Join The
Get The

Infrastructure in the News 8.18.16


Wall Street Journal: 13 Years After Northeast Blackout, U.S. Power Grid Remains Vulnerable

The vulnerability of the U.S. electrical grid was illustrated for 48 hours in August 2003, when the largest blackout in U.S. history left 50 million people in darkness in the Northeast U.S. and parts of Canada. The shutdown contributed to 11 deaths and cost the U.S. economy $10 billion.

New York Times: In June, Airlines Improved On-Time Performance From 2015

Airlines were running on time more often in June than they did last summer and travelers seemed to be finding less to complain about.

Washington Post: Tesla isn’t alone with cars that can nearly drive themselves

With all the attention paid to Tesla Motors’ Autopilot system, you’d think the company was the only one making cars that can almost drive themselves. But many automakers have rolled out cars that do what Teslas do.

The Atlantic City Lab: The Downsides of Data-Based Transportation Planning

Reliance on data to solve complex problems is subject to what’s sometimes called the “drunk under the streetlamp” effect: An obviously intoxicated man is on his hands and knees on the sidewalk, under a streetlamp. A passing cop asks him what he’s doing. “Looking for my keys,” the man replies. “Well, where did you drop them?” the cop inquires. “About a block away, but the light’s better here.”

The New Yorker: An Infrastructure Proposal That Goes Beyond Clinton and Trump

If you’re despairing at this year’s Presidential election, here’s something encouraging to focus on: both candidates are proposing to increase infrastructure spending. Hillary Clinton has published a five-year plan that would cost two hundred and seventy-five billion dollars. Donald Trump has also come out in favor of infrastructure investments. Earlier this month, he was asked about Clinton’s proposals, and how much he would spend. He said, “I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re going to really need more than that.”

The Hill: The missing ingredient in American infrastructure repair

In their dueling speeches in Detroit recently, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton presented radically different visions for the U.S. economy.  


Denver Business Journal: Centennial launches test of free Lyft rides to light rail

The Denver suburb of Centennial on Wednesday launched Go Centennial, its six-month test of whether free Lyft rides to and from the Dry Creek Road and I-25 transit station will encourage more people to take the train versus driving to their destinations.

Associated Press: Uber to use autonomous cars to haul people in next few weeks

Ride-hailing service Uber says it will start hauling passengers with self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh in next several weeks.

Washington Post: What does DDOT do with all those Twitter complaints?

Earlier this month, the speaker of the New York City Council was walking her district when she spotted a traffic signal that was hanging from a lightpole, noticeably askew. She snapped a photo and tweeted it to the city’s Transportation Department, the New York Times reported.

New York Times: Christie Orders Use of General Fund for ‘Essential’ Transportation Work

With lawmakers in New Jersey at an impasse over transportation funding, Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday ordered officials to use the state’s general fund to pay for “essential” transportation projects until the crisis is resolved.

New York Times: Why are the streets always under construction?

Streets are both New York City’s circulatory system and its skin. Commerce and commuters crisscross more than 6,300 miles of roadway in the five boroughs. Heavy traffic and the passage of time take their toll. But roads are also uniquely vulnerable to the elements. Water, especially during the freeze-and-thaw cycle between fall and spring, is another major irritant.

The Denver Post: Report: $1 billion a year needed for Colorado pedestrians, cyclists, transit users

More than $573 million a year for transit, including the launch of 14 new bus rapid transit routes. Nearly $230 million annually to build bike trails and shoulders and expand bike-share programs. Approximately $243 million a year to construct 6,000 miles of new sidewalks and make repairs to 8,600 miles of existing ones.

Southwest Minneapolis Journal: Deal keeps bus rapid transit project on schedule

The $150-million Orange Line bus rapid transit project is once again on track to meet a fast-approaching deadline to apply for federal funding.

The Tennessean: Metro recommends $6 billion transit plan for Nashville region

The report is in and the verdict is big. Connect Nashville and Clarksville with commuter rail. Build light rail on four busy Nashville corridors. Install bus rapid transit on three other major roadways.

Chicago Tribune: Cook County eyes transportation projects that spur development, jobs

Riding around the south suburbs in an SUV with John Yonan is a real glass-half-full experience. Yonan, the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways superintendent, sees opportunity and potential where others might see urban blight.

The Cap Times: Madison loses out on federal transportation grant for second straight year

For the second year in a row, Madison Metro Transit did not receive federal funding that would have been used to alleviate overcrowding concerns.

MyNewsLA: L.A. receives $390 mil. for transportation projects and updates

Los Angeles County will receive millions of dollars in state grants for transportation projects including a rail link to LAX and upgrades to Union Station, but a local congresswoman Wednesday said she was disappointed funds were not allocated for a Gold Line rail extension from Azusa to Montclair.

Charleston Post and Courier: S.C. transportation officials prepare for 2017 funding fight

With five months until the start of the legislative session, S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall and the agency’s commission are gearing up to pressure lawmakers to increase funding.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 08/18/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner and Alex Guillén

YOU DOWN WITH PTC? A third of freight locomotives required to have PTC installed had done so by June 30, FRA says in a new report, though the percentage of route miles where the technology is operational (9 percent) lags behind. Our Lauren Gardner reports that 29 percent of passenger trains have PTC installed, with 22 percent of passenger route miles covered thus far.

Why not now? Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg used the stats to urge railroads to move faster than the 2018 deadline (which can go up to 2020 for railroads that jump through some hurdles for an extension), renewing arguments that PTC is widely available and should be activated ASAP. In the same breath, they acknowledged that commuter railroads could use a lot more cash to get the technology installed - a gap they called on Congress to fill. Four commuter railroads and three freights have told FRA they don't expect to have PTC fully implemented until 2019 or 2020.

"The official deadline for Positive Train Control may be years away, but the urgency for railroads to activate it is now. Every day that passes without PTC, we risk adding another preventable accident to a list that is already too long," Feinberg said. "FRA will continue to push railroads to stay focused on implementation and urge Congress to fund this life-saving technology."

IT'S THURSDAY: 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.

"A lonely road, crossed another cold state line/Miles away from those I love, purpose hard to find./While I recall all the words you spoke to me/Can't help but wish that I was there/Back where I'd love to be."

SO LONG, SWEET SUMMER: The airline industry expects 15.6 million people to travel during the week of Labor Day - or more than 2 million passengers per day. That's an increase of 82,000 a day compared to last year, according to Airlines for America. The trade association attributed the expected increase to cheaper tickets and "expanded schedules." To meet the demand, airlines will offer about 2.5 million seats each day between Aug. 31 and Sept. 6. For MT readers heading home for the holiday, A4A says the days of Sept. 1 and 2 will be the busiest.

AIRLINE PROFITS INCREASE BY $700 MILLION: Ten airlines together disclosed about $12 billion in profit before taxes for the first half of 2016, an increase of about $700 million compared to the first six months of last year, according to A4A. The airlines: Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United and Virgin America. "The year-over-year improvement was fueled by a 1.9 percent drop in operating expenses, with falling fuel prices making up for the increased labor, aircraft and airport costs," A4A said in a release. The carriers also reported reinvesting $9 billion "to enhance the customer experience" - mostly by buying new planes, according to the release. A4A's presentation, with information about the financial health of the airline industry as well as staffing and wages, is here:

FEWER AIRLINE COMPLAINTS IN FIRST HALF OF YEAR: Complaints from airline customers decreased 12.2 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period last year, according to a new report from DOT. The report doesn't cover the later summer months, when Southwest and Delta experienced technological meltdowns. In the first six months of 2016, consumers lodged 8,376 complaints. In the first half of 2015, the number was 9,542. For the month of June this year, airlines reported a 78 percent on-time arrival rate. Hawaiian Airlines had the highest rate (91.1 percent), while American Airlines posted the lowest (72.4 percent). ExpressJet Airlines had the highest cancellation rate (2.9 percent), and Delta had the lowest (less than 0.1 percent). View the full DOT report here:

EPA WATCHDOG DINGS TRANSIT SUBSIDY OVERSIGHT: The EPA's inspector general says the agency needs to strengthen oversight of its transit subsidy programs. The costliest problem was at Region 10's Seattle offices, where officials purchased transit passes for all employees at a discount but ultimately paid more than if they had simply paid for individual employees who actually used public transit, costing $135,701 across 2014 and 2015.

A promise to get back on track: At EPA headquarters in Washington, 431 employees left the agency in 2014, but 149 of them continued to get transit benefits for at least a month afterward, resulting in $1,379 in wrongful payments, according to the IG. The report also found that Region 9 in San Francisco wrongly allowed employees to enroll in one of two transit plans, one of which had laxer review policies. The EPA vowed to address those issues and bring its transit plan into compliance with a 10-point internal control plan from the Office of Management and Budget.

ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES: Andrew Brady has left Rep. Richard Hanna's office to take on a new role in the American Public Transportation Association's government affairs office. He previously served as the New York Republican's deputy chief of staff and legislative director.


- German auto supplier Bosch accused of working "hand-in-glove" with VW in emissions fraud. Reuters.

- Inspection blitz finds more track defects; Metro adjusting SafeTrack schedule. WAMU.

- Passengers on burning ship near Puerto Rico recall ordeal. The Associated Press.

- Amtrak Police Chief Polly Hanson under investigation for fraud, conflict of interest. The Washington Post.

- Officials describe JFK bedlam as an experience "we can actually learn from." POLITICO New Jersey.

- Chinese airlines wave wads of cash to lure foreign pilots. Bloomberg.

- Report: Wheel failure caused May CSX train derailment in Northeast D.C. The Washington Post.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 42 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 407 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 81 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,507 days.


8 a.m. - A committee to make suggested rules for the Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program holds its third day of meetings. Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, Loudoun Tech Center, 21400 Ridgetop Circle, Sterling, Va.

9 a.m. - The RTCA special committee on Internet Protocol Suite and AeroMACS holds its second day of meetings. RTCA, 1150 18th St. NW, Suite 910.

10 a.m. - NTSB holds a press conference on transportation safety for school-age children. Fitzgerald Auto Mall, 5501 Nicholson Lane, Rockville, Md.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

PTC now on a third of freight locomotives, but route miles lag Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/17/2016 01:25 PM EDT

A third of freight locomotives required to be equipped with positive train control by 2018 already have the technology on board, though just 9 percent of the route miles that must be covered by the technology are operational, FRA said today in a status update.

That compares to 29 percent of passenger trains having PTC installed, with 22 percent of passenger route miles covered by the safety technology. Those statistics reflect railroad data as of June 30.

Congress extended the implementation deadline last year to December 2018, though FRA may give railroads up to two additional years if they show they've made progress toward getting PTC activated.

DOT officials have said railroads could - and should - move more quickly. The FRA report notes that PTC could have prevented a June 2016 head-on freight train collision that killed three crew members.

"The official deadline for Positive Train Control may be years away, but the urgency for railroads to activate it is now," said FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg. "Every day that passes without PTC, we risk adding another preventable accident to a list that is already too long."

Association of American Railroads spokesman Ed Greenberg said PTC "is a full-time focus of" freight railroads, "which continue to work all out on PTC testing and installation and to move this complex safety system from concept to nationwide reality across the country as quickly as possible, without sacrificing safety."


Officials describe JFK bedlam as an experience 'we can actually learn from' Back

By Dana Rubinstein and Azi Paybarah | 08/17/2016 04:55 PM EDT

After false reports of gunfire prompted stampedes at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday night, city and state officials described the unprecedented chaos as a learning experience, while New York police commissioner Bill Bratton said it resembled the "fog of war."

"I'm putting together a multi-agency team of state officials who will then review the response to see how we make it better," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

A spokesman for Cuomo, who controls the region's airports and the police who spearhead security at them via the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which he, in turn, jointly controls with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), declined to provide any more specifics about what that "multi-agency" team might look like.

"Obviously the whole incident was unfortunate, but we can actually learn from these situations," Cuomo said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who controls the New York Police Department, which also has a role in airport security, took a similar tack, his ongoing feud with the governor notwithstanding.

"We all have to do better at the airports, no question about it - that means the NYPD, that means the Port Authority police, city, state all working together," he said. "And I think we all learned some important lessons from this weekend."

This weekend was, for thousands of passengers at JFK, a traumatic one.

On Sunday night, after false reports of gunfire, passengers sought refuge beneath airport tables, ran screaming down concourses and streamed onto the normally off-limits tarmac in terror.

Multiple terminals were evacuated. There were actual stampedes.

David Wallace-Wells, a New York magazine writer who happened to have arrived at JFK from Copenhagen that evening, personally participated in two stampedes.

"The first," he wrote, "was in the long, narrow, low-ceilinged second-floor hallway approaching customs that was so stuffed with restless passengers that it felt like a cattle call, even before the fire alarm and the screaming and all the contradictory squeals that sent people running and yelling and barreling over each other - as well as the dropped luggage, passports, and crouched panicked women who just wanted to take shelter between their knees and hope for it, or 'them,' to pass."

The second stampede was prompted by the sight of "a woman in a hijab," who "appeared at the top of a flight of stairs, yelling out for a family member, it seemed, who had been separated from her in the chaos."

Passengers frantically called family members, convinced they were in the middle of a terrorist attack.

In the midst of the bedlam, one passenger asked a man in a Transportation Security Administration what was going on.

"You probably have a better idea than I do," he said, according to a story recounted in the New York Times,

"Two people were trampled," according to the Daily News.

Pat Foye, the Port Authority's executive director and a Cuomo appointee, defended the Port Authority Police Department to the the tabloid, describing its response as "timely and tactically sound."

He also acknowledged some flaws.

"Communication was difficult and challenging," Foye said. "It was inadequate and it didn't meet today's customer expectations. We are going to review how we can better communicate with the public in a careful and serious way."

Bratton similarly defended the NYPD's response, telling reporters on Wednesday that he had "three to four hundred police officers with the right equipment at that location."

"So the response was satisfactory from our perspective but the confusion was around the fact that it was, fortunately ... a false alarm," Bratton said.

Part of the problem with the region's airports is the lack of structural accountability. In some cases, the airlines control the terminals themselves as part of lease agreements with the Port Authority, in some cases, it's a consortium of airlines, and in some cases it's the Port Authority itself. Security is similarly all over the place. The Port Authority Police Department has a big piece of it, as does the TSA and private security hired by the terminal operators. The NYPD responds, among other things, to major events.

"Surely an airport like JFK would have a contingency plan for a situation like this, which would call for passengers to be taken to a particular place or dealt with in a particular way," wrote an incredulous Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine. "If there is such a plan, I saw no evidence of it last night, nor any sign of meaningful or helpful lines of communication between the various parts of the airport operation or the security forces that flooded in after the first reports of gunfire."