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Infrastructure in the News 9.23.16



Bloomberg: The Road Not Taken: What If Infrastructure Were Actually Planned?

If there’s one thing that seemingly every politician can agree on, it’s the awesomeness of infrastructure. But this conversation is often distressingly vague. We do not, after all, build “infrastructure”; we build roads, tunnels, bridges, power plants, water projects, sewers and rail systems.


Huffington Post: Mayors Will Play Their Part in Delivering on the Paris Agreement

During Climate Week NYC and the UN General Assembly in New York this week, the international community marks the ratification of the Paris Agreement by 60 countries.


Trib Live: Trump woos oil, gas industry in Pittsburgh visit

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump promised more than 1,000 oil and gas professionals gathered Thursday in Pittsburgh that he would be the energy industry's ally as president by lifting regulatory restrictions, streamlining the permitting process and welcoming construction of more pipelines.


The Washington Post: These researchers think we’re nearing ‘peak car’ — and the consequences could be dramatic

On Thursday the Rocky Mountain Institute — an energy-focused think tank known for its boldness in predicting technological change — released a truly sweeping report on the future of vehicles.


Bloomberg: Get Ready for Freeways That Ban Human Drivers

New rules of the road for robot cars coming out of Washington this week could lead to the eventual extinction of one of the defining archetypes of the past century: the human driver.




Washington Post: Metro trying a low-tech fix to its ongoing communication problem: bullhorns in train cabs

The nation’s second-busiest subway system is opting for a low-tech solution to tackle ongoing communications issues on trains: Metro will place handheld bullhorns in the cabs of all of its trains following a series of lapses that culminated in a dangerous self-evacuation on the Red Line last week.


Providence Journal (Connecticut): Quest for faster Acela hitting bumps in Conn.

Connecticut's residential coastline is two worlds, the one of newcomer millionaires and one whose wealth and New England roots span generations. Now, their differences over a rail route threaten to gum up plans for the Northeast's fastest-ever trains. Creating a playbook for the future of transportation in Cleveland

A family walks to the bus stop, the young son pulling his mother's hand eagerly.


Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: Thompson: Wisconsin needs a transportation plan

Wisconsin’s interstates are neither decorative nor frivolous. A well-functioning I-94 or I-90 is not akin to getting granite countertops or adding a sun room as some have suggested.


Baltimore Sun: Transportation alliance critical of MTA's plan to overhaul bus routes

A transportation advocacy group warned Thursday that the Maryland Transit Administration's plan to overhaul bus routes around Baltimore "falls well short" of better connecting people to jobs, schools and healthy food.


The Cap Times (Wisconsin): Scott Walker: 'Significant number' of Republicans support my transportation plan

Gov. Scott Walker shot down one justification from Assembly GOP leaders for potentially raising gas taxes or vehicle registration fees in the 2017-19 transportation budget, talking to reporters Thursday.


Billings Gazette (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.



Growing concern over the cost of Gov. Chris Christie’s statewide shutdown of road and bridge projects until money can be found for the Transportation Trust Fund provided the impetus yesterday for an Assembly committee to pass a bill that would bring some relief to counties and municipalities suffering under the freeze.


By Brianna Gurciullo | 09/23/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner, Tanya Snyder, Jennifer Scholtes and Anthony Adragna

WRDA YOU GO? House Transportation Committee Democrats lashed out at Republican leadership Thursday afternoon for yanking an agreement to overhaul a key waterways trust fund from the panel's WRDA bill, which is expected to get a floor vote next week. Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, the committee's ranking member, told our Lauren Gardner: "It's not a surprise, but it's virtually unprecedented in the history of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee" to strip a bipartisan provision out of a bill before it reaches the floor - at least since Republicans assumed the majority in 2011.

Behind the scenes: In May, the committee easily endorsed the legislation, which included a provision to make the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund mandatory spending in a decade. Committee Democrats say staff had worked out fixes to two budgetary points of order that came up during work on the legislation, both of which passed muster with the Congressional Budget Office. But while Speaker Paul Ryan has often professed his desire to let committees legislate as they wish, budget hawks have bemoaned the Transportation Committee's approach as a ploy to avoid inflating the cost of the bill. (DeFazio also name-checked Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price as a co-conspirator against the agreement.)

"So we had a potential to begin actually to catch up with the massive backlog of maintenance in our harbors to make the United States of America more competitive in a world economy," DeFazio fumed. "But the Republicans in their hypocrisy want to continue to collect the tax, dedicate it to harbor maintenance where we have a massive backlog and divert part of that tax to other purposes."

House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster said, "It's an ongoing process, so [I'm] not ready to talk about it."

HAPPY FRIDAY: 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.

"Last night sorta got so insane, as I went ridin' on the all night train. Took it down the street and around the block. Took it downtown baby where the big boys rock." (h/t Track Court Associates' Joe Pasanello)

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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:

YOU'RE OUT: Lawmakers will have to wait until the lame-duck session to try to fix a drafting error that has delayed enforcement of rest requirements for truckers - that is, if the continuing resolution Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell submitted Thursday is enacted. McConnell's short-term spending bill, which would keep the government open through Dec. 9, leaves out a fix to the rider that was tucked into the FY2016 omnibus, our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros.

You're in: McConnell's CR would make sure Amtrak appropriations for the Northeast Corridor are set apart from those for state-sponsored and long-distance routes, as the FAST Act stipulates. It would also give TSA the ability to maintain its number of airport screeners, which recently increased.

THE BILLS, THEY ARE A-PASSIN': The House OK'd a bill Thursday to require federal agencies to reimburse their employees for using ride-hailing apps or bikeshare for work travel, Lauren reported. The House Oversight Committee approved the legislation (H.R. 5625) last week.

In the upper chamber, senators passed a bill (S. 2683) ensuring disabled veterans working for the FAA can utilize a new sick leave category. The House passed a companion measure (H.R. 5957) on Tuesday.

ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE: FHWA and FTA are reopening the comment period on portions of their proposed rule aiming to promote better regional planning among state and metropolitan planning organizations. The extra time comes after the bipartisan Illinois-Indiana senatorial delegation petitioned the agencies for an extension, expressing concern that the regulation could have the opposite effect.

TESLA TAKES MICHIGAN FIGHT TO COURT: Tesla really wants to sell its vehicles in Michigan - so much so that it's suing, The Detroit News reports . Last week, the state rejected the company's application for a new-dealership license because selling vehicles directly to consumers, as Tesla does, is illegal there. Tesla claims in its lawsuit that Michigan law "creates a monopoly in favor of franchised dealers with respect to selling and servicing new cars, and it excludes Tesla from the Michigan market because Tesla does not, and could not, use the dealer model." The company has failed to obtain licenses in Texas, Connecticut and Utah as well.

NO ROOM AT THE INN: Truckers trying to comply with hours-of-service rules and catch a few z's often find that rest areas are full. At a congressional roundtable on freight issues Thursday, PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said demand exceeds supply by 1,500 spaces a night along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, resulting in 1,100 trucks each night parking on Pennsylvania's highway shoulders and ramps, which creates safety hazards. In the absence of a federal champion taking on this issue, Richards told our Tanya Snyder she wants to collaborate with other states to address the shortage of truck parking.

AMAZON PUSHES FOR LONGER TRUCKS: At the same freight roundtable Thursday, John Payne, the brain behind Amazon's trucking operation, made a pitch for longer trucks. His case: longer trucks means fewer trucks - 6.6 million fewer truck trips per year, saving 4.4 billion pounds of carbon emissions. Payne said keeping some trucks off the road would improve safety, but advocates and lawmakers like Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are on record opposing the switch.

The change sought by Amazon and other interests would increase trailer lengths from 28 feet to 33 feet. With two trailers like that behind a cab, trucks could be up to 88 feet long. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) tried to insert such a provision into this year's transportation appropriations bill, but it ended up on the cutting room floor.

SHIFTING GEARS: Former Rep. Nick Rahall, who once served as the House Transportation Committee's top Democrat, was named co-chair of the Eno Center for Transportation's working group on freight, our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros. He will replace former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio. Rahall, who represented West Virginia from 1977 to 2015, also chaired the House Natural Resources Committee while in Congress. He lost to Republican Evan Jenkins in 2014. Now a senior adviser to Cassidy and Associates, Rahall will oversee the Eno working group with former Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

James Corless will leave Transportation for America in the spring after serving as the group's director for over eight years. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments has chosen Corless to replace Mike McKeever as CEO.

LIFE IS A HIGHWAY: Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced a bill Thursday that would give the Department of Interior the power to create a federal register of historic vehicles. The register would keep records of automobiles and motorcycles that are "connected to a significant person or event in American history, or have a unique design or rarity," according to a release. The Department of the Interior already has the Historic American Engineering Record, which includes ships, bridges and roads. Peters' legislation would allow the department to create a register just for vehicles.

GENERAL AVIATION ACCIDENTS DROP: General aviation flight hours increased between 2014 and 2015, while the number of accidents fell from 1,223 to 1,209, according to the NTSB. "Even though the fatality rate in 2015 was the lowest it has been in many years, 376 people still lost their lives, which is why improving general aviation safety is on the NTSB's Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements," Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement. The accident rate for charter flights, air taxis, air tours and medical operations slightly increased.

GRANDPA THUNE: Congrats to Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, who posted on Instagram: "It's official: We're grandparents. Say hello to Henley Joy Hargens. She's a little early but Larissa and baby girl doing fine."

LaTOURETTE REMEMBERED: Former Rep. Steve LaTourette, who died last month after a battle with pancreatic cancer, was honored Tuesday at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, according to POLITICO Playbook. House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster and Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) spoke at the service. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer also attended.


- USTR claims "sweeping victory" in Airbus subsidy case. POLITICO Pro Trade.

- Metro trying a low-tech fix to its ongoing communication problem: bullhorns in train cabs. The Washington Post.

- Tesla drivers wake up to a serious upgrade. Bloomberg.

- Bridgegate mastermind was "protected" by Christie, Port Authority chief testifies. POLITICO New Jersey.

- Exclusive: Maersk Oil eyes Shell's North Sea assets ahead of spin-off. Reuters.

- These researchers think we're nearing 'peak car' - and the consequences could be dramatic. The Washington Post.

- FAA advisory body recommends cybersecurity measures. The Wall Street Journal.

- Get ready for freeways that ban human drivers. Bloomberg.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 6 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 371 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 45 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,471 days.


8:30 a.m. - The Roadway Safety Foundation and FHWA host a discussion on "Deploying the U.S. Road Assessment Program (usRAP) as part of a National Strategy Toward Zero Deaths." DOT Headquarters, Conference Center, Room Five, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.

9 a.m. - The Port Performance Freight Statistics Working Group meets. DOT Headquarters, Conference Center, Oklahoma City Room, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.

12 p.m. - Volpe hosts Ben Hecht, the president and CEO of Living Cities, for a talk called "From Transit to Access: Rethinking How Cities Connect Their Residents to Opportunity." 55 Broadway, Kendall Square, Cambridge, Mass. Find registration for the webinar here.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Senate CR includes Amtrak account tweak, leaves out trucker rest rider Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/22/2016 02:03 PM EDT

The Continuing Resolution bill filed today to keep the government running into December would ensure Amtrak receives money through a new accounting structure and allows TSA to maintain airport screener staffing levels, but would remain mum on the issue of truckers' working hours.

The CR submitted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell secures changes made in the FAST Act to separate appropriations for the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak's state-sponsored and long-distance routes. The move eliminates the potential for confusion over divvying up funding as the corporation and FRA implement the new order.

It also includes language giving TSA flexibility to allocate funds as needed to keep the recently increased number of airport security screeners on board in the near term. The Obama administration warned lawmakers last month it would need the wiggle room to avoid sending those employees home on Oct. 1.

However, the bill, which would run through Dec. 9, leaves out a fix to a rider included in the fiscal 2016 omnibus delaying enforcement of an Obama administration rule outlining rest requirements for truckers. Trucking groups are clamoring for lawmakers to ensure a Bush-era regulation is the one regulators enforce in the interim.

That issue is sure to resurface in December as Congress works to fund federal agencies through the end of fiscal 2017 before a new administration takes over.


House backs bill allowing federal workers use Uber, Lyft Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/22/2016 06:38 PM EDT

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill today ensuring that federal workers can expense business travel conducted through nontraditional transportation modes.

On a 415-0 vote, lawmakers approved the bill (H.R. 5625) formally allowing federal employees to be reimbursed for any work travel using ride-hailing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, or bikeshare options. The House Oversight Committee endorsed the bill last week.

The GSA notified agencies earlier this year they could refund workers who use those transportation services while on official business, but the measure would enshrine that policy into law.


Rahall joins Eno Center's freight working group Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/22/2016 02:35 PM EDT

Former West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall has joined the Eno Center for Transportation's working group on freight, the nonpartisan think tank announced today.

Rahall, who was the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee before losing his 2014 re-election bid, will lead the group alongside former Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

The panel has been focused on ways to finance an expansion of a national freight program included in the 2015 surface transportation law.

Rahall is a senior adviser at Cassidy and Associates and works on infrastructure and natural resources issues.


USTR claims 'sweeping victory' in Airbus subsidy case Back

By Doug Palmer | 09/22/2016 10:30 AM EDT

The United States on Thursday said it had chalked up another big win in a 12-year-old legal battle against billions of dollars of European government support to help Airbus develop new aircraft and urged France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom to immediately end their support for Boeing's chief rival.

"This report is a sweeping victory for the United States and its aerospace workers," U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement. "We have long maintained that EU aircraft subsidies have cost American companies tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue, which this report clearly proves."

A WTO compliance panel ruled that European governments had failed to adequately address illegal subsidies previously found by the WTO and that they further breached WTO rules by granting more than $4 billion in new subsidized financing for the Airbus A350 XWB - causing tens of billions of dollars in adverse effects to the U.S. industry, USTR said.

In total, the panel found nearly $22 billion in subsidized financing from the EU and Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain, and continuing lost U.S. exports worth tens of billions of dollars, the USTR said.

Boeing cheered the ruling, which chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said "finally holds the EU and Airbus to account for their flouting of global trade rules."

"The World Trade Organization has now found that Airbus is and always has been a creature of government and of illegal government subsidy," Boeing's executive vice president and general counsel, J. Michael Luttig, added in a statement, declaring the day of reckoning for European "launch aid'' programs has finally arrived.

"Prior WTO rulings found that Airbus itself likely would not even exist without illegal launch aid, equity infusions and infrastructure support," Luttig said. "Today the WTO went further and found that Airbus' existence continues to depend upon illegal, trade-distorting government subsidies in the form of launch aid, most recently for the A350 XWB - which reportedly totals almost $5 billion."

The decision is the latest in a pair of tit-for-tat cases that stretch back to 2004 when George W. Bush was president.

The U.S. challenge against European support for Airbus was immediately matched by an EU case against U.S. support for Boeing and the disputes have been slowly grinding their way through the WTO system ever since.

The WTO, through both its initial panel and appellate body rulings, has found illegal subsidies on both sides of the Atlantic.

The USTR and Boeing trumpeted an appellate body decision in 2011 that they said found the EU and four of its member states had provided more than $18 billion in illegal support for Airbus, mostly in the form of low-interest "launch aid loans" to the aircraft manufacturer.

A year later, the EU and Airbus celebrated a second appellate body decision that they said found the U.S. federal and state governments had provided $5 billion to $6 billion in WTO-incompatible subsidies to Boeing from 1989 to 2006.

After Thursday's ruling, another compliance panel decision in the EU case against U.S. support for Boeing could set the stage for the two countries to slap sanctions on each other's exports unless a negotiated settlement is reached.

But first, a WTO arbitration panel would have to decide how much each side has suffered because of the other's subsidies in order to determine the amount of trade retaliation that each side could impose.

"With [today's] decisive ruling, it is now time for the EU to come to the table and settle, rather than waiting for future tariffs," Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell said in the statement with Froman and several other lawmakers from Washington state, where Boeing has major production facilities. "Without having to compete against illegal, market-distorting practices, Boeing should win more sales around the world."

Ahead of the ruling, a spokesman for Airbus downplayed its significance, saying European governments and the company had corrected the problems revealed in the previous decisions.

"We only needed to make limited changes in European policies and practices to comply with the Appellate Body's report in this case," Airbus spokesman Clay McConnell said. "Airbus did what we needed to do, in good faith and in the agreed time frame. We will now see the result in the public release and see along with the EU if there are still remaining points to address.

"But this particular case should not be seen in isolation," McConnell continued. "On the other side, there are already decisions in two cases condemning Boeing's illegal subsidies. Despite that, Airbus wants common sense to prevail: These disputes can only end in a balanced, mutual agreement."

According to the USTR, the WTO compliance panel found that since 2006, subsidies to the Airbus A320 family of aircraft resulted in the displacement or impedance of Boeing 737s in the EU, Australian, Chinese and Indian markets, as well as lost sales of 271 737s.

In the twin-aisle market, which includes Boeing's 767, 777 and 787 planes, the panel found that the subsidies benefiting Airbus' A330, A340 and A350 XWB planes caused displacement or impedance of Boeing aircraft in the EU, Chinese, Korean and Singaporean markets, as well as lost sales of 50 Boeing aircraft, the USTR said.

Finally, when it came to the largest aircraft, the panel found that subsidies benefiting the A380 caused displacement or impedance of Boeing 747s in the EU, Australian, Chinese, Korean, Singaporean and United Arab Emirates markets, as well as lost sales of 54 Boeing aircraft, the USTR said.


Bridgegate mastermind was 'protected' by Christie, Port Authority chief testifies Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 09/22/2016 04:33 PM EDT

NEWARK - The architect of the George Washington Bridge lane closures was not interviewed during an internal investigation of the incident because he was "protected by Chris Christie," the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey testified on Thursday in federal court.

Despite having the legal authority to fire that man, David Wildstein, Port Authority executive director Pat Foye said he was unable to do so because it was "complicated."

"Politically complicated?" asked Michael Critchley, a defense attorney for Bridget Anne Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff to the Republican governor.

"Practically complicated," Foye said.

As the third day of testimony in the Bridgegate trial continued on Thursday in U.S. District Court, Foye and his chief of staff, John Ma, were peppered with questions about how they responded to the lane closures and precisely when they found out about the scheme.

They were also asked about the meddling of Wildstein, a feared political operator who was a boyhood schoolmate of Gov. Chris Christie. Wildstein has already pleaded guilty in the case and will testify against Kelly and the other defendant, Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority.

Christie, who is 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 the governor was told of the traffic gridlock on the third day of the lane closings.

Wildstein was the director of interstate capital projects for the bi-state agency - a position created just for him. He reported to Baroni, who is a former Republican state lawmaker and was the highest ranking New Jersey official at the Port.

Foye said "hundreds," perhaps "thousands" of employees at the agency hated Wildstein. He was "abusive" and "terrorized" colleagues, the director said.

There was even a suggestion Wildstein was tapping the phones of other staff.

"The issue came up," Foye said. "Whether Wildstein had the ability to listen to phone calls."

For some reason, Foye and Ma said, Wildstein had a large piece of telephone equipment on his desk in the Port Authority's midtown Manhattan offices. Something called an "expansion pack." It's the sort of equipment an administrative assistant would use to manage multiple phone lines.

"Yes, we had concerns about whether there was a possibility he could be monitoring our calls," Ma said.

Despite the perception about Wildstein, and an early belief by Foye that Wildstein was involved in the lane closures (he said he referred to the incident as "Wildstein-gate"), the man was not fired because of those "complicated" circumstances. He eventually resigned.

The true story of what happened also didn't come out right away after Foye approved a "false" public statement supporting the idea that the lane closures were the result of a "study" of traffic patterns. For months, the agency wouldn't comment on the incident because they said it was being investigated internally.

Privately, however, Ma had leaked details of what happened before Foye even sent an email ordering the lane closures to end.

On Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 - the fourth day of the closures - Ma called John Cichowski, the "Road Warrior" columnist at The Record in Bergen County. Cichowski had inquired about the traffic gridlock that the lane closures had been causing in Fort Lee, where the bridge is located.

Officially, the columnist was told by Port spokesman Chris Valens the agency "is reviewing traffic safety patterns at the ... bridge to ensure proper placement of toll lanes."

Ma said those comments were made after Wildstein called the press office, but it seemed odd to him.

"I had deep skepticism that there was any study," Ma said.

So, the chief of staff spoke to the columnist to say Wildstein was behind the lane closures and that the official story didn't appear to be true.

"I told him, off the record, that to my knowledge there was no traffic study and that the lane closures had been ordered by David Wildstein," Ma said, adding that he wanted the reporter to keep "digging" and to ask more questions.

Despite that call taking place on Thursday, and Foye saying he learned of the lane closures by that evening, the director didn't issue a memo reversing the closures until nearly 7:45 the next morning.

Baroni's attorney, Michael Baldassare, said this week that Foye had actually learned of the lane closures earlier than he claims and had discussed them with other staff around 2 p.m. that Thursday. Foye said he didn't recall any such conversations taking place.

Asked if he thought his boss could have done so on Thursday, Ma said it was possible.

"I suppose," he said.

Baroni and Kelly, both 44, were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. They are accused of carrying out the lane closures as a way to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie's re-election campaign.

The trial is expected to last six weeks. Both defendants plan to testify.

Tina Lado, the director of New Jersey government and community relations at the Port Authority, finishes her testimony on Friday morning.

Matt Mowers, a former Christie staffer who recently worked for the Trump campaign, and Wildstein are up after that.