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Infrastructure in the News 8.2.16


The Washington Post: Rio’s long-delayed Olympic metro line opens in the nick of time

To the relief of organizers, the government and the tens of thousands either working on the Games or planning to watch them, Rio finally began operating its new Olympic metro line at 6:07 a.m. on Monday.

The New York Times: Tesla Mulling Two Theories to Explain 'Autopilot' Crash-Source

Tesla Motors Inc told U.S. Senate Commerce Committee staff it is considering two theories that may help explain what led to the May 7 fatal crash that killed a Florida man who was using the car's "Autopilot" system, a person familiar with the meeting told Reuters on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal: Tech Companies Still Trusted More on Autonomous-Car Development

A fatality linked to Tesla Motor Inc.’s Autopilot system has done little to dent confidence in Silicon Valley’s ability to do a better job than traditional auto makers when it comes to development of software for autonomous cars, according to a new AlixPartners LLP survey.

The New York Times (AP): Virgin Galactic Gets Space Tourism Rocket Operating License

Virgin Galactic says it has received an operating license for its space tourism rocket from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Wall Street Journal: FAA Seeks New Tools to Track Spacecraft

After wrestling for months over how to allow unmanned aircraft to begin flying in U.S. skies, the Federal Aviation Administration is now grappling with a loftier challenge: keeping conventional aircraft safe amid an expected boom in commercial space launches.

The New York Times: Why Corporate America Is Leaving the Suburbs for the City

For decades, many of the nation’s biggest companies staked their futures far from the fraying downtowns of aging East Coast and Midwestern cities. One after another, they decamped for sprawling campuses in the suburbs and exurbs.

Governing: Blah City

It is no longer news that more than half of the world’s population now lives in places that can be classified as “urban.” The village and the isolated farm increasingly are things of the past. The massive urbanization of Asian countries, China in particular, stands out for its pace and sweeping nature.

Grist: Cities finally realize they don’t need to require so much damn parking

Some cities are starting to get smarter about parking, and that’s leading to less driving.


The New York Times: MTA to Announce Zika-Fighting Measures

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is taking aim at the potential threat of the Zika virus on the New York City subway.

The Washington Post: After DNC, it’s back to parking as usual in South Philly

Drive a guest into Philadelphia from the airport, and the first question you’re likely to hear is not “What’s the best cheesesteak in town?” or “Where is the Rocky statue?” but “Why are all those cars parked in the middle of the street?”

The Washington Post: Work begins on I-66 project inside the beltway

Work is underway on a project officials say will make Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway the nation’s first roadway with dynamic tolling on all lanes during peak traffic times.

The Washington Post: Metro identifies preliminary cause of Friday’s Silver Line derailment

The likely cause of Friday’s Metro derailment on the Silver Line was a track defect called “wide gauge,” which causes the wheels to lose contact with the rails as a result of old infrastructure.

The Washington Post: Metro maintenance shouldn’t mean a reduction in service

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld wants to reduce the hours that Metro runs? Why not close the Beltway to fix a few potholes? Reducing service on the entire Metrorail system in order to work on a few sections is not how large transportation systems should work.

The Washington Post: MARC ridership up during first day of Metro’s SafeTrack surge 6

The MARC train system saw a slight increase in ridership Monday morning in what could be a sign that some Metro riders are switching to the Maryland commuter rail system to avoid this week’s service disruptions on the Red Line.

The Boston Globe: Transit geeks, rejoice: The MBTA’s making even more data public

Get excited, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority data fanatics: It’s now a whole lot easier to download information on how your bus or subway line has been doing.

The Washington Post: Virginia launches its latest HOT lanes project on I-66

The first thing you would have noticed about the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Interstate 66 HOT lanes was that there was no ground.

The New York Times: Once Mocked, the G Train Is Now Cool. Kind Of.

The G train has long been the outcast of New York City’s subway system. It was short. It came sporadically. It did not even go to Manhattan.

Star Tribune: Twin Cities transit projects reach a perilous pass

Long, tortured efforts to improve Twin Cities mass transit have come to a precarious pass. The next two legs of a planned metrowide rapid transit system — the Southwest light-rail line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie and the Orange Line bus rapid transit from Minneapolis to Burnsville — are now both in peril, threatened by insufficient state and/or local funding and no small measure of self-serving politics.

The CT Mirror: CT split on rail overhaul; Malloy says repairs should come first

There is split opinion in Connecticut on ambitious proposals to overhaul rail service in the Northeast Corridor, with some preferring to put resources into a coastal route to Boston and others backing an inland route that runs through Hartford with a new stop near Storrs.

WNPR Connecticut: New Haven Gets $20 Million Downtown Renewal Grant

New Haven has received a $20 million federal grant to help transform the city's downtown and Route 34 area.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Lauren Gardner and Brianna Gurciullo | 08/02/2016 06:00 AM EDT

With help from Tanya Snyder and Eric Wolff

BALLOON PILOT HAD DUI HISTORY: The pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed in Texas last week had been convicted at least four times for drunken driving in another state and had served time in prison on a drug charge, The Associated Press reports. From the story: "Alfred 'Skip' Nichols, who had been stripped of his driver's license at least twice, 'couldn't drive a car but he could pilot a hot-air balloon,' said an attorney who represented a passenger who sued Nichols in 2013. The passenger said she was hurt when Nichols crash-landed a balloon in the St. Louis suburbs."

It's unclear yet whether alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash, which killed 16. Pilots are required by the FAA to report any arrests, convictions or "administrative actions" related to alcohol or drug offenses when applying for medical certification to fly. But NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said balloon pilots aren't required to hold that certification, a "disparity" compared to airplane pilots.

FAA do's and don'ts: While balloon operators don't have to list DUIs on their initial applications for pilot certificates, they must report any drug- or alcohol-related infractions within 60 days of them occurring once they have their certification in hand, FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford told MT. "Depending on the circumstances, we could pursue a suspension or revocation of their flying privileges," he said in an email.

Lunsford didn't comment on whether Nichols reported those offenses and couldn't definitively say whether the FAA had previously investigated him. "Our records show no accidents, incidents or closed enforcement actions against Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, or pilot Alfred G. Nichols, which would include suspensions or revocations," he said. "However, certain records are expunged after a couple of years by law."

Previous recommendation: NTSB called on FAA two years ago to regulate hot air balloon operators and require them to obtain letters of authorization so they'd be subject to safety inspections. But the agency rejected the recommendations.

In that letter, NTSB also noted that "balloons can carry more than 20 passengers per flight," creating "the potential for a high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident." The agency didn't issue a specific recommendation on maximum passenger limits then.

Early look: Sumwalt told reporters on the scene Monday that a "very preliminary look" at the balloon's "envelope," or the actual balloon portion of the aircraft, "reveals no evidence of pre-existing failures, malfunctions or problems." "At this point, I'm sorry to say, we do not know" what exactly pushed the balloon into the power lines, he said, though he later added: "The vent [of the envelope] being open would be consistent with a pilot attempting to land."

IT'S TUESDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Here at MT, we're still trying to lift our jaws off the ground after watching this video of a car flipping over in Florida. (The driver survived the crash.)

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

"I took the train back, back to where I came from. I took it all alone. It's been so long, I know."

TESLA, SOLARCITY MOVE AHEAD ON MERGER: Tesla and SolarCity have announced a plan to combine. Their board of directors signed off Monday on the agreement, worth $2.6 billion, "about a month after Tesla CEO Elon Musk sought to merge the companies in order to offer an all-in-one home electricity supply and storage package," Pro Energy's Esther Whieldon reports. Musk is also chairman of Tesla and SolarCity.

"Under the agreement, SolarCity has 45 days, through Sept. 14, to look around for other would-be buyers," Esther reports. "The companies hope to close the transaction in the fourth quarter of this year although the agreement does not terminate until the end of April 2017. The companies still need regulatory approvals and to meet other conditions."

'CULTURAL' EXCHANGE: D.C. Metro head honcho Paul Wiedefeld is calling a mandatory summit for Metro managers, supervisors and assistant superintendents Wednesday at the Verizon Center to talk about improving WMATA's safety culture. NBC4's Adam Tuss reports that Wiedefeld's memo to employees asks them to "join [him] for a discussion of Metro's priorities to improve safety, service, reliability and get our financial house in order." The confab comes after a rough week for Metro - it was revealed a train operator ran a red light in July rushing to get to his break, and capped off with a derailment.

And that other thing: Friday's derailment appears to have been caused, at least in part, by a wide gauge issue - i.e., the rails on which the trains ride were too far apart because of worn-out rail ties (the agency replaced more than 450 of them in that area of the system over the weekend). Metro is still reviewing whether other factors like equipment and weather were also to blame, WMATA said in a statement, but officials have thus far found no evidence that the train's operator was at fault.

And as of now, FTA concurs with Metro's findings. "While we are reviewing all aspects of the derailment, FTA preliminarily agrees with WMATA's initial assessment that a track condition developed along the rails, causing them to expand as a result of deteriorating rail ties," an agency spokesman emailed MT.

LOWEY PULLS FOR SHORT CR: Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Dem on the House Appropriations Committee, hopped on the phone with Pro Budget and Appropriations Brief's Ben Weyl recently to chat about the fiscal 2017 appropriations process and why she wants a short continuing resolution in September. "Unlike some conservatives who want to pass a continuing resolution that funds the government well into next year, she hopes Congress will pass a short-term stopgap that allows for passage of an omnibus appropriations bill in a lame-duck session," Weyl writes.

While the committee approved all 12 spending bills this year, not one has made it to President Barack Obama's desk, which Lowey blamed on a lack of transparency on the part of Republicans. In particular, she pointed to the majority's decisions to stop allowing freewheeling amendment debate by putting forward structured rules governing floor time and to avoid adopting individual allocations for each bill in the beginning of the season.

Where's THUD? Lowey didn't mention the DOT funding bill during the interview, and it's unclear whether GOP leaders will devote scarce floor time to the legislation in September since a CR is all but guaranteed. While it has its controversial points, they're far fewer than other subcommittees' work products, making it a likely contender for a broader debate in the chamber should leadership decide to consider more spending bills before the Sept. 30 deadline.

LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE (MAYBE): Art Halvorson tweeted Monday night that he'll announce this morning whether he'll run against House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster as a Democrat. Shuster just eked out a win over the retired Coast Guard captain in the GOP primary in April.

MOVER, SHAKER: Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has joined the board of directors for ChargePoint, an operator of electric vehicle charging networks.

REMEMBERING JANICE BARDEN: Janice Barden, the founder of Aviation Personnel International, has died. Braden served eight times as local committee chair for the National Business Aviation Association's annual Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition. She recently received a National Aeronautic Association Distinguished Statesman of Aviation Award.

"I'm not sure our industry has ever seen a person who has given more time to promoting and serving its interests - she was extraordinary at using her connection to people to connect people to each other, and build a sense of community," NBAA's president and CEO, Ed Bolen, said in a release.


- Southwest pilots seek CEO's ouster, citing 'misguided focus.' Bloomberg.

- This is your life, brought to you by private equity. The New York Times.

- Construction on I-66 toll lanes ready to start inside the Beltway. WAMU.

- Verizon to buy vehicle management company Fleetmatics for $2.4 billion. Reuters.

- The car of the future is coming to life in the Mojave Desert. Bloomberg.

- After bruising China battle, Uber cedes to rival Didi. Reuters.

- Union Station's concourse could get a big facelift. Greater Greater Washington.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 58 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 423 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 97 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,523 days.


9 a.m. - The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy holds a workshop on "drones and the future of aviation." White House South Court Auditorium. Livestream available here. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, the chairman of the FAA's drone advisory committee, will speak at the event.

10 a.m. - The RTCA holds a meeting of Special Committee 224, Airport Security Access Control Systems. RTCA, Inc., 1150 18th Street NW, Suite 910.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Tesla, SolarCity move forward with merger Back

By Esther Whieldon | 08/01/2016 09:39 AM EDT

Tesla and SolarCity today announced they have agreed to merge in a deal valued at $2.6 billion.

The independent members of the SolarCity and Tesla board of directors approved the transaction about a month after Tesla CEO Elon Musk sought to merge the companies in order to offer an all-in-one home electricity supply and storage package. The deal also could ease rooftop solar leasing giant SolarCity's dependence on state-level net metering programs that are coming under attack across the country.

Under the agreement, SolarCity has 45 days, through Sept. 14, to look around for other would-be buyers. The companies hope to close the transaction in the fourth quarter of this year although the agreement does not terminate until the end of April 2017. The companies still need regulatory approvals and to meet other conditions.

Also under the deal, SolarCity stockholders would receive 0.110 Tesla common shares per SolarCity share, valuing SolarCity common stock at $25.37 per share.


POLITICO Pro Q&A: Rep. Nita Lowey Back

By Ben Weyl | 08/01/2016 01:35 PM EDT

"The appropriations process, led by the Republicans, is a total failure." That's according to Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and the highest ranking woman in the panel's history.

The Bronx-born lawmaker has been a fierce critic this year of House Republicans' effort to fund the government and ticked through the GOP's stumbles in a phone interview late last month.

Lowey also weighed in on the nascent debate over how Congress should avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Unlike some conservatives who want to pass a continuing resolution that funds the government well into next year, she hopes Congress will pass a short-term stop-gap that allows for passage of an omnibus appropriations bill in a lame duck session.

Here are excerpts of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

The House Appropriations Committee approved all 12 bills this year, which it hasn't always done. But Democrats were often not pleased with the bills themselves. How do you feel about the committee's work this year?

First of all, it's inexcusable that Speaker [Paul] Ryan adjourned the House for seven weeks with no action on Zika, no funding for opioids recovery, none of our 12 bills signed into law, and it's July and we haven't sent a single appropriations bill to the president for his signature, including an emergency Zika supplemental requested in February.

Despite knowing the top-line spending level, the majority failed to adopt either a budget resolution or a deeming resolution. Frankly, it was due to internal fights about reneging on the bipartisan budget agreement, delaying consideration of appropriations bills. And on the floor, the majority's leadership twisted arms to prevent passage of an amendment preventing LGBT discrimination on MilCon-VA, and when the amendment finally passed on the Energy and Water bill, the Republican conference voted against their own bill.

The majority broke its pledge to use open rules for appropriations bills, used structured rules to restrict content of amendments members may offer and they used a partisan MilCon-Zika conference report to remove an amendment limiting the display of the Confederate flag, which had been supported by a broad bipartisan majority and they inserted ideological riders once again focused on reproductive health that will only hinder an effective Zika response.

Do you feel like the process got off on the wrong foot this year when the committee didn't adopt 302(b) spending allocations?

Well of course. Because Labor-H, which was near the end, Foreign Ops, which was at the end, were not adequately addressed as part of the whole appropriations process.

But I think the question really now is, I certainly expect the majority will advance a continuing resolution soon after we return in September. My strong preference would be for a CR that lasts until December, which would allow us to negotiate and pass an omnibus during the lame duck session.

It's obviously not the ideal way to conduct the appropriations process, but given the majority's failure to advance a single bill it's the best option available at this point. We shouldn't avoid a lame-duck session. We're paid year-round to represent our constituents and enact laws that will help our economy, national security, quality of life in our communities. We should have a lame-duck session and we should do the people's business.

Why do you want to do an omnibus this year rather than kicking a continuing resolution into next year as some conservatives want?

I think it would be irresponsible to wait to decide the spending levels until six months into the fiscal year.

And frankly, it would be a big gamble for the majority. If Democrats retain the presidency, and make gains or either flip the Senate and/or the House, Republicans will be in a weaker position to influence the final resolution of the 2017 appropriations.

What are some of the consequences of a lengthy CR for either federal agencies or the public?

Just look at Zika. The Republican majority's failure to act on this emergency and instead recess for seven weeks is the height of irresponsibility. We're going to be slowing vaccine development. NIH lacks the funding it needs to prepare for Phase 2 vaccine trials. CDC will also be unable to do everything in its power to support mosquito control and surveillance.

I hope that the Republican majority comes to its senses and acts this summer to send a clean Zika funding bill to the president.

How likely is it do you think that Congress will send a bill on Zika to the president? And is there a way for the parties to compromise, for both sides to give in somehow?

We had a conference that never really conferenced. I'm part of that conference committee. Of course there is. If people really want to get this done, the Senate and the House can sit together and work out a compromise. If they want a compromise.

How optimistic are you that Congress will get a Zika bill to the president?

I have no idea. I have no idea. I think it's irresponsible that we haven't done a Zika bill.

House Republicans are pushing defense bills this year that shift billions out of the Overseas Contingency Operations war-spending account into the Pentagon's base budget. That's a deal-breaker for Democrats, yes?

Look, we came to an agreement between defense and non-defense. And in fact, what the Republicans are doing is funding defense, the people who are on the front lines, until April. So, they don't even have a real bill that they're putting forth. They should get real and stick to the agreement and hopefully there could be a good balance between defense and non-defense and not playing all these games.

Could there be a deal where Democrats agree to boost defense spending and Republicans agree to boost domestic spending?

Sure. If there's an agreement, if we're going to sit in a conference, I have confidence we could work something out. There are real needs on the domestic side, and there's certainly real needs on the defense side. And we could come to some agreement if people were open minded and the Republicans were really ready to conference.

We've seen a deal like that twice now, with the Patty Murray-Paul Ryan agreement and with Barack Obama and John Boehner. Do you think something like that will happen next year when the sequester levels kick back in again?

I was part of that conference committee, and we could have another conference committee if people of good will are really ready to sit down and figure it out, so I hope so.

On the 12 appropriations bills that the committee has approved, were there any areas in particular where you were you disappointed, either on funding or policy riders?

Well, there are policy riders everywhere. We can't support these funding bills with policy riders on them. It's bad enough that with increased needs be it defense or non-defense that we haven't accommodated the bills in the current world we're living in, but all the riders that were attached are totally unacceptable.

In possible omnibus negotiations, do you see riders being the thorniest issue?


Because on funding, you can always make a compromise between the House and Senate numbers.

Right, right. But the riders, whether it's the right to choose, whether it's climate change, we cannot accept these riders. They are poison pills on the bills.

Is it your sense that the election results will be a factor in whether there is an omnibus at the end of the year or a longer CR?

I would expect that if Hillary wins, and I would hope she would, the Republicans would want to get their work done now. If there is an unfortunate election of Trump, the Republicans would probably want to push it over into January.

What do you think the odds are that there is a government shutdown at some point this year?

Oh, I don't know. You'll have to ask them. It would be irresponsible.

Frankly, I would be surprised if that happens again. I think it's irresponsible. It would show that the Republicans can't govern.

Can you talk a little bit about working with Chairman Hal Rogers? This is his final year as chairman under the Republican term limits.

Chairman Rogers and I have always had a very good relationship. We've worked well together. We have many discussions. But it's clear that he considers himself the representative of the leadership, and he cannot control the poison pills. But our relationship is very cordial.

You mentioned this a bit before, but in terms of how the bills were put on the floor, Republicans had some hiccups at first with open rules? How do you feel about how the Republican leadership handled appropriations on the floor?

The reality is, they have to be judged by their results, and they couldn't get anything done. We haven't sent a single appropriations bill to the president for his signature. And I mentioned the emergency Zika supplemental.

It's clear that the Appropriations Committee, led by the Republicans, has been unsuccessful, and Speaker Ryan, who adjourned the House for seven weeks with no action on Zika, no funding for opioids recovery, none of the 12 bills signed into law, has not been successful. The appropriations process, led by the Republicans, is a total failure.

I've talked to some people who say the appropriations and budget process is broken itself, and that procedural reforms need to be embraced. Do you agree with that, or do you think the process can work as it is?

The process can work if the leadership has control of the members who continue to add dozens of poison pills to every bill, but they obviously don't have control. The leadership doesn't have control over the members.

One idea that has been pushed out there is a biennial budget and appropriations process. What do you think about that?

Well then the dysfunction would just last longer. I don't think that works at all.