring the last bit of congressional action for many days (52, to be exact). And on top of floor votes to finally send off an FAA patch for the president's signature, the agenda is stacked with hearings and transportation-related speeches galore. Out with a bang ...

Today - The House is expected to vote today on a bill (H.R.5056) that would require TSA to do an assessment of airport access control points and perimeter security at hubs throughout the country, and to update its risk assessment for aviation and airport security.

The Office of the Secretary at DOT kicks off a two-day meeting to get a rundown from the committee tasked with thinking through new accessibility rules for airlines. On the agenda this time: discussions on whether to require accessible inflight entertainment, to levy stricter requirements for accessible in-flight communications, to require an accessible bathroom on new single-aisle aircraft over a certain size and to amend the definition of "service animals" that can accompany passengers with disabilities on flights

The Energy Department hosts a summit on bioenergy and sustainable transportation, with speeches by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a vice president from Ford and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board begins three days of meetings. And the FAA's advisory committee on Air Traffic Procedures also starts up a two-day meeting.

Tuesday - The American Association of Airport Executives and the Airports Council International - North America host a fly-in with speeches by TSA Chief of Operations Gary Rasicot, the FAA's Chief Operations Officer Teri Bristol and the FAA's associate administrator for airports, Eddie Angeles. Also on the roster: Sen. Cory Gardner and Reps. Peter DeFazio, John Mica, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Price, David Jolly and Thomas Massie.

The National Academy of Sciences holds a meeting on performance-based safety regulation, focusing on transportation issues, with a 1 p.m. speech by NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart.

A Senate Commerce subcommittee holds a hearing on implementing the FAST Act. And the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee tasked with Coast Guard oversight holds a hearing on the agency's Arctic strategy, with testimony from Vice Commandant Charles Michel, as well as officials from the Defense Department, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service.

Wednesday - The NTSB meets to discuss safety in transporting flammable liquids such as crude oil and ethanol by rail, focusing on progress in moving toward the DOT-117 tank car. The Wilson Center hosts a forum on TSA, with Administrator Peter Neffenger. And the Maritime Administration holds a meeting of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors to brief members on the board's annual report and the status of reaccreditation. Capitol Visitors Center.

On the hill, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence holds a hearing on whether the Department of Homeland Security is prepared to handle insider threats, with testimony from top DHS and Coast Guard officials.

Thursday - The FAA holds a special committee meeting on drone regulations. FMCSA holds a teleconference meeting on developing and implementing a unified carrier registration plan.

Meanwhile, the State Department holds a meeting to prepare for the third session of the International Maritime Organization's subcommittee on implementation of IMO instruments.

At the Capitol, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on high speed rail and the House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on homeland security threats, with testimony from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen and FBI Director James Comey.

Friday - At DOT, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics holds a meeting of the Port Performance Freight Statistics Working Group for an overview of the FAST Act, an update on the department's progress in implementing a port performance freight statistics program and a discussion about establishing an industry standard for collecting and reporting port data. The FRA holds a meeting on establishing minimum requirements for the size of train crew staffs. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on the UASI grant program run by the Department of Homeland Security.

MT MAILBAG: DeFazio fired off a letter to the Surface Transportation Board on Friday, pressing it to dismiss a complaint filed by the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers over BNSF's pricing for moving crude oil in tank cars that must be retired by the beginning of 2018. "Forcing a common carrier ... to transport flammable materials, including crude oil and ethanol, in the most dangerous tank cars is unreasonable, not BNSF's meager $1,000 per car rate differential," he wrote.

The Transportation Construction Coalition sent a missive to House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady last week urging him to prioritize Highway Trust Fund solvency as the panel considers overhauling the tax code - noting that the GOP blueprint released last month didn't mention the fund.

Members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA are "deeply disappointed" the FAA extension doesn't include a minimum 10-hour rest requirement and a fatigue risk management plan for flight attendants, AFA International President Sara Nelson said in a letter sent to congressional committee leaders Friday. Both chambers' earlier bills contained language addressing the issues.

WHOOPSIE: A Delta Airlines flight from Minneapolis to Rapid City, S.D., missed the airport and mistakenly landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base just outside of town, the AP reports. NTSB is investigating the snafu, which isn't as uncommon as you might think - the board updated a safety alert on the issue in December.

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- Port Authority hails big ship's call. POLITICO New York.

- Boeing, Airbus Clash Over Safety System. The Wall Street Journal.

- Truckers, Railroads Slashed Jobs in June. The Wall Street Journal.

- For Metro riders with disabilities, safety concerns and SafeTrack cause growing dread. The Washington Post.

- Elon Musk hints at top secret Tesla masterplan in a tweet. Reuters.

- European group pans potential changes to auto industry airwaves. POLITICO Pro.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 83 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 5 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 120 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,545 days.


All day - The Energy Department hosts a summit on bioenergy and sustainable transportation, with speeches by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a vice president from Ford and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Pl. NW.

9 a.m. - DOT's Office of the Secretary holds a meeting of the Accessible Air Transportation advisory committee to talk about whether to require accessible in-flight entertainment, to levy stricter requirements for accessible in-flight communications to require an accessible bathroom on new single-aisle aircraft over a certain size and to amend the definition of "service animals" that can accompany passengers with disabilities on flights. Ritz Carlton, 1250 S. Hayes St., Arlington, Va.

10 a.m. - The Energy Department unveils its first hydrogen refueling station at the National Park Service's Brentwood maintenance facility, in conjunction with the department's sustainable transportation summit. Executives from Toyota, Hyundai and Honda will speak and showcase their companies' fuel cells. National Park Service's Brentwood Maintenance Facility, 515 New York Ave. NE.

1:00 p.m. - The FAA's advisory committee on Air Traffic Procedures meets. FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center, 3701 Macintosh Dr., Warrenton, Va.

2:30 p.m. - The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board holds meetings on technical programs and design guidance. Access Board Conference Room, 1331 F St. NW, Suite 800.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

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Stories from POLITICO Pro

Reid: GOP rider demands squeezed energy extenders out of FAA bill Back

By Nick Juliano | 07/08/2016 03:44 PM EDT                        

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says Republicans demanded environmental riders to be included in an FAA reauthorization bill in exchange for extending energy tax credits that were left out of last year's omnibus budget deal.

"Instead of working with Democrats to fix these errors by adding a provision to the FAA reauthorization bill, Republicans demanded Democrats accept a pair of anti-environment provisions," Reid said in a statement this afternoon. "Democrats refused to do unnecessary harm to our environment. Republicans should not hold American workers and businesses hostage with far-right riders."

A Reid spokeswoman said Republicans wanted to attach language to the FAA bill blocking sage grouse management plans - similar to a provision they are trying to include in the annual defense authorization bill - as well as a provision preventing the Interior Department from enforcing its stream buffer zone rule, which has yet to be finalized.

Reid says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan "have promised to correct a Republican error in last year's omnibus spending bill that omitted important tax credits for some renewable energy technologies" and "haven't lived up to their word."

The omnibus included five-year phaseouts for wind and solar tax credits but did not extend other expiring incentives for technologies like microturbines or combined heat and power.

Congress is expected to vote next week on a 14-month FAA reauthorization bill that does not include the tax credit extensions.


Lawmakers push expanded transit options for D.C. federal employees during SafeTrack Back

By Lauren Gardner | 07/08/2016 11:16 AM EDT

A bipartisan duo of lawmakers introduced a bill today to allow federal workers to apply their transit benefits to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft while Washington's Metrorail system undergoes intensive repairs.

Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) are spearheading the effort to address the impact of Metro's SafeTrack maintenance program on government employees.

"Many of the frequent, random delays on the Metro have caused some federal workers to arrive late, miss meetings, or lose out on valuable work time," Meadows said in a statement. "This bill will allow federal workers to expand their commuting options and not require them to depend on a sole, unreliable from of transportation - especially during WMATA's time period of construction."

The federal government should give its workers as many options as possible to mitigate the effects the track work has on their commutes, Connolly said.

"The ridesharing economy offers a unique and flexible alternative until full Metro service is restored and should be an option for our federal workforce as they maintain a continuity of operations for the federal government," he said.


Corrine Brown and her chief of staff face fraud charges Back

By Brianna Gurciullo | 07/08/2016 01:34 PM EDT

Rep. Corrine Brown faces charges of fraud in a 24-count indictment unsealed today after the Florida Democrat allegedly solicited more than $800,000 in donations to a "supposed" charity for a "personal slush fund."

The charges against Brown, a senior member of the House Transportation Committee and former ranking member of the subcommittee in charge of rail issues, include mail fraud, wire fraud, filing of false tax returns, conspiracy and obstruction, The Associated Press reported. Brown's chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, also faces charges.

"Congresswoman Brown and her chief of staff are alleged to have used the congresswoman's official position to solicit over $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization, only to use that organization as a personal slush fund," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said.

One Door for Education Foundation Inc. apparently claimed to hand out scholarships to low-income students, but most of its money benefited Brown, Simmons and the organization's president, Carla Wiley.

Over $200,000 went to paying for events for Brown. The money was also allegedly used to fix Brown's car and pay for her personal vacations.


Port Authority hails big ship's call Back

By Conor Skelding | 07/08/2016 04:16 PM EDT

BAYONNE - The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took the press on a field trip to a container yard here Friday to see the largest ship yet to call at any East Coast port.

The MOL Benefactor, with a capacity for 10,100 twenty-foot equivalent containers, was the first ship to pass through the new Panama Canal locks on a commercial voyage. It sailed here from China and arrived Thursday morning.

On board, said Global Container Terminals president John Atkins, was one "very nice yacht," as well as consumer goods, probably.

"Whatever's inside the containers is usually blind to us, unless it's hazardous or out of gauge, like the yacht," he said. "If it's coming out of Southeast Asia, depending where it's coming from, it's going to be a lot of apparel, clothing. A lot of electronics. Consumer goods."

A Port Authority administrator, Bethann Rooney, presented a plaque to the ship's captain. Captain Mukansee, from Sri Lanka, said, "It's a pleasure to be at your service."

Right now, GCT's yard is the only one in the New York-area capable of accepting "New Panamax" ships. (Rooney said that the delayed elevation of the Bayonne Bridge would be completed by the end of 2017, after which time larger ships would come through.)

On a bus tour of the marine terminal, Atkins pointed out some of the facility's technological upgrades, including, for instance new, remote-operated cranes. Unlike older cranes which workmen drive from atop, employees a half-mile away operate the new ones "in nice air-conditioned offices, with pictures of their kids on their desk," he said.

Optical character recognition cameras on the cranes, Atkins said, track containers by unique identifiers from ship to stack. Since June 2014, when the upgrades were brought online the yard has lost zero containers, he said.

"If they can't read it, there's a union guy there," he said, referring to the OCR cameras.