Join The
Get The

Infrastructure in the News 9.12.16

National News

Washington Post: The next president should make infrastructure spending a priority

There is now a consensus that the United States should substantially raise its level of infrastructure investment. Economists and politicians of all persuasions are increasingly concluding that higher infrastructure investment can create quality jobs and provide economic stimulus without posing the risks of easy-money monetary policies in the short run.


Decades of wear, tear and insufficient investment are catching up with our nation's public transportation systems.

Washington Post: For some safety experts, Uber’s self-driving taxi test isn’t something to hail

Uber’s decision to bring self-driving taxis to the streets of Pittsburgh this week is raising alarms among a swath of safety experts who say that the technology is not nearly ready for prime time.

Associated Press: Hanjin cargo ship stranded off California finally unloads

A Hanjin container ship that was stranded off the California coast for more than a week began unloading Saturday after a judge protected the global shipping giant from having its assets seized in the U.S. as it struggles to avoid bankruptcy.

Washington Post: With a $2.45 billion federal loan, Amtrak set for upgraded trains, stations

Faster trains, more seats and WiFi that works?

Washington Post: The battle between Tesla and your neighborhood car dealership

The first Tesla store opened in Columbus, Ohio, 72 miles away. Then one popped up in Cincinnati. Soon, another was in Cleveland. Tesla’s Ohio invasion was swift and — to longtime auto dealers such as Blake Arbogast — a growing threat, creeping ever closer.

Associated Press: GM recalls 4M vehicles for air bag defect linked to 1 death

General Motors Co. is recalling more than 4 million vehicles, most of them in the U.S., to fix an air bag software defect that has been linked to one death.

USA Today (Video): Otto aims to have trucks drive themselves

The Uber-owned self-driving truck startup hopes to market an aftermarket kit that will provide Level 4 autonomy – meaning a truck driver could nap while his rig barrels down the road.

New York Times: Apple Is Said to Be Rethinking Strategy on Self-Driving Cars

Apple is rethinking what it plans to do about self-driving cars, just as other big tech companies appear ready to plow ahead with competing efforts.

State News Inquirer Editorial: Highway to hell: Debt and rising tolls are killing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

Like death and taxes, there are two guarantees when it comes to driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike: potholes and toll increases.

West Central Tribune (MN): Transportation funding gaps likely to grow

Transportation funding needs will continue to grow as the state attempts to expand public transit services in rural areas and maintain its existing roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

WUWM (WI): Transportation Secretary to Unveil Plan to Fund Wisconsin Roads

This week, Wisconsin state agencies will submit their spending requests for the next two years. Many eyes may focus on the state’s transportation budget. It faces a $1 billion deficit, and at a time when Wisconsin’s roads are rated as among the worst in the nation.


It was just before 7am on a sunny Tuesday morning in June 2016 when the ambulance arrived for the body. Leah Sylvain, a 27 year-old Brooklyn resident, was riding her bike northbound in the bike lane of Bushwick’s Evergreen Ave when the driver of a fuel truck traveling the same direction swung into her right-of-way.

Bloomberg: Ford Working With Cities to Ease Congestion by Bike, Shuttle

Ford Motor Co. said it’s buying a shuttle company in San Francisco as part of its first step in establishing relationships with major global cities to help ease congestion with mobility services such as bikes and commuter vans.

Texas Tribune: A&M Researchers Unveil Freight Delivery Without Trucks

Back in 1998, the federal government asked the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to find a way of moving freight that didn't use trucks on highways. Eighteen years later, the researchers debuted the first Freight Shuttle System prototype on Friday.

WTSP (FL): Transportation plan passes, but is only a "quick fix"

A fix is finally on the way to speed up your commute through Hillsborough County. The new plan comes after 6 years of commissioners shutting down one transportation plan after another.

Curbed LA: LA's big plan to change the way we move

It’s 2021, and you're making your way home from work. You jump off the Expo line (which now travels from Santa Monica to Downtown in 20 minutes flat), and your smartwatch presents you with options for the final two miles to your apartment.

Associated Press (VA): Easing Tidewater traffic: Add lanes? Another crossing? Both?

A massive transportation project to ease traffic congestion in the Hampton Roads region continues to move forward.

New York Times: No Driver? Bring It On. How Pittsburgh Became Uber’s Testing Ground

Any day now, Uber will introduce a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, making this former steel town the world’s first city to let passengers hail autonomous vehicles.

Associated Press: Louisiana Governor Asks Congress for $2B for Flood Recovery

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday appealed to Congress to approve $2 billion in aid for his state, part of a two-day trip to Washington to ask for federal help after catastrophic flooding.

Greater Greater Washington: Metro is proposing the most limited hours of any large rail transit system in the US

At Thursday's WMATA board meeting, Metro leaders proposed making SafeTrack's cuts to late-night service permanent as well as deepening them even further, offering several proposals that would only have the system be open 127 hours per week.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 09/12/2016 05:35 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner

WRDA WHAT? Now that the Senate looks poised to pass a WRDA bill this week, eyes are turning toward the House to see how big a priority it will be for GOP leaders. House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster made no secret of his goal to pass water resources bills every two years the last time Congress went through the exercise. But House members have bigger trillion-dollar fish to fry right now in keeping the government running after Sept. 30, and it's unclear whether there's urgency to finish the legislation sooner rather than later.

WRDA who? Ever the straight-talker, T&I ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio told our Lauren Gardner on Friday that he and his colleagues want to pass their own bill so they can go to conference with the Senate with a firm position in hand. "There are some items of disagreement, and we'll see first off if the Senate can really move the bill - unless it happened today and I didn't notice - and then I expect that we would separately have a House version and conference it," he said to reporters. "And we've got plenty of time before the end of the year."

Asked whether there's a time crunch to pass their bill by the end of the month, DeFazio said it "could be in the lame duck," adding that Congress is "ahead of schedule to do a reauthorization." But he did acknowledge a few issues with the Senate measure that will likely crop up as sticking points with conservatives during negotiations - mainly, its levels of spending and inclusion of Flint aid.

HAPPY MONDAY! Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to or @brigurciullo.

"But sometimes I need to put the hammer down. This heart may bleed, but it still gets me 'round. These engines whine when the pistons pound. Oh, this train is glory bound." (h/t John Edwards at Norfolk Southern)

Want to keep up with all of MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist:

MUSK: COMING AUTOPILOT UPGRADE COULD'VE PREVENTED FATALITY: Radar will play a more prominent role in Tesla's "Autopilot" as a part of a new software upgrade, the company announced Sunday. With the update, if a driver ignores multiple warnings to put their hands on the wheel, "Autosteer" will turn off until the person parks. Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO, told reporters Sunday that the new Autopilot "very likely" would've prevented the fatal crash in Florida now under an NHTSA investigation. In that case, the program failed to detect a white tractor-trailer turning in front of the Tesla against a bright sky.

Focus shifts from cameras to radar: While Tesla vehicles have had radar for about two years, the technology "was only meant to be a supplementary sensor to the primary camera and image processing system," according to a company blog post. "After careful consideration, we now believe it can be used as a primary control sensor without requiring the camera to confirm visual image recognition," the post reads. "This is a non-trivial and counter-intuitive problem, because of how strange the world looks in radar."

For example, the post explains, a "discarded soda can on the road, with its concave bottom facing towards you can appear to be a large and dangerous obstacle." But Tesla says it has mitigated this problem by opening access to more radar objects, creating a 3D view with radar snapshots and using "fleet learning."

GUILTY, YOUR HONOR: An engineer for Volkswagen pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Air Act, the Justice Department announced Friday. James Robert Liang also promised to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their investigation of Volkswagen's emissions cheating scandal, our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros. Liang, who worked in the German automaker's diesel technology department for decades, helped develop and deploy the so-called defeat devices at the center of the scandal. He admitted to lying to the EPA and California Air Resources Board even after they raised concerns about the performance of VW's diesel vehicles.


Tuesday - The NTSB meets to discuss an aircraft accident report and a safety study of the Coast Guard's vessel traffic services. FRA holds an informal hearing on the Association of American Railroads' request for a statutory exemption and waiver of compliance. Airlines for America holds its 2016 Commercial Aviation Industry Summit. And Natural Gas Vehicles for America's president, Matthew Godlewski, speaks at a Natural Gas Roundtable luncheon.

Wednesday - The Equip 2020 Plenary and Working Groups, a joint FAA and industry group working on the implementation of ADS-B Out, has its second meeting of 2016. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health holds a public web meeting to seek comments on its Center for Motor Vehicle Safety. And the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee will meet via teleconference.

Thursday - The Railroad Safety Advisory Committee holds its 56th meeting. And the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee meets.

Friday - The RTCA Drone Advisory Committee meets for the first time.

GM RECALLS OVER 4 MILLION VEHICLES: GM is recalling almost 4.3 million of its vehicles worldwide with faulty software that can stop seat belts and airbags from functioning properly. The defect has been linked to one death and three injuries, the Wall Street Journal reported. The recall affects GM pickups, SUVs and 2014 to 2017 model-year cars. The problem was identified through GM's "Speak up for Safety" program, which the company established after its recall over ignition switches.

IG FINDS FLAWS IN PORT EMPLOYEE SCREENING: TSA has failed to properly oversee its background check process for workers with unaccompanied access to secure areas of U.S. maritime facilities, according to an inspector general report . The report says TSA's techniques for detecting identity fraud are ineffective and credentials can be obtained "even if questionable circumstances exist." The DHS Office of Inspector General gave five recommendations, including conducting a risk analysis, and TSA responded that it has already started working on the proposals. In a statement Friday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said: "These weaknesses have opened up our ports to potential security threats, including the opportunity for an insider threat or someone with a serious criminal history to gain access to secure areas."

ICYMI: New York Rep. Kathleen Rice, the ranking member of the Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security, wants a hearing this month on emergency response plans at U.S. airports after recent false reports of active shooters at JFK and LAX. "Accounts of airport contract employees at JFK the evening of the [Aug. 14] incident indicate that not all airport employees are prepared to handle an emergency," Rice wrote in a letter to subcommittee Chairman John Katko, also of New York. In that case, as well as the incident at LAX two weeks ago, passengers ran onto the tarmac, "which is a highly restricted and sensitive area," Rice wrote.

"As we agree there is a need for a well-prepared and widely distributed plan to be in place in the event of an active shooter situation or any other incident that causes a mass evacuation, I urge you to hold a hearing on the incidents at JFK and LAX to better understand how airports can have a comprehensive evacuation process that is disseminated to all employees, including contract workers," Rice wrote to Katko.

IG RECOMMENDS AMTRAK BOARDING STRATEGY: Amtrak is looking to appoint an official to oversee a universal strategy for boarding passengers after an inspector general report found "uneven attention to boarding issues across the company." According to the report, Amtrak could do more to consistently carry out best boarding practices at its busiest stations. Those practices include "maximizing the use of physical facilities," "establishing customer-friendly processes" - like boarding early or managing queues - and "communicating clearly with passengers."

Unmanaged queues at Union Station: Here's what the report said about Washington Union Station, Amtrak's second busiest station behind Penn Station in New York: "The gate areas in Washington D.C. are too small to contain the number of passengers waiting to board most trains, and what little space is available is sometimes poorly utilized. The queues quickly spill out of the gates, building down the length of the concourse, crossing other gates, retail entrances, exits, and other passenger queues ... We observed that passengers often do not know whether they are in the correct queue, and that passengers routinely cut the line, resulting in passenger anger and frustration."

SLICE OF PI: Former Republican Rep. Charles Bass of New Hampshire, now with Greenberg Traurig, registered to lobby for Estonian delivery drone maker Starship Technologies, our friends at POLITICO Influence reported. Bass will focus on "general transportation and autonomous vehicles," according to the lobbying disclosure report. This year, Bass has also lobbied for Hyundai, Brooks Street and the Tire Industry Association.


- As more devices board planes, travelers are playing with fire. The New York Times.

- For some safety experts, Uber's self-driving taxi test isn't something to hail. The Washington Post.

- No driver? Bring it on. How Pittsburgh became Uber's testing ground. The New York Times.

- Apple shuts some elements of electric self-driving car project, lays off workers. The Wall Street Journal.

- Ford keeps disrupting its own business. MarketWatch.

- Justice Department group studying national security threats of internet-linked devices. Reuters.

- Passenger train derails in Spain, killing 4 and injuring 48. The Associated Press.

- Elon Musk's SpaceX explosion most vexing failure in 14 years. Bloomberg.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 17 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 382 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 56 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,482 days.


1 p.m. - Metro GM Paul Wiedefeld holds a press conference about the ninth surge of SafeTrack, which starts Thursday. Vienna Metrorail Station, 9550 Saintsbury Dr. Fairfax, Va.

2 p.m. - The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board kicks off three days of committee and board meetings with a meeting of the Technical Programs Committee. Access Board Conference Room, 1331 F St. NW, Suite 800.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

VW engineer pleads guilty in diesel cheating scandal Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/09/2016 11:58 AM EDT

A Volkswagen engineer pleaded guilty to fraud and pollution law violations and will cooperate with federal prosecutors in their investigation into the scandal around the German automaker's cheating on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles, the Department of Justice announced today.

James Robert Liang admitted to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to commit wire fraud and to break the Clean Air Act. He worked for Volkswagen's diesel technology department in Germany for decades and helped develop and deploy the defeat device software in the company's cars that only activated emission controls when it sensed the vehicle was undergoing standard U.S. testing.

Liang moved to the U.S. in May 2008 to help with the launch of vehicles that VW was advertising as "clean diesels," and he attended some meetings with U.S. regulators to certify the cars met emissions standards. He admitted to knowing that the automaker was misrepresenting the environmental bona fides of the cars and to continuing to lie to EPA and the California Air Resources Board even after they began raising questions about the vehicles' performance.

He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

DOJ, EPA, CARB and the Federal Trade Commission struck a separate $14.7 billion civil settlement with VW in June. That agreement must be approved by a federal judge, a move that's expected this fall.