Bloomberg BNA: Federal Autonomous-Car Guide Could Change States' Approach
Federal regulators hope states will change draft policies for autonomous vehicles in light of new recommendations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: Setting the course for driverless cars
President Obama gave the green light to autonomous vehicles this week, declaring that the federal government, not the states, should oversee the development of self-driving cars, trucks and buses.
Wall Street Journal: North American Light-Vehicle Production Soars in August, But Incentives Are Rising (full article follows Morning Transportation)
North American car and light-truck production hit an August record last month, despite cooling demand, leaving dealer inventory at a multiyear peak and setting the stage for potentially generous sales incentives this fall.
New York Times: The Latest: Exxon to Pay $12M for Yellowstone Oil Spill
The Latest on a legal settlement from damages caused by a 2011 Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline spill into Montana's Yellowstone River.
Washington Post: Hanjin Shipping to get more funds to resolve cargo crisis
Hanjin Shipping is to receive as much as $100 million in additional funds to resolve the cargo crisis caused by its slide toward bankruptcy.
Washington Post: How a Trump presidency could give a big advantage to Chinese and Mexican factories
Donald Trump has become America's most famous and outspoken critic of global trade. He's argued that cheap goods imported from foreign countries are putting U.S. factories and their workers at a disadvantage.
Space News: Congress gets report on giving FAA space traffic role
The Federal Aviation Administration is willing to take on the task of informing commercial, civil and foreign satellite operators of possible on-orbit collisions, while leaving the Defense Department in charge of supporting military space missions.
The Lantern (Ohio): Sam Schwartz, ‘Transportation Guru,’ predicts brighter future for American cities, but millennials will have to fight for it
The man who coined the word “gridlock” during the 1980 New York City transit strike was invited by Ohio State’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis on Tuesday night to present his vision of the city of the future.
Washington Post: Report: Metro is ‘constantly in a catch-up mode’ when it comes to power infrastructure
Metro is playing a constant game of “catch up” when it comes to the system that powers its trains, according to a recent peer review by the American Public Transportation Association.
Washington Post: Charleston’s port needs deepening. Can Congress do its job?
Technology has put powerful computers in billions of pockets, but an invention much more mundane than the smartphone — the shipping container: a rectangular steel box — also has changed the world.
Portland Tribune (Oregon): Panel hears views on transportation funding
Lawmakers were told the timing is right to raise more money to maintain Oregon’s roads and ease the movement of people and goods on increasingly congested routes in the Portland area.
AJC.com (Georgia): North Fulton cities get word out on transportation plan
As cities from the Perimeter north work to update the North Fulton Comprehensive Transportation Plan, they’ve scheduled five public meetings in the coming weeks to inform residents about the effort.
The Daily Progress (Wyoming): Wyoming transportation funds remain stable despite downturn
Officials say the state's budget cuts will have little impact on the Wyoming Department of Transportation, unlike other state agencies that have faced cutbacks and been forced to end services.
The Journal Times (Wisconsin): Walker pushes Vos on transportation funding
After criticism over his transportation funding plan, Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday pushed Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other Republican leaders to offer an alternative.
The Hour (Connecticut): Terrie Wood: Connecticut’s transportation and budget crisis — truths and untruths
In reading a story recently in The Hour titled “Battle Shaping Up Over Fare Hikes” written by Bill Cummings, I found myself just shaking my head at statements from state Sen. Bob Duff. (Sen. Duff represents most of Darien and all of Norwalk.)
Billings Gazette (Montana): Governor: Shoring up state's infrastructure job one for 2017 Legislature
Like many others attending the 107th Montana Association of Counties conference in Billings on Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock helped himself to some of the freebies offered to attendees.
Ithaca Journal (New York): $3M coming to Ithaca for infrastructure
Millions in federal funding are coming to Ithaca and Danby to help with street improvements, a bridge replacement and other infrastructure upgrades.
By Brianna Gurciullo | 09/22/2016 05:40 AM EDT
With help from Jennifer Scholtes, Lauren Gardner and Tanya Snyder
SENATORS ROLL OUT SURFACE TRANSPO SECURITY BILL: Senate Commerce Committee leaders are introducing a bill today that would require TSA to assess terrorism risk for every mode of transportation, our Jennifer Scholtes reports as a scoop for Pros this morning. The legislation by Chairman John Thune and ranking member Bill Nelson comes out days after five bombs were found near a train station in New Jersey, which prompted federal and local officials to boost security at rail and transit hubs across the country.
An agency already under scrutiny: But even before that incident, a recent inspector general report found that TSA lacked a risk-based strategy for distributing resources across travel modes, leading senators to call on the agency to give more attention to surface transportation. "It's not just airports that need enhanced security," Nelson said this week. Thune, meanwhile, has pointed to recent attacks on rail and transit stations in Europe as a reason to re-evaluate transportation security.
What it would do: Nelson and Thune's bill would mandate that White House budget requests differentiate between resources for aviation security and resources for surface transportation and maritime security. It'd require TSA to update lawmakers every other year on threats to surface transportation systems and ports. The legislation also calls for TSA to create a plan for vetting rail passengers using terrorist watch lists. And it would require the DHS inspector general to track TSA's progress toward complying with rail security mandates from legislation enacted in 2007, which codified recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.
IT'S THURSDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.
Want to keep up with all of MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist.
POLITICO EXPANDS INTO EU TRANSPORTATION COVERAGE: POLITICO's European edition has launched Morning Transport, a daily newsletter navigating the complex world of EU transport policy and infrastructure. Sign up here: Politico.eu/registration
NOPE, NOT OUR JOB: The Surface Transportation Board decided this week it wouldn't stop the city of Benicia, Calif., from rejecting Valero Energy's plans to build a facility that would allow more oil trains to pass through the area. Why? Because Valero Energy is an oil refiner, not a rail carrier, and it doesn't fall under STB's jurisdiction. Hours after the board announced its decision, Benicia's city council voted to reject the project. Valero could now go to court, our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros, but a company spokeswoman said executives are still "considering our options moving forward." STB's decision has broad implications, National Resources Defense Council staff attorney Jackie Prange told Lauren. Local governments in the Pacific Northwest that are grappling with similar projects were waiting to see how the Benicia case played out.
AIRBUS, BOEING GET APPROVAL FOR IRAN SALES: The Treasury Department has issued licenses to Boeing and Airbus to sell airplanes to Iran, about two months after the House voted to block such authorizations through a financial services spending bill. As our Jennifer Scholtes reported for Pros, Airbus has received one license for A320s and A330s and expects to get another "in the coming weeks." Boeing was granted a license to sell up to 80 planes to Iran Air. The Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran made civilian aircraft sales possible after a nearly 40-year trade freeze.
WHERE DO WE GO NOW? Now that DOT has officially released guidance for driverless vehicles, lawmakers have different ideas for how they should get involved in their development and rollout, if at all. Senate Commerce Committee member Richard Blumenthal told our Tanya Snyder on Wednesday that he wants hearings on the issue. The Democrat from Connecticut said he has "very strong concerns about the reliability and safety of driverless vehicles without proper standards."
Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said the Commerce Committee "should assert its jurisdiction," adding that the development of self-driving cars "is one of the bigger changes that's going to occur in American society over the next couple of decades and we ought to be guiding it." But Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters said the legislative branch should only step in if it's needed to prevent "a patchwork of regulation all across the country."
GETTING TO ZERO TRAFFIC DEATHS: While DOT is aiming to eliminate the number of traffic fatalities in the United States within two or three decades, officials don't yet know how exactly they'll do it. Tanya reports that mayors and local transportation officials gave some advice at a recent DOT event: put less emphasis on level of service as a performance measure, bring state design guidance in line with federal standards, partner with the Justice Department to boost enforcement of traffic laws and encourage insurance companies to reward drivers for attending continuing education seminars.
MT MAILBAG: Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), both members of the Commerce Committee, are asking how NHTSA and other DOT agencies are collaborating with states as they switch to electronic record-keeping. Fischer and Blumenthal sent a series of questions Wednesday to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, including: "What statutory, regulatory, or other challenges exist for states to transition to electronic records systems, such as electronic automobile titling or electronic automobile registration?" Here's the full letter.
SLICE OF PI: April Canter recently joined Harley-Davidson as government affairs manager, our friends at POLITICO Influence report. Canter previously worked for the American Nurses Association and The Recording Academy. She was also a professional staff member for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Extra slice: The National Automobile Dealers Association held its Washington Conference this week with speakers including Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Janet McCabe, the EPA's acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. McCabe and NADA's president, Peter Welch, will testify today at a House Energy and Commerce hearing on CAFE standards. The association's members also had 325 meetings scheduled on Capitol Hill.
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):
- WTO expected to rule against EU on Airbus subsidies. The Wall Street Journal.
- Report: Metro is "constantly in a catch-up mode" when it comes to power infrastructure. The Washington Post.
- Commuter survey shows riders souring on Metrorail. The Washington Post.
- Christie appointee claimed high-level support for Bridgegate scheme, official testifies. POLITICO New Jersey.
- Volkswagen investors seek $9 billion in damages over emissions scandal. Reuters.
- New airborne technologies promise to better link planes and satellites. The Wall Street Journal.
- Three brothers seek to overtake Tesla with souped-up plug-in car. Bloomberg.
THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 7 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 372 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 46 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,472 days.
THE DAY AHEAD:
8:30 a.m. - The National Academy of Public Administration, the National Governors Association and the American University School of Public Affairs hold a discussion with current and former governors on how the presidential transition will affect states. The forum centers on infrastructure, transportation and health care. American University Katzen Art Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
8:30 a.m. - The RTCA Program Management Committee holds a meeting. 1150 18th St. NW. Suite 910.
9 a.m. - The Rail Energy Transportation Advisory Committee meets. 395 E St. SW, First Floor, Hearing Room.
10 a.m. - The House Transportation Highways and Transit Subcommittee holds a roundtable on the FAST Act's effect on freight. Witnesses include John Payne of Amazon and Kevin Burch of ATA. 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.
10 a.m. - The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a "midterm review and update on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy program and greenhouse gas emissions standards for motor vehicles." HVC-210.
2 p.m. - The Build America Transportation Investment Center Institute: An AASHTO Center for Excellence holds a webinar on priced managed lanes.
Did we miss an event? Let MT know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stories from POLITICO Pro
Senators roll out bill to make TSA prioritize surface transportation Back
By Jennifer Scholtes | 09/22/2016 05:00 AM EDT
As TSA temporarily surges its security presence at rail stations this week, Senate Commerce Committee leaders are moving quickly to advance a bill that would force the agency to size up terrorism risk for each mode of transportation.
Worried that TSA is blindly divvying up its money and manpower, Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and ranking Democrat Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) plan to introduce a 43-page bill Thursday to require the agency to align its resources with real risk.
The measure comes after five bombs were discovered near a train station in New Jersey over the weekend and less than a week after the release of an inspector general report calling out TSA for lacking a risk-based strategy for assessing how resources should be spent across transportation modes.
According to draft bill text obtained by POLITICO, the senators' legislation would require the White House to clearly distinguish in annual budget requests between TSA resources for aviation security and those for surface transportation and maritime security.
The legislation also would force TSA to come up with goals and metrics for measuring how effectively it is aligning resources with specific risk, and to report to Congress on its plan for putting the new security strategy and management scheme into practice.
Even before the bombs were spotted in Elizabeth, N.J., on Sunday, the senators took the inspector general's warnings as a call for TSA to look beyond aviation security and, in particular, pay due attention to rail targets.
"I find it troubling that 15 years has passed since the 9/11 attacks and TSA is still struggling to allocate resources to protect travelers, especially in our rail and transit systems," Nelson said Friday.
Committee leaders this week are reiterating their call for TSA to do a holistic threat assessment to determine where its resources are most needed.
"It's not just airports that need enhanced security," Nelson said this week.
Thune has noted that terrorists have killed civilians at rail and transit stations in Europe over the past year, including the bombing in April of a Brussels metro hub.
Under the bill, TSA would have to give lawmakers an update every other year on threats to surface and maritime transportation systems. Additionally, the agency would have to hand over a report with the White House's annual budget requests, laying out a plan for allocation resources based on risk - organized by appropriations account, program and project.
"TSA has broad responsibilities for transportation security, but oversight and independent audits have raised considerable concern about its approach to protecting rail, transit, maritime, and highway travelers," Thune said this week.
The measure also would require TSA to create a process for improving background checks and terrorism vetting for transportation workers by using its Office of Intelligence and Analysis to provide guidance and threat assessment. It would force DHS to size up the effectiveness of the credentialing program for transportation workers who have access to secure areas. And it would call on TSA to create an advisory committee on surface transportation and maritime security.
If the bill is enacted, TSA will have to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop new technology to detect explosives in transportation systems. And it would have to come up with a plan for vetting rail passengers using terrorist watch lists.
TSA has yet to comply with several requirements, including rail security mandates, from legislation enacted in 2007 to codify recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. And the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general reported in May that the agency "has not prioritized the need to implement these rail security requirements" and therefore has little power to order security improvements on Amtrak.
The legislation from Senate Commerce leaders would require the department's inspector general to track TSA's movement in abiding by those nearly decade-old mandates and to report to Congress every two years on whether additional regulations are necessary or whether some of the requirements should be repealed or modified.
STB clears way for California city to block oil train facility Back
By Lauren Gardner | 09/21/2016 06:41 PM EDT
The Surface Transportation Board declined this week to block a California city from rejecting a plan to build a facility that would enable more oil trains to pass through the area, but only because the project's owner was an energy company, not a railroad.
Oil refiner Valero Energy had petitioned the STB to step in and prevent Benicia, Calif., from denying the company permits to build the facility in the city, which is also home to one of the company's refineries.
Environmentalists cheered the Tuesday rejection as a victory in their effort to encourage local governments - which fear catastrophes like the oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people in 2013 - to reject projects that could bring vast quantities of crude oil through their communities.
The regulator is likely to find itself at the center of future high-profile cases like this since trains remain one of the most viable methods of transporting oil, much like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has became a hotbed of controversy as green groups have sought to block permits for pipelines that ship fossil fuels.
But STB made it clear that its members rebuffed Valero in this instance only because it was not a rail carrier, nor was it handling transportation services for one, and therefore does not fall under the board's jurisdiction.
STB's decision that interstate commerce law doesn't allow it to preempt the Benicia government from denying the permits to Valero came hours ahead of a unanimous city council vote scuttling the project.
It's not yet clear whether Valero will take its fight to court. A company spokeswoman said executives are "considering our options moving forward."
"After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the city council members have chosen to reject the crude by rail project," Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said.
STB's decision included guidance that even if Benicia had approved the permits, the bayside city near San Francisco wouldn't have carte blanche to impose conditions on Valero, since they could "unreasonably" bleed into operations by Union Pacific, the freight railroad the refiner planned to have service the offloading facility.
"As an initial matter, any attempt to regulate UP's rail operations on its lines would be categorically preempted," STB wrote. "Otherwise, state and local regulation is permissible where it does not unreasonably interfere with rail transportation."
If circumstances changed and the railroad were to build or own the offloading facility project, "then it would clearly be preempted by the federal law," Karen Torrent, federal legislative director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said of Benicia's permit denial.
The Association of American Railroads declined to comment on Tuesday's decision, but it had voiced its support for Valero's petition in July, expressing concern that a "patchwork" of rules among states and localities could stymie freight operations.
"This case now presents the Board with the situation where state and local permitting requirements are being applied to rail-served customer facilities with the purpose of controlling - and often preventing - rail transportation," AAR attorney Timothy J. Strafford wrote.
Jackie Prange, a Natural Resources Defense Council staff attorney, said the ruling has broader implications because local governments in California and the Pacific Northwest grappling with similar projects have monitored the Benicia case.
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission is scheduled to hold its final hearing Thursday on a proposal by refiner Phillips 66 to bring millions of gallons of crude per week into its Santa Maria refinery by train. The company asked the county last month to delay the hearing, anticipating that STB would not have issued its decision in the Benicia case by now, according to a local report.
Staff at the county commission have recommended that officials reject the project.
Obama administration gives Airbus, Boeing go-ahead for Iran sales Back
By Jennifer Scholtes | 09/21/2016 04:36 PM EDT
Airbus and Boeing have both been given U.S. licenses to sell planes to Iran, green-lighting deals that could result in the sale of hundreds of new aircraft after an almost four-decade trade freeze.
Airbus applied for two licenses for deliveries to Iran Air. The first was granted this week for A320s and A330s. And the company expects the second to come through "in the coming weeks," according to Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon.
The industry foresees a market need of between 400 and 500 new commercial planes to replace Iran's "existing, aging fleet and meet growing air travel demand," Clay McConnell, another spokesman for Airbus Americas, said in a written statement.
McConnell said the Treasury Department's decision to issue a license to Airbus is a reflection of the aircraft manufacturer's longtime collaboration with officials "to ensure all activities are undertaken in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations."
Boeing confirmed this afternoon that it has received a U.S. license to sell as many as 80 planes to Iran Air and remains in talks with the air carrier.
The U.S. approval stipulates parameters of potential sales. And any final sales agreement "would have to adhere to the license we've been issued," Boeing said in a written statement.
The licenses come after the House voted in July to block the two aircraft manufacturers from selling to Iran. But without enactment of the financial services spending measure (H.R. 5485), the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control was able to proceed with authorizing the licenses.
Senators aim to take part in driverless car regulation Back
By Tanya Snyder | 09/21/2016 05:39 PM EDT
Lawmakers said today they planned to assert some control over regulations for autonomous vehicles, a day after guidance issued by the DOT indicated Congress should have only a limited role in setting the rules for the technology.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, called for hearings.
"I have very strong concerns about the reliability and safety of driverless vehicles without proper standards," Blumenthal said. "We need to scrutinize those standards here in Congress."
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the top Democrat on the Communications Subcommittee, stopped short of calling for hearings but was adamant that Congress - and his committee in particular - has a role to play.
"This is public policy and the legislative branch has to undertake this question," he said. "When it comes to vehicle safety and cyber security, the Commerce Committee should assert its jurisdiction."
Schatz said he wasn't looking to "preempt" the Department of Transportation," but added that the rollout of autonomous vehicles "is one of the bigger changes that's going to occur in American society over the next couple of decades and we ought to be guiding it."
Not everyone was rushing to take the reins. Sen. Gary Peters (R-Mich.), a major proponent of emerging vehicle technology, said Congress might need to act only if it's necessary to avoid "a patchwork of regulation all across the country."
DOT aims to reduce traffic deaths to zero - but isn't sure how to get there Back
By Tanya Snyder | 09/21/2016 01:59 PM EDT
The DOT has put a timetable on its campaign to reduce traffic fatalities, saying they want eliminate them completely in 20 to 30 years - but officials admit they don't really know how to get there.
Barbara McCann, director of DOT's Office of Safety, Energy and Environment, acknowledged last week at a summit that they'd hedged their bets with a 10-year window on their goal to eliminate roadway deaths because "we actually don't know today how we're going to get to zero."
The first plan of attack, McCann said, is to fully implement already-existing, proven safety measures - things like rumble strips, narrowed street designs called "road diets" and pedestrian median islands.
But does a policy solution exist that will keep every drunk driver off the road or stop every collision on an icy highway? So far, it's an open question. But DOT and its various arms do have some programs in place already.
Early next month, DOT is launching its "Safe Systems Initiative," a holistic approach to transportation safety that addresses roadway infrastructure, vehicles and behavior. Regulators are also implementing a new grant program created by the FAST Act to help improve safety in states with a disproportionately large number of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths. And while a Federal Highway Administration technical assistance program on road diets officially ends this year, a new one will begin, focused on mid-block and uncontrolled crossings, where pedestrians are most at risk.
The federal DOT may not yet know how to achieve its goal - but last week, mayors, council members and transportation officials from across the country gathered to discuss what Washington should be doing to help local safety efforts achieve zero deaths. Here's what they asked for.
1. De-emphasize level of service. Benjamin Lucarelli, mayor of the borough of Fair Haven, N.J., says his efforts to make streets safer in his town are stymied by county engineers' priority on level of service, a measure of vehicle speeds and traffic flow that has long underpinned state and federal transportation policy.
Lucarelli said his efforts to put in bike lanes struggled at the county level in the battle between complete streets and LOS engineering. "Would it be possible for the DOT to de-emphasize level of service engineering as a school of engineering to the national engineering societies so they're more readily [amenable] to implementing complete streets?" he asked.
The federal government has been shifting its stance on level of service. A few months ago the FHA stated that it won't mandate minimum level of service values. MAP-21 ushered in a host of new performance measures, including one on safety, which have begun to chip away at the primacy of level of service.
Some places, like California, are moving away from a strict adherence to LOS as a performance measure, too. But city officials like Lucarelli say their attempts to narrow streets or slow down traffic to improve walkability have met resistance from authorities looking to maximize vehicle throughput.
"The federal government has a complete streets policy, the state has a complete streets policy, the county does, and my borough does," Lucarelli said. "But we're not implementing it."
2. Bring state design guidance in line with federal standards. Even where locals and feds are on the same page, there are many layers of bureaucracy between them - notably state DOTs. "All of our primary arteries in and out of our city are state routes, so we have no control over the infrastructure changes that are made to our streets," said Dowell Hoskins-Squier, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works in Lexington, Ky. She's powerless to retrofit those roads to encourage the use of all modes of transportation.
An FHWA official suggested that both the federal and local governments can lean on state DOTs to update their roadway designs to reflect new innovations in safety, such as protected bike lanes and road diets.
3. Involve the Department of Justice. Nat Gale, a transportation project coordinator at the Los Angeles DOT, wants to see law enforcement more motivated to enforce traffic violations. "They're really organized around crime," Gale said. "Getting attention on traffic safety is a challenge."
Gale suggested that a successful partnership between DOJ and DOT could help encourage law enforcement to enforce unsafe driving as vigorously as they enforce other laws that impact public safety. Gale would like to see a joint-agency funding program to pay for law enforcement officer training and enforcement operations on traffic safety.
In L.A., Gale said, NHTSA funds DUI checkpoints, which he sees as one-off efforts that don't lead to the kind of sustained culture change necessary to get to zero deaths. He suggested that joint DOJ-DOT research into best practices around traffic enforcement could find ways to maximize law enforcement resources to reduce crashes.
4. Encourage insurance companies to provide a carrot. Allstate's program rewarding safe drivers made a light bulb go off in the head of Angela Dixon, deputy director of transportation initiatives for Philadelphia. She suggested that insurers could be the key to bringing drivers up to speed with new infrastructure and new rules.
"You get your drivers license at 16, 17, 18, and then you're not doing a lot of driver safety education," DIxon said. "We're putting in these new types of infrastructure that [motorists] don't know how to use and they're very confused."
For example, most people's driving education didn't include how to interact with protected bike lanes or what to do at a crosswalk with special technology enabled to warn drivers that pedestrians have asked to cross. If insurers rewarded motorists for taking periodic driver's education refresher classes, DMVs could help familiarize a greater portion of the motoring public with new road designs and how to use them.
Christie appointee claimed high-level support for Bridgegate scheme, official testifies Back
By Ryan Hutchins | 09/21/2016 01:41 PM EDT
NEWARK - After the George Washington Bridge lane closures ended, the highest-ranking New Jersey official at the Port Authority demanded the decision be reversed because it was "important to Trenton," the agency's executive director testified on Wednesday.
In two meetings that came after the four-day closure at the center of the Bridgegate scandal was reversed on Sept. 13, 2013, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni - an appointee of Gov. Chris Christie - tried to convince the executive director, Patrick Foye, to reconsider his order, Foye said.
"Bill asked [that] the lanes be closed, and he said the issue was 'important to Trenton,'" Foye said, sitting in U.S. District Court. "I took that to be the governor's office in Trenton."
Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. They are accused of closing lanes and manufacturing traffic jams as a way to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, where the bridge is located, for not endorsing Christie's re-election campaign.
Foye said Baroni was not content after their first meeting and returned again in the afternoon to try again to convince him to reconsider.
"Bill again asked that the lane be closed," he said. "I said no. He said it was important to Trenton, and he said that Trenton might call."
Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna what that meant, Foye said he took it to mean that "the office of governor of New Jersey would call - or could call - the governor's office in New York."
"I said they should call," added Foye, who was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Later, under intense questioning, Foye said he approved the release of a statement that claimed the traffic-jam-causing closures were the result of a week-long "study."
He said he believed at the time that it was an inaccurate statement, but that he let it go out nonetheless.
"I was skeptical," Foye testified. "I didn't believe it to be true."
He blamed the release on Baroni.
Asked by Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley, if he was "proud" of himself, Foye didn't answer.
"Bill asked for it," he said, saying he was more concerned with re-opening the lanes and "public safety" than what the public being told.
He said it was a "a false statement that Bill and David Wildstein drafted."
Baroni's attorney, Michael Baldassare, repeatedly questioned Foye about whether he knew about the lane closures earlier than he claims to have learned.
Foye said in testimony that he found out through media inquiries on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 12, and then spoke to two officials about it early the next morning. That's when he sent an email ending the closures and saying he would "get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for."
But Baldassare said several of his colleagues had discussed the matter with him that Thursday afternoon, when they were returning from an event in Lower Manhattan at which Foye was a speaker. Foye said he did not recall any such discussion.
Christie, who is currently a top adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, has denied any knowledge or involvement in the lane-closing incident. But prosecutors said on Monday that the governor was told of the traffic gridlock on the third day of the lane closings.
The trial is expected to last six weeks. Both defendants plan to testify.
NOTE: This article has been updated with Foye's comments during cross-examination.
Wall Street Journal: North American Light-Vehicle Production Soars in August, But Incentives Are Rising
North American car and light-truck production hit an August record last month, despite cooling demand, leaving dealer inventory at a multiyear peak and setting the stage for potentially generous sales incentives this fall.
General Motors Co. led the auto industry with a 21% increase in output to 372,678 vehicles produced in the region, according to data provider WardsAuto.com. Overall, Wards estimates 1.69 million vehicles were produced in the U.S., Mexico and Canada last month.
The production surge comes even though retail demand for new vehicles is flagging and consumers’ appetite for used cars in good shape appears to be strengthening.
GM is now holds the largest days’ supply of inventory among major auto makers except for Volkswagen AG, according to Wards, with 74 days of supply, a level up sharply from July’s 66 days and the 63 days at the end of August 2015
The No. 1 U.S. auto maker by sales earlier this year was short of certain high-demand vehicles a factor in pushing its U.S. market share to the lowest level in several decades.
Auto makers’ overall September production is forecast to grow modestly, according to Wards, with GM continuing to ramp up its output. Wards forecasts a slight increase for full-year industry production.
The auto industry’s 61 days of supply at August 31 marked the second consecutive month that overall stock levels hit a 12-year high.
Haig Stoddard, Wards’ industry analyst, said soft August sales in part led to the higher inventory levels. Even if the industry finishes 2016 on a strong note, Mr. Stoddard said, auto makers won’t need to increase output at North American factories, given the glut of dealer stock available.
The boost in production over the summer months could help lift third-quarter financial results at GM, Toyota Motor Corp., and others when figures are posted next month. Besides GM, several car makers increased output during summer months.
Car companies book revenue and profits on wholesale deliveries, not sales to end users. A glut, however, can bite the industry if higher costs for sales promotions are needed to move dealer inventory.
While light-vehicle sales through August were slightly ahead of 2015’s record pace, auto makers have been paying more to keep demand humming.
Researcher J.D. Power estimates retail sales, or deliveries to individuals at dealerships, fell 1.3% to 9.3 million over the first eight months of the year compared with the same period in 2015. Overall sales are up less than 1% over that period, buoyed entirely by fleet sales to rental car companies and government and commercial buyers.
Car buyers received a $3,378 in incentives on a new purchase in August, according to Autodata Corp., or a 10% discount. Incentive spending is up 12% compared with the previous year, according to the firm, driven largely by increases at Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, GM and Toyota.
In a note to investors earlier in September, Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas said higher inventory and spending on discounts were fueling concern the U.S. auto market has peaked.
But Mr. Jonas also said car companies have plenty of tools to keep buyers interested. Cheap financing, including subsidized leases and low-interest loans, has helped keep payments low. “We would not underestimate the industry’s ability to keep the cycle going,” Mr. Jonas said, after auto sales fell short of expectations in August.
Auto executives, however, must combat the growing supply of late-model used cars flooding the market as leases expire or qualified buyers look to update their vehicles.
On Wednesday, used-vehicle retailer CarMax Inc. said same-store car sales grew 3% in the fiscal second quarter, and selling prices crept up 2.3%. Revenue growth lagged behind its expectations and profit declined during the quarter because of one-time charges and lower store traffic.
Black Book, which tracks car prices, says used-car values are beginning to erode compared with a year ago on vehicles made since the U.S. financial crisis. The decline reflects increased supply.
New-car pricing is threatened when buyers are paying less to get used cars in good condition.