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Infrastructure in the News 8.16.16


CBS News: How Trump and Clinton would rebuild creaky infrastructure

It's one thing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton unambiguously agree on: Roads, bridges, airports and other U.S. infrastructure assets are in woeful condition.

The Hill: U.S. Department of Transportation traffic formula stuck in the 1950s

For the first time in its history, the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering new requirements for how states and metro areas will have to measure traffic congestion.

Wall Street Journal: Hyperloop Technology to Be Studied as Shipping Tool

Hyperloop technology is fast-tracking into the freight sector. Hyperloop One Inc., one of two companies racing to build the futuristic speed-of-sound transportation technology, announced a new partnership with the one of the world’s largest port-terminal operators, DP World.

The Street: What a Clinton Win Could Mean for Infrastructure Names

The stock market is always trying to predict things. For example, the Mexican peso has been gaining value against the dollar, recently. The reason: Recent polls suggest that the Democratic presidential nominee is well ahead of the Republican rival.

CityLab: Americans Really Want More Infrastructure Spending

Decaying highways, pipes, and railroads aren’t only top-of-mind for the average CityLab reader—nearly half of registered American voters believe that the state of their country’s infrastructure has deteriorated in the last five years, according to a national poll conducted in mid-June by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

Reuters: Audi vehicles to talk to U.S. traffic signals in first for industry

German carmaker Audi is rolling out technology that will allow its vehicles in the United States to communicate with traffic signals, allowing for a more stress-free ride in what it says is the car industry's first commercial use of the nascent technology.


Washington Post: Metro’s track inspection program is a mess, and these four graphics show why

One thing is clear: Metro’s track inspection program has some huge problems. That was the conclusion of a report released last week by federal regulators.

Washington Post: Arlington studying a plan that would pay for your Uber to Metro

Arlington County is looking to partner with transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft to offer residents rides from more remote residential areas of the county where bus service to Metro stations is limited.

New York Times: Flint’s Water Crisis and the ‘Troublemaker’ Scientist

Near the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Flint, Mich., there is an old pump house, the walls of which have long served as a kind of communal billboard. The Block, people call it. People paint messages there — birthday wishes, memorials for the dead.

USA Today: Riemer: Wisconsin deserves a better transportation policy

Bill Clinton famously said the era of big government is over. Gov. Scott Walker begs to differ. Walker’s transportation policy reeks of bigness: big misplaced priorities, big spending, and big — very big — debt.

LA Times: Metro subway project through Beverly Hills can continue, judge rules

During more than three decades of discussion and planning, Los Angeles County transportation officials have cleared almost every obstacle to the long-planned Wilshire subway.

Washington Post: Get ready, Maryland. Charlotte’s light-rail project shows what Purple Line construction could bring

Sara Edwards looked out on the sea of orange barrels outside her pet shop, where the city is building a light-rail line, and offered the Maryland suburbs preparing for Purple Line construction some advice: “Get ready,” Edwards said, because traffic will be “horrendous” for years.

Washington Post: New FTA report calls for further action from Metro to prevent red-signal overruns

Federal officials are pressuring Metro to take immediate steps, such as improving operator training and communication, to curb red-signal violations by its trains, a problem that has plagued the system for years and nearly led to a head-on collision last month.

NPR Atlanta: Metro Atlantans Name Transportation As Biggest Regional Problem

Over a quarter of metro Atlantans say that the biggest issue facing the region is transportation, according to a recent poll by the Atlanta Regional Commission and Neighborhood Nexus.

MinnPost: Southwest LRT will help ease the mismatch between urban job seekers and metro jobs

Look closely at the orange and green splotches on new mapping of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and you’ll begin to understand why building the Southwest Light Rail Transit line (SWLRT) has become so important in special session negotiations, for both Minnesota business leaders and advocates for economic and racial justice.

ABC: Albany Int’l to receive over $3M for infrastructure improvements

Albany International Airport will be making significant infrastructure upgrades through federal funding. Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Paul Tonko announced the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration awarded more than $3 million to the airport.

By Lauren Gardner | 08/16/2016 05:41 AM EDT

With help from Alex Guillén and Kathryn A. Wolfe

RED LIGHT RUNNING: FTA on Monday released the second in a series of summer reports into systemic safety issues plaguing Metro, this one focused on red signal overruns. Three "recurring" factors contribute to train operators running red lights within the rail system, according to FTA: The drivers "lack familiarity with the system's mainlines and yards, are confused or don't pay attention when they pull away from stations, and have 'poor or incomplete' communications with WMATA's rail control center," your MT host reports.

Pressure to stay on schedule at station stops may also cause or factor into the overrun incidents, FTA said, agreeing with a study WMATA conducted in 2014 on the issue. Between January 2012 and the end of July 2016, 68 signal breaches occurred within Metrorail, according to FTA.

Like a fine wine: FTA paired a new safety directive with the report, requiring WMATA to complete nearly a dozen actions to remedy its red light wrongs. The mandates include making signal markers more visible, reviewing the agency's fatigue management program, auditing radio protocol and communications between operators and control center dispatchers, and overhauling its investigation process for signal overruns.

Silver lining: But unlike FTA's damning report on WMATA's track inspection regime last week, federal regulators found some cause for optimism in steps the agency has already taken to try to bring the overrun rate down to zero. "For example, WMATA has revised operating rules, expanded training and supervision for train operators and rail traffic controllers, improved adherence to radio protocol, installed new signage in rail yards, and investigated options for modifying the signal system to automatically stop trains at red signals, even when they are operating in manual modes," FTA said in the report.

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia noted in a statement that the latest report highlights issues further down the WMATA food chain: "Unlike previous safety reports from the FTA, the challenge with red signal violations cannot be addressed simply by fixing a section of track or cables. ... It underscores what can go wrong when frontline employees don't take seriously their role in protecting riders and fellow employees. I am pleased that FTA acknowledged Metro's new leadership is making progress in its effort to rebuild a safety culture, but this again shows the monumental task ahead of them."

On a related note: FTA has officially taken on 131 corrective action plans for WMATA that the system's previous oversight body was managing, spokesman Paul Kincaid said Monday. Shifting those tasks into the FTA safety oversight portfolio follows through on the second safety directive the feds issued this fiscal year to WMATA requiring the agency to resolve any open safety findings made by the Tri-State Oversight Committee, so the move is just procedural. They'll pop up in FTA's tracking table the next time the website is updated, Kincaid said.

TURN UP FOR TUESDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Hopefully your morning is off to a better start than this Metrobus had Monday. Lauren is sailing this ship solo for a couple days, so send your tips, quips and transpo-tinged lyrics (preferably from the early aughts, because your host is having a hard time finding any modal references in the hits of yesteryear) right here: or @Gardner_LM. And reach out to the rest of the team: or @brigurciullo, or @JAScholtes and or @TSnyderDC.

"The glove compartment is inaccurately named/And everybody knows it/So I'm proposing a swift orderly change."

PHASE 2 TRUCK RULE EXPECTED TODAY: The last vehicle efficiency rule of President Barack Obama's presidency is expected to roll out today, and gleeful environmentalists are preparing to do the "honk your horn" arm movement that is the staple of schoolchildren on field trips everywhere. Though the EPA and Transportation Department have kept the final rule's details quiet, sources tell our friends at Morning Energy that it will be stricter than the proposed rule, which called for a 36 percent improvement over 2010 levels by 2027 (that's the Union of Concerned Scientists' estimate ; the rule is complex and sets different standards for different classes of vehicles). Covered trucks range from tractor-trailers and garbage haulers to school buses and large pickups.

Go for the gold: One source told ME the carbon savings are expected to land close to 1.1 billion tons over the lifetime of the program, up a bit from the 1 billion estimated under the proposed rule. That would be the equivalent emissions of 11.3 billion gallons of gasoline. In a nod toward industry concerns over compliance, the EPA is also expected to make tweaks to the "averaging, banking and trading" program, which gives manufacturers flexibility to implement the standards while staying on target overall. And the rule may manage to yield even more reductions than previously thought for non-carbon pollution like soot and nitrogen oxides, which could help some states meet air quality standards.

WSJ: DOJ, VW MAY REACH CRIMINAL SETTLEMENT: Federal prosecutors and Volkswagen are in talks to negotiate a criminal settlement that may result in charges against some of the automaker's employees and hefty fines, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. "Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit and the Justice Department's fraud and environmental crimes sections in Washington are still weighing whether to seek a guilty plea from Volkswagen or pursue a so-called deferred prosecution agreement under which the government would aim to later dismiss charges so long as the auto maker adheres to settlement terms," WSJ reported, citing unnamed sources. The report also says VW "is expected to receive credit from prosecutors for cooperating with their probe" and for agreeing to a $15 billion civil settlement in June with regulators and consumers.

Volkswagen had this to say: "Volkswagen is committed to earning back the trust of our customers, dealers, regulators and the American public. As we have said previously, Volkswagen is cooperating with federal and state regulators in the United States, including the Department of Justice, and our discussions are continuing toward a resolution of remaining issues."

AAR'S TWO-PERSON REPRISE: The comment period for the FRA's pending two-person train rule closed Monday, and the Association of American Railroads got in under the wire with another salvo against the proposal, our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports. Once again, the group is asking the administration to shelve the rule.

Among its arguments, AAR asserts that FRA has refused to release data underpinning its assertion that having two-person crews is safer than just one.

A BUS TERMINAL TOO FAR: A single New York pol has put the kibosh - for now - on the creation of a new bus terminal on Manhattan's West Side, intended for New Jersey commuters, reports POLITICO New Jersey. Virtually everyone - including the proposed terminal's main opponent, Councilman Corey Johnson - agrees the current terminal is too crowded, decrepit and must be replaced.

But Johnson is blocking any "megaproject" that would replace it through a local land use approval process that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has to go through to redesign the crumbling facility. The Port Authority, for its part, says the fight isn't over yet; and last week a group of 10 members of Congress, including both of New Jersey's senators, wrote to urge New York City leaders to reconsider their objection.

UBER FOR TRANSIT: Bloomberg is out with a deep dive into towns that have begun subsidizing, to some degree, Uber and Lyft rides for their residents in lieu of maintaining pricey public transit options that aren't well-subscribed. Small suburban cities like Pinellas Park, Fla., and Centennial, Colo., are among those that have - or will soon have - deals with the ride-sharing companies to shuttle their citizens around their jurisdictions at a fraction of the cost of a bus line. That means local governments in these low-density areas are saving money, while Uber and Lyft are making a killing.

Quick stats: From the Bloomberg report: "In 2014, Americans spent $15 billion in fares on public transportation at the 850 public transit agencies that share data with the Federal Transit Administration. The operating expenses at those agencies was $42 billion. Much of the remaining 65 percent of the cost of running the systems came from public subsidies."

FAA GIVES THUMBS-UP TO INDONESIA AIR SAFETY: The FAA upgraded its aviation safety rating for Indonesia on Monday, meaning that the country's regulators now comply with ICAO standards and that its air carriers may launch service to the United States and share U.S. airlines' codes if they get DOT's blessing.

U.S. regulators bumped Indonesia's rating down a level in April 2007. Per the FAA, that meant "the country either lacked laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or its civil aviation authority - a body equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters - was deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, or inspection procedures."

FCC, CANADIAN PACIFIC SETTLE ON WIRELESS RADIO INQUIRY: Canadian Pacific has agreed to a $1.2 million settlement with the FCC over allegations that the freight railroad operated wireless radios without the necessary approvals, Pro Technology's Margaret Harding McGill reports. The FCC investigation came after CP disclosed to the agency that an internal audit in 2015 found compliance issues with licensing regulations.


- Metro's track inspection program is a mess, and these four graphics show why. The Washington Post.

- Tesla removes "self-driving" from China website after Beijing crash. Reuters.

- The custom jalopies that move travelers across continents. Wired.

- In the U.S., VW Owners Get Cash. In Europe, They Get Plastic Tubes. The New York Times.

- Elon Musk Sets Ambitious Goals at Tesla - and Often Falls Short. The Wall Street Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 44 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 409 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 83 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,509 days.


8 a.m. - The Federal Highway Administration holds a meeting to develop proposed rules for the Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program. Loudoun Tech Center, Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, 21400 Ridgetop Circle, Sterling, Va.

9 a.m. - The FAA holds the fourth meeting of the Special Committee 235 on non-rechargeable lithium batteries.

9 a.m. - The Office of the Secretary of Transportation holds a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation to discuss issues such as whether to require accessible in-flight entertainment and whether to mandate accessible lavatories on new single-aisle aircraft over a certain size. Crystal City Marriott at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Arlington, Va.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

FTA: Confusion, poor communication with control center spur WMATA's red-light overruns Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/15/2016 04:55 PM EDT

Metrorail operators who have run stop signals tended to lack familiarity with the system's mainlines and yards, were confused or didn't pay attention when they pulled away from stations, and had "poor or incomplete" communications with WMATA's rail control center, according to an FTA report issued today.

The federal agency, which is temporarily tasked with overseeing safety at Metro, issued an accompanying safety directive requiring WMATA to take 11 actions to rectify its shoddy record of red-signal overruns and the factors contributing to their frequency.

FTA identified 68 red-signal breaches between Jan. 1, 2012, and July 31, 2016, that were committed "by both new and veteran passenger train and rail maintenance machine operators" throughout the system on various track types.

An earlier FTA report on WMATA's systemic track maintenance problems painted a stark picture of the work the transit agency must complete to bring Metro into a state of good repair. But the second product of the feds' "safety blitz" investigation notes that WMATA "has made considerable progress" addressing issues that often contribute to signal overruns, from installing new signs in rail yards to considering signal system changes that would automatically stop trains at red lights.

"WMATA has taken many of the steps that DOT has required to improve safety," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "However, until there are no stop signal overruns, WMATA can, and must, do more."


AAR again pans two-person train crew rule as comment period closes Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe | 08/15/2016 05:06 PM EDT

The trade group for freight railroads is again calling on the administration to withdraw its proposed rule that would mandate two-person train crews, and again asked the FRA to release data underpinning the proposal.

In comments filed today, the Association of American Railroads asked that the FRA release "several data sources that the FRA appears to have relied on, but has not made publicly available." It also knocked the administration for moving ahead with the rule when a federally funded study at Duke University is still ongoing.

"The simple fact is that no data exist showing two-person crews will enhance safety," said Edward Hamberger, AAR president and CEO. "The FRA needs to be fully transparent in disclosing the sources it has relied on during this rulemaking process. Until the agency can provide any hard evidence to make its case, it should abandon this misguided proposal."

The public comment period on the proposed rule closes today.


POLITICO New Jersey: Design competition for new Port Authority bus terminal at an impasse Back

By Dana Rubinstein | 08/15/2016 05:18 PM EDT

Absent a miraculous change of heart on the part of New York officials, the Port Authority's design competition for a new bus terminal on Manhattan's West Side for New Jersey commuters has reached a mortal impasse.

New Jersey officials can protest, but the leverage in the battle between New Jersey and a coterie of terminal-skeptical New York officials resides in Manhattan.

More precisely, it resides with first-term Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson, whose district encompasses the bus terminal and who effectively wields veto power over megaprojects in his district via a city land use approval process known, in bureaucratese, as ULURP.

The Port Authority expects any new bus terminal will have to go through that process, and in an interview Friday, Johnson said he would not support any bus terminal concept that emerges from the ongoing design competition, even as he acknowledged the existing facility, which is over-capacity, run-down, widely reviled and slowly crumbling, must somehow be replaced.

"It's fair to say we need to reset and restart the process," Johnson said.

"All we have is the proposal that is before us," said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who also has a formal role in the review process. "And that is not acceptable to us."

Those sentiments have been echoed by the de Blasio administration, which would also need to sign onto the megaproject, and whose first deputy mayor, Tony Shorris, recently argued that, "New York City and its residents must have a full voice in key issues such as site selection, terminal size, operational improvements and how to avoid the need for condemnation of private property in the area."

Last October, after a fit of angst about the Port Authority's planning processes - a fit that featured one board member despairing, "We don't know what we're doing" - the board authorized an international design competition for a new bus terminal west of the existing one on Manhattan's West Side.

In a concession to then-vice chairman and New York appointee Scott Rechler, the competition allowed for competitors to consider alternate locations. But in March, the New York side of the bistate authority traded that option away for New Jersey approval of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's LaGuardia Airport rebuild.

Because the Port Authority had been planning for a new bus terminal since at least 2013 and had seven months earlier settled on five possible concepts, the creation of a design competition to prolong the decision was seen as a stall.

The stall continued.

"Advancing its commitment to design and construct a 21st century successor to America's largest and busiest bus terminal, the Port Authority today is launching the 'Port Authority Bus Terminal International Design + Deliverability Competition,' a two-stage competition seeking an inspired and qualified team that can deliver a winning conceptual design for this complex undertaking," the Port Authority declared in a March press release.

The Port went on to name an "international jury of experts" to judge the competition. A winner was to be announced in September.

This past month changed everything.

Newly awakened to the prospect of a massive new bus terminal on the west side, New York's elected officials scrambled into action, asserting in press conferences, press releases and publicly released letters that the existing design competition was illegitimate, ill-advised, and premature. They've called for the Port to scrap it. The Port has insisted it won't.

Now, the whole thing is undergoing what might be called a course correction.

"It's not dead," Port Authority vice chairman Steve Cohen, a New York appointee, said in an interview. "There has been a readjustment as a result of what happened [over] the past three weeks. It's not dead because everyone concedes we need a new bus terminal. The only real issue is where will it be, what does it look like, what is the acceptable disruption and who shares the burden."

That burden is at the heart of it all.

"I don't know why the Port Authority is categorically, unilaterally ruling out looking at potential options across the river," Johnson said Friday. "The competition that they've started, they're putting the cart before the horse."

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of 10 state lawmakers from New Jersey and 10 members of Congress - including the state's two U.S. senators - sent a letter to the city leaders who have been objecting to the terminal plans. It urged them to reconsider their positions, saying a new facility in New Jersey would be "a recipe for disaster" because trains wouldn't have the capacity to move that many people from New Jersey into New York.

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who represents Bergen County and has been a vocal advocate for a new terminal in Manhattan, said she remained hopeful the New York officials would see things her way, even if she wasn't certain her counterparts were willing to be "partners" in the process.

"I can't say they will be," Weinberg said. "I'm hopeful that they will be, that we'll come an understanding that we shouldn't be at loggerheads on this."

On Friday afternoon, the bistate agency issued the following statement: "Big projects are never easy and never without their own unique complexities. We currently have a process that will take into consideration Manhattan's West Side community as represented by the local Community Board, elected officials and City Hall. We remain optimistic that, as anticipated and with the input of all interested parties, we will come up with a preliminary design that is the initial step moving forward with a new, much-needed Bus Terminal."

Ryan Hutchins contributed to this report.

This news first appeared on POLITICO New Jersey on Aug. 15, 2016.


Railroad company pays $1.2M to settle FCC investigation Back

By Margaret Harding McGill | 08/15/2016 04:21 PM EDT

Canadian Pacific Railway Company agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle an FCC investigation into allegations that it operated wireless radios without proper agency approval, the FCC said today.

The company conducted an internal audit in 2015 that revealed compliance issues with FCC licensing regulations, which Canadian Pacific disclosed to the agency, the FCC said.

Among the issues were the construction, relocation, modification or operation of more than 100 wireless facilities without FCC approval by Soo Line Corp. and its predecessors, the FCC said. Soo Line is the U.S. operating arm of Canadian Pacific.

The railroad industry uses radio devices to transmit voice and data information related to the operation of freight and passenger trains.

In addition to the payment, the railroad company will also implement a three-year compliance plan. A spokesman for Canadian Pacific didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.