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Infrastructure in the News 8.15.16


The Spectrum: Report: transportation tax could ease congestion

Traffic modeling suggests a proposed sales tax increase to benefit transportation could improve the area’s road congestion outlook by about 50 percent. That's the difference calculated by a team of planners at the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, who added the proposed tax to the figures in their 25-year long-range plan.

Wall Street Journal: Economic Slump Sends Big Ships to Scrap Heap

Up until a year ago, the shipping industry was ordering ships in droves. This year, orders of new vessels have fallen to a record low and companies can’t get rid of ships fast enough. About 1,000 ships that have the combined capacity to haul 52 million metric tons of cargo will be dragged onto beaches, cut into pieces and sold for scrap metal this year.

Market Watch: Something Clinton and Trump agree on: Time to invest in infrastructure

Normally, there’s no surer way to make the traffic meter at an economics site die, stone cold, than writing about productivity stats. That said, the truly awful second-quarter productivity numbers are something politicians can, for once, do something about.

Wall Street Journal: Raise the Gas Tax if You’re Serious About Infrastructure

Secretary Hillary Clinton is right (“Clinton Makes Bet on Infrastructure,” U.S. News, Aug. 6). Even Donald Trump agrees that our nation needs a strong infrastructure investment plan. Past proposals, however, have floundered because funding has either been inadequate or based on budget gimmicks.

The Hill: Feds get new powers to improve transit safety

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is getting new tools to aid its mission to improve safety at federally funded public transportation systems, including Washington, D.C.'s troubled Metrorail system.

Washington Post: Smart growth requires more than roads

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn is clearly off track in criticizing efforts in Montgomery County to create smart-growth communities reliant on transit and to suggest that we need more road capacity.

USA Today: Clinton's economic plan: A reality check

In some ways, the economic plan Hillary Clinton proposed in a speech Thursday is the mirror image of the vision Donald Trump laid out earlier in the week. Clinton wants to increase taxes to pay for a hodgepodge of programs to boost low-cost education, provide paid family leave and encourage economic development.

The Guardian: Hyperloop and our misplaced love of futuristic technology

It’s like something out of the 1980s futuristic cartoon show The Jetsons: floating commuter pods are propelled through low-pressure tubes at 760mph, faster than an average 747 jetliner.

Bloomberg: Uber and Lyft Want to Replace Public Buses

Pinellas Park, Florida, isn’t the kind of place you'd expect to gain insight about the future of mass transit. The suburb of Tampa is as car-crazy as your average stretch of Floridian sprawl—the local landmarks include the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum and a drag racing strip—and anyone who can avoid the bus does.

Governing: China Can Build Infrastructure. Why Can’t We?

My first visit to Shanghai was in 1980. The roads were clogged with bicyclists. I wondered at the gridlock the city would suffer if affluence moved all those bicyclists into private cars.


Associated Press: Philadelphia Transit Woes Preceded Defect

Almost one in five trains on the regional rail transit lines serving the Philadelphia metropolitan area were late last year, the worst performance of the decade — and that was before one-third of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's fleet was sidelined by structural problems, according to a Philadelphia newspaper.

Wired: Downtown Manhattan Is the New Frontier of the Car-Free City

THIS AFTERNOON, PEDESTRIANS and cyclists will take over a 60-block swath of downtown Manhattan. Where cars usually rule, street musicians will perform in bustling intersections. A bike valet will offer services free of charge. An art studio will pop up on Bowling Green.

New York Times: New Yorkers in Subway Deserts Have Advice for L Train Riders: ‘Suck It Up’

Waiting at a bus stop in a cascade of snow. Inching along in stop-and-go traffic. Cramming into a commuter van alongside other passengers. These are the experiences of living in New York City when a subway line is out of reach.

Future Structure: Pennsylvania Creates Task Force to Prep for Arrival of Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving vehicles are coming, a top Pennsylvania transportation official said Thursday, and they will change life beyond anyone's wildest imagination.

Voice of America: Authorities Threaten to Close Iconic Washington Bridge

A sculptured span over the Potomac River, Washington D.C.’s Memorial Bridge provides tourists and residents alike a path between two American icons – the memorial to President Abraham Lincoln and the Arlington cemetery, where more than 400,000 U.S. soldiers have been put to rest.

Washington Post: With Metro’s SafeTrack Surge #8, we’re past the halfway point eighth project of Metro’s SafeTrack program begins Saturday and puts us past the halfway mark of the 15 projects outlined in the plan.

North Jersey: Construction workers to protest stalemate on N.J. transportation funding

Angry that a fight between politicians may keep them unemployed for eight months, unionized construction workers plan to protest Monday outside the offices of state Senators Bob Gordon in Fair Lawn and Loretta Weinberg in Teaneck.

Oregonian: Transportation Department's credibility problem is really the governor's problem

Once again, the Oregon Department of Transportation is in an unfortunate legislative and political spotlight with the recent Oregon Transportation Commission's denial of authorization to award an audit contract to a prior agency  contractor.

By Jennifer Scholtes, Brianna Gurciullo and Lauren Gardner | 08/15/2016 05:41 AM EDT

With help from Esther Whieldon

WAITING ON TRUCK EMISSIONS MANDATES: When it comes to federal rules, the final standards expected this week for heavy-duty trucks are a big deal. Any day now, the Obama administration is set to roll out its rule stipulating what kind of gas mileage heavy-duty trucks must get and how much pollution they can spew. And the administration estimates those new benchmarks will cut emissions by 1 billion metric tons and decrease oil use by 1.8 billion barrels.

Who cares? The final rule will be a game-changer for tractor-trailers, garbage trucks, school buses and other large vehicles with model years 2021 through 2027.

Big picture: In the broader scheme of vehicle efficiency rules, though, the administration probably won't achieve the strides it set out to make. As Pro Energy's Alex Guillén reported last month, those rules "won't deliver the carbon reductions or fuel savings President Barack Obama promised in his first term because cheap gasoline has set off a buying spree of gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles." NHTSA and EPA released data this summer showing that cars and trucks will fall short of the 54.5 miles-per-gallon goal set four years ago.

HAPPY MONDAY: 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, or @JAScholtes and or @TSnyderDC.

"No, I don't wanna go home. I wish I didn't have to go home. I guess I could miss my flight. And say my cab got stuck in traffic. And couldn't make it on time. That I got left behind."


Tuesday - A committee to make suggested rules for the Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program kicks off three days of meetings. The RTCA special committee on non-rechargeable lithium batteries begins two days of meetings . And the Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation starts a two-day meeting to "continue to address whether to require accessible in-flight entertainment ... and strengthen accessibility requirements for other in-flight communications, whether to require an accessible lavatory on new single-aisle aircraft over a certain size, and whether to amend the definition of 'service animals' that may accompany passengers with a disability on a flight."

Wednesday - The RTCA special committee on Internet Protocol Suite and AeroMACS holds a three-day meeting.

UNITED FLIGHT ATTENDANTS NAB NEW UNION DEAL: The flight attendants of United Airlines jet off to work today with a freshly ratified union contract after turning out in droves last week to vote for solidifying the agreement. More than 90 percent of the airline's flight attendants cast votes on the labor deal that brings them under one contract. But the vote was no landslide, with 53 percent opting to ratify the agreement that covers 25,000 flight attendants.

The perks: The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA brags that the agreement includes double-digit pay increases, better job security, improved health care coverage and protection of retirement benefits. "The contract provides immediate economic gains, sets a new industry standard and ensures flight attendants can achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline," the union's president, Sara Nelson, said in a written statement.

NTSB SET TO DISSECT EL FARO BLACK BOX: NTSB and Coast Guard investigators today will begin combing through the sunken cargo ship El Faro's data recorder, which was brought to the surface just last week. The "audition," or the examination as it's called in NTSB parlance, will occur in two phases.

Investigators will first listen to "raw audio without any clean up or filtering," which the board says will help determine the extent of the work ahead to decipher what happened in October 2015, and assess the quality of the data and audio retrieved. Then, NTSB will form an investigative group with representatives from the various agencies and companies involved in locating the black box to compile a transcript of the audio, which will be used to focus any further inquiries into the sinking.

No leaks here: NTSB won't release any audio from the recorder (it's prohibited from doing so under federal law), but the agency did post pictures and video of the team bringing the device on board the recovery ship and conducting an initial inspection.

FAA NAMES LEADERS OF NEW RESEARCH CENTER: The FAA has just added one more "center of excellence" to the dozen it has created since Congress authorized the partnerships with academia in the early '90s. For this one, the agency has picked the University of Oklahoma and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University teams to lead the new center focused on developing technical training for air traffic controllers, aviation safety inspectors, engineers, pilots and technicians.

Up and running: The other 12 centers focus on things like airport pavement, general aviation safety, and mitigating aircraft noise and emissions. Along with the university staff, members will include folks who own and operate their own aircraft and airports. And the FAA expects the team to hit the ground running with a "fully operational" center that is "engaged in a robust research agenda within the next few months."

DON'T PRESS YOUR LUCK WITH A MACK TRUCK: FMCSA is launching a new public awareness campaign to try to spread tips to help drivers avoid accidents with big trucks and buses. The agency's advice under the "Our Roads, Our Responsibility" campaign: stay out of big vehicles' blind spots, make sure you can see the driver in the mirror before passing, don't cut it close when merging with one of these large rigs, be ready for those weighty vehicles to take some wide turns, and - of course - focus on the road and exercise that most-precious virtue: patience.

BUCKLE UP: Two dozen people, including two crew members, went to the hospital after a JetBlue flight Thursday from Boston to Sacramento hit turbulence and had to land in South Dakota, CBS Boston reported. There were reports of overhead bins cracking, flight attendants hitting their heads on the ceiling and the toilet being ripped out of place. NBC News reported that the hurt passengers and crew members were released by Friday and a different plane brought the other passengers to Sacramento. Thunderstorms likely caused the turbulence, according to CNN meteorologists.

TRANSITIONS: Marcus Jadotte, assistant secretary of commerce for industry and analysis for the International Trade Administration, was tapped to be AAR's vice president of public affairs. Jadotte will open a D.C. office for the aerospace and defense contractor. He previously worked for NASCAR as vice president of public affairs and multicultural development, serving as the company's first African-American officer.

SLICE OF PI: POLITICO Influence points out that David Strickland, former NHTSA regulator and current counsel to lobbying group Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, spoke last week with Fortune's Erin Griffith on self-driving regulation, the first Tesla auto-pilot fatality, the "evolution vs. revolution" debate, tech companies' responsibility to ensure people don't abuse their products and the problem of irrational customers. The coalition includes Uber, Lyft, Ford, Volvo and Google.


- More airline outages seen as carriers grapple with aging technology. Reuters.

- Gasoline prices around the world: the real cost of filling up. Bloomberg.

- Six Killed in Plane Crash at Shannon Airport in Virginia. NBC Washington.

- Uber's cash service fuels tensions in South Africa. The Wall Street Journal.

- Man dies after stealing, crashing small plane in Ontario. The Associated Press.

- Nissan revolution: could new petrol engine make diesel obsolete? Reuters.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 45 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 410 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 84 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,510 days.

THE DAY AHEAD: Nothing on our radar for today.

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Vehicle rules will fall short on emissions, fuel savings, agencies say Back

By Alex Guillén | 07/18/2016 04:57 PM EDT

U.S. vehicle efficiency rules won't deliver the carbon reductions or fuel savings President Barack Obama promised in his first term because cheap gasoline has set off a buying spree of gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles, according to new government figures released Monday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA stressed in their draft technical report that automakers can still comply with their rule setting average fuel economy levels through 2025. But as a whole, cars and trucks will fall short of the much-heralded 54.5 miles per gallon goal envisioned under the 2012 rule, meaning the projected carbon dioxide emissions savings will not come to pass.

EPA and NHTSA set a range of standards depending on the size of the vehicle, a method meant to preserve consumer choice while decreasing the fuel consumption of gas-guzzlers like SUVs. But cheap gas has put more SUVs on the road than expected, dampening overall efficiency gains even as each individual vehicle becomes more efficient.

"54.5 isn't a standard, never was a standard and isn't a standard now," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. "54.5 is what we predicted in 2012 the fleet-wide average could get to, based on assumptions that were made back then about the mix of the fleet as between cars and light trucks and SUVs.

"We're recognizing the fact that gasoline prices are lower now," the official added. "They will change again, surely, between now and 2025. But right now when we look at the forecast out, we see that the vehicle mix is likely to include more SUVs and light trucks than what we expected in 2012. So when you put that assumption into context with the actual standard ... you're going to get a slightly lower number than 54.5."

In their new report, EPA and NHTSA estimate that target would actually be between 50 and 52.6 mpg by 2025. (Technically, it is a measure known as miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent, which takes into account electric cars and natural gas vehicles sold each year.)

EPA said in the 2012 rule that the standards would save around 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the program's lifetime, the equivalent of more than the U.S. emitted from all sectors in 2015. Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said that because the report indicates the average per-vehicle CO2 level is reduced by 3.5 percent to 8 percent, depending on the case, there would likely be an equivalent reduction in the overall savings. That comes out to roughly 200 million to 480 million tons.

The draft report is only the first step in a midterm review process that could culminate in changing the standards for the 2022-2025 model year vehicles. EPA will take comment on the draft technical report for 60 days, and ultimately the process ends in 2018, when EPA could finalize any potential changes to the future targets.

EPA and NHTSA say the 2022-2025 standards "can be met largely through improvements in gasoline vehicle technologies, such as improvements in engines, transmissions, light-weighting, aerodynamics and accessories."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement that the fuel economy standards get "a grade of 'incomplete.'"

"To ensure that the vehicle fleet actually reaches or exceeds the bold goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 ... the EPA and NHTSA must set even more stringent standards moving forward," Markey said. "The automotive industry can meet these standards with the same technological ingenuity that has made today's cars and SUVs fuel-efficient computers on wheels and that is enabling the self-driving cars of tomorrow."

The report is already providing ammo for automakers looking to loosen the 2020s standards.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement that market changes since the rule was finalized four years ago mean that "it will be a daunting challenge to meet the very aggressive requirements of the 2022-2025 federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas rule. Absent a vigorous commitment to focus on marketplace realities, excessive regulatory costs could impact both consumers and the employees who produce these vehicles."