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Infrastructure in the News 9.26.16



Associated Press: US guidelines on self-driving cars get good reception at G-7

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Sunday that his counterparts in the Group of Seven nations welcomed U.S. guidelines on regulating self-driving cars and have agreed to work together on creating such standards to maintain safety.


Bloomberg: Obama Giving U.S. ‘Wide Latitude’ in Autonomous Driving Pursuit

Automated cars have the backing of President Barack Obama, who’s signed off on what’s largely been a hands-off approach to regulating the burgeoning industry, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.


Wall Street Journal: Self-Driving Hype Doesn’t Reflect Reality

To judge by recent claims, “fully autonomous” self-driving technology is just around the corner. Uber Technologies Inc. is offering Pittsburgh residents rides in autonomous Ford Fusions. Ford Motor Co., BMW AG, Volvo Car Corp. and Lyft Inc. say they will produce fully autonomous vehicles by 2021 or sooner.


Wall Street Journal: UPS Uses Drone to Deliver Package to Boston-Area Island (full article follows Morning Transportation)

United Parcel Service Inc. said Friday it successfully used a drone to deliver medicine to an island near Boston, jumping into a race with competitors such as Inc. to test drone delivery inside the U.S.


Washington Post: Feds invite tribes to take part in infrastructure decisions

The Obama administration has invited leaders from 567 federally recognized tribes to participate in a series of consultations aimed at getting input on infrastructure projects.


New York Times: ‘Aviation’s Paris Moment’ as Nations Near Emissions Deal

Looking to build on momentum from the Paris climate agreement’s milestone last week, government officials will gather in Montreal beginning Tuesday for final negotiations on a deal to cap greenhouse gas emissions from international jet flights.


Boston Globe: Sustainable infrastructure after the Automobile Age

The breakthrough American infrastructure of the early 19th century was the Erie Canal, which connected the Midwest farm belt with the Port of New York and the eastern seaboard. In the second half of the 19th century, the railroad offered the next infrastructure revolution by connecting the two oceans and the continent in between.


Wall Street Journal: Fiscal Constraints Await the Next President (full article follows Morning Transportation)

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are likely to recite their varied promises for fresh government spending at Monday’s first presidential debate. One reality they’re unlikely to note: Whoever wins in November will enjoy far less latitude to spend money or cut taxes than any president since World War II.


Reuters: HERE, automakers team up to share data on traffic conditions

German digital map maker HERE will introduce a new set of traffic services this week that allows drivers to see for themselves what live road conditions are like miles ahead using data from competing automakers, an industry first.


Bloomberg: September Air Travel is So Slow One Carrier Shut Down For a Day

Compare August airfares with those that pop up in September and prepare for a pleasant kind of sticker shock—prices drop precipitously.


New York Times: Phone Makers Could Cut Off Drivers. So Why Don’t They?

The court filings paint a grisly picture: As Ashley Kubiak sped down a Texas highway in her Dodge Ram truck, she checked her iPhone for messages. Distracted, she crashed into a sport utility vehicle, killing its driver and a passenger and leaving a child paralyzed.


Reuters: Alaska Air says merger with Virgin America still on track

Alaska Air Group Inc (ALK.N) agreed this week to give the U.S. Justice Department additional time to review its merger with Virgin America Inc (VA.O), but the deal is still on track to close in the early part of the fourth quarter, an Alaska spokeswoman said Friday.


Motley Fool: How Drone Usage Will Revolutionize America's Infrastructure

While commercial drones have been flying since the early 1980s, their importance to commerce is just starting to take off. According to a recent report by business consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the potential commercial applications for drones is astounding.




Washington Post: Should Metro outsource late-night service to Uber and Lyft?

As Metro seeks to permanently cancel late-night subway service, officials are looking at alternatives to help curb the impact on riders — and one of those alternatives might be ride-share apps such as Uber and Lyft.


Miami Herald: Can buses that run like trains alleviate Miami-Dade’s transit woes?

Forget Metrorail expansion. Miami-Dade is instead moving with all deliberate speed to deploy a different kind of rapid-transit system to connect downtown Miami to the county’s far western reaches, starting as soon as next year, and it will consist of … buses.


Herald Whig: Illinois Safe Roads Amendment will end raids on transportation budget

Illinois voters can reform state government in a limited yet very important way when they cast their ballots by approving the Safe Roads Amendment.


Washington Post: The world is watching as California steps up — again — on climate change

Almost no one is talking about it, but California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a hugely consequential bill this month. The law, SB 32, drastically ramps up the state’s landmark climate change law in the world’s sixth-largest economy.


Governing: In Cash-Strapped States, Voters Could Protect Transportation Funds

Should transportation revenues -- things like gas taxes and vehicle registration fees -- be set aside and used only to fund transportation expenses? Most states say yes. And ballot initiatives in November could add two more to the list.


Houston Chronicle: High-speed rail land dispute lands in Houston court

A rose is a rose is a rose, but a railroad might actually have to exist to have total legal rights in Texas.


Milwaukee Business Journal: Bus rapid transit advances to next stage of planning with federal approval

Milwaukee County received federal approval to enter the next stage of planning an east-west bus rapid transit route between Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.


Philly Voice: Philadelphia finally opens first protected bike lanes

The city of Philadelphia took the next step this week in an ongoing effort to make roadways safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.



By Brianna Gurciullo | 09/26/2016 05:40 AM EDT

DEBATE NIGHT: MT and the Pro Transportation team will be closely watching the presidential debate at Hofstra University tonight at 9 p.m. Tentative topics include "America's direction," "achieving prosperity" and "securing America." In case transportation and infrastructure are mentioned, here's a refresher on the candidates' positions:

Hillary Clinton: The former secretary of State has said she would spend $275 billion on infrastructure over five years. Her administration would put $25 billion of that total toward creating a national infrastructure bank, an idea President Barack Obama has unsuccessfully pitched for years. Clinton has said the government would get the money through "business tax reform."

Donald Trump: The Republican nominee, meanwhile, has said he would spend at least $550 billion. "We'll get a fund, we'll make a phenomenal deal with the low interest rates and rebuild our infrastructure," Trump said during an Aug. 2 interview on Fox Business Network. "We'd do infrastructure bonds for the country, from the United States."

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

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

"Grab your ticket and your suitcase. Thunder's rollin' down this track. Well, you don't know where you're goin' now. But you know you won't be back." (h/t The Council of State Governments Midwest's Jon Davis)

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

FOXX: TRANSPORT MINISTERS WELCOMED DRIVERLESS CAR GUIDANCE: Secretary Anthony Foxx said there was "a very enthusiastic reception" to DOT's guidance on driverless cars among G-7 transport ministers this weekend in Japan, The Associated Press reports. "We did a good job of inventorying what each country is doing and laying out areas that we want to explore further," Foxx told the AP, listing ethics and cybersecurity issues. But any resolution could lag behind developments in autonomous technology.

When asked about the NHTSA investigation into the fatal crash of a Tesla vehicle in May, Foxx declined to comment. But he did say, "One of the things I think that autonomous vehicles suffer from is that they get compared to perfection, and not to the 94 percent of car crashes that are attributable to human factors. We have to make the right comparisons."

DROPPING SOME VETO HINTS: It is "not at all clear" President Barack Obama would sign the continuing resolution Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell submitted last week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday. Earnest said the White House is "disappointed" that the measure lacks funding for Flint, Mich., and it's "concerned" about a campaign finance disclosure rider, POLITICO's Nolan D. McCaskill reported.

"You know, one of the reasons I was a little late in joining you all today is I had an opportunity to talk with the president in the Oval Office about this proposal, and after that conversation it's not at all clear to me that he is prepared to sign this bill because he believes that Congress has got some work to do," Earnest said. "And hopefully they'll get to work on that and get it done without putting the American people and the American economy through another cliffhanger related to a government shutdown."

ICYMI: Democrats are threatening to vote against the House's WRDA bill, which lacks funding for Flint, Pro Energy's Annie Snider reported. And Rep. Peter DeFazio, the House Transportation Committee's ranking member, claims "Republican leadership has sabotaged" the bill by removing a Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund provision.

HOUSE WRDA BILL WOULD COST $3.1 BILLION: The lower chamber's WRDA bill would cost the federal government $3.1 billion over the next decade, according to CBO. The bill that the Senate passed would reduce the deficit by $6 million in 10 years, partly because it would use the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program as an offset for spending on infrastructure, Annie reported.


Tuesday - The Chemical Transportation Advisory Committee begins three days of meetings. The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee holds a hearing on threats since Sept. 11, 2001. The Cato Institute hosts a conference on the risks and rewards of drones.

Wednesday - Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz deliver keynote remarks at a Center for American Progress and NextGen Climate America conference on infrastructure issues.

Thursday - The Equip 2020 Plenary and Working Groups meet.

Friday - FHWA Administrator Gregory Nadeau delivers keynote remarks at K&L Gates and the Consumer Technology Association's discussion on vehicle technology. The Advisory Board of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation meets.

ON TAP IN THE HOUSE: On Monday, the House is scheduled to consider under suspension a bill (H.R. 5978) clarifying the responsibilities of the Coast Guard's chief acquisition officer. The House Transportation Committee endorsed the legislation about two weeks ago. On Tuesday, the lower chamber is set to consider under suspension a bill (H.R. 5065) requiring DHS to inform air carriers and TSA personnel of guidelines for allowing parents to carry breast milk, formula or juice. The House Homeland Security Committee approved the bill earlier this month.

THE TAKATA SAGA: NHTSA released a collection of internal reports on Takata airbag inflators Friday that show the company didn't tell the agency about an inflator rupture in Switzerland in 2003, Reuters reported. In addition, the U.S. arm of Takata was mostly in charge of designing, testing and producing the faulty inflators, rather than the parent company, according to the reports.

Bloomberg also took a look at the Takata reports, finding that among the 245,000 inflators removed from cars during the recall, 660 ruptured when they were tested.

MT MAILBAG: Twenty-one groups representing the general aviation industry want the NTSB to "publicly convey that general aviation is one of the safest modes of transportation" after the NBC Nightly News aired a report on a deadly crash in Georgia earlier this month. In a letter sent Friday to Chairman Christopher Hart, the groups claim the 90-second report used NTSB data that "portrayed general aviation safety in a biased and inaccurate light." NBC reported that the Sept. 7 collision was "just the latest in a string of fatal crashes involving private planes," citing recent accidents near the Everglades, in Alaska and in Virginia. It said 250 general aviation planes crash every year and 417 people die in such accidents each year, according to NTSB.

Asking NTSB to provide context: The groups point out in their letter that between 2008 and 2014, there were about 3,600 deaths in GA accidents. Meanwhile, there were over 277,000 deaths in automobile accidents. "Given the hundreds of thousands of flight hours each year it is understandable that aviation accidents receive significant media attention because they are so infrequent given the enormous amount of private and business flying in the United States," the groups wrote. "We believe the NTSB has an inherent responsibility to help provide media outlets with a comprehensive view of safety trends and outline the improvements in general aviation safety over the years." Last week, NTSB sent out a release saying GA accidents decreased in 2015.

Recent accidents: Three people died Sunday in a crash of two small planes near Buffalo, N.Y., The Associated Press reported. Two other people died Sunday in New Jersey after a small plane stalled as it tried to land and crashed.

BLUMENTHAL PRAISES TSA BILL: Senate Commerce member Richard Blumenthal applauded a bill introduced by his colleagues last week that would focus more of TSA's attention on surface transportation security. "Five unexploded pipe bombs near a New Jersey train station were a stark reminder that vigilance is essential against violence in ground transportation, not just air," Blumenthal said at Hartford's Union Station on Friday, according to a release of his remarks.

Our Jennifer Scholtes had the scoop on the bill and a breakdown of its provisions. Chairman John Thune introduced the measure along with ranking member Bill Nelson and Sens. Deb Fischer and Cory Booker. The introduction came after the DHS inspector general released a report finding TSA lacked a strategy for assessing how to distribute resources across transportation modes based on risk.

SHIFTING GEARS: Andrew Brady has joined APTA as senior director of government affairs. Brady previously served as deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). Before that, he was a professional staffer on the House Transportation Highways and Transit Subcommittee.


- Carbon cap for aviation sought at Montreal meeting. The Wall Street Journal.

- HERE, automakers team up to share data on traffic conditions. Reuters.

- To improve safety, Uber turns to an unconventional measure: selfies. The Washington Post.

- September air travel is so slow, one carrier shut down for a day. Bloomberg.

- Alaska Air says merger with Virgin America still on track. Reuters.

- Should Metro outsource late-night service to Uber and Lyft? The Washington Post.

- UPS uses drone to deliver package to Boston-area island. The Wall Street Journal.

POLITICO New Jersey's coverage of the Bridgegate trial:

- Wildstein details Port Authority favors designed to benefit Christie. Ryan Hutchins.

- At Bridgegate trial, Trump aide describes how Christie's office tracked endorsements. Ryan Hutchins.

- Bridgegate trial brings Christie impeachment talk into the open. Matt Friedman.

- Christie and Cuomo now bound by scandals. Terry Golway.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 5 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 368 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 42 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,468 days.


7:30 a.m. - Registration begins for the ACI-NA/World Annual Conference/World Annual General Assembly in Montreal. The event will continue until Wednesday.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Everything you need to know about Trump and Clinton's first 2016 presidential debate Back

By Daniel Strauss | 09/20/2016 02:30 PM EDT

When is the first general election presidential debate?

The first general election presidential debate of 2016 will be held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Sept. 26.

What time is the debate and how long is it?

The debate will start at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time and run for 90 minutes without commercial breaks.

How can I watch the debate?

It will be broadcast on all of the major television networks, as well as the websites for major cable news channels and C-SPAN.

Who will participate in the debate?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump. No other candidates qualified.

Who will moderate the debate?

Lester Holt, who anchors "NBC Nightly News," will be the moderator. It's his second time serving in that role in the 2016 presidential cycle. Holt was also a moderator for the Democratic primary debate on January 17. On February 15, 2015 Holt became the substitute anchor of NBC Nightly News after Brian Williams was suspended. Four months later he became the permanent anchor.

What is the format of the debate?

The debate will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each. Each segment will start with a question from Holt, after which each candidates will have two minutes for an initial response and then will be allowed to respond to each other. On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the tentative topics for the debate: "America's direction," "achieving prosperity," and "securing America." The topics are subject to change based on news developments, according to the commission.

Why aren't Jill Stein or Gary Johnson participating in the debate?

Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein were not invited by the presidential debate commission. The commission said it would only invite candidates that averaged 15 percent in five national polls it selected. Neither Johnson nor Stein made that threshold.

What's at stake for Hillary Clinton?

The debate is Clinton's chance to turn the page on a few weeks during which Trump has eaten much of the polling lead she built following her convention. Clinton's camp has also been counting on her policy knowledge and debate experience to help her expose Trump's weaknesses, but the Democratic candidate also comes in facing higher expectations than Trump.

What's at stake for Donald Trump?

Trump has been accused lacking policy gravitas and self-restraint, and both of those perceived weaknesses could be exposed in a debate, where candidates will be grilled on their familiarity with issues foreign and domestic and be expected to keep composed under rhetorical assault from their opponents. Trump has the advantage, however, of low expectations: At several turns in the presidential campaign, even modest pivots away from his bombastic primary style were hailed as pivots to professionalism, and a similar self-restraint - provided he still hits the high notes his supporters are expected - could help him clear the low bar again.

What is the most watched debate in presidential history?

In 1980 the debate between President Jimmy Carter and Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan garnered a viewership of 80.6 million people, the largest television audience for a debate since Nielsen Ratings began collecting viewership data in 1976. In 2012, the first general election presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attracted about 70 million viewers.

What's the most-watched television moment of all time?

Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 on NBC is currently the most watched television program in U.S. history, attracting 114 million viewers, according to NBC News. The New England Patriots played against the Seattle Seahawks, winning the game 28-24.

Still, that pales in comparison to the estimated 600 million people worldwide who watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin make the first moon landing on July 20, 1969, or the estimated 750 million people worldwide that watched Prince Charles of Wales marry Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981.


White House raises possibility of budget bill veto Back

By Nolan D. McCaskill | 09/23/2016 02:49 PM EDT

The White House would prefer to avoid a government shutdown, but "it's not at all clear" that President Barack Obama would sign the continuing resolution put forward Thursday by Republicans to fund the government through Dec. 9, an administration spokesman cautioned Friday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday raised the possibility of Obama vetoing the legislation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed Thursday, warning Republicans that the measure's lack of money for addressing Flint, Mich.'s lead crisis - and its failure to include a change to campaign finance disclosure law that Democrats want - raises serious concerns for the president.

"You know, one of the reasons I was a little late in joining you all today is I had an opportunity to talk with the president in the Oval Office about this proposal, and after that conversation it's not at all clear to me that he is prepared to sign this bill because he believes that Congress has got some work to do," Earnest told reporters Friday at the daily press briefing. "And hopefully they'll get to work on that and get it done without putting the American people and the American economy through another cliffhanger related to a government shutdown."

Speaking from the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell praised what he called a "clean continuing resolution" as "many, many hours of bipartisan work across the aisle."

Congress has until next Friday to pass legislation to head off a government shutdown.

"It's a fair proposal that funds all current government operations through Dec. 9, while also providing funding for the new legislation we've just passed overwhelmingly and that the president has signed - that's legislation to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic and the TSCA bill," McConnell said.

According to the White House, though, it falls short of expectations. Earnest said McConnell's proposal does include "some attractive elements," such as the fact that it would keep the government funded for a few additional weeks and help fund a response to the Zika crisis.

"We were, however, disappointed that for - that Congress has not made a commitment to addressing the situation in Flint," Earnest said, adding that while many Democrats are advocating for such, not enough Republicans are following suit. "And the president is concerned that that situation has not been addressed in the context of these ongoing negations. So he's concerned about that."

"The president's also concerned about the fact that the proposal includes a rider that would essentially protect the ability of special interests to funnel money into political campaigns without having to disclose it," Earnest continued. "That's - first of all, I don't really know what a proposal like that's doing in a budget bill, setting aside the fact that transparency in government and transparency in politics is something that is worthy of bipartisan support."


Democrats dig in on Flint aid, WRDA at risk Back

By Annie Snider | 09/23/2016 06:49 PM EDT

Congressional Democrats are drawing a line in the sand, demanding that aid to Flint, Mich., be included in the short-term government funding legislation - an issue that could help boost outreach to African-American voters ahead of the presidential election, but could derail efforts to pass a broadly bipartisan water infrastructure measure.

President Barack Obama also signaled he may not go along with the funding deal unveiled by Republicans Thursday, which includes $500 million to help Louisiana recover from historic floods, but contains no funding for Flint, whose nearly 100,000 residents are still without safe drinking water after a more than 2-year-long lead contamination crisis.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday that "it's not at all clear" that Obama will sign the Republican Continuing Resolution proposal, saying he was "disappointed that Congress has not made a commitment to addressing the situation in Flint."

A week ago, it looked like lawmakers might be able to avoid this bitter battle, when a $220 million aid package for Flint and other communities grappling with aging and undersized infrastructure passed the Senate by a vote of 95-3 as part of the upper chamber's Water Resources Development Act.

The House's WRDA companion was teed up for a suspension vote this week, and although it did not include the Flint aid, Senate Environment and Public WorksCommittee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) vowed that the final measure would include a package for the hard-hit city.

But plans for swift consideration of the measure were derailed when House leaders dropped a controversial provision from the package aimed at ensuring that revenues from a tax on goods passing through U.S. ports be used for their intended purpose: dredging and maintaining the country's harbors.

"Hands down, bar none, it was Pete DeFazio and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund issue - this bill was 100 percent a suspension candidate but for one issue, and that issue was the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund provision, which has like a $22 billion score associated with it and a budget point of order against it," said a lobbyist closely following the WRDA bill.

For years, much of the proceeds from the Harbor Maintenance Tax have been used to offset other federal spending - a move that has deeply frustrated ports interests and their allies in Congress who included the provision in the House's bill when it passed committee to return the proceeds to their intended use. But congressional appropriators and members of the budget committee have been opposed to altering the scheme, since doing so would send a ripple across the federal budget.

Republican leaders instead opted to drop the provision from the bill rather than fight that battle, but DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, objected.

"I'm incredibly disappointed that the Republican leadership has sabotaged a good, bipartisan bill that would have maintained and strengthened our ports, harbors and waterways, and our nation's economic competitiveness," he said in a statement Thursday, vowing to oppose the measure on the floor if the bill is not altered - a sentiment reiterated in a "Dear Colleague" letter sent this afternoon.

It's a move that baffles waterways interests, who generally backed the House's Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund language, but knew the hurdles it faced and are more interested in returning to a two-year cycle for WRDA bills.

Now, Democrats are signaling that they could oppose the House's WRDA bill en masse when it comes to the floor next week over both the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund issue and the lack of movement on Flint aid.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, appealed to waterways interests this afternoon to lean on Senate Majority Mitch McConnell to reverse positions and include Flint aid in the CR as a way to "unburden" the WRDA bill, according to sources who were on the call.

But it's not clear whether adding the Senate's Flint deal to the funding bill could break the political impasse at this point. There are in fact two Flint packages in the mix - the other being a $765 million comprehensive package from Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) that would cover not just water pumps and pipes and a health registry, as the Senate's deal would do, but also wrap-around services for families and economic development funds.

Republicans have balked at the measure, both for its price tag and the precedent it would set for involving the federal government in local infrastructure challenges. But with the $500 million in aid to Louisiana coming in a much more flexible form in Republicans' spending proposal, Democrats could be emboldened to fight for a broader Flint deal.

For now Democrats are showing a united front in opposing Republicans' CR over the lack of Flint aid. So far only Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has come out in support of the measure, expressing concern for the people of Flint in a statement, but noting that Zika funding is a priority for his state.

Meanwhile, the path forward for the WRDA bill is looking ever more complicated.

In addition to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund issues, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has also floated the possibility of trying to move California drought language onto the lower chamber's measure, according to sources tracking the bill.

California House Republicans have been trying every avenue to move that language, specifically provisions to alter environmental protections in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta to allow for more pumping. The House added the drought measure to its energy and water spending measure earlier this year, and to its negotiating package for a bipartisan energy bill.

But the language is fiercely controversial with Northern California Democrats, fishing interests and environmentalists. Three years' worth of negotiations between California House Republicans and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein have thus far come up short.

Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.


CBO puts House WRDA cost at $3.1 billion Back

By Annie Snider | 09/23/2016 03:17 PM EDT

The House's version of the Water Resources Development Act would cost the federal government $3.1 billion over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The House measure does not include an aid package for Flint, Mich., and other cities struggling with aging or undersized municipal infrastructure as the Senate's bill does. CBO determined that the upper chamber's much heftier measure would reduce the federal deficit by $6 million, in part due to its use of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program as an offset for the infrastructure spending.

The lower chamber's measure is scheduled to be taken up on the floor next week. But the normally bipartisan bill has been caught up in political turmoil as Rep. Peter DeFazio, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, objected to a provision relating to Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund spending being dropped from the bill in the manager's package.

And Democrats are objecting to the short-term spending measure being pushed by Republicans since it does not include funding for Flint - a battle that could also roil next week's consideration of the House's WRDA bill.


House T&I OKs bills on rail safety, FAA veteran workers Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/14/2016 11:26 AM EDT

The House Transportation Committee approved bills today to promote emergency response training to hazardous material spills on the rails and hiring veterans at the FAA.

One measure (S. 546) would establish a new subcommittee within FEMA's National Advisory Council focused on improving training for local first responders who arrive at the scene of a crude oil or other hazardous material spill involving a railroad. The committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) to add PHMSA's chief safety officer, members of rail labor and others as members of the FEMA panel.

Another (H.R. 5957) would ensure a law passed last year to create a new category of sick leave for wounded veterans working in federal jobs would apply to the FAA, which has a unique personnel management system.

The panel also approved a bill (H.R. 5978) making changes to some Coast Guard authorities. The legislation would direct the commandant and DOT to develop and operate within three years a land-based positioning navigation system as a backstop to GPS. It also would require the commandant to be kept updated on any new developments within the military branch's major acquisition programs.

All of the bills were approved by voice vote during the speedy markup.


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.


Wildstein details Port Authority favors designed to benefit Christie Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 09/23/2016 06:13 PM EDT

NEWARK - Gov. Chris Christie used the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a tool to win the endorsements of Democratic politicians, showering some small-time mayors with special access, funding for emergency services and even jobs for friends or family, according to the admitted mastermind of the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

David Wildstein, who was the second highest ranking New Jersey official at the agency and has already pleaded guilty in the case, broke his silence on Friday, testifying in detail for the first time about his work at the authority, as well as the involvement of the Republican governor's aides and even Christie himself.

Wildstein is the government's star witness in the so-called Bridgegate case. He is testifying in U.S. District Court against his former boss, deputy executive director Bill Baroni, "one of the closest friends I've ever known," and Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie.

The two, both 44, are accused of closing local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Christie's reelection bid.

From the witness stand in U.S. District Court, a thin and often-smirking Wildstein, 55, told jurors that talk of Christie's re-election campaign began by May 2010 - just four months into the governor's first term.

The goal was simple, he said: Show favor to Democrats, labor unions and others who ordinarily wouldn't back a Republican, then convince them to do so.

Wildstein and Baroni were told the Port Authority would be used as part of that strategy. The approach was mentioned to him by Bill Stepien, a top aide to Christie who also ran both of his gubernatorial campaigns. Stepien, who has not been charged, discussed the approach many times with Wildstein.

"It was not just Mr. Stepien," Wildstein said of those who told him the Port would be involved in the political scheme. "There were others."

"What others?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes.

"Governor Christie," Wildstein said. "Ms. Kelly."

In its infancy, the strategy meant "finding ways to say 'yes,'" said Wildstein whose official title was director of interstate capital projects. But it grew from there, with the governor's office staying directly involved in what happened at the Port.

He and Baroni, a former Republican state lawmaker, were told to consult the governor's office on most decisions they made, said Wildstein, who founded an anonymous blog that grew into a popular political news website now owned by the Observer Media Group. He was a childhood classmate of Christie, and went on to become a feared political operator.

The consultation with Trenton, Wildstein told jurors, was especially important when it involved some benefit for local officials. That took the form of small grants for first responders, tours of the World Trade Center or "patronage positions" at the Port. Wildstein described such things as the "Port Authority goody bag," and said the governor's office had to sign off on all of it.

"All use of Port Authority resources had to be approved by the governor's office," Wildstein said. "The governor's office was always the deliverer of good news."

Around the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Wildstein hatched an idea to fly 100 American flags over Ground Zero and make them available to Democrats who were being courted by the governor's aides. He said all 100 flags were sent straight to the governor's office for distribution.

Even when they weren't taking orders, Wildstein said, he and Baroni were always reminding themselves they had one constituent to serve: Christie.

"The only person that mattered was Governor Christie," Wildstein said. "He was the lone constituent. If it was good for Governor Christie, then it was good for us. If it was not good for Governor Christie, it was not good for us."

Earlier in the day, Matt Mowers, an aide who worked for Stepien and Kelly said the governor's office meticulously tracked which local officials had received special treatment and how likely they were to endorse his re-election campaign.

Mowers, now a national field director for Donald Trump, worked in Christie's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, or IGA. He said the office used a Google Document to note when a local mayor or council person had been invited to sporting events, invited to breakfast at the governor's mansion or received steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. He said some of those mayors were "targets" for endorsement.

Christie, who is currently a top adviser to 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 questioned for several hours on Friday. He is set to take the witness stand again Monday morning.

He has a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, who may write a letter recommending a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony. He said he doesn't have any expectations, just a "hope" that he won't have to go to prison. He faces up to 15 years for the crimes he's committed.

Defense attorneys have been trying to paint Wildstein as an untrustworthy narrator, hated by many who knew him. Baroni's attorney, Michael Baldasarre, said on Monday in his opening statement that the prosecution "made a deal with the devil."

Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley, said during his opening that he wondered if there was some sort of "integrity carwash" that made Wildstein believable.

"When I hear my friends here talk about liar, falsehood, engaged in shady deals, you almost wonder, you think about, well, is there something like an integrity carwash where you can walk through this carwash as a liar, as a fraudster, as someone who engages in dirty tricks, go through this integrity carwash and come out and say: Hey, I'm David Wildstein. I'm honest. I'm trustworthy. I'm believable," Critchley said.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, if there's that integrity carwash, tell us about it. Because he is today what he's been all of his life, a manipulator. The evidence will show he has one more big manipulation to go. He has one more set of victims. And unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, I'm looking at them."


At Bridgegate trial, Trump aide describes how Christie's office tracked endorsements Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 09/23/2016 12:46 PM EDT

NEWARK - A Donald Trump aide who worked for Gov. Chris Christie testified in federal court Friday that the Republican governor's office meticulously tracked which local mayors had received special treatment and how likely they were to endorse his re-election campaign.

Matt Mowers, who was an aide in Christie's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, or IGA, told prosecutors that the office used a Google Document to note when a local mayor or council person had been invited to sporting events, invited to breakfast at the governor's mansion or received steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

Mowers, testifying in the George Washington Bridge lane closure trial, said officials were given a score on a scale of 1-10 about how likely they were to endorse Christie's 2013 campaign.

Mowers said in U.S. District Court that the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, where the bridge is located, was among those officials. Mowers had been assigned to the mayor, Mark Sokolich, and other officials in the northern part of the state, as part of his job at a regional director with the office.

Sokolich, he wrote in the document, had a good chance of being persuaded.

"Only thing that could prevent endorsement is possible ambition for higher office (county executive)," Mowers said he wrote about the Democrat from Bergen County.

Mowers said he spoke to Sokolich frequently, meeting with the mayor about once a month and also calling every few weeks. They attended sporting events. They helped get Port Authority funding for local shuttle buses, with the governor writing the bistate agency a letter requesting the buses. Mowers said Sokolich even request a letter of recommendation from the governor to help his son get into Rutgers University.

The two had a good, friendly relationship, Mowers said.

By 2013, they began discussing the possibility that Sokolich would endorse Christie - at the mayor's request, said Mowers, who is currently a national field coordinator working on the Trump campaign.

Sokolich testified earlier in the week that Mowers had been pushing him to endorse and that he'd felt uncomfortable at times. But Mowers said the mayor was so interested that he discussed having the entire town council endorse Christie, and suggested doing so after the Democratic primary so as not to upset the county party bosses.

"Given that he brought it up and the rest of the council was interested in endorsing as well," Mowers said, he thought it "was something he would consider."

But Sokolich ultimately told him he couldn't do it, Mowers said.

Mowers said that at a meeting in March 2013 in Fort Lee, the mayor said he was concerned about his private business as a zoning attorney, and that he could lose contracts with local municipalities for endorsing Christie.

Mowers sent a text message to a higher ranking employee in the IGA saying what happened: "Unfortunately, I think Sokolich is going to be a no. It's a shame, too, I really like the guy."

He added in another message: "He flat out said 'I wish I had the balls to do it'."

Mowers left the governor's office to join the Trump campaign the next month.

He said he heard twice after that from Bridget Anne Kelly, who was his boss at governor's office, asking if he'd heard from Sokolich again. First she called him on his cell phone on the evening of August 12.

"At first, she called and we exchange pleasantries," he said. "Then she asked if Mayor Sokolich is definitely not endorsing."

"Ok, great, that's all I needed to know," she replied, Mowers said.

On Sept. 9, two local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed, causing major traffic jams in Fort Lee. It was that day that Kelly sent Mowers a message asking again about Sokolich and whether they had spoken. He said they had not.

Kelly, who was a deputy chief of staff to the governor, and Bill Baroni, who was the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, are accused of closing access lanes to the bridge to punish Sokolich for refusing to endorse Christie. The Port controls the bridge.

They allegedly worked with David Wildstein, who was the director of interstate capital projects for the bi-state agency. He had already pleaded guilty and plans to testify against both defendants this afternoon.

Christie, who is currently a top adviser to 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.

Baroni and Kelly, both 44, were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations.


Bridgegate trial brings Christie impeachment talk into the open Back

By Matt Friedman | 09/23/2016 12:42 PM EDT

Its prospects are far from clear, but talk about the impeachment of Gov. Chris Christie is no longer relegated to whispers between insiders.

The prosecution's opening argument in the Bridgegate case - which featured the claim that Christie was told of the George Washington Bridge lane closures as they happened by two high ranking Port Authority of New York and New Jersey appointees - brought the talk into the open.

Now Democratic lawmakers who control the Assembly and state Senate are watching the trial carefully to see if any more revelations could warrant the attempted removal of the governor from office.

"All we know are the coming attractions that were given to us by each of the attorneys during their opening statements. They've all told us there will be proof at the trial that he governor knew about this," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who helped break the controversy open as the leader of a committee investigating the Fort Lee bridge access lane closures that tied up traffic for days.

"We don't know exactly what that proof is," Wisniewski said. "For instance, is it merely the photograph of the three of them talking before 9/11? That's something we've already known about and in my opinion it's hard to make a strong case for the photo alone that the governor knew."

A Democratic assemblyman who refused to discuss impeachment publicly confirmed a Friday morning NBC New York report that legislative staffers have begun researching the impeachment process. No governor in the state has been impeached before.

The process would have to start in the Assembly. Earlier this week, the liberal group NJ Working Families called for Christie's impeachment. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who would make the call to begin the proceedings, said through a spokesman he "won't be commenting on the trial until it's completed and all evidence has been presented."

Still, even if the Assembly votes by a simple majority to initiate impeachment, it would then have to be tried in the Senate. Removing Christie from office would require a two-thirds majority there, which Democrats don't have on their own.

That could be complicated by the fact that Senate President Stephen Sweeney, under the state constitution, would not be allowed to participate in the trial - a vestige of New Jersey's pre-lieutenant governor system when the Senate president was next in line for the governorship.

Montclair State political science professor Brigid Harrison, who recently penned an op-ed that upped the intensity of impeachment talk, said that her interpretation of the constitution is that the Senate president would still be able to vote, though it might require some legal interpretation. The constitution states that the Senate trial would be presided over by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court and that "the President of the Senate shall not participate in the trial." If Sweeney could not vote and the remaining 23 Senate Democrats were in lock step in favor of impeachment, at least four Republicans would have to join them to successfully remove Christie from office.

Barring damning new evidence, it's hard to see Senate Republicans going that way. The governor has had tremendous sway over the votes of GOP lawmakers. Only once have enough Senate Republicans joined Democrats to vote to override Christie's veto of a piece of legislation, despite dozens of attempts.

State Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. did not return a call seeking comment.

It's also far from certain that Senate Democrats would vote in lock step to remove Christie from office. South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross, a close ally of Gov. Chris Christie, is the political benefactor for several of them, including Sweeney. Other Democratic senators have been staunch Christie allies, and one, Sandra Cunningham, is a personal friend. And Christie is close with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, whose deputy chief of staff is Democratic state Sen. Teresa Ruiz.

Democrats would also be creating a political obstacle for themselves through impeachment. Christie's popularity is mired at 26 percent, making him one of the least popular governors in the nation. He's so disliked in New Jersey that Democrats are considered near shoo-ins to win the governorship in 2017.

Handing the governor's office to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is already laying the groundwork for a run in 2017, would not only give her the power of incumbency, but a potential easy way to make a fresh start while distancing herself from Christie.

"It's easier to run against Christie's legacy than it would be to run against Guadagno," Harrison said.

Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said Wisniewski, who's considering a run for governor, may benefit from impeachment. But it's far from certain other hopefuls, like Sweeney, would welcome it.

"There's too many gubernatorial wannabees that don't want to deal with an impeachment and, two, an incumbent Kim Guadgano as their opponent," Murray said. "The politics of it - there are too many people who have more to lose from that spectacle for a variety of reasons."


Former lawmen Christie and Cuomo now bound by scandals Back

By Terry Golway | 09/23/2016 05:34 AM EDT

The governor of New York is scheduled to be in the city early next week to wax eloquent on the subject of infrastructure, a topic to which he is so devoted that his aides have encouraged comparisons to Robert Moses. They appear to have forgotten that thanks to the narrative skills of Robert Caro, the master builder is remembered not so much for his great works of public utility as his unscrupulous exercise of raw power.

But perhaps that is not the comparison they seek to make.

In any case, there are probably bookmakers in more advanced nations who are calculating the odds of Andrew Cuomo fulfilling his obligation to the Association for a Better New York on Tuesday afternoon. But betting that the governor will soon come down with an ailment requiring extensive quarantine would be like putting down $2 on Secretariat to show in the '73 Belmont Stakes. A gamble, perhaps, but one hardly worthy of the concept.

If Cuomo is looking for a model of demurral at a moment when close associates have incurred the wrath of the People of the United States, he need only pick up the phone and call his friend, Chris Christie. He should have no trouble finding Christie's contact information, as defense attorneys in a Newark courtroom have said that the two governors conversed at length not long after the scheme to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge came to an end. They chatted about ways they might tamp down the controversy, according to a lawyer for Bridget Anne Kelly, one of the Bridgegate defendants. (Cuomo's office denies such a conversation took place.)

Ever since federal prosecutors asserted on Day 1 of the Bridgegate trial that Christie knew about the lane closures as they were taking place, the voluble governor has discovered the tranquil charms of absolute silence. His heart might yearn for the sort of invective that made him the nation's best-known bully, but the mind tells him to avoid engagement with voters and the press, the better to avoid exposure to questions that might lead to further troubles with the People.

Andrew Cuomo would be well-advised to join Christie in adopting a monastic attitude toward his duties, even though he is heading to Buffalo on Friday morning - a city that is ground zero in the scandal that could engulf his office.

He may find in Manhattan on Tuesday an audience not nearly as interested in his thoughts on the future of New York's bridges and tunnels as it might have been, say, earlier this week. His listeners will now be keen to hear about the nature of his relationships with Joe Percoco, Todd Howe and Alain Kaloyeros. If these are matters he would rather not discuss, he should consider delivering his wisdom via Morse code from an undisclosed location.

Once upon a time not so very long ago, Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo spent a turn at representing the People in their respective jurisdictions, and they wielded the People's power with an assurance and sense of righteousness that make recent events too ironic for further comment. Suffice it to say that friends who were close to them stand accused of the sort of corruption they once delighted in condemning and punishing.

Now, when the charges are reversed, the best they can say is that they feel betrayed, or they would feel betrayed if only they could remember who these people were.

David Wildstein? Chris Christie really didn't know him, although they attended high school together. Christie, after all, was a big man on campus. Wildstein was a peon.

Joe Percoco, a man described as Mario Cuomo's third son? The former governor's first son cut ties with Percoco as soon as he learned he was under investigation. So it goes in a profession that is said to value loyalty above all other virtues.

Because of term limits in New Jersey, Chris Christie already is yesterday's man. He will be out of Trenton in less than a year-and-a-half, perhaps even earlier if his hero, Donald Trump, is elected president and Trump's son-in-law allows the governor his wish to remove himself to Washington. With 69 percent of New Jerseyans voicing disapproval of Christie, it's hard to imagine how even a sensational development in the Bridgegate trial could bring him any lower or further dim his future.

Andrew Cuomo is another matter entirely, for he has not given up on the idea that one day his portrait will hang in classrooms right next to the Stars and Stripes. Luck has not been his friend during this pursuit, but he remains undaunted. What his former friends say about him in courts of law some months from now could very well dispatch Cuomo on a torturous journey that his colleague in Trenton has already travelled. Journey's end is, by all accounts, quite unpleasant.

The complaints filed against Cuomo's associates are in some respects more serious than those brought against Christie's. The bridge scandal was a stupid and dangerous prank, the product of a culture of political thuggery. The scandal involving Cuomo's highly publicized Buffalo Billion economic development plan suggests little gets done in the state over which Cuomo presides without consideration of payoffs, patronage and favors.

Cuomo has spent years and many millions of dollars attempting to persuade a skeptical audience he indeed is serious about reinvigorating the upstate economy, but now it will be asked for whom this reinvigoration was intended.

So the governors on both sides of the Hudson River now face a choice of cloistering themselves while their discarded friends deal with prosecutors (or make deals with prosecutors) or simply going about their business as if nothing is wrong even though they know full well that a great deal is wrong and it is dreadfully wrong. The latter choice is hard to pull off, requiring as it does a talent for what Harry Truman used to call, disdainfully, "play-acting."

This is not how either of them imagined themselves at this stage of their careers. Certainly not back in the day, when they were prosecutors and they spoke of the sanctity of the rule of law and hoped that voters would notice their evident sincerity.


Self-Driving Hype Doesn’t Reflect Reality

Wall Street Journal

September 25, 2016


To judge by recent claims, “fully autonomous” self-driving technology is just around the corner. Uber Technologies Inc. is offering Pittsburgh residents rides in autonomous Ford Fusions. Ford Motor Co., BMW AG, Volvo Car Corp. and Lyft Inc. say they will produce fully autonomous vehicles by 2021 or sooner. Tesla MotorsInc. Chief Executive Elon Musk, rarely topped in hyperbole, says the technology will be here within 24 months.


To many industry insiders, these claims are largely hype. They’re not false, but they abuse the terms “autonomous vehicle” and “self-driving,” which evoke images of hopping into a car, entering a destination and disappearing into sleep, food or our phones.


That is not what we’re going to get by 2021. It won’t happen for a long time, maybe decades.


“These statements are aspirations, they’re not really reality,” says Raj Rajkumar, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, who collaborates with General Motors Co. “The technology just isn’t there.…There’s still a long way to go before we can take the driver away from the driver’s seat.”


Dr. Rajkumar is hardly alone in his skepticism. Mary Cummings, a professor of mechanical, electrical and computer engineering at Duke University, says a fully autonomous car “operates by itself under all conditions, period.” She adds, “We’re a good 15 to 20 years out from that.”


Chris Urmson knows the field as well as anyone, having led the self-driving car project at Google parent Alphabet Inc. for more than seven years before departing in August. Last March, he told the SXSW conference that self-driving technology will arrive for some of us in a few years, and for the rest of us in 30. That is, it could arrive soon for very specific uses; but as a full-bore replacement for humans, it will take a long time.


In other words, it is all about how you define “autonomous” and “self-driving.”


“I always remind people we’ve had driverless vehicles carrying people between terminals at an airport for 40 years,” says Steven Shladover, manager of the Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology program at the University of California, Berkeley. “But they’re operating in a very well protected right of way.”


Ford, for example, has said it would release a self-driving car by 2021. Dig into the statements and press for details, and a Ford spokesman says that car will only be self-driving in the portion of major cities where the company can create and regularly update extremely detailed 3-D street maps. Ford declines to say how big those areas will be.


Lyft is collaborating with GM and says it will introduce fully self-driving cars by 2021. But co-founder John Zimmer says the vehicles will be limited to a specific geographic area and a top speed of 25 miles an hour.


Representatives of Volvo and Israel’s Mobileye NV, which makes self-driving technology and is collaborating with Intel and BMW, will impose similar limits on their coming self-driving vehicles. Volvo’s cars might refuse to go into self-driving mode on roads that are insufficiently mapped, says Erik Coelingh, the technical lead on Volvo’s self-driving car efforts. The cars will pull over to the side of the road, or come to a stop, if inclement weather impedes the vehicle’s perceptual abilities, Mr. Coelingh says.


That is a scary thought—and one reason why early “fully autonomous” cars will require monitoring by humans.


It is worth noting that Google, the company with the most experience with self-driving technology, is among the most cautious. Google has yet to announce a release date for its self-driving vehicles, though it plans to soon begin tests in Fiat Chrysler minivans.


In the near term, “self-driving” cars will resemble Teslas, with their “traffic-aware cruise control” that can maintain a safe following distance, change lanes and stop in an emergency. Then we’re likely to see vehicles that don’t require drivers but can only operate on a fixed, well-mapped route in cities with fair weather, such as from the airport to the Las Vegas Strip.


But the consensus of those I interviewed is that it will be many years before we get cars that can truly go anywhere.


Not everyone agrees, of course. Amnon Shashua, co-founder and chief technology officer of Mobileye, says that the problem of sensing and controlling in self-driving cars is mostly solved. Perfecting these systems won’t require scientific breakthroughs, he says—just many small improvements in the software, gleaned from watching humans drive in the real world.


“The ingredients exist; now it is a matter of engineering,” Mr. Shashua says.


Even the skeptics agree that self-driving technology is coming, will save lives and eventually become part of nearly all vehicles. But don’t expect it by 2021.



UPS Uses Drone to Deliver Package to Boston-Area Island

Wall Street Journal

September 23, 2016


United Parcel Service Inc. said Friday it successfully used a drone to deliver medicine to an island near Boston, jumping into a race with competitors such as Inc. to test drone delivery inside the U.S.


The delivery of an inhaler on Thursday was conducted in partnership with CyPhy Works, a drone maker in which UPS holds a stake. The delivery kicks off a wider test by UPS of using drones for commercial deliveries to remote or difficult-to-access areas.


“UPS has a history of trying to take a look at new technologies as they evolve,” said Chuck Holland, a vice president of industrial engineering. “We’re looking at this in steps,” he added, declining to say whether the company may someday use drones more broadly.


UPS’s delivery marks the first major commercial delivery conducted via drone in the U.S. since the Federal Aviation Administration implemented long-awaited rules in late August authorizing businesses to start using small drones. The company previously has tested drone use for indoor warehouses and international disaster or human-aid relief, which aren’t subject to the same regulations. UPS is on the FAA’s drone advisory committee.


“Now we can conduct commercial operations without having to go through the rigmarole of getting an exemption from the FAA,” said Helen Greiner, co-founder and chief technologist of CyPhy Works, the Boston-area drone startup that operated the drone. UPS invested an undisclosed sum in CyPhy last year via its strategic enterprise fund.


UPS joins a crowded field of companies including Amazon and Google parent Alphabet Inc. eager to deploy drone technology. Amazon unveiled its plans to deliver via drone in late 2013 and has lobbied for faster action from regulators. It made a deal with British authorities in July to begin testing deliveries in the U.K., where drone regulations are seen as less stringent as in the U.S.


Alphabet, meanwhile, said in early September that it plans to use drones to deliver burritos at Virginia Tech in a test of its technology.Deutsche Post AG’s DHL also has tested delivery by drones, including medicine to a German island in the North Sea.


Traditional delivery companies generally have expressed more skepticism about the likelihood of package delivery via drones. “There are two enormous transportation networks that are built around moving light packages and freight, and they are FedEx and UPS,” FedEx Corp. Chief Executive Fred Smith said after Amazon’s 2013 announcement.  


UPS’s brown and white drone, which was emblazoned with its logo, took off from Beverly, Mass., carrying the 2-pound package. It flew 3 miles over water within line of sight to a nearby island, touching down in a patch of grass. The drone flew autonomously, without a human pilot, simulating an urgent medical delivery.


One incentive for UPS to invest in drone technology is that the company has higher labor costs than rival FedEx due to its unionized drivers, package sorters and other workers. Still, any wider scale use of unmanned technology to do those jobs likely would complicate the delivery giant’s relationship with the Teamsters labor union.



Fiscal Constraints Await the Next President

Wall Street Journal

September 25, 2016


Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are likely to recite their varied promises for fresh government spending at Monday’s first presidential debate. One reality they’re unlikely to note: Whoever wins in November will enjoy far less latitude to spend money or cut taxes than any president since World War II.


Not since Harry Truman will a new leader enter office with a higher debt-to-GDP ratio. And for the first time in decades, the new president will face the specter of widening deficits despite a growing economy.


“The next president, no doubt, is going to be very constrained,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican who sits on the House appropriations committee and hasn’t endorsed anyone for president.


A President Trump or Clinton could try to barrel ahead anyway, of course. But Mrs. Clinton, in particular, is likely to be checked by the opposing party’s control of at least one chamber of Congress. And that doesn’t take into account what would happen if the U.S. enters another recession, when falling revenue would send deficits even higher. In that scenario, the Federal Reserve and other central banks would have less room to respond if interest rates remain near today’s ultralow levels.


Due to this erosion in the “policy arsenal” available to monetary policy makers, “the burden for any classic Keynesian response would have to fall more on the fiscal side, which is why the political constraints on action are more scary,” said Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s first Treasury secretary.


Those fiscal constraints, though, are increasingly palpable. Spending on discretionary programs, or those that lawmakers fund directly every year, is being crowded out by spending on what are known as entitlement programs, including Medicare and Social Security. About two-thirds of all spending—including interest payments on the national debt—is in that latter category, compared with about half in the 1980s. Just one-third of spending is actually set by Congress and the White House through annual spending bills.


By 2022, nearly every dollar of revenue the U.S. collects will have been committed before Congress even takes a vote, according to an analysis by Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute.


With more and more federal spending on autopilot, there is “almost no discretion or flexibility to act to address new challenges without having to renege on past promises to the public,” says Mr. Steuerle, a Treasury official in the Reagan administration.


Failing to tackle these issues will make the next president “a lame duck for most of his or her term because they’ll have no room to do anything else,” he said.


Previous Republican presidents have gotten leeway from GOP lawmakers willing to tolerate deficits in favor of tax cuts. Mr. Trump has advocated a tax-cut package that could reduce revenue by 10% over a decade while endorsing big spending boosts for infrastructure, veterans’ health care and national defense. He has also promised to spare Social Security and Medicare, the biggest drivers of spending over the coming decades, from any changes.


Mr. Trump’s advisers say stimulating growth is a bigger imperative than balancing the budget. “Like Ronald Reagan, the deficit maybe isn’t Mr. Trump’s highest priority,” said Lawrence Kudlow, an economist who served as a budget official in the Reagan administration and has been advising Mr. Trump.


On the Democratic side, Mrs. Clinton’s proposals implicitly acknowledge the budget headwinds by including offsetting revenue increases for most new spending. Those offsets avoid running up deficits, but they face extra hurdles to being politically palatable.

She has promised a five-year, $275 billion infrastructure program in her first 100 days, a package roughly equal to a highway-funding reauthorization Congress approved last year. She also has proposed to dramatically cut families’ child-care costs and college costs by increasing spending and offering tax breaks.


The 2000 election turned on how to spend a large budget surplus, and President George W. Bush quickly put in place sweeping tax cuts after taking office. In 2008, Mr. Obama proposed to pay for a range of new programs, beginning with the health-care overhaul, by repealing those tax cuts and ending foreign wars. Both presidents faced recessions in their first year, sending deficits higher still.


The 45th president could have one beneficial tailwind: markets suggest interest rates could remain lower for much longer than most imagined just a few years ago, a consequence of slowing global growth. As a result, the cost to service the national debt has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 50 years as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product even though total debt as a share of GDP has doubled to about 75% since before the 2007-09 recession. Some say the next president should see that as an opportunity.


“We have a window here, courtesy of central banks of the world, to borrow money very cheaply,” said Jim Millstein, a former Treasury official in the Obama administration who is working on an infrastructure-bank proposal. With low rates deterring private firms from investment, he said, “we’re going to have to use public capital.”


Doug Elmendorf, who as head of the Congressional Budget Office from 2009 until 2015 warned frequently of the toll unchecked deficits could take on the economy, now says the next president should tolerate wider short-term deficits to boost public investment in high-quality infrastructure or education programs.


“My thinking has changed because interest rates have fallen so far,” he said. Policy makers should now recognize the declines have created “a sea change” in the conditions they now face, he said.


These stimulus advocates say not all spending should be treated equally. They don’t support more money on increased benefit spending, for example, that adds permanently to federal outlays.


Others say the case for stimulus isn’t compelling anyway. “If short-term stimulus spending programs were the formula to economic growth, we’d all be studying the Japanese economic miracle of the last 20 years that never happened,” said Andy Laperriere, political strategist at Cornerstone Macro who served as adviser to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R., Texas) in the 1990s.