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Infrastructure in the News 8.23.16


The Hill: One mayor's take: Why America needs a new agenda for cities

We all know the stories of crumbling roads, failing bridges and broadband access that lags behind our international peers. The last few decades have been hard on our urban centers but Americans are falling in love with cities again. Cities all over the country are experiencing major influxes of new residents.

Associated Press: When mere paint won’t do it: Bike lanes around the world

Cities are increasingly changing bike lanes to make them safer in light of fatal crashes involving cyclists and cars.

The Hill: US drivers log record-breaking number of miles in 2016

Motorists in the U.S. drove a record-breaking number of miles in the first half of 2016, according to new data from the Department of Transportation. Expand the frontiers of urban sustainability

Manhattan skyscrapers, rather than rustic rural towns, are quickly becoming the picture of sustainable living in the twenty-first century.

Reuters: U.S. rejects automakers' request to extend fuel comment deadline

U.S. regulators on Monday denied a request by major automakers to extend the comment period on environmental analysis to determine whether government fuel efficiency requirements are feasible through 2025.


New York Times: What’s Next for the New York Subway? Toronto Already Knows

Step on board, and the subway car immediately feels different.

Washington Post: Workers clear all cars after Texas train derailment

Officials say all of the cars have been cleared after a train hauling coal derailed in rural North Texas.

Washington Post: Contractor challenges bid decision on trail project

A Delaware judge has temporarily halted progress on the next phase of a bike and pedestrian trail linking Wilmington and New Castle pending resolution of a dispute between a contractor and state transportation officials.

Las Vegas Sun: Emerging transportation technology will connect Southern Nevada

Great cities realize the importance of transportation in building a strong economy and thriving community. They collaborate on transportation infrastructure and technologies to enhance mobility for their residents and visitors.

News Works: Seven weeks later, N.J. transportation construction projects remain at standstill

New Jersey's halt in transportation construction projects due to the stalemate over renewing the Transportation Trust Fund is now in its seventh week.

ValueWalk: Poor Infrastructure Costs New York’s Drivers $700 A Year

Infrastructure in the United States is in dire need funding and repair. That’s well known, but the scale of the project facing whoever decides to take it on is truly astronomical.

Wall Street Journal: Cuomo hails progress on new Long Island Rail Road line (full article following Morning Transportation)

Crews have completed a new track on the Long Island Rail Road between Central Islip and Ronkonkoma — a key step in an effort intended to address delays on the busy rail line.

Austin Business Journal: Capital Metro unveils draft 10-year plan; Visions of 'BRT' whisking down I-35, digging up the 'Dillo's tracks

Bus rapid transit down I-35, a more robust network of high-frequency routes, 24-7 MetroRapid service and a greater investment in east-west transportation links form the backbone of Capital Metro's preliminary vision for its 10-year plan.

The News Tribune: Sound Transit’s cost overruns for first phase hit about 86 percent

Two decades after voters approved taxes for light rail, Sound Transit has at last laid enough track to answer a longstanding taxpayer question: How high were the cost overruns?

By Brianna Gurciullo | 08/23/2016 05:43 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner and Ben Weyl

LEW: DOT CAN LIVE WITH CURRENT SPENDING LEVELS: Our Lauren Gardner and Pro Budget and Appropriations' Ben Weyl recently chatted with DOT CFO Shoshana Lew about transportation spending bills, which come up several billion dollars short of what the White House requested. But they're more or less in line with current spending, which is good enough for DOT. "Generally speaking, the FY16 funding levels are adequate to maintain the current programs with some modest funding increases in areas like transit," Lew said. And perhaps most importantly, the funding in last year's omnibus aligned with the FAST Act. "It was important to us to have both, through the FAST Act and appropriations bills, predictable funding streams," Lew said.

Why a disparity? The biggest gap between what the president sought and what Congress is recommending stems from lawmakers' rejection of President Barack Obama's 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan. The White House's budget proposal called for investing $320 billion over a decade to revamp the transportation system, paid for with a $10-per-barrel tax on oil. That was a nonstarter in a GOP-led Congress.

How goes the FAST Act? Implementation is proceeding apace, Lew said, with the recent unveiling of the Build America Bureau marking a major highlight. "It was a unique opportunity in the FAST Act to consolidate our financing and loan programs into one and to provide a center of excellence for infrastructure financing, building on a lot of work we had done to set up something that was smaller scale administratively before the FAST Act passed," she said.

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. Reach out: or @brigurciullo.

"Next plane to London. Leavin' on runway number five. Next plane to London. And I'm missin' him. That baby. Of mine."

FAA DIRECTS HOT AIR BALLOON REPLACEMENT: The FAA wants hot air balloons manufactured by Czech Republic-based Kubicek Balloons with certain kinds of fuel hoses replaced, after the European Aviation Safety Agency issued a similar directive. Propane leaks were recently reported with Egeflex fuel hoses, according to EASA, and the "condition, if not detected and corrected, could result in a fire, damaging the balloon and its envelope, ultimately leading to an emergency landing."

'No known correlation' between directive and Texas crash: The FAA estimates that its directive, slated for publication Tuesday, will cost operators $272,000. The agency expects no more than 60 U.S. balloons will need to be fixed. A balloon that crashed in Lockhart, Texas, last month, killing 16 people on board, was made by the same manufacturer. But FAA said "there is no known correlation between [the] AD action and the hot air balloon accident" in Texas. EASA issued its directive days before the crash.

MTA JOINS NATCO: Four months after it left the American Public Transportation Association amid internal strife, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the newest member of the National Association of City Transportation Officials - and its first transit agency member, our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros. NACTO says it wants to recognize "the essential role of convenient, accessible public transit in creating sustainable 21st century cities" by adding transit agencies to its membership. "MTA joins NACTO as American cities from Houston to Los Angeles to Seattle to Chicago are investing in innovative new bus networks, providing proven street design examples for a growing network of transit operators," the association said.

WMATA, LOCAL UNION CLASH OVER FIRED EMPLOYEE: WMATA is hitting back against a local union's lawsuit to rehire a worker accused of fudging an inspection report around the time of the January 2015 smoke incident at L'Enfant Plaza, The Washington Post reports. Metro fired the equipment mechanic, Seyoum Haile, for purportedly claiming to properly inspect a tunnel fan and lying to investigators about it later. Arbitrators recommended that Metro suspend Haile without pay. But Metro argues in its countersuit that "transit patrons, employees, and the general public will be subjected to serious risk of physical harm and injury by the return of an employee to work on critical safety equipment despite repeated prior incidents of false statements in the course of his work with WMATA." (Metro previously suspended Haile for lying in his work log.)

Important to note: "Metro and the union agree that Haile was not responsible for the death and injuries that occurred during that incident," the Post reports. The "tunnel fan he was tasked with inspecting had operated properly during the smoke incident and only burned out once all the passengers were evacuated from the tunnel. Also, other mechanics had been responsible for conducting the inspection scheduled for December 2014," a month after Haile.

PENTAGON QUIETLY PUSHES FOR NEW SECURITY AT ENTRANCE ABOVE METRO: The Department of Defense wants a new employee screening facility at the Pentagon's entrance above the Metro, but the Senate isn't moving on the $12 million it's requested for the project, Pro Defense's Austin Wright reports . "The project will bring the Metro entrance in compliance with current standards, provides for more effective screening and accommodates recent technological improvements that enable advanced access control measures," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Badger said. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, isn't convinced the work is necessary and has blocked it.

TWEET DU JOUR: Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer): "You know that archaic @Amtrak departure board in NY Penn Station? It's finally being replaced with digital screens."


- Delphi, Mobileye join forces to develop self-drive system. The Wall Street Journal.

- Feds: Ignore that post about banning driver cellphone use. The Associated Press.

- U.S. drivers log record-breaking number of miles in 2016. The Hill.

- GM asks judge to throw out ignition switch case over "fabricated" key. Reuters.

- Delta offers pilots 27 percent raise as contract impasse lingers. Bloomberg.

- FMCSA proposes pilot program for 18- to 21-year-olds with military driving experience to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. Federal Register.

- Trump effort to stoke fear over Boeing laughed off by experts. McClatchy.

- U.S. rejects automakers' request to extend fuel comment deadline. Reuters.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 37 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 402 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 76 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,502 days.


7:30 a.m. - The second day of the Air Line Pilots Association's Air Safety Forum begins with registration and coffee. ALPA holds a series of invitation-only meetings throughout the day, including more workshops on aircraft design and operations, air traffic services and airport and ground environment. Washington Hilton, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW.

9 a.m. - FMCSA's Medical Review Board continues its meeting to make recommendations "on the disposition of comments from medical professionals and associations, as well as safety advocacy, labor, and industry groups" regarding the agency's and FRA's proposed rule on "safety-sensitive rail and commercial motor vehicle ... drivers with moderate to severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea." The FMCSA National Training Center, 1310 North Courthouse Road, Arlington, Va., Sixth floor.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

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Stories from POLITICO Pro

POLITICO Pro Q&A: Shoshana Lew, DOT's chief financial officer and assistant secretary for budget and programs Back

By Ben Weyl and Lauren Gardner | 08/22/2016 02:05 PM EDT

Even as the Obama administration winds down, the Department of Transportation remains busy. After years of short-term patches, Congress passed a 5-year, $305 billion transportation bill last year known as the FAST Act, which the department is now implementing. With that in mind and with end of the fiscal year in sight, POLITICO spoke with Shoshana Lew, the DOT's chief financial officer and assistant secretary for budget and programs.

"From a technical budgeting perspective, I would boast that we have one of the most interesting budgets in the federal government," Lew said in a recent phone interview, noting that the department oversees a complex combination of trust funds and general funds to support the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems.

Lew is also keeping a close eye on the appropriations bills moving through Congress - bringing her nearly full circle to her time at the beginning of the Obama administration, when she worked in the Office of Management and Budget. Before arriving at the DOT in 2013, Lew worked on energy and climate change policy at the White House Domestic Policy Council and as a senior adviser in the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management.

Below is a transcript of the interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

The spending bills produced by the House and Senate Appropriations committees for fiscal 2017 provide several billion dollars less than what the administration requested. Are there specific areas that you're concerned Congress is underfunding?

We can't comment specifically on the 2017 package. What I can say is that the levels that are being contemplated in the bills that we've seen for fiscal year '17 are roughly consistent with what we've seen for fiscal year '16 and the actual appropriations bills. Generally speaking, the FY16 funding levels are adequate to maintain the current programs with some modest funding increases in areas like transit.

I think something positive about the FY16 bill is it did provide consistent funding aligned with the FAST Act. One of the functions that our appropriations bills play is in addition to providing for the discretionary funding, they provide what is called obligation limitation, which essentially enables us to spend out of the Highway Trust Fund at the levels that are authorized in our authorization bills and the FAST Act. Those were aligned, so that allowed us to spend against the FAST Act levels. In total what that gets with obligation limitation and discretionary is about $76 billion across the department.

It was important to us to have both through the FAST Act and appropriations bills predictable funding streams. But as you say, it's sort of not consistent with the levels this administration has consistently requested. If you look at our FY17 budget we're requesting more along the lines of $98 billion. What accounts for that difference is largely a package we call the 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan. It's our blueprint for not just the programs that we have today but thinking differently about what those programs are going to need to look like moving forward, and as we take the communities into the 21st century in a way that accounts for both where populations are moving and choices that we want communities to be able to make to have clean air and more accessible choices. Our secretary feels strongly that those are one in the same.

When it comes to that plan, I understand it was part of the budget process and that always comes at a certain time year, but it ended up coming two months after Congress passed a five-year highway and transit bill. Why didn't you put forward those concepts sooner, while Congress was still considering how to pay for that package?

A lot in that package was not new. If you look at many of the specific proposals in there, there's a lot of relationship to what was in our GROW AMERICA Act, which was our surface reauthorization proposal that preceded the passage of the FAST Act. There are a lot of threads to the discussion that we've been very consistent on throughout. An example of that is the need for a stable and much broader scale of source funding for rail. Increases in transit that are at a different order of magnitude than what we typically see in the budget process. So there was a lot of consistency with some of the policy ideas.

I think the other piece though is that particularly in the year or so leading up to the FAST Act, it was a very tenuous situation. There were extensions that were providing communities really living hand-to-mouth in terms of being able to apply for the project that they needed, and part of our thinking was that at the point when we had the stability of a five-year package, that's exactly the moment to put out there the bold and ambitious ideas, take some time to germinate and to begin the conversation in a thoughtful way where there isn't a moment of panic ... while we're not at a moment where the month-to-month ability to maintain transportation programs is at stake.

How has implementation of the FAST Act gone so far? I imagine it's been helpful to have long term funding in terms of planning?

Oh yeah. I mean it is helpful both in terms of funding, in terms of being able to execute a specific grant program like the FASTLANE grants that we've been working to execute over these past months. It is, from our state and local partners' perspectives, a much more certain operating pattern to be in, to know what the funding stream is going to look like over the course of the year.

In addition to the money piece of the FAST Act, there were a number of very important programmatic changes that we're working in real time to execute. One that is extremely important to us has been the authority to stand up a new innovative finance bureau, which we're calling the Build America Bureau. It was a unique opportunity in the FAST Act to consolidate our financing and loan programs into one and to provide a center of excellence for infrastructure financing, building on a lot of work we had done to set up something that was smaller scale administratively before the FAST Act passed. We just actually did our ribbon cutting in the last month or so and have a new space at the Transportation Department that is up and running, so that's a good very tangible example of executing on a FAST Act reform.

There are a series of changes in the project delivery space that reinforce reforms that the administration had begun much earlier on permitting and streamlining the process, and we're working in real time to execute on that, too. Things like increasing the scale of our permitting dashboard, so I think we're seeing quick and very diligent implementation both on the funding side of that and in terms of the programmatic reforms.

The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and Congress has not sent a single appropriations bill to the president's desk yet. Some lawmakers, mostly conservatives, say Congress should pass a continuing resolution through next March. Others still want an omnibus by the end of the year. What are the consequences for the DOT depending on what happens there?

I can't comment specifically. Broadly speaking, certainty in funding and operating programs helps agencies to operate with more certainty. It helps the project funders we deal with to operate with more certainty, but I'm not going to comment specifically on different durations and what they would do.

I imagine you've begun work on the fiscal 2018 budget. We're always somewhere in the budget cycle. Could you talk about what preparations you're doing there?

As a general matter, in a transition year, the budget process gets wrapped up in the transition process. I can talk a little bit retrospectively about how that played out in the beginning of this administration, because the first budget of this administration was one of the first actions that we took.

Yeah, would you talk a little broadly about how a transition affects things for the department and budgeting?

Because of the way that the annual cycle falls, the budget is typically one of the first things that happens in a transition year, after the transition. During the tenure of this administration, it was one of the first pieces that we put out.

I obviously can't comment with any specificity on what the next iteration of that would look like. The president has made clear that one of his top goals for this year is assuring the transition from the Obama administration to the next president. DOT is deeply committed to doing our part to make sure that that happens. At the same time, we have to stay laser-focused on completing this administration's agenda in the transportation space.

And is there anything else that you're working on that we should keep an eye on?

We see a lot of really good things going on right now at this moment in the administration, both in continuing to fund projects through programs like TIGER - we just made a round of TIGER awards - or in the regulatory space. We just rolled out a major rule for medium- and heavy-duty trucks earlier today.

There is a lot that is continuing to happen right now, and I think it is incumbent on all of us to keep going with momentum and passion for the things that we work on as long as we're here.

Kaitlyn Burton contributed to this report.


NYC transit system joins NACTO amid bus travel upgrades Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/22/2016 01:18 PM EDT

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has joined the National Association of City Transportation Officials as its first transit agency member, months after the nation's largest transit system left a top trade group amid internal strife over its leadership.

NACTO, which represents 47 city transportation departments on street design and other transportation issues, is opening up membership to transit agencies in recognition of "the essential role of convenient, accessible public transit in creating sustainable 21st century cities." MTA shuttles 2.4 million bus riders every day, on top of the 6 million subway passengers it serves daily, and has been collaborating with the city's DOT to upgrade its bus network.

"One of the MTA's greatest challenges is to keep pace with the changing demands of the New York region's public transit customers," MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement. "A growing population, emerging employment centers, the rebirth of neighborhoods and creation of brand new ones all mean that systems - both street and subway - designed long ago have to evolve. MTA's membership in NACTO will help us meet that challenge."

MTA left the American Public Transportation Association in April over concerns about the organization's "deep divisions" and "difficult and sometimes even acrimonious discussions." APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy resigned weeks later.


Pentagon fails to convince Congress it's an easy terror target Back

By Austin Wright | 08/22/2016 01:26 PM EDT

The Pentagon says it worries a terrorist could slip right through its front door. But Congress isn't buying it yet.

The Defense Department has quietly asked Congress this year for $12 million to build a new employee screening facility at what it calls the Pentagon's "most heavily used and vulnerable entrance," above the Washington Metro subway. Security procedures there are "antiquated, inadequate and substandard," the department says - and pose undue risk to employees and security officers from an attempted incursion.

But Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, long known for stymieing even relatively small military expenditures, says the Pentagon has not made a compelling case for the project, which would begin next year and be completed in 2019. And the Arizona Republican has persuaded the Senate to withhold funding for the project.

It is one of the more obscure - but potentially far-reaching - disagreements between the Obama administration and Congress over the defense spending and policy bills still working their way through the Capitol. The Senate Appropriations Committee followed McCain's panel in denying the funds, while the House voted this spring to support the project as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act - meaning the issue will have to be resolved in congressional negotiations later this year.

According to previously unpublicized Pentagon budget documents, the entrance above the Metro station - the biggest entry point for the Pentagon's 26,000 employees - needs "proven state-of-the-art screening, surveillance and detection technologies," including new turnstiles, an intrusion detection system and "hazardous materials detection capabilities."

The $12 million overhaul would be the latest in a series of renovations to make the Pentagon more secure following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked plane slammed into the west side of the building, killing 189 people. The proposal also comes six years after a gunman - John Patrick Bedell, who had a history of mental health problems and anti-government views - approached the entrance from an adjacent public bus terminal and wounded two officers before being shot to death.

At the time of the 2001 attacks, the entrance from the public subway fed employees straight into the building - what the Pentagon's former director of administration and management, Raymond DuBois, described in 2002 as "a long threat tube right into the heart of the building."

That year, the Pentagon opened a new, $37 million Metro entrance, moving the rail line farther from the building to allow people to be screened before entering. Since then, construction projects have improved the physical security at one of the world's largest office buildings, a 6.5-million-square-foot facility that was built during World War II and serves as the nation's military headquarters.

DuBois, who's now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the current screening facility for employees - which involves showing identification to police officers and then walking through turnstiles - was meant to be temporary.

"I guess in a way I'm kind of surprised it took them so long to do it," DuBois said in an interview.

The new proposal is a follow-up to the new entrance for Pentagon visitors that opened in March at a cost of $6.5 million.

"The new employee screening facility is one of the last projects of a multiyear upgrade to all Pentagon entrances and vehicle access points," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Badger. "The project provides for more effective security operations and improved access control. The project will bring the Metro entrance in compliance with current standards, provides for more effective screening and accommodates recent technological improvements that enable advanced access control measures."

But McCain, a former GOP presidential nominee who is locked in a tough reelection battle, is blocking the project.

An aide to McCain's Armed Services panel justified the move by saying the Pentagon "failed to present a compelling case for this new project, especially how the department would mitigate serious logistical and security issues associated with construction."

But Badger, the Pentagon spokesman, explained that during construction "there will be alternate paths of entry into the Pentagon to bypass the construction area."

DuBois, the former Pentagon director of administration and management, said the government has new security requirements for entrance facilities, and he expects the project will bring the Pentagon in line with those. He also said new technologies now allow for better screening of things like backpacks and briefcases, which are normally not physically inspected as employees enter the building.

Visitors go through metal detectors in a separate line that often gets backed up.

"If you wanted the technology to do things you couldn't do 10 years ago that would also reduce the number of Pentagon policemen that you would have on duty at that entrance, you would want to do that," DuBois explained. "The Pentagon is still the Pentagon - and a target."

Cuomo hails progress on new Long Island Rail Road line

ALBANY, N.Y. — Crews have completed a new track on the Long Island Rail Road between Central Islip and Ronkonkoma — a key step in an effort intended to address delays on the busy rail line.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo reviewed the progress during a visit to Long Island on Monday. The entire new track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma is expected to be open in 2018.

Cuomo says the new rail line will reduce delays and ease travel in both directions during off-peak times.

He says the work is part of a comprehensive effort to upgrade and improve transportation networks in and around New York City which also involves the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, new subway cars and buses and reconstruction of area airports.