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Infrastructure in the News 7.29.16


Bloomberg: States, Cities Mount U.S. Election-Year Push for Infrastructure

The nation’s mayors and governors are hoping the next president will do what even record-low interest rates haven’t: jumpstart investment in America’s roads, water works and mass-transit systems.

The New York Times: Railroads Might Have to Let Rivals Serve Their Customers

Freight railroads could be forced to allow competing railroads to serve some customers along their tracks if federal regulators approve a new rule.

Wall Street Journal: Amtrak Wins Argument That Passengers Go First and Freight Can Wait

Amtrak prevailed over freight railroads in a regulatory fight over whether Amtrak’s passenger trains should have the right of way over cargo trains.

Progressive Railroading: USDOT makes available $199 million in grants for PTC on commuter railroads

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is accepting applications for $199 million in competitive grant funding to implement positive train control (PTC) on commuter railroads, the department announced yesterday.


The New York Times: M.T.A. Plans to Sue New York City Over Fire Under Metro-North Tracks

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to file a lawsuit against New York City over a fire beneath Metro-North Railroad tracks in May that disrupted service for thousands of commuters.

The Washington Post: Virginia might allow big trucks in I-66 HOT lanes outside the Beltway

Virginia transportation officials are now open to the possibility that tractor-trailers could use I-66 high-occupancy toll lanes outside the Capital Beltway, which would be a first for Virginia’s HOT lanes.

Wall Street Journal (AP): 1920s Hudson Valley suspension bridge to get $20M upgrade

New York state transportation officials a nearly century-old suspension bridge spanning a Hudson Valley creek will undergo a $20 million restoration in a few years.

The Washington Post: Signing of Purple Line’s federal funding agreement set for Aug. 8, officials say

Maryland transportation officials have scheduled a public event for Aug. 8 to sign an agreement in which the federal government will commit to help pay for construction of a Purple Line — a final hurdle that state officials have said will allow major work to begin on the 16.2-mile light-rail line, according to three people familiar with the arrangement.

The Progressive: Alt Transit: High Speed Rail for the Midwest

For Rick Harnish, even to recall the experience of riding on a bullet train is thrilling. “You feel the acceleration coming out of the station,” says Harnish, who has traveled on high-speed trains in Europe and Asia. “There’s this weird sense that the speed is really hard to discern, except an interesting thing happens at about 150 miles an hour. It starts to sound like you’re in an airplane because the wind is rushing by so fast.”

The Washington Post: How Virginia plans to make I-66 tolls easier to bear

Virginia’s top policymaking panel on transportation gave unanimous approval Thursday to 10 programs supporters say will make travel easier when the rush-hour toll lanes open on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway next summer.

The Detroit News: Plan for Metro Detroit transit millage fails

A growing rift between counties has thwarted plans to place a 20-year transportation millage before Metro Detroit voters in November, and the clock is running out if transit leaders want to salvage the proposed ballot measure.

Washington City Paper: Metro Says It Wants To Hear From the Public About Permanently Ending Late-Night Service

For the thousands of riders who depend on D.C.'s subway to get from point A to point B during the wee hours of the weekend, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld's announcement on Tuesday that he would propose ending late-night Metrorail service caused consternation across the region.

KQRE News: Ruling expected in federal hearing on Albuquerque Rapid Transit

After about 12 hours of testimony in federal court on Thursday, a judge is expected to rule Friday on the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central. A New, Connected Vision for the Twin Cities

By now, it’s a familiar story – residents of thriving urban neighborhoods displaced and disconnected by the construction of a major interstate highway. Vision for East Coast rail service takes another step forward

The Federal Railroad Administration released Thursday the public's input on its Northeast Corridor Futures proposals, a set of potential improvements and redesigns for Amtrak's route from Boston to Washington.

The Dallas Morning News: Counting trees? Downtown Dallas taking steps to be more pedestrian friendly

No matter the time of day or evening, Main Street is a river of activity that cuts through the heart of downtown Dallas. Several blocks south, the Farmers Market is emerging as a booming residential neighborhood. On the other side of the central business district, the West End serves as a transit hub and lunchtime mainstay for corporate employees and out-of-town convention goers.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Mending mission: A hard-won grant to rejoin the Hill and Downtown

There is no way to make the Hill District whole for the physical and psychological dislocation caused by construction of the Civic Arena. However, a federal grant providing a new connection to Downtown will help to improve the neighborhood’s future prospects.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Brianna Gurciullo, Jennifer Scholtes, Lauren Gardner and Tanya Snyder | 07/29/2016 05:37 AM EDT

STRONGER (BRIDGES) TOGETHER: Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination last night with an hourlong speech laying out her vision for the future, including a brief but firm push for robust investment in rebuilding the nation's roads, airports and transit systems. "If we invest in infrastructure now, we'll not only create jobs today but lay the foundation for the jobs of the future," she said. She promises it will be "the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II."

His vs. HRC's: Clinton has proposed a five-year, $275 billion investment plan to revitalize the nation's infrastructure - a plan she pledges to push through in her first 100 days. Trump has insisted that the nation's crumbling infrastructure woes can be solved "only be me" but hasn't outlined a specific plan to do so.

Yes we car: Clinton gave President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden credit "for saving us from the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes" - in part by bailing out the auto industry, a decision that was highly controversial at the time. She says their decision was vindicated, touting "an auto industry that just had its best year ever."

HAPPY FRIDAY: 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 @brigurciullo, or @Gardner_LM and or @JAScholtes.

"There's an engineer on that long black train. Makin' you wonder if the ride is worth the pain. He's just a-waitin' on your heart to say: 'Let me ride on that long black train.'"

WHAT WOULD YOU PREFER: In a big win for Amtrak and DOT, the Surface Transportation Board did a complete 180 Thursday on its earlier proposal to change how it interprets statutory preference for Amtrak trains over others on freight-owned routes. The board withdrew the policy statement amid "broad disagreement" among freights, Amtrak and policymakers. "Continued efforts to develop the Policy Statement under these circumstances would unnecessarily delay the Board's resolution of pending and future on-time performance investigations - the very opposite of the purpose in commencing this proceeding," the board wrote.

You down with OTP? STB also did an about-face on its proposed rule defining on-time performance for passenger trains based on when they reach the end of their routes. Instead, the panel finalized a rule accounting for trains' punctuality at all stations along the way (no later than 15 minutes past the scheduled time).

Both sides now: Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds praised the decisions and said the service "looks forward to working closely with the STB and host railroads to ensure that passengers arrive at their destination on time, improving their travel experience while lowering Amtrak operating costs and increasing revenues."

Meanwhile, Association of American Railroads spokesman Ed Greenberg said the group is weighing its options for further legal action as it studies the decisions. "It is a disappointment the STB has decided to add mid-point On Time Performance measures, which could result in negative impacts for freight rail customers and consumers, but the freight rail industry will continue to work with Amtrak to provide dependable passenger service in the country," he said.

What's next: Fights over on-time performance are far from over. DOT has asked a federal appeals court last month to rehear a case brought by freights challenging Amtrak's ability to co-write OTP metrics with FRA (a three-judge panel ruled in favor of AAR), so the issue may get hashed out again there and, eventually, at the Supreme Court.

Amtrak also has two OTP complaints against Canadian National, and CSX and Norfolk Southern, pending before STB. The board paused work on them since the rulemaking would consider issues presented in those cases; STB's next move is unclear.

GIMME A BRAKE: The Metro train operator who overran a stop signal and came within 2,000 feet of striking an oncoming train July 5 was "extremely concerned about getting a break," WMATA's Chief Safety Officer Patrick Lavin said Thursday. The operator wasn't aware he had blown through a red light until two workers on the track yelled at him to stop before the train could hit them.

Our Tanya Snyder reports that the driver "was working within hours of service rules, but was anxious to be relieved and annoyed that he wouldn't get to take his break in the place he preferred, which has more restaurant options." The employee already had two violations as a train operator and two red light infractions as a bus driver. Lavin, who called the operator's actions "childish," promised the agency would review its vetting process. He said there have been 10 red signal infractions so far in 2016.

BTW: The Government Accountability Office will conduct the study that lawmakers requested last week on FTA's safety oversight of WMATA, GAO spokesman Ned Griffith confirmed to MT.

WE'LL GET BACK TO YOU: Back in May, the NTSB issued a preliminary report slamming WMATA for the safety failures that led up to January's deadly electrical arcing incident at L'Enfant Plaza. Of the 31 recommendations in the report, 24 were directed at WMATA. Lavin said Thursday that each one of those recommendations has been assigned to a specific person to address. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is collecting those individual responses and will send them to NTSB on Thursday.

OPEN SEASON FOR PTC GRANT APPLICATIONS: The FRA has kicked off its application process for $199 million in positive train control grants. Our Lauren Gardner explains: "Eligible projects may include those that help cover the costs of installing PTC systems, or developing technologies that will reduce costs, speed up implementation and improve interoperability." The money for commuter railroads and state and local governments was made available through the FAST Act.

FAA SAYS 'NO WAY' TO REPAIR STATION ADVICE: Federal watchdogs have some recommendations for improving FAA oversight of aircraft repair stations. But the agency says: no thanks.

Not so much: The Government Accountability Office recommends that the FAA start rounding up information on how much work is being done at each of the nearly 4,800 aircraft repair stations the agency oversees. As we laid out for Pros, the GAO "said in a report this week that data about volumes would help the agency pinpoint high-risk facilities. But the FAA has formally disagreed with the GAO's recommendation, arguing that the agency considers other volume information. While the FAA has previously stated that tracking that data could help identify high-risk repair stations, the agency says it does not consider the information to be a standalone risk factor."

Will do: The agency isn't bucking all of the GAO's advice, though, and has agreed to come up with a process for evaluating the effectiveness of its Safety Assurance System, which is used to standardize how inspectors identify safety risks during repair station oversight.

NO ONE HURT AFTER AA PLANE ENGINE EMITS FLAMES: The left engine of an American Airlines plane expelled flames but did not catch fire as the aircraft was heading from Dallas to Seattle on Wednesday. The plane went back to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and landed, with no passengers or crew members hurt, 20 minutes or so after taking off, the Associated Press reported. The FAA said that "the pilot reported an engine problem causing compressor stalls, which discharged flames from the back of the engine," according to AP.

WHAT'S OVERTIME? SAYS THE TRUCK LOADER: By law, motor carrier workers aren't entitled to overtime pay if they are involved - in any way - in operations to keep vehicles safe on public roads. And a federal appeals court judge drove home that point this week. Pro Labor's Marianne LeVine explains that an employee who loaded and unloaded trucks for Central Transport International tried to challenge the federal overtime exemption, arguing that he wasn't actually in charge of ensuring each truck has a balanced load. But the judge decided that overtime isn't owed to any worker who spends a "substantial" chunk of their workday "participating in or directing the actual loading."

TRANSITIONS: Anne Aylward was named director of Volpe, replacing acting director David Ishihara and becoming the first woman to lead the National Transportation Systems Center. Aylward has been at Volpe for two decades and previously worked at the Massachusetts Port Authority.

At the National Association of Railroad Passengers, Bruce Becker was brought on as vice president of operations. The longtime NARP member was consulting for the association and previously served as a board vice chair.

Rhonda Marie Carter, deputy chief of staff at DOT, will join Sound Transit as chief of staff. She previously served as the Department of Energy's White House liaison and special assistant to the White House counsel.

SPOTTED: POLITICO Influence reports on the transpo-celeb sightings at the Squire Patton Boggs-CSX Transportation "railcar reception" this week. At Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, guests mingled inside historic railcars, including the New York No. 10, used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Spotted there: Sen. Tom Carper, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Transportation Institute's Jim Henry, the American Railroads Association's Ian Jefferies and former Rep. Jack Kingston. From CSX: Ellen Fitzsimmons, Anne Reinke and Cindy Sanborn. Former Sen. John Breaux and former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater co-hosted the event.


- Uber's latest lets businesses pay for client rides. USA Today.

- Switching off red light cameras likely cost lives, IIHS Says. ABC News.

- The public sounds off on plans for Amtrak's East Coast route. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

- Washington State fines Volkswagen $176 million over emissions. The Wall Street Journal.

- Want to drive in Beijing? Good luck in the license plate lottery. The New York Times.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 62 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 427 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 101 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,527 days.


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Stories from POLITICO Pro

STB walks back earlier passenger rail guidance Back

By Lauren Gardner | 07/28/2016 12:26 PM EDT

The Surface Transportation Board reversed course today on earlier proposals to alter how it views statutory preference for Amtrak trains riding on freight lines and to settle what it means for them to be "on time."

The decisions mark a major victory - at least for now - for Amtrak and DOT, which both opposed the proposals in comments to the independent board.

STB is now instead finalizing a rule to define passenger rail on-time performance based on a train's punctuality at all stations along a route, rather than when it arrives at its endpoint as originally envisioned.

Perhaps more significantly, the panel is withdrawing its proposed policy statement that would have reimagined how it interprets preference given to Amtrak over other trains operating on tracks owned by freight railroads. STB's earlier suggestion that preference is not clearly defined by law riled lawmakers and passenger rail advocates.

DOT urged STB to shelve the policy statement and encouraged an all-stations approach to the on-time performance rule.


FRA opens PTC grant applications Back

By Lauren Gardner | 07/28/2016 10:51 AM EDT

The FRA is now accepting applications for commuter railroads to compete for $199 million in federal grants to cover positive train control implementation costs.

Congress provided the one-time shot of funding in the FAST Act in December 2015.

Eligible projects may include those that help cover the costs of installing PTC systems, or developing technologies that will reduce costs, speed up implementation and improve interoperability. FRA will choose the winners, and FTA will administer the money.


Federal appeals court declines to revive overtime 'loader' case Back

By Marianne LeVine | 07/28/2016 01:57 PM EDT

A federal appeals court today declined to revive a case against a motor carrier company, concluding that an employee who loaded trailers was not entitled to overtime pay.

The Fair Labor Standards Act exempts motor carrier employees from overtime pay if their "duties affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles in transportation on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce." Loaders are included in this category.

Although the employee's primary responsibilities included loading and unloading trailers, he alleged he was entitled to overtime pay because he did not exercise "judgment and discretion in planning and building a balanced load" - a requirement to qualify for the exemption. However, the district court concluded the employee did exercise judgment and discretion when loading freight and the appeals court agreed.

In the court opinion, Judge James B. Loken wrote that "if an employee spends a substantial part of his time ... participating in or directing the actual loading of a motor vehicle common carrier's trailer," the overtime exemption applies.