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Infrastructure in the News 8.9.16

National News:

Politico: The problem with Clinton and Trump's infrastructure plans

Ask Congress watchers what major legislation is most likely to pass under the next administration, one answer always comes up: infrastructure investment. It is one of the few issues the two presidential candidates appear to agree on: Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump argue that the country’s dilapidated roads, bridges and airports need rebuilding.

Reuters: Americans of Both Major Parties Say Infrastructure Has Worsened; Want More Spending: Poll
Nearly half of registered U.S. voters think American infrastructure has deteriorated in the last five years, a national poll released on Tuesday found, with Republicans taking the dimmer view.

The Atlantic: Donald Trump's Big-Spending Infrastructure Dream

Donald Trump, builder of hotels, casinos, luxury apartment buildings, and golf courses, now wants to rebuild America. He wants to, as he said on Monday in Detroit, “build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports, and airports.” And he wants to spend a heck of a lot of money to do that.

Market Watch: What will stocks do if Clinton or Trump boost infrastructure spending

In what’s otherwise the most divisive and downright bizarre election year in living memory, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree on the need to spend billions upgrading America’s woeful infrastructure. And if either can deliver, it might be good news for stocks.

Washington Post: Delta computers crash, causing delays and cancellations. Experts say it shouldn’t have happened.

Behind each of the four big players in the U.S. airline industry — American, United, Delta and Southwest — there is a tangled computer system pieced together after decades of mergers that married mismatched networks. Just what went wrong with Delta Air Lines’ system Monday that caused hundreds of cancellations and delays is still being sorted out. Was it a power outage, as Delta says? Or was it more likely an internal computer glitch, as Georgia Power, the utility at Delta’s Atlanta hub, says?

Wall Street Journal: Delta Meltdown Reflects Problems With Aging Technology

A power outage at Delta Air Lines Inc. grounded thousands of passengers world-wide during the height of the summer travel season, wreaking havoc on the carrier’s reservations system and drawing attention to antiquated technology that has plagued many airlines. The Monday morning outage canceled hundreds of flights and snarled Delta’s efforts to alert passengers to the problems via its apps and on airline flight-information displays.

Washington Post: Delta cancelling nearly 250 flights Tuesday morning
Delta’s travails, and those of its customers, move into day two with the airline canceling nearly 250 flights. The cancellations Tuesday follow about 1,000 cancelled flights Monday and almost 3,000 delayed flights after an outage at its Atlanta headquarters initiated a global meltdown of its booking and communications systems.

Business Insider: This animated map shows how radically a high-speed train system would improve travel in the US
The US's railroad network is made up of around 140,000 miles of track, but many of our trains are slow and outdated. Over the last couple of decades, countries like China, Japan, the UK, and France have made large investments in high-speed rail, and some groups in the US are urging that we do the same.

The Atlantic: Meet the People Who Protect America's Critical Infrastructure

In the byzantine Department of Homeland Security’s organization chart, issues like cyber attacks on the power grid fit under critical infrastructure protection. It’s mostly about the department’s humdrum work of encouraging private industry to protect itself. It’s a job the government never thought of before 9/11, but it’s obviously important given that most of what makes life tolerable, or could make life miserable, is privately owned.

Star Tribune: Price of Southwest light rail continues to inch up; now at $1.86 billion
The cost of the Southwest light-rail line has increased — again. This time, by $19 million. The price tag of the 14.5-mile line linking downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie is now $1.858 billion. Although the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning body that is building the project, is quick to note that about half of the $19 million increase will be borne by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), it leaves local taxpayers responsible for $9.5 million.

The Conversation: After fatality, autonomous car development may speed up
The world has witnessed enormous advances in autonomous passenger vehicle technologies over the last dozen years. The performance of microprocessors, memory chips and sensors needed for autonomous driving has greatly increased, while the cost of these components has decreased substantially.

Los Angeles Times: Clinton makes a lot of promises – which can she keep?
 When Hillary Clinton reaches the point in her campaign rallies where she rattles off the things she promises to do in Washington, the list grows very long, very quickly.

USA Today: Drowsy driving is a sleeper threat in crashes
A World Wide Travel bus crashed March 12, 2011, on Interstate 95 while heading to New York City from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. The crash killed 15 passengers and injured 17. The causes were the driver, fatigued from failing to get adequate sleep, and the 5:38 a.m. time of the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Medium: Do Atlantans Really Have Fewer Cars than Seattleites?
Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog recently had some fun with a chart from a new Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) report. The report, which accompanies the center’s shared-use mobility toolkit, includes among a set of indicators for selected cities the average number of vehicles per household.

State News:

New York Times: Brooklyn Bridge, the “Times Square in the Sky,’ May Get an Expansion
Peter Cardillo cannot lose himself in the panoramic views on his walks home across the Brooklyn Bridge from Wall Street. He is too busy trying to stay in one piece.

Washington Post: In scathing report, FTA blasts Metro track maintenance program
A new Federal Transit Administration report Monday blasted Metro’s track inspection and repair protocol for “systemic safety deficiencies,” citing last month’s derailment of two rail cars as an example of how the agency continues to prioritize service over safety.

Washington Post: Silver Spring has the ‘sorriest bus stop in America’

A Silver Spring bus stop has been voted the “Sorriest bus stop in America,” an honor that has prompted Montgomery County to explore possible improvements. The bus stop at Route 29 and Crestmoor Drive took the spotlight last week as it easily advanced to the finals of the Streetsblog contest that featured 16 bus stops from across the country. All of the stops are difficult to access because of a lack of sidewalks, crossroads and ramps and with no basic amenities such as shelters.

The Post and Courier: Sales tax referendum could fund area’s first large public transit operation
If Charleston County Council gives final approval to the half-cent sales tax referendum Tuesday, voters will decide on Nov. 8 not only if they want better roads but also if they want to take their public transit system to the next level.

The Seattle Times: Sound Transit trains are suddenly filling 40 percent of the time at rush hour, causing some rider grumbling and a closer look at adding capacity.
After six years of running trains too empty, Sound Transit is suddenly wrestling with a quite different dilemma — light rail is becoming crowded enough that passengers are clamoring for more railcars.

San Diego Union Tribune: Millions in transportation grants available

Local governments and nonprofit organizations will have a chance at being awarded millions to spend on transportation projects for seniors and the disabled. The San Diego Association of Governments has announced $7 million in competitive grants to help those two populations get around. In past years, the money, which comes from the federal government and a local sales tax and is administered by SANDAG, has paid for training people how to use mass-transit, reimbursing volunteer drivers, dispatch systems and other initiatives.

WAMC: Albany, Troy Cope With Infrastructure Woes

Infrastructure issues continue to dog two area cities. Here's the latest on the Albany sinkhole and the Troy water main break. The hum of machinery drones on at the western end of Albany's Washington Park, not far from the intersection of South Lake Avenue and Elberon Place, where, nearly a week ago, a water main burst, collapsing the street above and swallowing an SUV. The repair process is slow, carefully calculated...

By Lauren Gardner, Brianna Gurciullo and Jennifer Scholtes | 08/09/2016 06:00 AM EDT

FTA BLASTS WMATA INSPECTION PRACTICES: FTA issued a critical report on Metro's track maintenance programs Monday, elaborating on its statement after the July 29 derailment that the incident stemmed from systemic issues federal regulators identified over the past few months. The key takeaway: "WMATA track inspectors don't receive adequate training or enough time to sufficiently complete their reviews," plus the system doesn't use data to prioritize inspections where they're needed, our Lauren Gardner reports.

Here are some other highlights:

- Federal regulators noted concerns with track conditions on the Orange Line from Vienna to Ballston during their springtime "safety blitz" investigation of track integrity system-wide. The interlocking where the derailment occurred wasn't included in the first SafeTrack "surge" targeting that end of the Orange and Silver lines because it was used to support single-tracking, though it was supposed to be addressed later in the program (WMATA moved up work at the crossover and finished Aug. 1, FTA said).

- WMATA has been working to respond to concerns with its track inspection program since an August 2015 derailment near the Smithsonian station, but FTA has asked the agency to do more work in several cases.

- FTA will issue a separate investigation report on the agency's traction power electrification system, which has seen plenty of its own negative headlines this year.

They didn't stop there: The feds issued an accompanying safety directive requiring Metro to take 12 actions to address the issues described in the report, which FTA broke down into four categories: track inspection resources and training, WMATA's track inspection manual, oversight of track quality, and construction and maintenance. WMATA has 30 days to respond to the mandates and 60 days to come up with a corrective action plan to address them.

"Metro is working on a number of these corrective actions and will meet the FTA's deadline for all recommendations," WMATA spokeswoman Sherri Ly said.

Inquiring minds: Since FTA had concerns about the overall state of the track near where the derailment occurred, why didn't the feds tell Metro to shut down that segment of the Orange and Silver lines for SafeTrack repairs rather than allow them to take the continuous single-tracking approach? (Remember, FTA ordered Metro to rearrange the order of its scheduled maintenance surges to prioritize three areas, including this portion of the system.) FTA officials didn't respond when MT posed the question Monday.

No rest for the weary: SafeTrack's seventh surge begins today on the Red Line and will now include a line segment shutdown over the weekend after WMATA identified more needed repairs during an inspection spurred by last month's derailment. The closure between Shady Grove and Grosvenor-Strathmore "will allow track work crews to perform additional switch maintenance, replace crossties and make repairs identified during inspections that need to be addressed," Metro said in a news release.

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. For you, our loyal MT readers, we just want to share a video demonstrating how you should never, ever try to get out of a parking space:

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

"I still recall. And drive on down. Pick you up. And we'll drive around. Not a thing to do. But talk to you. Not a thing to do. Oh, yeah!"

THE LITTLE BLUE ENGINE: It's like those Christmastime car commercials (in which one spouse has wrapped a big bow around a new rig, and the other spouse shrieks with delight upon discovering the spendy surprise). But it's Christmas in August, and the automotive gift is a locomotive moniker - for a congressman.

What's in a name? Out in the Pacific Northwest this month, Rep. Peter DeFazio was surprised with the unveiling of a train engine named - you guessed it - "The Peter DeFazio." The Coos Bay Rail Link has scrawled the Oregon Democrat's name in big letters across the side of a shiny, blue engine in honor of his work in reviving the struggling rail line.

Wait though: Port of Coos Bay CEO John Burns says the decision to name the engine after DeFazio "was a no-brainer." But the gesture is probably a little awkward for the congressman, considering this type of naming is often frowned upon in Congress, seen as evidence of a quid pro quo. When folks name things after lawmakers, Rep. Mike McCaul has argued, "it's a problem of perception" that the projects get "special treatment because of the names they bear."

And then there was that time the railroad's parent company made headlines for helping Michael Jackson scrounge up cash to save Neverland Ranch.

'CAUSE (DELTA) HAD A BAD DAY: Delta Air Lines canceled over 1,000 flights Monday after an outage affected its tech systems across the globe. "Following the power loss, some critical systems and network equipment didn't switch over to Delta's backup systems," Delta said on its website. "Delta's investigation into the causes is ongoing." The airline was planning for about 100 cancellations and 200 delays this morning. "Those numbers could grow overnight as Delta works to reset the operation and get crews, aircraft and other elements of the operation back in place," Delta said.

You're taking one down: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, tweeted that he believes "@Delta owes every passenger a full refund - no questions asked - or rescheduled flights w/o costs or time limits." He also posted: "Failure to promptly&clearly guarantee flight fairness to every passenger is as troubling as @Delta 's technology failure."

Sometimes the system goes on the blink: Last month, Southwest Airlines canceled or delayed thousands of flights over the course of multiple days because of a glitch. Four unions then called for the resignations of Southwest executives.

BUILD ALL THE THINGS: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump vowed once again Monday to rebuild U.S. infrastructure - "roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports" - if elected president, but didn't get into specifics, Lauren reports. Details will be revealed in the usual timeline given by anyone in government who doesn't want to give a firm answer (i.e. in the "coming weeks").

BUT HAVE THEY CONSIDERED ALL THE EFFECTS? Danny Vinik writes for POLITICO's The Agenda: "Clinton has proposed a five-year, $275 billion plan, while last week, Trump suggested he would double her proposal. Clinton's website touts a White House report that every $1 billion in infrastructure spending creates 13,000 jobs. Only one problem: That report is from 2011, when the construction industry was in the midst of one of its worst economic years in its history. Five years later, things look a lot different. Unemployment is low and wages have even started rising. Instead of creating thousands of jobs, experts now warn that a new infrastructure investment could face the exact opposite challenge: a labor shortage."

VOTERS NOTE DETERIORATING INFRASTRUCTURE: Forty-six percent of registered voters think U.S. infrastructure has deteriorated in the past five years, according to a poll that the Association of Equipment Manufacturers released today. And 80 percent to 90 percent believe American "roads, bridges and energy grids are in some or extreme need of repairs." Half think the federal government is first and foremost responsible for funding upgrades. When thinking about infrastructure, more than a third of Americans first consider the conditions of roads. A majority of millennials find self-driving cars and drones "important to the future of infrastructure." AEM commissioned Morning Consult to conduct the poll.

TRANSFERS FAIL BETWEEN HTF AND AATF: The GAO found that $1 billion to $2 billion failed to transfer from the Highway Trust Fund to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund since fiscal year 2006 "because no credit or refund that would trigger a transfer has been claimed by vendors" for noncommercial jet fuel sales. The GAO study , required by the FAST Act and requested by the National Air Transportation Association, examined the effects of a tweak to U.S. tax law in 2005. "Consider how many new runways, instrument approaches, or additional air traffic control towers could have been built, had this money been available for its intended purpose," Andrew Priester, who chairs NATA's board of directors, said in a statement.

THINK TANK DISPUTES RULE BARRING VAPING ON PLANES: The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute filed a brief Monday evening as a part of its legal case against a federal rule prohibiting vaping aboard airplanes. CEI and the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association claim that "DOT improperly banned the use of e-cigarettes under the anti-smoking statute ... because e-cigarettes do not burn (or even contain) tobacco, much less produce smoke." Most airlines already forbid the use of e-cigarettes. The department is expected to respond by Sept. 7.

MCCAUL GOADED TO GRAB SENATE SEAT: A quiet coup to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz seems to be afoot in the Republican Party. And that movement just might be of interest to us transportation-focused folks since House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul is being mentioned as a potential GOP primary challenger. Former POLITICO superstar Manu Raju, along with Teddy Schleifer, cite "three sources familiar with the matter" in reporting for CNN that "behind the scenes, GOP donors and Texas politicians have urged" McCaul to consider mounting a bid against Cruz come 2018. For us, that means the House lawmaker who arguably wields the most power over TSA and Customs operations might be on the move in the next few years.

Fun fact: McCaul happens to be the second-richest House lawmaker, with a net worth of more than $100 million, as of last count. His wife, Linda Mays McCaul, is the daughter of Clear Channel Communications founder Lowry Mays.


- Complexity makes airline computer systems vulnerable. The Associated Press.

- Tesla's autopilot helps get man to the hospital during medical emergency. The Guardian.

- Child heat deaths: Thorny issue, few fixes. Automotive News.

- This tiny roadside refuge in Silver Spring is your sorriest bus stop, America. Streetsblog.

- Brooklyn Bridge, the 'Times Square in the Sky,' may get an expansion. The New York Times.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 51 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 416 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 90 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,516 days.


9 a.m. - The RTCA Special Committee 225, Rechargeable Lithium Battery and Battery Systems, has its 24th meeting to review and approve a multi-cell thermal runaway test.

9 a.m. - The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration holds a meeting of the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, where committee members will discuss enforcement efforts, today and Wednesday. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Conference Room S-4215.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

FTA: WMATA inspectors don't have enough time or training to uncover track defects Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/08/2016 03:18 PM EDT

WMATA track inspectors don't receive adequate training or enough time to sufficiently complete their reviews, the FTA said today, in a report that also dinged WMATA overall for failing to prioritize inspections in problem areas.

The findings are the outgrowth of FTA's "safety blitz" of inspections at WMATA focused on track integrity, red-light overruns and rail car securement. The final report, released today, states that the July 29 derailment near East Falls Church station occurred after FTA inspectors had highlighted several concerns with portions of the tracks in that area.

FTA "encouraged WMATA to include this track in its SafeTrack program, and specifically to prioritize work between East Falls Church to Ballston, as one of the first three SafeTrack surges," the report read. WMATA scheduled that track portion for SafeTrack upgrades later in the program, and it used the section in question to support single-tracking during an earlier repair "surge."

FTA issued an accompanying safety directive outlining 12 required actions for WMATA to take to rectify the issues uncovered.


Trump speech name-checks infrastructure but keeps details thin Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/08/2016 02:13 PM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump promised today that America would "build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports and airports" under his administration, though he offered few details on how exactly he'd make that happen.

"American cars - American cars - will travel the roads, American planes will connect our cities, and American ships will patrol the seas," he said while talking about his economic plan at a speech in Detroit.

But Trump didn't get into specifics; those will be released in the "coming weeks," he said.

Trump also didn't delve much into Detroit's history as an auto manufacturing hub, though he did make glancing references to regulatory policies that he says have stunted growth in the city's industries. Trump vowed to issue a temporary moratorium on new agency rules and to cancel all "illegal and overly reaching executive orders."

"As with taxes, I will have one overriding goal when it comes to regulation - I want jobs and I want wealth to stay in America," he said. "Motor vehicle manufacturing is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country and even in the world."


The problem with Clinton and Trump's infrastructure plans Back

By Danny Vinik | 08/08/2016 11:37 AM EDT

Ask Congress watchers what major legislation is most likely to pass under the next administration, one answer always comes up: infrastructure investment. It is one of the few issues the two presidential candidates appear to agree on: Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump argue that the country's dilapidated roads, bridges and airports need rebuilding. Both candidates also say those programs will create many new jobs, putting construction workers back to work.

Clinton has proposed a five-year, $275 billion plan, while last week, Trump suggested he would double her proposal. Clinton's website touts a White House report that every $1 billion in infrastructure spending creates 13,000 jobs.

Only one problem: That report is from 2011 when the construction industry was in the midst of one of its worst economic years in its history. Five years later, things look a lot different. Unemployment is low and wages have even started rising. Instead of creating thousands of jobs, experts now warn that a new infrastructure investment could face the exact opposite challenge: a labor shortage.

"Clearly, there aren't as many players on the bench as there were," said Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. "To the extent that more were needed, the industry would be turning to people with less experience or perhaps having to raise compensation."

While the stimulus bill included money for new infrastructure spending, President Barack Obama also lobbied Congress to pass an additional stimulus during the fall of 2011-the American Jobs Act-that included more than $50 billion in additional infrastructure investment. It was the perfect opportunity, Obama said, to rebuild our aging infrastructure and put Americans back to work. At the time, he was right: In June, 2011, the unemployment rate in the construction industry was 15.6 percent, down from 20.1 percent a year earlier but still nearly triple its pre-recession rate. More than a million construction workers were looking for jobs.

The plan, though, was blocked by a Republican Congress. In the years since, America's critical infrastructure has continued to deteriorate, making the need for a big investment even more urgent.

But during that same period, the construction industry has slowly recovered as the housing sector has picked up, undermining the case for infrastructure investment as fiscal stimulus. Unemployment in the construction industry in June was down to 4.6 percent, the lowest it's been since 2000. Compensation has started rising as well, hitting 2.5 percent in the second quarter of this year-not a rapid improvement but its highest level since 2008. Job openings in the construction industry are also nearing their pre-recession peak. Headlines now repeatedly warn of a shortage in construction workers.

Proponents of a big infrastructure plan brush off these numbers. The real value in infrastructure investment is not the short-term jobs, they say, but the long-term economic benefits from reduced commute times, safe drinking water and improved productivity. Plus, if the government does face a labor shortage, wages will rise and workers in other industries will switch to construction.

"If Trump or Hillary were able to persuade Congress to pass some kind of fairly significant infrastructure, there would be workers who could come from around the country," said Ray LaHood, the former transportation secretary and co-chair of Build America's Future.

Since many Americans have faced years of stagnant incomes, higher wages would not exactly be a bad thing. But higher wages also means higher costs for the government while also potentially crowding out other construction projects. Those are real costs that didn't exist in 2011. Most important, with the labor market for construction workers tight, a large infrastructure program is unlikely to create many new jobs.

"There's no question that at a moment with high unemployment, it was criminal for Congress to let the infrastructure surge just fade out after 2010," Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary who headed Obama's National Economic Council from 2009 to 2010, said in an interview. Summers has been a leading proponent of more infrastructure spending since leaving the White House.

Still, experts agree that the long-term effects of a major infrastructure bill are positive. Interest rates remain extraordinarily low, although they may rise in the coming months as the Federal Reserve hikes rates. Commodities like concrete, gas and steel are inexpensive, although those prices may tick back up as well. Private investment in construction projects is strong.

The biggest concern with a large infrastructure program may be that projects are delayed due to a lack of workers. Such a scenario isn't bound to happen but if the construction industry continues to strengthen, as experts expect, it could occur.

"We've heard reports that a lot more is being paid in terms of completion bonuses and also overtime pay," said Simonson. "There are limits on how many hours [people can work]. At some point we do risk having project delays."

If such a shortage does occur, Congress could fill the gap by increasing immigration for those willing to work in construction or put more money into workforce development and job training programs.

"Construction workers have dropped out. You don't have necessarily have the same number," said Michael Likosky, the head of infrastructure practice at 32Advisors. "If there is going to be substantial infrastructure investment, there has to be job training and moving more people into the construction sector."

Of course, any large infrastructure program will take a long while to get off the ground. Clinton's plan calls for around $50 billion per year, along with increased investment through other means such as an infrastructure banks. That's a substantial amount of money, but there are more than a trillion dollars' worth of construction projects underway right now. A new program would certainly put more strain on the system but not necessarily break it.

There is one scenario where a big infrastructure program could still be a major job creator: If another recession hits. The economy grew at just a 1.2 percent annualized rate in the second quarter. And while job growth has been strong, including the July jobs report released Friday, the historically long length of the recovery makes many economists nervous that a recession could hit during the next president's first term. If that occurs, a large infrastructure program could be ramping up just as the construction industry hits a downturn and more workers find themselves jobless.

In a sense, then, passing a large infrastructure bill in the next year or two could act as insurance against an economic downturn. Call it a preemptive stimulus.