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Infrastructure in the News 7.13.16


The Wall Street Journal: Driverless Cars to Fuel Suburban Sprawl

Imagine a world in which hardly anyone owns a car. Instead, most people subscribe to a service for self-driving cars, probably a mashup of the current players in the space, which include Google, Uber, Lyft, Apple, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Tesla, BMW, Toyota, General Motors, Ford and others.

Medium: Searching for the City in the Self-Driving Car

Popular media is filled with speculations about how self-driving cars will change urban life. Too many of these accounts begin from the wrong premise. They assume that the self-driving car is a fully formed thing.

The New York Times: As U.S. Investigates Fatal Tesla Crash, Company Defends Autopilot System

Even as federal safety officials step up their investigation of the fatal crash of a driver operating a Tesla car with its Autopilot system engaged, the company continues to defend the self-driving technology as safe when properly used.

Los Angeles Times: The philosophy that has pitted cars against cyclists for the last 40 years is finally dying

Take a ride on downtown L.A.’s first major protected bike lane and you’re rolling over something more than asphalt and paint: the symbolic end to vehicular cycling, an idea that dominated American urban bicycle advocacy for nearly 40 years.

BRT Plan: The Emerging Bus Network Restructuring Trend

In the past few years, in response to falling bus ridership, a string of cities have been considering a full restructuring of their bus networks. Many cities have bus networks that haven’t been changed for years, and over time have ossified into patterns that no longer optimally serve their residents.


St. Louis Post Dispatch: St. Louis' sprawl is slowing, and so is America's

The St. Louis area added 74 square miles of developed land between 2000 and 2010, but that was 31 percent slower than the development pace of the 1990s.

Billy Penn: Philly Free Streets: This fall, no cars allowed on 9 miles of city roads

When the pope came to Philly last year and Center City’s streets were barricaded and closed to traffic, a funny thing happened: Some people loved it. They walked and biked wherever they wanted, with young people and families enjoying the open space so much that a group called Open Streets PHL started with the goal of closing down Philly’s streets again.

The Washington Post: Survey says D.C. is the worst city for drivers — which will not surprise anyone who lives here

As if there weren’t enough bad news for Washington commuters dealing with Metro’s meltdown this summer, the nation’s capital has been ranked the worst city in the United States for drivers in 2016, according to WalletHub.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Lauren Gardner and Jennifer Scholtes | 07/13/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Brianna Gurciullo

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER PANDA: Hold onto your tree trunks, kids, because the FAA extension is set to make its way to the president's desk today. The Senate will vote at 1:45 p.m. on the measure, which is expected to pass handily.

While there was a chance the chamber could have easily passed it by unanimous consent last night, Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune hinted Tuesday that some of his colleagues may not make it so easy to clear, noting that while lawmakers are "generally" supportive of the bill, some saw their priorities fall out of the final deal.

"Not everybody's entirely happy about it, but I think we did the best that we could under the circumstances, given where the House was starting, and I think in the end this is a good product and I hope that it gets a big vote," Thune told reporters.

Calling the roll: Another complication for moving the bill Tuesday was attendance. A dozen Republicans didn't vote (Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz were back in their home state with President Barack Obama, and Sen. John Barrasso was in Cleveland leading the GOP platform committee), and Sen. Bernie Sanders was pretty busy endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in New Hampshire.

IT'S WEDNESDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

MT is so psyched to hear that Metro canine cutie Rambo, who wandered into the West Hyattsville station last week looking to socialize with some humans, has been reunited with his family! Send us your tips, tidbits, scoops and puppy pics: or @Gardner_LM, or @JAScholtes and or @brigurciullo.

"Redneck girl likes to cruise in daddy's pickup truck. And a redneck girl plays hard when she's down on her luck."

MARITIME SAFETY, FOR A PRICE: Folks who have signed up to set sail on the Crystal Serenity next month for a first-of-its-kind cruise through the Northwest Passage are no doubt planning ahead by securing themselves some earmuffs and selfie sticks. But the preparations for this voyage began long ago for the cruise company, as well as the U.S. and Canadian governments. In fact, the Coast Guard's second-in-command told lawmakers this week that the agency and DOT have been planning for the Crystal Serenity's journey for several years, mapping the trip and doing exercises to prepare for evacuating the cruise ship's passengers in case of an emergency. And since a spot on this unusual tour is running between $22,000 and $120,000 per person, some lawmakers are suggesting the U.S. government should have gotten a cut as payment for its effort.

Counter-point: As we explain for Pros, Coast Guard officials worry that if the agency charges for those services, companies just won't ask for advice and assistance upfront, putting people in danger and costing the Coast Guard more money in the end.

D.C. INCHES TOWARD NEW METRO SAFETY GROUP: The D.C. Council kicked off the legislative process Tuesday for the city to approve legislation later this year establishing a new tri-jurisdictional Metro Safety Commission. In a statement to MT, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx continued to urge D.C., Maryland and Virginia to move quickly to pass it.

"Today marks an important step in the march towards a new, stronger State Safety Oversight Agency to ensure the safety of WMATA passengers and employees," he said. "This legislation must still be approved by each of the jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, and that should be done without delay."

KEEP WAITING FOR THOSE TRANSIT BENEFITS: Lawmakers yanked the bipartisan bill to broaden pre-tax transit benefits for D.C. federal workers from the House Oversight Committee's markup agenda Tuesday. But never fear, weary Hill/agency commuters - lead GOP sponsor Rep. Mark Meadows told MT "that was really to work through some technical changes" and collaborate more closely with Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, whose committee shares jurisdiction on the measure. Meadows added that he's "hopeful" the committees will mark up the bill when lawmakers return to Washington in September.

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COAST GUARD PREVIEWS GRIM ICEBREAKER ASSESSMENT: When lawmakers later this month finally get their hands on a report on the Polar Sea, they'll find that the nearly 40-year-old Coast Guard icebreaker is worse off than they thought. Vice Commandant Charles Michel told T&I members on Tuesday that his folks pulled the ship out of the water to size up whether it makes any sense to try to fix it up. And they found that trying to rehab the vessel would be "a substantial endeavor."

Time's a ticking: Lawmakers aren't too pleased that the congressionally mandated report is nearly three years late and isn't even expected to include recommendations - just facts about the ship's condition. "Time is ticking away and the vessels in the Coast Guard icebreaker fleet are either inoperable, aging and in need of extended time in dry dock, or incapable of working in ice-covered areas," Rep. Duncan Hunter said.

What then? While the Coast Guard has said it needs two heavy-weight and two medium-weight icebreakers to fulfill its mission in the Arctic and Antarctic, the Obama administration has only suggested the acquisition of one heavy-weight vessel. And because the Coast Guard will soon need to fix up or retire the two icebreakers it's using (the Healy and the Polar Star), there is pressure on the service to come up with a plan for bringing on another ship capable of crushing ice in the meantime.

D.C. DRIVERS DESERVE COOKIES/MEDALS: If you've been driving to work because of Metro maintenance, then this may seem totally obvious to you: Personal finance website WalletHub ranked Washington as the worst U.S. city for driving. The site's analysts compared the 100 most populous cities based on maintenance costs, time stuck in traffic, auto safety and vehicle availability/maintenance accessibility. D.C. ranked worst for the highest average annual hours of traffic congestion and ended up in a three-way tie with Boston and Baltimore for highest chances for an accident over the national average.

POLITICO AT THE CONVENTIONS: The POLITICO Hub will provide a top-notch destination for convention attendees in Cleveland. Led by POLITICO's award-winning team of journalists, programming will include daily Playbook newsmaker interviews, a live convening of the POLITICO Caucus, policy luncheons on the economy, energy and technology and Nightly Lounges to take in the news of the day and watch speeches streaming from the convention floor. Join us at The Huntington Building - 925 Euclid Ave. RSVP:


- FAA sets no-fly zones over conventions. The AP.

- U.S. safety agency seeks answers on fatal Tesla Autopilot crash. Reuters.

- D.C. Council votes to make it easier for cyclists to collect insurance after a crash. The Washington Post.

- Montana Driver Whose Tesla Crashed on Autopilot Issued Careless Driving Citation. ABC News.

- Christie's Attorney General Delays Release of Bridgegate Legal Bills Until After VP Selection. WNYC.

- Hyperloop One was just hit with an explosive lawsuit from its co-founder. The Verge.

- Could self-driving cars be one solution to police shootings during traffic stops? The Washington Post.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 81 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 3 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 118 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,543 days.


8:15 a.m. - The American Association of Airport Executives/Airports Council International hosts a fly - in with congressional speakers. Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 1330 Maryland Ave SW.

9 a.m. - The NTSB hosts an all - day forum to discuss the safety of transporting flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol, by rail. The meeting will focus on progress in moving to a new, more robust rail tank car known as the DOT - 117. 490 L'Enfant Plaza SW.

10 a.m. - The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence holds a hearing to examine the counterintelligence and insider threats to the Department of Homeland Security and its personnel, as well as programs to address those threats. 311 Cannon House Office Building.

1:30 p.m. - The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board holds a board meeting. Access Board Conference Room, 1331 F St. NW, Suite 800.

1:30 p.m. - The U.S. Maritime Administration holds a meeting of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors to brief members on the Academy Advisory Board's annual report to the secretary of Transportation and the status of reaccreditation. Capitol Visitor Center, U.S. Capitol.

2 p.m. - The House Ways and Means Committee marks up several bills, including one to exempt amounts paid for aircraft management services from air transport excise taxes. 1100 Longworth House Office Building.

2 p.m. - The Woodrow Wilson Center holds a forum on "The Evolution of the Transportation Security Administration: What Lies Ahead." TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger and former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the director, president and CEO of the center, will participate. One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

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Stories from POLITICO Pro

Thune: FAA patch could clear as soon as today Back

By Lauren Gardner | 07/12/2016 12:45 PM EDT

Senate leaders in both parties are gauging their members' support for clearing an FAA extension by the end of the week, Commerce Chairman John Thune told POLITICO.

"I haven't heard back, but we've got it running right now," he said of the hotline that's been put out on the bill.

Passage could come later today if senators unanimously agree to it, Thune said.

But if anyone requests a vote, that would most likely come tomorrow since several senators are absent from the chamber today, he said.


Lawmakers question Coast Guard help for Arctic cruise ships Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 07/12/2016 04:51 PM EDT

In five weeks, a 68,000-ton cruise liner called the Crystal Serenity will begin a month-long journey across the top of the world, from the southern nook of Alaska to a dock in New York City.

The fare for this unusual Northwest Passage tour is running between $22,000 and $120,000 per person, with the profits going to Crystal Cruises - a venture headquartered in Los Angeles and owned by a Hong-Kong-based holding company.

And yet, not a dollar of that hefty fare will go to the U.S. Coast Guard, even though it's been working with Crystal Cruises to ensure the ship is reasonably protected from the perils of the notoriously turbulent Arctic Ocean.

And that, some members say, is a raw deal for American taxpayers.

"There is always unlimited demand for a product somebody else is paying for," Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told the Coast Guard's second-in-command at a Tuesday hearing. "Wouldn't there be cost-sharing arrangements that could both benefit the taxpayer and take care of the safety needs the Coast Guard's responsible for?"

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Charles Michel acknowledged that the agency has spent "quite a lot" of resources preparing for the Crystal Serenity's sail across the northern latitudes - including helping the company chart the voyage, and ensuring emergency preparedness. But charging for services, he said, is problematic.

"We have been working extremely closely - not only with the cruise line but with everybody else who has and oar in the water here - on ensuring we have a safe voyage," Michel told lawmakers on the House Transportation subcommittee in charge of the Coast Guard. "So this has taken a lot of our time and we take this very seriously. And I hope we always will, because that is a very treacherous area of the Earth."

Michel said the service worries that if it charges what are in effect consultation fees, companies won't ask for advice and assistance upfront, putting people in danger and costing the Coast Guard more money in the end.

"What ends up happening is people do not engage with us to try to save money, and then they go out there and do stupid things that we have to clean up," he said. "We would rather engage with stakeholders upfront to buy down risk and prevent a catastrophe from happening, rather than disincentiving people from engaging with the Coast Guard, and then they go out and do something very tragic, particularly when you're talking about having 1,700 people on board who are probably just paying for a vacation and don't apprehend exactly the situation that they're going to get themselves into."

But Sanford said the way he sees it, these commercial enterprises perceive the free Coast Guard assistance as an incentive to make risky trips.

"When you're going into the Arctic, you're going into harm's way," Sanford said. "And so to, in essence, offer incentive to go into harm's way ... that seems to me to invite some level of peril that would not be the case if they were taking unsubsidized risk."

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), who represents the Port of Long Beach, also suggests the Coast Guard look into some kind of cost-sharing setup with the cruise companies it helps.

"It sounds like the passengers are paying extra for extra security and some of the resources that you're so generously giving away," Hahn told Michel. "Your core mission is of course to keep people safe on the high seas, but it is kind of an interesting world we're getting into. And as we always talk here, your resources are always limited. We're always trying to make priority choices. Sort of like contract sheriffs - they charge other cities for their services - it would be interesting to look at that model someday."

The Coast Guard has spent several years working with Crystal Cruises, DOT and the Canadian Coast Guard to map out the Crystal Serenity's trip this year. And over the last few months, the entities have done exercises to plan for evacuating the cruise ship's passengers in the case of an emergency.

Although Michel says the cruise company has "done pretty good homework" and is prepared with life boats and ice pilots, he reiterated the regional hazards.

"I don't want to underestimate the challenges of that area," he said. "There's almost no logistics up there."

It would take 15 to 20 hours for the Coast Guard to get a helicopter to the ship in good weather, and there are very few places to land aircraft along the Northwest Passage, he noted.

"Things change up there dramatically. Even in the summer, the weather is an incredible challenge," Michel explained. "So this is not an easy category for a voyage, but I think we've done all the legwork upfront that we can. And we do have a responsible operator in Crystal, who is taking a number of additional steps in order to ensure they've got a safe passage."


Coast Guard's backup icebreaker in even worse shape than feared Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 07/12/2016 04:52 PM EDT

The icebreaker lawmakers have been considering refurbishing is more hard-up than the agency had initially predicted, a top Coast Guard official said today.

The service is expected to deliver a report to Congress July 24 detailing the condition of the Polar Sea - a nearly 40-year-old, medium-weight icebreaker that hasn't set sail since experiencing critical engine failure in 2010.

But Vice Commandant Charles Michel gave lawmakers a grim preview of the document's contents, explaining that it would be much harder to fix up the Polar Sea than it was for the Coast Guard to retrofit the vessel's sister ship, the Polar Star.

"Having talked with my folks who took a look at that vessel, that is going to be a substantial endeavor ... and we never really fully appreciated that until we had the vessel out of the water," Michel told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.

The congressionally mandated report is nearly three years late and isn't expected to include recommendations on what the Coast Guard should do to ensure it isn't stuck without any operational icebreakers once the two cutters it has on the water are in need of repair or retirement in the next few years.

Jennifer Grover, a director at the Government Accountability Office, advised lawmakers today that it would be more cost-effective for the Coast Guard to purchase, rather than lease, a new icebreaker since the service is required to use a vessel built at a U.S. shipyard and must crew, operate and maintain the vessel regardless of ownership.