Join The
Get The

Infrastructure in the News 8.3.16


The Washington Post: Amtrak passengers just dodged a major bullet

Amtrak riders scored a significant victory last week, and most of them don’t even know it.

The New York Times: Donald Trump Proposes to Double Hillary Clinton’s Spending on Infrastructure

Donald J. Trump took a step to Hillary Clinton’s left on Tuesday, saying that he would like to spend at least twice as much as his Democratic opponent has proposed to invest in new infrastructure as part of his plan to stimulate the United States’ economy.

The Washington Post: Olympic torch has arduous day as transit issues mount in Rio

The Olympic torch faced at least three different protests as it neared Rio, a South Korean cyclist was knocked off his bike by a car, and a bomb scare closed a new tram station. As Rio counts down to its Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Tuesday’s dramas were all transport-related.

The New York Times (Reuters): White House Directs Federal Agencies to Consider Climate Change

U.S. federal agencies should disclose whether their actions and decisions will have an impact on climate change, the White House announced on Tuesday.


Detroit Free Press: Metro Detroit leaders reach deal on transit

Top regional leaders reached a last-minute deal this afternoon to salvage the $4.7-billion proposal for expanded mass transit across southeast Michigan, officials told the Free Press.

Albuquerque Business First: New hurdles for Albuquerque Rapid Transit

After months of back-and-forth between the city and business owners, Albuquerque’s rapid transit project (aka ART) is still working through the legal system, and new local political challenges are emerging, too.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Atlanta scores $10 million federal grant to improve MLK Drive

A recently announced federal grant will pump $10 million into Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor to improve mobility and safety, while enhancing the aesthetic feel of the seven-mile corridor that stretches from the mouth of a brand new football stadium to the western border of the city.

Omaha World-Herald: Expert sees Omaha taking big steps toward a more walkable city

In Omaha’s Little Italy, he was impressed by the Blue Barn Theatre at 10th and Pacific Streets.

Miami Today: Gated communities impede walkable communities

The aura of security and belongingness that once surrounded the City of Doral’s gated communities has come to represent a hindrance in the city’s efforts to create a connected, walkable community.

Star Tribune: More than 120K rides taken on Metro Transit's A-Line in first month

For those wondering whether anybody would hop on Metro Transit's new rapid bus transit line, ridership figures from the first month indicate they are.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Lauren Gardner, Brianna Gurciullo and Tanya Snyder | 08/03/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Kathryn A. Wolfe and Heather Caygle

FAA KNOWS IT NEEDS TO MOVE IT ON DRONES: Industry partners eager for an opening on the use of drones joined forces Tuesday with government regulators at a White House workshop on the issue. "This is an industry that's moving at the speed of Silicon Valley," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. "We at the FAA know that we can't respond at the speed of government."

Hold the drone: When the agency's first ever drone regulations take effect later this month, it will create an unprecedented opportunity for commercial drone operators - but with a barrage of exclusions and restrictions. "The day that rule goes into effect, it will be hugely outdated," said Lisa Ellman, a partner at Hogan Lovells who helps lead an industry group called the Commercial Drone Alliance.

Operators can apply for waivers allowing them to fly at night, in populated areas or out of the line of sight. Dozens of public and private organizations or companies have entered into a partnership with the FAA, entitling them to a waiver in exchange for a service, like delivering medicine to remote Indian reservations or training veterans in drone technology.

UP WITH THE BIRDS: With data collected from those waiver recipients, the FAA plans to roll out more regulations, starting with rules for flying over people. "We start with the lower risk applications," Huerta told our Tanya Snyder. "As we learn more, we'll allow more things and adjust the regulatory framework accordingly."

The White House rolled out a fact sheet Tuesday explaining what the FAA thinks a possible rule permitting some commercial drone flights over people might look like, our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports. The rule would be a "framework for beneficial uses of drones near crowds," like aerial photography, news-gathering and infrastructure inspections. An industry working group made recommendations on the subject earlier this year, and the agency is expected to announce the rule and allow the public to comment this winter.

Google to get a test site for drone project: The White House also announced that "Project Wing" at Google X will be able to conduct research at one of the FAA's test sites, Kathryn reports. The delivery service project will test drones that carry external cargo and experiment with beyond line-of-site operations. The FAA's six test sites are in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Project Wing will be based in one.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service's inspector general is analyzing what the public thinks about the Postal Service and a few other entities using drones to deliver mail or packages, according to the White House.

IT'S WEDNESDAY: 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.

"And he's tradin' in his Chevy for a Cadillac/You oughta know by now/And if he can't drivewith a broken back/At least he can polish the fenders."

SIPPING TEA WITH DEMS: Professional Bill Shuster bugaboo Art Halvorson has opted to run as a Democrat against the House T&I chairman in November - even though he still intends to caucus with Republicans, POLITICO's Heather Caygle reports. From her story: "But the former Coast Guard captain has an uphill battle: Both establishment Republicans and Democrats will be working to undermine his candidacy. ... [N]either Blair County nor the wider Pennsylvania Democratic Party will be backing Halvorson. Instead, they plan to support write-in candidate Adam Sedlock, whom Halvorson defeated by 41 votes in the Democratic primary."

Halvorson told Heather he feels "an overwhelming sense of moral obligation and a moral imperative here to deal with the problems that we face, that are embodied and epitomized by Bill Shuster." He also brushed off the huge campaign account disparity between him and Shuster. (Heather reports that the chairman still had about $900,000 available at the end of June, while Halvorson had $61,000 to spare.) "Money cannot buy you love," he said, rapping Shuster and his father and predecessor, Bud, for "spending us into oblivion as a nation."

Shuster spox hits back: Shuster's campaign spokesman, Casey Contres, had this to say: "Not only is he betraying Democrats by calling their party Godless while forcing them to accept him as their nominee, but he is also betraying the will of the Republican primary voters that have twice rejected his attempt to get a job in Congress."

A BIG, BEAUTIFUL FUND: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told the Fox Business Channel on Tuesday that he'd "at least double" the $275 billion Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has pledged to spend on infrastructure over five years.

"We're going to have to go out with a fund. We'll get a fund," Trump said. "We'll make a phenomenal deal with the low interest rates, and we're going to have to rebuild our infrastructure. We have no choice."

Who's footing the bill? "People," "investors" and "citizens" could all purchase government bonds to prop up the fund, Trump said. The New York Times noted that's another leftward pivot by Trump. And The Wall Street Journal added that Trump "appears to be the most debt-friendly politician to appear on the American scene in recent memory."

CLIMATE TO GET MORE SCRUTINY IN PROJECT PERMITS: The Obama administration on Tuesday finalized guidance years in the making to more clearly outline how agencies should consider climate change impacts when weighing approval of major infrastructure projects, Pro Energy's Alex Guillén reports. While not legally binding, Alex explains, "the guidance essentially expands the scope of reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, the sweeping law that requires the federal government to consider how its actions would affect things like air and water quality or land conservation. The guidance adds climate change to the factors agencies consider before writing new regulations, approving permits or starting construction projects, among other activities."

NTSB PROBES FATAL BUS CRASH: The NTSB has sent an investigative team to the scene of a deadly bus crash near Merced, Calif., that killed at least five people Tuesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that the bus hit a support pole for an exit sign, which "split the white bus down the middle, tearing through it as it kept moving forward after impact."

ACTOR'S FAMILY SUES FIAT AFTER ROLLOVER DEATH: The parents of the late actor Anton Yelchin sued Fiat Chrysler on Tuesday for negligence and product liability less than two months after their son was killed by one of the company's cars, Reuters reports. Yelchin's 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which the auto manufacturer recalled two months prior, rolled down his driveway and crushed him against a wall.

From Reuters: "The lawsuit ... is believed to be the first wrongful death complaint linked to the Fiat Chrysler recall in April of more than 1.1 million cars and sport utility vehicles because of vehicles that can roll away after drivers exit them."


- FAA seeks new tools to track spacecraft. The Wall Street Journal.

- Under Tesla's wing, SolarCity's future remains uncertain. Reuters.

- Climate change is hell on Alaska's formerly frozen highways. Bloomberg.

- Silver Spring bus stop is a top competitor for "sorriest bus stop in America." The Washington Post.

- Automakers, regulators spar over U.S. emissions rules. Reuters.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 57 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 422 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 96 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,522 days.


2 p.m. - The FHWA holds a meeting via teleconference on grant applications for its Tribal Transportation Program Safety Funds.

6:15 p.m. - The Women's Transportation Seminar-D.C., the Transportation Research Forum and Young Professionals in Transportation-D.C. hold a discussion called "Where is Transportation in the 2016 Elections?" Reason Foundation, 1747 Connecticut Avenue NW.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

FAA working on 'over people' drone rule Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe | 08/02/2016 08:45 AM EDT

The FAA is working on a proposed rule that would enable at least some commercial drone use over people, according to a fact sheet released by the White House in advance of a drone workshop this morning.

According to the announcement, the rule is slated to be "published for public comment by this winter," and will be based on recommendations put forward by an industry working group earlier this year. It is intended to be a "framework for beneficial uses of drones near crowds," including aerial photography or news-gathering and infrastructure inspections.

The White House also plans on "exploring the public's views" on using drones to deliver mail or packages. Specifically the U.S. Postal Service's Inspector General plans to publish "new findings and analysis" on what people think about using drones to deliver items "if it were offered by the U.S. Postal Service and a small collection of other interested organizations," among other things.

The White House and industry partners also will announce this morning $35 million in research at the National Science Foundation on drones; an array of actions from the Interior Department including those related to search and rescue and developing drone-borne payloads; and new industry-focused best practices around privacy.


White House: Google X's 'Project Wing' gets U.S.-based testing Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe | 08/02/2016 12:13 PM EDT

Google X's Project Wing, a nascent effort to bring drone-based delivery services to fruition, will be allowed to conduct operational research at a U.S.-based drone test site, the White House announced today.

Google X is planning to test drones carrying external cargo and look at using them for beyond line-of-sight operations.

Which test site will house Project Wing has yet to be announced, but it will be at one of the FAA's six test sites, currently located in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia (whose mandate also includes part of New Jersey).


Tea party challenger to take on Shuster as a Democrat Back

By Heather Caygle | 08/02/2016 07:25 AM EDT

Art Halvorson, the Tea Party challenger who narrowly lost to Rep. Bill Shuster in the April primary, is taking on the Pennsylvania Republican again in November, this time as a Democrat.

Halvorson, who won the Democratic slot as a write-in candidate, officially decided to accept the nomination, he announced Tuesday.

But the former Coast Guard captain has an uphill battle: Both establishment Republicans and Democrats will be working to undermine his candidacy.

"It is a little bizarre. To be honest, I really don't see the upside for him in running as a Democrat," said Gillian Kratzer, chairwoman of the Blair County Democrats in Pennsylvania's 9th District.

Kratzer said neither Blair County nor the wider Pennsylvania Democratic party will be backing Halvorson. Instead, they plan to support write-in candidate Adam Sedlock, whom Halvorson defeated by 41 votes in the Democratic primary.

"He knows that Democrats will not be supporting him," Kratzer said.

Halvorson has been a thorn in Shuster's side for several years, challenging him in the GOP primary twice and almost beating the Republican incumbent this spring despite being outspent by huge margins.

Shuster beat Halvorson by about one percentage point in the April primary despite funneling millions of dollars into the race.

Casey Contres, spokesman for Shuster's campaign, said Halvorson's decision to run as a Democrat when he's actually a Republican proves he's only in the race for himself.

"Not only is he betraying Democrats by calling their party Godless while forcing them to accept him as their nominee, but he is also betraying the will of the Republican primary voters that have twice rejected his attempt to get a job in Congress," Contres said in an email.

Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has been dogged by ethical questions after POLITICO reported last year he's dating a major airline lobbyist, Airlines for America's Shelley Rubino, while trying to push through a massive overhaul of the FAA's air traffic control system.

"Like most career politicians, Shuster represents the lobbyists that bankroll his re-election," Halvorson said in a statement Tuesday.

Kratzer said Shuster's relationship with Rubino is still on the minds of voters.

"It's certainly something that people are still talking about. I don't think that anybody had any illusions to his behavior in that respect and frankly it's fairly similar to the scandal that went on when his father left Congress," Kratzer said. She was referring to Bud Shuster, who left the House in 2001 under an ethical cloud. Bill Shuster replaced him and has held the seat ever since.

"Not to mention even Republicans are unhappy that we've had the same family sitting in this seat for the last 40 years."

Halvorson is the first Tea-Party backed candidate in the country to win a Democratic nomination via write-in, according to his campaign.

Halvorson has vowed to caucus as a conservative Republican if elected to Congress but it's unclear if his message will resonate enough to convince enough disenchanted Republican voters to join Democrats in ousting the incumbent.

Leading up to the primary, Shuster showed he was taking Halvorson's challenge seriously, amassing a $3 million war chest compared to about $264,000 in Halvorson's campaign coffers.

Shuster still had nearly $900,000 cash on hand at the end of June while Halvorson had $61,000 cash on hand, according to the FEC.

"I don't see a path to victory for him," Kratzer said, "and I'm not sure that it's going to make it easier for him to run against Bill Shuster in 2018 if that was something that he wanted to do."


Trump pledges to double infrastructure spending over Clinton plan Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/02/2016 11:45 AM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said today he'll "at least double" the amount of money Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has pledged to funnel to infrastructure needs, suggesting that private investors would at least partly fund the effort.

"We're going to have to go out with a fund. We'll get a fund," Trump said today on Fox Business Channel's "Varney & Co." "We'll make a phenomenal deal with the low interest rates, and we're going to have to rebuild our infrastructure. We have no choice."

Clinton has vowed to push a five-year, $275 billion infrastructure plan through Congress during her first 100 days in office.

When asked who or what would contribute to the fund, Trump said "people," "investors" and "citizens" would. It's not clear if by "citizens" Trump means taxpayers.

"People would put money into the fund, the citizens would put money into the fund," he said, adding that the contributions would be sold as infrastructure bonds.


White House tells agencies to consider climate change in environmental reviews Back

By Alex Guillén | 08/02/2016 03:55 PM EDT

The Obama administration is directing federal agencies to more fully consider climate change before approving natural gas export terminals, pipelines, mines, highways and other major transportation and infrastructure projects.

The White House on Tuesday issued new guidance on the subject that has been in development since President Barack Obama's first term. While it is not binding, the 34-page document represents Obama's biggest step yet toward imposing the "climate test" on major infrastructure projects that green groups have pushed for since the yearslong controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans criticized the effort when a draft was released in 2014, saying it would lead to regulatory delays and chill investment in projects requiring federal approval, and GOP nominee Donald Trump could easily withdraw it if he wins the election.

But the Obama administration has defended the effort as an attempt to provide a more reliable road map to regulators and companies subject to environmental reviews. Heather Zichal, a former Obama climate adviser now supporting Hillary Clinton's campaign, said last week that incorporating climate change more cohesively into NEPA is "where our federal policymakers need to go."

"Frankly, I think from a federal permitting process, it would actually make things much easier," Zichal said at a POLITICO event at the Democratic National Convention. "Because right now there is sort of a gray cloud hanging over this, and there is a bit of a question, 'Should we look at it? Should we not?'"

In the works at the White House's Council on Environmental Quality in different forms since 2010, the guidance essentially expands the scope of reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, the sweeping law that requires the federal government to consider how its actions would affect things like air and water quality or land conservation. The guidance adds climate change to the factors agencies consider before writing new regulations, approving permits or starting construction projects, among other activities.

The final guidance backs away from CEQ's 2014 proposal that directed agencies to perform more extensive greenhouse gas studies on projects expected to produce the equivalent of at least 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Instead, it tells agencies to decide for themselves when to take such emissions into account, including any opportunities for carbon sequestration, such as through certain land management practices. If an agency decides not to quantify estimated carbon emissions, it should explain why, the guidance says.

That change represents a win for environmentalists, who had raised concerns that it would have kept agencies from considering the smaller projects that could have a huge carbon footprint when considered together. The guidance notes that "the totality of climate change impacts is not attributable to any single action," and a strict accounting of how any one project fits into global emissions doesn't lessen the "collectively ... large impact" of climate change.

"Agencies should not limit themselves to calculating a proposed action's emissions as a percentage of sector, nationwide, or global emissions in deciding whether or to what extent to consider climate change impacts under NEPA," it says.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups praised the removal of the emissions floor and CEQ's language on the global importance of emissions from any sized project.

"Now of course it's up to agencies to do a good job when they make that determination," said Kassie Siegel, director of CBD's Climate Law Institute. "We think the guidance overall has some very strong statements and will be helpful to help agencies do much better analyses."

The guidance also suggests agencies consider both the direct emissions of a project as well as "reasonably foreseeable" indirect emissions. For example, permitting an open pit coal mine could include analyzing the emissions connected with clearing land and building access roads - plus emissions that would be released when burning the coal in a power plant or factory.

However, the White House stresses in the document that "for most Federal agency actions," greenhouse gas emissions alone would be unlikely to trigger a full-scale environmental impact statement, "as it would not be consistent with the rule of reason to require the preparation of an EIS ... regardless of the magnitude of those emissions."

Environmental groups have recently tried to force agencies like FERC to consider the full climate impact of its approval of natural gas export terminals, including emissions related to extracting the gas and later burning it. Citing its mandate under federal law, FERC has declined to do so, an action recently backed up in several court decisions.

The Obama administration in January launched a three-year-long review of the Interior Department's coal program, including how to account for emissions. That review included a pause on issuing new federal coal leases.

Nonetheless, the guidance is not legally binding, and does not force agencies to make any particular decisions in their NEPA reviews.

Still, industry groups like the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas worry the document adds hurdles to an already complicated permitting process.

"The guidance issues today creates greater regulatory uncertainty that will hold the American LNG industry back at a time when it faces fierce competition from LNG projects in other countries that are rapidly coming online," CLNG Executive Director Charlie Riedl said in a statement.

Democrats and environmental groups cheered the guidance.

"Business will benefit from the certainty about how to incorporate climate change," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). "The public will be reassured that they are not subsidizing actions that will worsen climate change. And federal agencies will make decisions that are good for the environment and the economy."

"Simply put, this is a commonsense step that underlines the Administration's commitment to addressing climate change. Federal land management agencies should implement this guidance without delay, and use cutting-edge science to make climate-smart decisions," said Chase Huntley, senior director of the Wilderness Society's energy and climate campaign.

Elana Schor contributed to this report.