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Infrastructure in the News 7.20.16


Politico: GOP platform recycles transpo policy ideas

With the Republican National Convention underway, the GOP has released its platform, with plenty of recycled ideas for shifting transportation funding and services to the private sector and overhauling environmental and labor laws.

Los Angeles Times: Autonomous cars will get new federal guidelines: 'We want people who start a trip to finish it'

Companies working on self-driving cars need to focus on safety — "we want people who start a trip to finish it," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Tuesday, saying his department will issue new guidelines on the vehicles this summer

The Washington Post: Why transit was key in bringing the RNC to Cleveland

Those attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week have a panoply of transit options for getting around: heavy and light rail, bus rapid transit, traditional buses and even trolleys.

New York Times: Sparkling and Blighted, Convention Cities Spotlight Ignored Urban Issues

It was a sparkling scene of urban renaissance: Children scampered through the fountain in Public Square, spruced up at a cost of $50 million just in time for the Republican convention here. Electricians installed security cameras on the redesigned plaza as carpenters put the finishing touches on a new cafe.

BBC Auto: Are walkers smarter than drivers?

DO YOU PREFER WALKING OR DRIVING? Your answer may suggest something about your education level, according to a new study.

Cincinnati Business Courier: They’re not unicorns, they’re Republicans who like buses and trains

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood denounced the parts of his party’s platform having to do with transportation on Tuesday, saying it’s out of step with what most younger Americans want — walkable neighborhoods where people don’t always need a car to get around.


WILX Michigan: Meridian Township votes to oppose CATA bus plan

Meridian Township is rethinking its position on CATA's Bus Rapid Transit project that would run down two of Mid-Michigan's busiest corridors. The board of trustees is meeting Tuesday night and is considering withdrawing it's support.

The New York Times: New Jersey Drivers Fume as Road and Bridge Work Stops

Several miles from Princeton, drivers are playing chicken as they detour across a single-lane bridge. In Summit, the prolonged shutdown of a century-old crossing has forced nearby businesses to lay off workers. And in Hoboken, the delay of the long-awaited rehabilitation of a critical connection to the Lincoln Tunnel threatens to disrupt back-to-school traffic.

The New York Times: Most Lanes of Bridge Reopen After Crane Collapse Outside NYC

Most of the lanes of the Tappan (TAP'-uhn) Zee Bridge north of New York City have reopened after a crane collapsed across the entire width of the bridge, but transportation officials are still advising motorists to plan for extra delays.

The Washington Post: Metro moving forward with plan to use Uber, Lyft for paratransit services

This fall Metro will officially open the bidding process for contractors to provide paratransit services, providing an alternative to MetroAccess, its door-to-door service for the elderly and people with disabilities.

The Washington Post: How the first four SafeTrack surges affected traffic

It’s a very unlucky driver who has experienced all four of the Metro maintenance disruptions, so for the rest of us, the staff at the regional Transportation Planning Board has done the work.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Brianna Gurciullo | 07/20/2016 05:41 AM EDT

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

BEEN THERE, COULDN'T DO THAT: The MT team broke down the Republican Party platform's transportation proposals for you and found a plan full of largely failed policy ideas that are likely to go nowhere.

Transit on the chopping block: Stripping transit from the Highway Trust Fund? House Republicans tried it in 2012. But Democrats and suburban Republicans kept the attempt from even getting to the House floor. "It really doesn't have much in the way of logic," Joshua L. Schank, chief innovation officer for the Los Angeles County Metro, said about the proposal. Still, the idea could appeal to a base that "is not composed of people who use mass transit," Schank said.

More HTF slashing: Cutting off Highway Trust Fund spending on bike-share programs, sidewalks and scenic byways? A recent House bill to take away the DOT's ability to approve landscaping and roadside development has sat untouched for over 13 months.

Privatizing Amtrak: Allowing private ventures to provide passenger service along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor? The House has previously struck down measures to prevent Amtrak from using money to operate much less profitable routes.

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.

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

"Yes, you know I'm on the road. Once again it seems all that's left behind is a chain of broken dreams."

RUNWAY IS CLEAR FOR AIRCRAFT EMISSIONS REGS: As soon as Wednesday, the EPA will issue its scientific conclusion that carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft contribute to climate change, Pro Energy's Alex Guillén reports. The conclusion, called an endangerment finding, requires the EPA to eventually write regulations.

Trump treatment: But either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be in charge by then. EPA rules, Alex explains, are "not likely to sit well with Trump, who owns a Boeing 757 and a smaller plane, and who once owned a small airline called Trump Shuttle. The GOP presidential nominee has dismissed climate change as a hoax, and he's said that if elected he planned to review the EPA's 2009 finding that the agency used as a basis for its power plant rules and roll back the EPA's landmark Clean Power Plan."

SCOOP: Victoria Wassmer will replace Mike Whitaker as the FAA's acting deputy administrator, our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports . Wassmer has served as the agency's assistant administrator for management and finance. She previously worked at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Carmen Group, WMATA and the Office of Management and Budget.

STATE AGS: VW CEO KNEW ABOUT EMISSIONS CHEATING: Three states' attorneys general have filed lawsuits claiming then-Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn and other executives knew about the devices on several vehicle models that allowed the German automaker to cheat diesel emissions testing, our Lauren Gardner reports . An employee wrote a letter in May 2014 to Winterkorn saying "a thorough explanation for the dramatic increase in NOx emissions cannot be given to the authorities."

Coordinated cover-up? The New York, Massachusetts and Maryland attorneys general also contend that VW and Audi researched U.S. laws and past enforcement cases before equipping their cars with the devices. "This was a cover-up coordinated by the most senior people at the company," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said at a press conference in New York. The lawsuits are separate from VW's $14.7 billion partial settlement with federal and California regulators.

ON THE FIFTH SURGE OF SAFETRACK WMATA GAVE TO ME: Time to plan your travel around the single-tracking between the East Falls Church and Ballston stations, which lasts through July 31. It's the second time that stretch has undergone work, but it's now on the outbound track. Metro is urging commuters who usually ride to or from Vienna, Wiehle-Reston East, Tysons Corner and other stations west of Ballston to find other ways to get around. The Washington Post has more:

HOPE FOR ATC REFORM: We asked MT readers: Are you hopeful or doubtful about the prospect of enacting an FAA revamp by the new September 2017 deadline Congress just set?

A self-described "longtime industry airspace user" said: "Modernization of the air traffic system takes decades in our current system, by which time technology has passed us by. Our neighbors to the north produce positive results as an air navigation service provider that is supported by general aviation, business aviation, airlines and their military. In fact, NavCanada is the majority owner of a space-based surveillance technology that will roll out at less cost and with more benefits, to all users, sooner than FAA's ill-advised, non-harmonized, ground-based surveillance system. We can then have the pleasure of paying another country's air navigation service provider for something FAA is unable to deliver (cost-beneficial modernization benefits). Our national airspace system needs safety oversight by the regulator, but should also be as competitive, efficient and cost effective as a commercial business. I'm hopeful Congress will remove their thumb from FAA and make ATC reform occur in 2017."

The comment period is still open, so tell us how you're leaning:, and

TWEET DU JOUR: U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman (@MikeFroman): "Had a great tour of @TeslaMotors this morning to see sustainable, #MadeInAmerica cars #exported around the world."

RECORD CARTEL FINE FOR BIG TRUCKMAKERS: Iveco, DAF, Volvo, Daimler and MAN - and their parent companies, including VW - have been slapped with a total of ???2.9 billion in fines for tacitly fixing prices for more than a decade and agreeing when to roll out clean emissions technology. The top competition enforcer in Europe, Margrethe Vestager, set a new record with the fine, considered the largest-ever sanction for illegal collusion, POLITICO Europe's Nicholas Hirst reports. Those firms now face lawsuits from truckers and other customers, too. MAN actually blew the whistle on the collusion, which saves it from fines but not lawsuits.

HOW CAR2GO AFFECTS THE DISTRICT: Every car2go vehicle in D.C. took about seven cars off the road last year, eliminating at most 10 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study by UC Berkeley's Transportation Sustainability Research Center. The car-sharing app, which allows users to take one-way trips, also decreased vehicle miles traveled in the district by a maximum of 21.3 million miles, researchers estimated. Among the five North American cities studied - Vancouver, Calgary, San Diego, Seattle and D.C. - a single car2go vehicle took from seven to 11 cars off the road.


- South Korean regulator considering filing criminal charges against Volkswagen executives. The Wall Street Journal.

- House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster, a Trump supporter, says the GOP nominee has yet to provide an infrastructure plan. Business Insider.

- Why transit was key in bringing the RNC to Cleveland. The Washington Post.

- Volkswagen to build electric cars in North America by 2020. The Wall Street Journal.

- PHL non-union workers rally in pre-DNC bid for better pay, representation. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

- Plans for self-driving cars have pitfall: the human brain. The Associated Press.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 71 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 436 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 110 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,536 days.


8 a.m. - The U.S. Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee meets to discuss recommendations for DOT on impediments to short sea transportation, expanding international gateway ports, using waterborne transportation to increase mobility throughout the domestic transportation system, modernizing the U.S. maritime workforce, strengthening maritime capabilities, and encouraging maritime innovation. FMCSA National Training Center, 1310 N. Courthouse Rd., Suite 600, Arlington, Va.

9 a.m. - DOT hosts the grand opening of its Build America Bureau with Secretary Anthony Foxx. 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.

10 a.m. - Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood participates in a discussion at the Republican National Convention about how U.S. infrastructure has become an important campaign issue and what challenges the new president will face in trying to make it better. Cleveland, Ohio.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

GOP platform mostly a rehash for rejected transportation ideas Back

By Jennifer Scholtes, Lauren Gardner and Brianna Gurciullo | 07/19/2016 07:22 PM EDT

If history is any indication, few of the transportation dreams laid out in the new GOP platform stand a chance of taking off, no matter who's sitting in the Oval Office next year.

Amid the nearly 600 words the new plan espouses on transportation issues, eight main goals are sewn within a series of slaps at Obama administration stances, adding up to a flaccid document full of largely failed policy ideas that's likely to go nowhere.

The GOP master plan focuses on, among other things, stripping transit from the Highway Trust Fund - an idea that already failed spectacularly.

The political infeasibility of booting transit projects from the Highway Trust Fund became clear back in 2012, when House Republicans tried to use their newfound control to change the way the nation's transit agencies get their federal funding assistance. But a wall of resistance from Democrats and suburban Republicans meant the attempt never even got to the House floor.

Jim Oberstar, late chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said then that Republicans "got the message from home that we like transit."

But Joshua L. Schank, who now serves as chief innovation officer for the Los Angeles County Metro, says the GOP platform is catering to a Republican base that "is not composed of people who use mass transit."

Still, Schank said, the idea of cutting off trust fund money to public transit is "highly unlikely" to pass, even in a fully Republican Congress, and the GOP platform is "trying to reopen the rift" that highway and transit advocates worked to close in the early 1990s.

"It really doesn't have much in the way of logic," says Schank, the former CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation.

This newest Republican plan attacks the Obama administration for chasing "an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit" and compares the Republican plan to the idea the GOP rolled out in 1980 to end a nationwide speed limit.

"More than a quarter of the Fund's spending is diverted from its original purpose," Republicans claim this year. "One-fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities."

It's true that about 20 percent of money from the Highway Trust Fund typically goes to transit, a plan very carefully hatched to attract support for a gas tax increase under President Ronald Reagan.

Robert Puentes, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, said the platform rightfully acknowledges that policymakers must decide what the "new federalism" is in an era of tight budgets. "I think that's the right conversation to have," he said.

But Puentes added that the notion that transit should be divorced from highway funding "is not relevant anymore" since Congress has regularly relied on general fund bailouts to shore up the fund.

While the Republican platform calls for phasing out the federal transit program - a position the Heritage Foundation pushes - Republican spending committee leaders are still approving steady funding levels for the Federal Transit Administration.

Also taking aim at Amtrak, the GOP platform characterizes the rail operator's current funding scheme as a taxpayer burden and calls for the federal government to allow private ventures to provide passenger service along the Northeast Corridor.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers pushed for - and won - significant changes to Amtrak's accounting structure in the 2015 highway and transit bill, in an effort they hope will make it harder for members to extract major cuts to the company's funding.

Fights over Amtrak funding have also fired up a contingent of Republicans whose districts actually benefit from the very subsidization much of their party condemns.

Last year, when the House took up its fiscal 2016 transportation-housing spending bill, the chamber voted to strike down an amendment that would have barred Amtrak from using money to operate any route that costs more than twice as much as it earns. And the House voted 205-218 to reject another amendment that would have prohibited the rail operator from using money to run the route with the highest financial loss per ride, which would effectively kill the "Sunset Limited" line from New Orleans to Los Angeles.

This year's GOP platform also suggests the Highway Trust Fund no longer be used to pay for bike-share programs, sidewalks and scenic byways. And while several sitting Republican legislators share in that desire, efforts to curtail the fund's uses have been largely futile so far.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) introduced a measure (H.R. 2606) last year that would take away the Department of Transportation's ability to approve landscaping and roadside development under federally funded highway projects. But that measure has sat untouched for more than 13 months.

Meanwhile, authors of the FAST Act (H.R. 22) fought to maintain funding authority for the Transportation Alternatives program that helps pay for projects such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities and trail projects.

One area where the platform diverged from the 2012 cycle was ostensibly on a vehicle-miles-traveled user fee to fund highway construction.

When Mitt Romney secured the GOP nomination, the party opposed "any funding mechanism that would involve governmental monitoring of every car and truck in the nation" - a line that spoke to the concerns of drivers who don't want a federal "Big Brother" watching every move of the steering wheel. That sentence is not included in the 2016 document.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said last week that House Speaker Paul Ryan has seemed "enamored" of the vehicle-miles-traveled idea in at least one meeting with House members.

And some conservatives - including Reason Foundation co-founder Bob Poole - have encouraged lawmakers to gradually embrace the concept.

Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong did not comment on whether the omission represents a shift within the party on changing the makeup of highway user fees.

"The speaker is focused on the House GOP agenda," she said in an email.

That missing sentence may be "a softening" of the 2012 stance given how rapidly vehicle technology has evolved since then, Puentes said. "This is caught up in this larger transformation that's happening," he said, such as breakthroughs in semi- and fully autonomous vehicle technology.

Schank says some lawmakers have quietly come around to the vehicle-miles-traveled option as they acknowledge the difficulty of getting consensus to raise the gas tax.

"It's almost out of desperation, perhaps, that people are trying to open themselves up a little more," he said, cautioning against reading too much into the fact that the platform doesn't mention the issue.


Airplane climate rules cleared for liftoff Back

By Alex Guillén | 07/19/2016 06:38 PM EDT

The Obama administration is ready to declare aircraft emissions a threat to the global climate - but it will be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the cockpit when it comes time to regulate.

EPA will issue as soon as Wednesday its scientific conclusion that carbon dioxide emitted by aircraft contributes to climate change. EPA's conclusion, known as an endangerment finding, won't come as a surprise and will echo the finding it issued in 2009 that the agency later used as its basis for regulating carbon emissions from cars and power plants.

The endangerment finding is not itself a regulation, but it does trigger an obligation for EPA to write rules eventually.

That's not likely to sit well with Trump, who owns a Boeing 757 and a smaller plane, and who once owned a small airline called Trump Shuttle. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has dismissed climate change as a hoax, and he's said that if elected he planned to review EPA's 2009 finding that the agency used as a basis for its power plant rules and roll back EPA's landmark Clean Power Plan.

Republicans bashed EPA's proposed endangerment finding last year that indicated it was planning to target the airplane emissions, and the new finding is likely to set off a fight over how stringently the agency regulates them. But a potential Trump administration would be legally required to act to curb that pollution once EPA determines it poses a danger - and, if it were to ignore that requirement, would face legal challenges from environmentalists who successfully sued the George W. Bush administration.

"EPA is under an independent, now absolutely mandatory legal duty to set emission standards that actually do something about the problem," said Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that frequently has often sued EPA to force action, including on aircraft emissions.

The U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization earlier this year released a set of technology standards that will apply to new aircraft designs by 2020 and newly built versions of plane designs currently in production by 2023.

Failure by a U.S. administration to adhere to that standard would eventually result in non-compliant aircraft being barred from other nations' airspace.

Clinton hasn't weighed in on aircraft emissions specifically, but she has broadly supported continuing President Barack Obama's actions on climate change.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee promised in July 2015 to buy carbon offsets for her campaign, including air travel, but reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission to date do not indicate any offsets have been purchased. Her campaign did not respond to questions about her offset pledge or the endangerment finding. (Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign spent over $80,000 on carbon offsets from Vermont-based firm Native Energy, according to FEC data.)

Pardee and other environmentalists have sharply criticized an international standard adopted by ICAO, whose plan won plaudits from the White House.

The greens' disappointment came after the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation calculated that the standards would reduce emissions at cruising speeds by only about 4 percent on average - "basically below business as usual," the Council's Dan Rutherford said.

"Not worth the price of the paper it's printed on," Pardee added.

Aviation-related emissions are a relatively small part of human-induced greenhouse gases - about 3 percent of U.S. emissions and 2 percent of global emissions.

But global plane travel is a rapidly growing business, and the United States' position both as an outsized contributor to aviation emissions and as the home to major aircraft and engine manufacturers has environmentalists pushing for EPA to adopt more stringent rules.

"EPA is saying greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft are harmful. It would be, I think, inconsistent for them to then adopt a standard that we know is not going to reduce that harm," said Rutherford.

"A U.S. standard that sets requirements for aircraft operating in the U.S. - it would go global, in effect," he added.

Pardee compares the issue with U.S. regulations requiring more fuel efficient cars. National rules were adopted after California, a major market, moved toward its own regulations, she noted.

Airlines and manufacturers are already pushing back on the notion that EPA should implement rules that are stricter than the international standard.

"It would be extremely strange, and in our view arbitrary, for the U.S. to say, 'We're going to do something different than that in the U.S.,'" said Nancy Young, vice president for environmental affairs at Airlines for America, which represents U.S. carriers. "It would put U.S. airlines and operators at a competitive disadvantage."

U.S. carriers have reduced their fuel burn rate since 2000 while moving significantly more passengers and cargo, she said.

Still, greens' message may have gotten through to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who has hinted publicly that she believes EPA should exceed the ICAO standard.

She said in April that EPA may combine the ICAO engine efficiency requirement with international "market-based measures" and requirements that airlines take steps to boost their fleet operational efficiency. McCarthy doubled down on that statement just days later during a visit to Canada, when she said the ICAO standard "is not going to be the only thing we need to do."

There are several pathways EPA could follow to create rules more stringent than the international standards. EPA could accelerate the compliance timeline or require those currently operating to install certain technologies to boost efficiency and curb emissions, according to Rutherford.

The agency could also require airlines to make changes to how they operate their fleets, he said. The notion was floated as far back as 2008, when the George W. Bush's EPA put out a document speculating about strategies such as using just one engine to taxi and an approach technique that allows planes to take a constant slope toward a landing rather than staggered altitudes.

Those operational improvements aren't actually something EPA has the authority to order, Young said, adding that airlines already are motivated by economic interests to find effective ways of decreasing fuel use.

"The right way forward is the CO2 standards that the international community has just collectively adopted," she said.


FAA selects acting assistant administrator Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe | 07/19/2016 06:30 AM EDT

The FAA has named Victoria Wassmer the next acting deputy administrator under Administrator Michael Huerta, POLITICO has learned.

The FAA confirmed Wassmer will replace Mike Whitaker, who left the agency in June.

Wassmer has most recently been serving as the FAA's assistant administrator for management and finance.

Beyond prior stints at the FAA, Wassmer was an executive at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and has also worked at WMATA and the Office of Management and Budget.


State AGs accuse high-level VW execs of diesel cover-up Back

By Lauren Gardner | 07/19/2016 01:49 PM EDT

The attorneys general of New York, Massachusetts and Maryland today contended that Volkswagen's cover-up of its diesel emissions cheating scandal stretched to the highest echelons of the company and implicated former CEO Martin Winterkorn.

In civil lawsuits filed against the German automaker and its U.S. subsidiaries, the states' AGs accuse Winterkorn and other high-ranking VW officials of being fully aware of the illegal installation of the defeat devices on several models of diesel-powered vehicles. In a May 2014 letter to Winterkorn, one employee warned that "a thorough explanation for the dramatic increase in NOx emissions cannot be given to the authorities."

"This was a cover-up coordinated by the most senior people at the company," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said at a press conference in New York.

The complaint also alleges that VW and Audi researched U.S. laws and earlier enforcement cases before installing the devices in their diesel cars.

The lawsuits represent the culmination of a nine-month-long investigation by a coalition of more than 40 states and jurisdictions. They are separate from VW's $14.7 billion partial settlement - which didn't resolve any civil penalties - with EPA, the Justice Department and California, as well as its agreement with 44 states to pay approximately $603 million to settle state consumer protection claims.

Read the complaint filed by New York here.


Truckmakers hit with record cartel fine Back

By Nicholas Hirst | 07/19/2016 06:53 AM EDT

Margrethe Vestager, Europe's top competition enforcer, has hit the world's largest truckmakers with fines totaling ???2.9 billion, setting a new record sanction for illegal collusion.

The five firms tacitly fixed prices over 14 years and agreed when they would roll out of clean emissions technology.

Iveco, DAF, Volvo, Daimler and MAN - and their parent companies, which includes VW - now face potentially crippling follow-on damages actions from truckers and other customers that have overpaid as a result of the collusion.

"They colluded on the pricing and on passing on the costs for meeting environmental standards to customers," said Vestager. "This is also a clear message to companies that cartels are not accepted."

The findings that the companies rode rough-shod over emissions limits comes at a sensitive time, given the fallout of the scandal surrounding VW's manipulation of diesel emissions testing.

"The exposure of the truck manufacturers exceeds ???10 billion," said Laurent Geelhand, a litigation lawyer for Hausfeld, which says it is readying lawsuits on behalf of some of the largest European truck fleets.

VW's MAN subsidiary blew the whistle on the cartel and so avoided sanctions. MAN's status as immunity applicant will not shelter it from lawsuits seeking damages.

The prospect of huge penalties will have been a major factor driving the truckmakers to settle with the Commission. That pact won them a fine-reduction of 10 percent, but more importantly it will ensure the decision, when it becomes public, is shorter and less damning.

This article first appeared on POLITICO.EU on July 19, 2016.