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Infrastructure in the News 9.13.16


The Atlantic: Google’s 'Cozy' Relationship With Driverless-Car Regulators

Self-driving cars have generated enormous interest in recent years, in part because of how rapidly they’ve appeared on public roadways.

Wall Street Journal: More Developers Kick Parking Lots to the Curb (full article follows Morning Transportation)

Bad news for car owners: Developers in more U.S. cities are reducing the amount of parking spaces included in new projects as local authorities seek to encourage the use of mass transit and free up space for parks, housing or other uses.

New York Times: Edward Humes on How Transportation Overkill Is Killing Us

Edward Humes, 59, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose latest book, “Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation,” is a wide-ranging look at the planes, trains and cars that Americans have chosen to rely on. We spoke recently in Manhattan and later by phone.

Orlando Sentinel: A train of thought for Clinton, Trump: Talk transportation

The success this summer of a fledgling downtown streetcar line in Kansas City has been "eye-popping," the local press reports, with thousands more riders than anyone predicted. Voters love such urban transportation projects, too — in 2014, more than two-thirds of transit-funding referendums won approval.

Reuters: Second ship from bankrupt Hanjin allowed into California ports

A portion of the $14 billion in cargo trapped at sea by the bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping Co Ltd began moving out of one California port on Monday, and a second ship received orders to head to dock, after the turmoil created by the South Korean company's collapse.

Associated Press: Hanjin Shipping gets $44.6M from former, current chiefs

South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping says it has received $44.6 million from its current and former chiefs to relieve its global cargo crisis.

Reuters: Hanjin's Fall Will Not Fix the Global Shipping Industry's Ills

Following the collapse of Hanjin Shipping Co Ltd, container shipping rates from Asia to the United States spiked 50 percent as the carrier's customers scrambled for ships.

Slate: Is Uber Killing the Public Bus, or Helping It?

This time last year, it was easy to poke fun at Uber when it announced a “bold experiment”—shared cars running on fixed routes—that sounded suspiciously like a bus.

The Hill: Feds dole out $25M to improve safety at railroad crossings

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) doled out $25 million in grants on Monday to improve safety at hundreds of railroad crossings, train stations and tracks across the country.


Associated Press (Kansas): Transportation Department releases highway report

A Kansas Department of Transportation report says 96.7 percent of interstate highways in the state were ranked as good in the fiscal year ending in July.

East Bay Times: ‘Unprecedented’ $200B in transportation funding nationwide; $13B locally

Transportation infrastructure has reached crisis levels across the country — and perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the Bay Area, where voters in November’s election will be asked to contribute close to $14 billion to shore up the region’s aging public transit systems and improve roadways to relieve traffic congestion.

The Press (Oregon): Oregon to continue investing in infrastructure projects in 2017

The 2017 budget currently under review in Oregon will include a continuation of investing in infrastructure projects.

St. Louis Post Dispatch: St. Louis is told to prepare for freight growth

The value of freight shipped through the St. Louis region is expected to increase 74 percent to $483 billion in 2045, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Associated Press: Senate boosts bill for water projects, $220M for Flint

The Senate voted to move forward Monday on a $10 billion water projects bill that includes $220 million in emergency funding for Flint, Michigan, and other communities beset by lead-contaminated water.

Associated Press: Louisiana delegation presses Obama for flood aid

The Republican-dominated Louisiana congressional delegation on Monday swung behind a request by Gov. John Bel Edwards for emergency aid to help the state rebuild from last month’s disastrous flooding.

By Brianna Gurciullo | 09/13/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Nick Juliano, Tanya Snyder, Lauren Gardner, Eric Geller and Isaac Arnsdorf

WRDA CLOSER TO SENATE FINISH LINE: The Senate's water infrastructure bill is on track to pass this week after an overwhelming procedural vote Monday night to keep it moving along. The last issue to work out is a dredging dispute between Connecticut and New York, but bill managers are optimistic they will get a deal to clear the way for passage of their Water Infrastructure Development Act. "We're floating a compromise that basically urges the states to ... work together," Sen. Barbara Boxer told reporters after the Senate voted 90-1 to invoke cloture on the bill.

Clearing a backlog: Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe on Monday night offered a manager's amendment (and summary) that included about 35 uncontroversial amendments submitted to the bill (S. 2848). The bill would clear the backlog of port and waterway project authorizations and set in motion 25 projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, seven of which are navigation focused, our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros.

Maritime interests: Port authorities would win a change to the 30-year-old cost-share threshold for port deepening. That's a relief coming after major changes to the Panama and Suez canals. But it's a controversial move: Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona filed an amendment to strike that section of the bill. The Senate legislation would also ensure the amount of tax revenues funneled into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will be at least 3 percent higher than the previous year's allocation until all of the revenues are going to the fund. Only about half of the money does so now.

On the House side: The House may pass its narrower WRDA bill this month, too, which would give the two chambers time to reconcile their bills in a lame-duck session, according to Rep. Bob Gibbs, who chairs the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill. "What we're hoping is to get the House bill through this month - we're hoping that could happen and then we could go to conference in November," the Ohio Republican told reporters Monday.

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.

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

"The off ramp backed up miles today/The carbon fumes/We're drifting towards the sky/Then the sky began to cry/And the thunder went boom." (h/t Whit Blanton)

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THOMSON IS NEW PARTNER AT MORRISON & FOERSTER: Former DOT general counsel and FAA chief counsel Katie Thomson has gone to Morrison & Foerster to chair the law firm's transportation group. Thomson was DOT's general counsel for three years, helping establish standards for vehicle recalls as well as emissions. She then briefly served as special adviser to Secretary Anthony Foxx on WMATA oversight. Thomson was previously FAA's chief counsel for two years, focusing on aviation safety and drone regulations. For three years before that, she served as a counselor to then-Secretary Ray LaHood, who appointed her as DOT's first senior sustainability officer.

E&C LEADERS WANT CYBERSECURITY STUDY OF CAR PORTS: Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee want NHTSA to examine cybersecurity problems with a certain diagnostic system for cars, Pro Cybersecurity's Eric Geller reports for Pros. Chairman Fred Upton and three subcommittee chairmen requested in a letter Monday that NHTSA work with the industry on a study of OBD-II ports, which can access a car's mechanical and electronic systems. The EPA for years has required automakers to install the technology in cars for emissions testing. Upton and his colleagues wrote that the "direct connection may expose the vehicle, its passengers and its environment to substantial risk if compromised." Remember the two researchers who hacked a Jeep? They did it by accessing the vehicle's OBD-II port.

ON THE NINTH SURGE OF SAFETRACK WMATA GAVE TO ME: This too shall pass. It'll just take 42 days. The longest SafeTrack surge lasts from Thursday to Oct. 26. Trains on the Orange Line will single track between Metro's Vienna and West Falls Church stations on weekdays. This surge will also bring weekend closures to the West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna stations. "Expect extreme crowding and delays of more than one hour in each direction due to the severely reduced service," Metro warns.

$25 MILLION GOES TO RAIL SAFETY PROJECTS: FRA announced $25 million in grants Monday for 23 projects in 14 states and D.C. that aim to improve safety at rail crossings, yards, stations and tracks, our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros. FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg made the announcement in White Plains, N.Y., just miles from the site of a 2015 accident in which a Metro-North commuter train struck an SUV that was stuck at a grade crossing, killing five people. Over $6 million in grant funding will go to New York projects.

NOPE: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied DOT's request to reconsider a decision refusing Amtrak the power to co-write on-time performance standards with FRA, Lauren reported. DOT's last resort is taking the case to the Supreme Court.

UPDATE ON SOUTHWEST ENGINE FAILURE PROBE: NTSB released an update Monday on its investigation into last month's engine failure of a Southwest flight. The flight from New Orleans to Orlando diverted to Pensacola, Fla., where it landed without anyone injured. In flight, the inlet separated from the plane's left engine, according to NTSB's initial findings, and debris damaged the fuselage, wing and tail assembly. Investigators found a 5-by-16-inch hole in the fuselage. They also discovered that a fan blade separated from the fan disk. "The fracture surface of the missing blade showed curving crack arrest lines consistent with fatigue crack growth," according to NTSB.

ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES: Dane Jaques has left Dentons to be a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, where he'll work in the pipeline and transportation practices. Jaques boasts almost three decades of experience representing clients in NTSB, FAA and U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigations. He's also represented aviation companies before the TSA.

Rusty Duckworth was promoted at ATA from senior vice president and controller to CFO. Duckworth has been at the trade association for 17 years. He previously served as an accounting manager for AAR.

David Yang, FHWA's Human Factors Team Leader, was named executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Doran Barnes, the executive director of Foothill Transit, was elected chair of APTA.

SLICE OF PI: Airlines for America hired Kathy Grannis Allen as managing director of airline industry public relations and communications, Isaac Arnsdorf reports for POLITICO Influence. She was previously the National Retail Federation's senior director of media relations. A4A also hired Nicole Soufi, from Westat, as a social media manager.

Extra slices: Isaac reports that Victor Albisu, a chef and the owner of Del Campo, and "Top Chef" contestant Marjorie Meek-Bradley will appear in the Capitol Visitor Center this afternoon with Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Travel Association.

On Monday, former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, now a partner at Squire Patton Boggs, will headline the first in a series of discussions on self-driving cars at the firm's San Francisco office. Emily Castor, director of transportation policy at Lyft, and Jean Shiomoto, director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, will also speak.

WORLD'S BUSIEST AIRPORTS: Airports Council International released its list of the busiest airports in the world in 2015. The top five airports by total passengers for last year: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, Dubai International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Haneda Airport.


- Google's self-driving car project is losing out to rivals. Bloomberg.

- Rising labor costs, falling ridership set table for contract talks with WMATA union. WAMU 88.5.

- Robots and red tape: Regulatory uncertainty in Uber's self-driving bet. Recode.

- MWAA moving from Reagan National to Crystal City office building. Washington Business Journal.

- Ford's driverless car plan: Embrace tech and go slow. The New York Times.

- Hanjin Shipping starts unloading as U.S. exporters scramble for space. The Wall Street Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 16 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 381 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 55 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,481 days.


7 a.m. - IBTTA continues its 84th Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Denver.

7 a.m. - APTA continues its annual meeting in Los Angeles.

9:30 a.m. - NTSB meets to discuss an aircraft accident report and a safety study of the Coast Guard's vessel traffic services. NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza SW.

10 a.m. - FRA holds an informal hearing on the Association of American Railroads' request for a statutory exemption and waiver of compliance. National Housing Center, National Association of Home Builders, 1201 15th St. NW.

12 p.m. - Airlines for America holds its 2016 Commercial Aviation Industry Summit. National Press Club Ballroom, 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor.

12:30 p.m. - Natural Gas Vehicles for America's president, Matthew Godlewski, speaks at a Natural Gas Roundtable luncheon. University Club, 1135 16th St. NW.

2 p.m. - The House Homeland Security Committee marks up the Cuban Airport Security Act of 2016 and other bills. 311 Cannon House Office Building.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

WRDA clears Senate procedural hurdle Back

By Anthony Adragna | 09/12/2016 06:15 PM EDT

The Senate's $10.6 billion Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848) passed a cloture vote this evening, 90-1, opening debate on the water infrastructure package.

Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe said on the floor ahead of the vote that the manager's amendment incorporated "to some degree" 35 amendments submitted on the legislation.

"After cloture, we will continue to do our best to clear germane amendments until final passage later this week," he said.

Senators expect to wrap up their work on the legislation within days. The bill contains the first successful package of federal aid for Flint, Mich. to address the ongoing drinking water crisis there, funds to help communities upgrade aging and failing sewers and pipes and approvals for more than two dozen new infrastructure projects.

Passing the legislation would mark yet another significant victory for Inhofe and EPW Ranking Member Barbara Boxer. The duo have also ushered a five-year highway bill and a revamp of the nation's chemical law through Congress during the past year.


Maritime interests call WRDA a win Back

By Tanya Snyder | 09/12/2016 03:56 PM EDT

Port and waterways officials have a lot to like in a water resources bill set to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate Monday - but perhaps nothing more than the simple fact that the bill is moving ahead on schedule.

Congress is supposed to enact a WRDA bill every two years, but only one was enacted between 2000 and 2014. This bill (S. 2848) puts Congress back on an every-two-year schedule for the first time since the late 1990s.

"It was taking 10 or 15 years to finish a study on deepening a channel," said Jim Walker, director of navigation policy and legislation at the American Association of Port Authorities. "That's out of step with how the private sector makes business decisions; it's out of step with shipping trends."

The 2014 WRRDA bill (that extra "R" was for "Reform") was long on policy but short on project authorizations, since Congress was still trying to figure out how to maneuver around the Republican earmark moratorium.

With only minor policy tweaks this time around, the Senate's WRDA bill would clear the backlog of projects, pushing out chief's reports to get 25 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects off the ground. Seven of them are navigation projects, including port expansions for Charleston and Port Everglades, Fla.

The biggest policy win for port authorities in the Senate's bill is a change in the cost-share threshold for port deepening from 45 to 50 feet. Currently, the feds pick up 75 percent of the tab for a new dredging project up to 45 feet, but only 50 percent if it goes deeper than 45 feet. But with bigger ships coming out of the newly expanded Panama Canal - not to mention the Suez Canal, which just underwent an $8 billion makeover - East Coast ports are racing to keep up.

"We can thank Panama for getting the U.S. to focus on our ports again," joked Bill Hanson, vice president for government relations and business development at the biggest dredging company in the United States. He said for years, states have spent their own money where the feds came up short. "I work with governors at least as much as I work with Congress."

The 2014 WRDA law extended the 75 percent federal share up to 50 feet, but only for maintenance dredging, which is a lot easier and less expensive than new construction. Maintenance dredging involves vacuuming up soft material rather than boring or blasting hard rock at the ocean floor.

The 45-foot mark was established in 1986. Walker says ports have seen seven generations of container ships since then, with a six-fold increase in volume.

Another major priority for ports is to get access to all the revenues from the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which Congress has been using for deficit reduction. The tax brings in about $1.8 billion a year but only about half of that goes toward its intended purpose.

The 2014 WRDA law created an 11-year timetable for dedicating 100 percent of those tax revenues to maintenance port dredging. But boosters think it didn't go quite far enough.

The 2014 bill increased the percentage - but not necessarily the amount - of tax revenues that directed toward the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The Obama administration estimated that revenues would drop in 2017, meaning the trust fund would actually get less than the year before. So the Senate's WRDA bill would ensure the amount will be at least 3 percent higher than the previous year's allotment, no matter what happens with overall revenues, until 100 percent of the tax is going into the trust fund.

Some in the House feel even more needs to be done.

In May, the House Transportation Committee approved a bill (H.R. 5303) that would change the budgetary treatment of harbor maintenance spending from discretionary to mandatory and put it directly under the control of the secretary of Transportation instead of having to go through the annual appropriations process. The bill would start that in fiscal 2027, once 100 percent of tax revenues are supposed to be destined for the trust fund anyway.

The Senate bill doesn't go that far. It also doesn't include a House provision that seeks to vindicate all that past pilfering by transferring $8.6 billion in diverted revenue back to the trust fund.

Both the House and Senate bills include a provision to make permanent the 2014 WRDA law's 10 percent set-aside for small or "emerging" ports. And they both extend an agreement to do right by so-called donor ports that take in a lot of tax revenues for the HMTF but don't require a lot of dredging, which is ostensibly the trust fund's only use. Those ports are now permitted to use their share of the revenues for other purposes.

Inland waterways interests had a more modest demand for the bill. After absorbing a 45 percent inland waterways tax hike two years ago, waterways organizations wanted to keep new tolls, taxes and lock fees out of the new bill. They were successful at achieving that in both the House and Senate versions.

Less successful was their bid to incentivize the Corps to do maintenance work in a timely manner, rather than letting infrastructure fall so far into disrepair that it needed much costlier intervention. Once a project cost balloons to $20 million, the Corps gets to share it 50-50 with the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The Waterways Council wanted to bump that up to $50 million in hopes that it would take away the incentive to defer maintenance, according to Tracy Zea, director of government relations with the Waterways Council.

The Senate is expected to vote overwhelmingly to bring debate on the WRDA bill to a close on Monday.

The House has yet to schedule floor time for the bill; leadership hasn't expressed any concerns about bringing it to the floor before this session ends.


House panel calls for federal review of insecure car port Back

By Eric Geller | 09/12/2016 06:14 PM EDT

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders today asked the federal highway safety agency to lead a review of security vulnerabilities in a widely used type of diagnostic system for cars.

In a letter to the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Chairman Fred Upton and three subcommittee chairs urged the agency to convene industry partners for a study of cybersecurity issues with OBD-II ports, a diagnostic system which can tap directly into vehicles' mechanical and electronic systems.

"We are writing today to request that NHTSA convene an industry-wide effort to develop a plan of action for addressing the risk posed by the existence of the OBD-II port in the modern vehicle ecosystem," the four lawmakers wrote to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.

The Environmental Protection Agency required carmakers to add these ports beginning in 1994 so regulators could easily test emissions output. Because of the device's ubiquity, many companies and individuals now rely on it for add-on products. But the lawmakers noted that this type of "direct connection may expose the vehicle, its passengers and its environment to substantial risk if compromised."

The two researchers who famously commandeered a Jeep and messed with many of its onboard systems did so by accessing its OBD-II port, the lawmakers pointed out.

Upton and his colleagues asked Rosekind to report back to them with a plan for an industry security review by Oct. 12 and requested a briefing by Oct. 19.


FRA awards $25 million in grants for safety upgrades Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/12/2016 11:59 AM EDT

FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg announced $25 million in grant awards today to bolster safety at rail crossings, yards, stations and tracks.

Feinberg highlighted the grants at a press conference in White Plains, N.Y., a few miles from where a Metro-North commuter train hit a passenger vehicle that was stuck at a grade crossing in February 2015.

More than $6 million of the funding, which Congress provided in a fiscal 2016 catch-all spending package, will go toward projects in New York. In total, 23 projects in 14 states and Washington, D.C. will receive funding.

"A safe railroad network requires continuous investment and upgrades," Feinberg said in a statement. "This is an investment that is desperately needed - and I urge state DOTs to join the FRA in investing more in improving safety at crossings."

FRA said it received 40 eligible applications seeking $67.5 million.


Court rejects DOT push for Amtrak case rehearing Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/12/2016 05:16 PM EDT

A federal appeals court has denied a DOT petition to have its entire bench of judges reconsider an earlier decision striking down Amtrak's ability to co-write on-time performance standards with FRA.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit means the last resort for DOT would be taking the case to the Supreme Court to decide.

While that move is expected - the lawsuit has already wound its way to the high court once before - a DOT spokesman declined to comment on the department's plans.

Wall Street Journal: More Developers Kick Parking Lots to the Curb

Bad news for car owners: Developers in more U.S. cities are reducing the amount of parking spaces included in new projects as local authorities seek to encourage the use of mass transit and free up space for parks, housing or other uses.

In San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, architecture and development company Jonathan Segal FAIA ruffled feathers of nearby residents after it revealed plans to build an eight-story, 35-unit apartment complex with no parking spaces. Without the added costs of a garage, the studio units of around 400 square feet apiece would be more affordable, the firm said.

“It’s the future. There’s a strong demand for people who want to rent units that are efficient,” said developer Jonathan Segal, noting that digging underground parking lots for the building would drive up costs and take away space that could be used for more housing.

‘When cities remove parking requirements, developers build more housing with less parking, often in buildings and neighborhoods they had long ignored.’

—Michael Manville

Each car takes up about 350 square feet of parking space, including access lanes, he said. Without these costs, he estimates rents will be $1,300 to $1,500 a month, barely half that of comparable apartments nearby.

At the condominium across the street, residents raised concerns about the lack of parking lots during a meeting with the developer last week. Susan Keating, a resident who was present at that meeting, said most of the concerns centered on the possibility “these micro units might be rented out to people who still drive and they might drive round and round the block looking out for parking more than for pedestrians.”

Property developers must adhere to zoning codes that typically include providing a minimum number of parking spaces for a certain amount of space used by tenants. But big cities such as New York and San Francisco have been leaders in removing or reducing parking requirements in recent years as part of efforts to curb traffic congestion and encourage more people to use mass transit. Now smaller cities and even some states are following suit.

Nashville is considering proposals to convert parking facilities to housing or other uses. In Oregon, the Transportation Planning Rule requires state, regional and local jurisdictions to reduce parking spaces per capita and improve opportunities for alternatives to the automobile.

Advocates for the removal of parking requirements say they drive up housing costs unnecessarily. In downtown and inner-city projects where buildings cover entire lots, developers have to build costly underground or multistory parking garages.

Researchers in Miami and Los Angeles have found the reduction of parking requirements lowered construction costs significantly and spurred them to develop homes in areas previously deemed unprofitable. Earlier parking requirements had compelled developers to build fewer units than the total permitted because it was too expensive to build the required parking spaces.

Los Angeles in 1999 allowed developers to convert vacant commercial buildings downtown into housing and exempted them from parking requirements. The Adaptive Reuse Ordinance accounted for 75% of the 9,200 housing units built between 2000 and 2010, according to Michael Manville, assistant professor at UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning, who surveyed these developments and compared them with ground-up housing projects that were still subject to parking requirements.

“When cities remove parking requirements, developers build more housing with less parking, often in buildings and neighborhoods they had long ignored,” said Mr. Manville.

To be sure, reducing or removing parking requirements still gives developers the leeway to supply parking spaces creatively. Rather than dig costly underground garage spaces on-site, some provide parking lots off-site, while others rent existing spaces at nearby garages.

Even so, developers looking to build fewer parking lots often face pushback from the incumbent residents who fear heightened competition for on-street parking when residents who own cars move in.

And in some cities, the deep-rooted habits of residents are still a big influence on parking. Developer D4 Urban LLC successfully leased mostly studio and one-bedroom apartments adjacent to a rail stop in Denver with a 1:1 ratio of parking space to unit, but noted that post-occupancy surveys show that residents still want ample parking spaces.

“While there is a menu of options for residents—Uber, light rail, bicycle—people still endeavor to own a car to get to the mountains,” said Chris Waggett, chief executive of D4 Urban, adding that future projects with bigger apartments will revert to the more-typical 1:1 parking space to bedroom ratio.

“There is an emotive connection to the car that residents have, but it’s different when you talk to commercial tenants. Commercial property owners are far more willing to reduce their ratios,” said Mr. Waggett.