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Infrastructure in the News 9.29.16

NATIONAL NEWS

 

New York Times: Breaking: New Jersey Transit Train Crashes Into Hoboken Station

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/nyregion/new-jersey-transit-train-crash-hoboken.html

Jim Smith, a spokesman for the agency, confirmed that an incident involving a New Jersey Transit train had occurred at the train station in Hoboken. No other details were immediately available.

 

New York Times: Ship Shake: Hanjin Woes May Help Float Tech, Data Start-Ups

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/09/28/business/28reuters-shipping-tech.html?_r=0

The global shipping industry, ravaged by collapsing revenues, defensive mergers and the failure of major player South Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co Ltd, is slowly waking up to the redeeming potential of technology.

 

American City & County: Obama Administration announces $80 million in smart cities funding

http://americancityandcounty.com/smart-cities/obama-administration-announces-80-million-smart-cities-funding

The Obama Administration announced on Sept. 26 that it will invest $80 million in new funding for its Smart Cities Initiative, while doubling the list of participating communities.

 

Fox Business: Robert Wolf: A Call to Action: Fixing America's Infrastructure

http://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/2016/09/29/call-to-action-fixing-americas-infrastructure.html

The foundation of the American economy, its infrastructure, is in crisis. Our nation’s transit system and bridges are frequently cited as needing massive upgrades but the problem also includes the need for safer drinking water.

 

STATE NEWS

 

Associated Press (New York): NY comptroller says MTA financial outlook improving

http://www.recordonline.com/news/20160928/ny-comptroller-says-mta-financial-outlook-improving

New York's comptroller says the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's financial outlook has improved over the past year, citing low energy costs and interest rates and higher fares.

 

USA Today (Wisconsin): Vandersteen: Turnout for transportation

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/09/28/vandersteen-turnout-transportation/91222174/

The Sheboygan City Council recently approved the “Just Fix It” resolution. The resolution is sponsored by the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, the Wisconsin Counties Association and the Transportation Development Association.

 

USA Today (Wisconsin): Cullen: An $865 million shift from education to roads

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/09/28/cullen-million-shift-education-roads/91242092/

Gov. Scott Walker refuses to fund road repairs with the revenue sources dedicated for this purpose by law — the gas tax and license fees. This has resulted in a billion deficit in the roads budget.

 

Washington Post:  SafeTrack Surge #9 is ahead of schedule — but is that a good thing?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/09/29/safetrack-surge-9-is-ahead-of-schedule-but-is-that-a-good-thing/

According to Metro’s latest progress report on SafeTrack Surge #9, work is ahead of schedule: 10 days into the 42-day maintenance project, about a third of the planned work has already been completed and crews have replaced 4,000 rail ties.                      

 

Associated Press: Cautious approval, skepticism for Penn Station overhaul plan

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/cautious-approval-skepticism-for-penn-station-overhaul-plan/2016/09/28/a1ccbb84-85d9-11e6-b57d-dd49277af02f_story.html

Horrible. Dirty. A dump. Commuters going through the city’s Penn Station have choice words for it, none of them good.

 

Washington Post: D.C. Circulator extends hours to help Red Line riders during SafeTrack

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/09/28/d-c-circulator-offers-extended-hours-to-help-red-line-riders-during-safetrack/

The District Department of Transportation is extending hours of service on the DC Circulator to help offset the impact of the next planned Metro SafeTrack surge, which is scheduled to shutter Red Line service between Fort Totten and NoMa stations from Oct. 29 to Nov. 22.

 

Charlottesville Tomorrow (Virginia): MPO signs off on area transportation funding requests

http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/news/article/25108-mpo-signs-off-on-area-transportation-requests/

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization on Wednesday officially endorsed area applications for future transportation projects in the second round of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s new funding process.

 

Concord Monitor (New Hampshire): The high risk of failing to modernize our energy infrastructure

http://www.concordmonitor.com/MyTurn-Modernize-NH-Energy-4998429

If we are to solve the problem of New Hampshire’s rising energy costs, then we need an honest discussion of the inherent rewards in modernizing our energy infrastructure – versus the guaranteed risks of doing nothing.

 

ABC2 (Tennessee): Infrastructure report shows several areas in Tennessee are lacking

http://newschannel9.com/news/local/infrastructure-report-shows-several-areas-in-tennessee-are-lacking

A new infrastructure report shows several areas in Tennessee are seriously lacking.

 

By Brianna Gurciullo | 09/29/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Jennifer Scholtes, Annie Snider, Lauren Gardner, Eric Wolff and Tanya Snyder

HUNTER BREAKS THE ICE ON COAST GUARD'S 'VESSEL GAP': Rep. Duncan Hunter is asking House leadership for money to let the Coast Guard buy or rent another icebreaker, and the likely vehicle for that cash infusion is a December omnibus. The California Republican reminded House leaders last week that it will take up to a decade for the Coast Guard to get a new heavy icebreaker, which leaves the service with a "vessel gap," according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.

Buy to save: As we reported for Pros, Hunter, who chairs the House Transportation subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard, is requesting that lawmakers sign off on a two-vessel block buy for heavy icebreakers. That way, the Coast Guard can start construction on an extra ship while saving "hundreds of millions of dollars," Hunter wrote in his letter to House leadership. He also suggests the Coast Guard lease medium-weight icebreakers, even though officials have claimed that no vessels currently available for lease have proven capable of meeting the service's requirements.

IT'S THURSDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Woke up this morning and thought it was Friday? Here's a video of the Red Sox's David Ortiz going "undercover" as a Lyft driver to cheer you up.

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

"'Cause these good times will never last. Keep a hand on the wheel and a foot on the gas. We thought it would last forever. In case you don't remember. 'Will anything change your mind?' She said, 'A one-way ticket was a pretty good sign.'"

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

SHUTDOWN AVERTED: The Senate and House passed a continuing resolution Wednesday to fund the government through Dec. 9, allowing lawmakers to leave Washington until the lame duck, POLITICO's Rachael Bade, Seung Min Kim and Ben Weyl report. Democrats had pushed to include money for Flint, Mich., in the measure, but Republicans thought it belonged in the Water Resources Development Act. House leaders struck a deal Tuesday to permit a floor vote on a Flint amendment in the lower chamber's version of WRDA.

WR-DONE (FOR NOW): The House passed its WRDA bill, 399-25, on Wednesday with an amendment authorizing $170 million in aid for Flint, Mich. As Pro Energy's Annie Snider reported : "While Wednesday's vote may have paved the path for the short-term funding measure, the final deal for Flint is not yet closed. The House WRDA bill will now have to be conferenced with the Senate's much broader measure, which includes not only its separate Flint package and traditional Army Corps of Engineers projects, but also sweeping changes to the country's water and wastewater programs as well as environmental restoration programs from Lake Tahoe to the Great Lakes." Rep. Peter DeFazio, the House Transportation Committee's ranking member, voted against the bill because a Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund provision was removed.

THIS MEANS WAR-DA: DeFazio was back on the WRDA warpath Wednesday, this time urging members to vote against an amendment by Louisiana Republican Garret Graves to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to take bids from non-federal entities to build water infrastructure projects, our Lauren Gardner reported. DeFazio circulated a "dear colleague" letter earlier in the day before the afternoon vote - which failed 197-233 - arguing that the proposal would undermine federal labor law guaranteeing construction workers on federal projects the prevailing wage of the area where they're building.

AIRCRAFT CAN LEAVE THEIR CAP ON: An international cap-and-trade system for aircraft will be on the docket this morning at a meeting of the executive committee of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal. The meeting will feature a discussion of the official proposal, in which aircraft greenhouse gas emissions would be capped at 2020 levels and airlines would be able to purchase offsets if they exceed their emissions budget. The first six years of the program are voluntary, but already the United States, United Arab Emirates and countries totaling 72 percent of extra emissions have said they intend to participate, according to Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.

From Russia, with emissions: The meeting will also feature discussion of an alternative proposal by Russia, which would mostly constitute some kind of tax on distance traveled by air and "wouldn't do any good for the environment," Petsonk said. Even if approved by the executive committee, the proposal would have to go before the full assembly to go into effect.

ICAO and the holy grail: Today's meeting will be a continuation of Wednesday's discussion of environmental measures, including talks about biofuels, considered a holy grail for aircraft emissions. But producers aren't sure they can make aviation biofuel to scale for the industry, and negotiators are still trying to work out exactly how to measure the actual carbon reductions from biofuel use. The committee agreed to keep working on the issue, likely punting it to next year.

THE TAKATA SAGA: Federal prosecutors expect Takata to propose a way to resolve accusations of unlawful conduct, The Wall Street Journal reported . There isn't a set timeline for a settlement, according to "people familiar with the matter." After finding that the Japanese supplier probably was misleading and hid information about dangerous inflators, prosecutors are considering charging the company with criminal wire fraud. But WSJ's sources say Takata could face other charges, too. Prosecutors could also charge individual Takata employees. If Takata reaches a settlement, it'll likely get slapped with a financial penalty. The Department of Justice declined to comment to POLITICO.

FOXX LAMENTS CHARLOTTE 'UNREST': Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says "it's been a horrible thing to watch" his hometown entrenched in protests after a police officer shot and killed a 43-year-old black man last week. And the former Charlotte mayor drew a connection between violence and transportation issues - as well as employment, education and housing - pointing to DOT's "Every Place Counts" effort as a way to remedy infrastructure that has divided communities.

"A city where I skinned my knees on the streets, and to see the city in a state of unrest in this way ... ," Foxx said Wednesday during the Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute. "Hopefully the community as a whole attacks those issues."

DOUBLE WHAMMY: Later in the day, Foxx dropped by a conference on infrastructure issues hosted by the Center for American Progress and NextGen Climate America where he warned attendees that if they thought port-deepening along the Eastern Seaboard was all the country had to do to prepare for Panamax ships, they'd better think again.

"That volume has to be unloaded quickly for us to realize the benefits, and also loaded up very quickly," Foxx said. "So one of the challenges is that you have trains that are carrying double-stack containers on the surface system, and our bridges are not built, largely, for those double-stack containers." So even if ports can be dredged - and the WRDA bill that just passed the House will help with that - there's still the surface system to worry about. "All of this stuff fits together," Foxx said.

UNION COMPLAINS OF LOW STAFFING AT DCA: A union representing FAA employees is trying to draw intention to "critically low" staffing levels at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists says there are 11 airway transportation systems specialists at the airport but there should be 21. PASS claims that work has gone undone or been delayed while employees experience "fatigue from repeated overtime and scheduled shifts."

Agency audit already on its way: "These conditions are simply unsustainable. This is not the proper way to ensure the safety of our aviation system or the employees who maintain it," Luke Drake, the union's regional vice president, said in a statement Wednesday. PASS also says Reagan National's environmental unit is understaffed. Meanwhile, FAA's inspector general office announced Wednesday that it would soon begin auditing the agency's system for figuring out staffing levels for maintenance technicians after the House called for such a review.

HUTCHINSON LOBBYING FOR A4A: Tim Hutchinson, a former Republican Arkansas senator now at Greenberg Traurig, is lobbying for the American Trucking Associations. As an Arkansas congressman before becoming a senator, Hutchinson was on the House Transportation Committee. He then served on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Hutchinson lost reelection in 2002 to Mark Pryor.

SHIFTING GEARS: William Vanecek, the director of aviation at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, is now chair of Airports Council International-North America's board. Vanecek replaces Maureen Riley, the executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

- MH17 shot down by rebels with missile from Russia, say investigators. The Independent.

- Unruly airline passengers up worldwide, but down in U.S. USA Today.

- Some Hanjin sailors denied shore leave in U.S. ports. The Wall Street Journal.

- VW CEO: Hopeful for deal with U.S. authorities by end of the year. Reuters.

- Gogo plans to speed up in-flight internet service ... in 2018. The Wall Street Journal.

- Spokesman knew about Bridgegate details before Christie said he learned of them, Wildstein says. POLITICO New Jersey.

- Musk urges Tesla to adhere to 'no discount policy' for sales. Bloomberg.

- American Airlines faces next IT hurdle. The Wall Street Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 71 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 365 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 39 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,465 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

8:30 a.m. - Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx delivers keynote remarks at the Smart Cities Week conference. He will talk about "using data to increase transportation efficiency and safety." Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Pl. NW.

8:30 a.m. - The Equip 2020 Plenary and Working Groups meet. Helicopter Association International, 1920 Ballenger Ave., Alexandria, Va.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at transpocalendar@politicopro.com.

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/09/hunter-breaks-the-ice-on-coast-guards-vessel-gap-019381

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Hunter eyes omnibus for icebreaker boost Back

By Jennifer Scholtes and Brianna Gurciullo | 09/28/2016 04:14 PM EDT

Rep. Duncan Hunter wants the Coast Guard to either rent or buy another icebreaker for sailing the most frigid of the world's waters, and is asking House leaders to cough up extra cash in Congress' next major spending bill for the expense.

In a letter obtained by POLITICO, Hunter (R-Calif.) cautioned House leadership this month that the Coast Guard will be spending up to a decade acquiring a new heavy icebreaker, leaving a substantial "vessel gap" in the meantime. The Senate has proposed $1 billion for the new heavy icebreaker, which Hunter says he is "optimistic" Congress will deliver.

But the congressman wants an interim solution, and has asked for money to be included in "any suitable and forthcoming appropriations vehicle" - likely an omnibus spending bill in December - "to allow the Coast Guard to lease if not acquire a vessel outright."

Hunter, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard, is proposing a two-part plan to ensure the United States doesn't lose its ability to patrol the Arctic and Antarctic oceans while waiting on a new ship to replace the 40-year-old Polar Star, which is the Coast Guard's only operational heavy icebreaker.

Hunter wants Congress to approve a two-vessel block buy for heavy icebreakers so the Coast Guard can get the construction of an extra ship underway and save "hundreds of millions of dollars." Additionally, he wants the Coast Guard to add more ships to its fleet of medium-weight icebreakers, which consists of only the Healy - a 20-year-old cutter the Coast Guard shares with the National Science Foundation.

The California Republican proposes the service consider leasing options for medium-weight icebreakers, suggesting several potential options, including the Aiviq - a four-year-old, privately owned icebreaker that Royal Dutch Shell has chartered for Arctic drilling missions.

But Coast Guard officials have been resistant to the idea of leasing, arguing that no vessels available for lease have been proven capable of fulfilling the agency's missions.

In a letter this week to Hunter, the Coast Guard's chief operating officer Charles Michel said though the Aiviq could perform some of their missions, its ability to fulfill all of the service's icebreaking requirements "remains unclear" because the ship "has not undergone thorough testing in ice trials and, in its current configuration, lacks the ability to conduct the full range of Coast Guard missions that our icebreakers carry out."

Michel also notes that while several foreign vessels could meet U.S. Coast Guard standards, the service isn't allowed to lease those ships without explicit authority from Congress or the president. And even then, Michel adds, "safely and legally asserting national sovereignty in remote and disputed waters can only be done with a warship, where both the crew and vessel are afforded the greatest protections under international law."

The correspondence comes after Hunter called out the Coast Guard this month for repeatedly insisting that there are no vessels available for lease that meet the service's requirements, despite a Coast Guard document that lists several ships that have "strengthening sufficient for polar ice."

Back

Congress clears bill to prevent shutdown Back

By Rachael Bade, Seung Min Kim and Ben Weyl | 09/28/2016 02:42 PM EDT

Congress hit the exits Wednesday night, with the House and Senate passing legislation to avoid a government shutdown and lawmakers skipping town until after Election Day.

The weeks-long funding fight was resolved rapidly after a bipartisan deal was hatched by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to ensure that Flint, Michigan's water crisis is addressed in the lame duck session.

The bill flew through Capitol Hill - first being passed by the Senate, 72-26, and hours later by the House, 342-85. The legislation, which had White House backing, would fund the federal government through Dec. 9, provide $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and send $500 million to Louisiana and other states facing natural disasters.

The push to finish everything on Wednesday picked up steam after both chambers quickly - and overwhelmingly - voted to override President Barack Obama's veto of a bill allowing families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. That left the budget measure, called a continuing resolution, or CR, as the last piece of major business.

With that package expected to land on the president's desk in short order, lawmakers will cast their next roll calls in Washington during the lame-duck session in mid-November.

The biggest hurdle to a quick getaway was Democrats' demand that money be added to the CR to help the 100,000 people in Flint who faced lead-contaminated drinking water. But Republicans wouldn't budge, and said Flint should be dealt with in a water infrastructure bill moving through Congress.

Ryan and Pelosi worked out an agreement Tuesday evening to allow a floor vote on an amendment to authorize $170 million for Flint in the water bill. The Senate has already passed a version of its bill that includes $220 million in appropriations for Flint and other cities.

While the move didn't satisfy all Democrats, who wanted the Flint money to be in the CR, most were assured that the beleaguered Michigan city would ultimately receive federal aid during post-election negotiations. The House adopted the Flint amendment and passed the bill easily Wednesday night.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier in the day that Senate Democrats were prepared to accept the bipartisan House deal on Flint.

"I am convinced that there is going to be help for Flint in the lame duck," Reid said. "They've been waiting for help, they deserve help. I am very happy it is going to come."

Meanwhile, Pelosi issued a statement on the Flint amendment Wednesday afternoon saying the vote would "begin to narrow the gap between the House and Senate."

"I appreciate the commitment of the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Harry Reid to ensure that the Senate language will prevail in the House-Senate conference," Pelosi said.

Republican leaders likewise sounded confident they would avert a government shutdown.

"You don't see a lot of talk about a government shutdown right now," Ryan said at the Economic Club of Washington Wednesday morning. "Why? Because we're not going to have one...We're basically having a low-drama moment here because we've taken the sting out of the room."

Flint's congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), praised the agreement as "a step forward to ensuring that Flint families get the resources they need to recover from this crisis."

The rapid-fire developments on Wednesday seem to resolve longstanding skepticism from Senate Democrats about whether the Republican-led House would actually advance Flint aid.

"This should be pretty easy. Why can't they just say they'll do it?" Reid had said earlier in the day, referring to Republicans. "This is not deficit spending. ... It's Michigan money that's going to be used in a different way. The money is already there."

Lawmakers also included money in the CR to help clean up damage done by deadly floods in Louisiana, a key priority for the GOP. Democrats initially balked at adding the money to the CR if it didn't also cover Flint.

Earlier, senior Republicans had noted that procedurally, there would have to be a roll call to strip out the flood aid - a vote that could be politically problematic. And some Democrats feared it would look bad to block a bill that would help people caught up in a natural disaster.

Others suggested the inclusion of Louisiana funds could become an issue. "Yesterday it was the CR was set in stone and we were going to do Flint in WRDA and Louisiana would find a vehicle. Now it looks like, if the rumors are true, Louisiana is back in the front seat," Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said after a House Democratic leadership meeting Wednesday morning. "That's not going to raise the confidence levels for Democrats in the House."

Republicans pressured them to drop their concerns.

"I don't know why people would object to [keeping flood aid], but I have read that for example, Sen. [Debbie] Stabenow [D-Mich.] had expressed some concerns," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Wednesday morning. "Her concerns about Flint are being addressed and I hope she doesn't get in the way of concerns that other people have who've experienced some flooding."

The deal between Pelosi and Ryan came after Reid and other Senate Democrats laid down a hard line on Flint spending over the last several days. In fact, Democrats had already scored several wins in the CR, including Zika funding that also allows Planned Parenthood to receive money combating the mosquito-borne virus.

McConnell, Pelosi and Ryan started working on a deal shortly after McConnell's previous proposal, which did not include Flint funding, failed to muster enough votes to advance Tuesday.

Time was running short, with leaders having just two more days to pass their deal. Government funding runs out Sept. 30. Plus, lawmakers want to return to their districts to campaign for their seats.

Conservatives, meanwhile, were already squawking about the agreement. Heritage Action's Dan Holler blasted the deal saying "House Republicans accept being jammed and essentially sit on the side lines" and Hill Republicans "negotiate behind closed doors with Democrats, essentially giving them what they want."

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

Back

House approves WRDA bill with Flint amendment Back

By Annie Snider | 09/28/2016 06:27 PM EDT

After weeks of debate among Republicans about whether to send federal aid to help Flint, Mich., recover from its long-running drinking water crisis, the House on Wednesday approved a major water infrastructure with support for the lead-tainted city.

By a vote of 399-25, the House passed its Water Resources Development Act, after an amendment to authorize $170 million for Flint was passed added to the package. That amendment was approved by a vote of 284-141, with one member voting present. Four Michigan Republicans, including Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, took to the floor to urge its passage ahead of the vote.

House Republicans agreed to the Flint aid a day after Senate Democrats filibustered a stop-gap spending measure over the lack of help for the city, whose nearly 100,000 residents have been dealing with lead-tainted drinking water for more than two years. Late Tuesday night, Republican and Democratic leaders huddled to hash out a compromise that would set a path for aid to the beleaguered city and shake loose the continuing resolution, which passed the Senate earlier Wednesday and is expected to clear the House later in the evening.

While Wednesday's vote may have paved the path for the short-term funding measure, the final deal for Flint is not yet closed. The House WRDA bill will now have to be conferenced with the Senate's much broader measure, which includes not only its separate Flint package and traditional Army Corps of Engineers projects, but also sweeping changes to the country's water and wastewater programs as well as environmental restoration programs from Lake Tahoe to the Great Lakes.

Senate aides say they hope to bridge the differences in an informal conference while Congress is recessed during October and have a negotiated package ready for swift approval when lawmakers return after the election.

The Flint aid package stands to be the most controversial of the differences between the bills, with key House Republicans still expressing concern about setting a precedent for the federal government footing the bill for local infrastructure problems.

"I've got some concerns with that proposal because you're opening up a whole new area that feds haven't really been that involved in because that's really a state and local issue, and of course it's a man-made issue," said Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee with jurisdiction over water. "It's dangerous going forward."

But experts say the inclusion of the Flint amendment in the House's bill helps to grease the skids for negotiations.

"Figuring out what the details of it are is vastly easier than jockeying for position on whether or not it will be included," said Stephen Martinko, who managed the 2014 WRDA bill for House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

Martinko, now a lobbyist with K&L Gates, argued that any compromise measure - particularly if it includes some of the Senate's broader provisions - will have to be fiscally-conscious to be able to pass muster in the lower chamber.

"The House is more conservative than the Senate, so you have to keep the cost down. If you're going to take on some of these additional provisions, it will be important to ensure it comes back and remains a bill that is targeted, focused, and remains a bill that the house can support," he said.

Also complicating the picture is the fact that the ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio, voted against the measure over the exclusion of a provision relating to harbor maintenance funding. The Oregon Democrat said he also was concerned about parochial amendments added to the bill that could carry broader consequences.

"There's a bunch of wacko stuff that was thrown in last night that's got to come out," DeFazio said ahead of the vote. "We have little tiny local problems where the chairman has allowed them to change national policy. ... These are big deals."

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DeFazio urges members to vote against labor amendment to WRDA Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/28/2016 02:10 PM EDT

The House Transportation Committee's top Democrat is leading the charge today against an amendment to the water resources bill he says would buck prevailing wage laws.

The proposal by Louisiana Republican Garret Graves would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to request and accept bids by non-federal entities to perform water infrastructure projects if they can show "greater cost effectiveness and project delivery efficiency" than the agency.

In a "dear colleague" letter circulated today, Rep. Peter DeFazio urged members to vote against the amendment on the House floor this afternoon, arguing that it would waive minimum wage requirements under the Davis-Bacon Act.

"This amendment claims to find ways to make projects more 'cost effective' and to promote more 'efficient project delivery' - but to accomplish this task, the amendment eliminates the requirement that projects constructed using federal funds ensure that construction workers are paid the prevailing wage for the location where the project is located," DeFazio wrote.

Labor groups like the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and North America's Building Trades Unions also wrote lawmakers today opposing the amendment.

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Spokesman knew about Bridgegate details before Christie said he learned of them, Wildstein says Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 09/28/2016 12:35 PM EDT

NEWARK - Gov. Chris Christie's chief spokesman learned the true nature of the George Washington Bridge lane closures before the Republican governor publicly said he'd become aware of the details and fired his deputy chief of staff, according to the admitted mastermind of the political revenge plot.

David Wildstein, who has already pleaded guilty in the case, told jurors in federal court Wednesday that he met with press secretary Michael Drewniak on Dec. 4, 2013, and confessed his involvement in the closures and said he needed to resign.

"I told him that others in the governor's office had been involved in planning - had approved the planning," Wildstein said during his testimony in U.S. District Court. "And I relayed to him the conversation I had with Governor Christie on September 11."

Wildstein, during his testimony on Tuesday, said that he and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, told Christie during a Sept. 11 memorial event about the ongoing traffic issues in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, had not endorsed Christie's reelection campaign. Christie, Wildstein told jurors, laughed about the situation.

On Wednesday, Wildstein said he told Drewniak, "that this was political retaliation for Mayor Sokolich not endorsing Governor Christie's campaign."

"He was quite upset and said he would speak to Kevin O'Dowd," Wildstein said, referring to the governor's chief of staff at the time.

Wildstein said he got a call from Charlie McKenna, Christie's chief counsel, a day later and the two met on Dec. 6. He did not say what he disclosed to McKenna, other than that the lane closures were his idea. He said he agreed to announce his resignation from the Port Authority by the end of the day.

Throughout the scandal, Drewniak has maintained he knew nothing of the lane closures prior to or as they occurred. After that, he promulgated the idea that the lane closures were part of a seemingly fictitious traffic study.

A report commissioned by Christie's office and led by attorney Randy Mastro shows Drewniak inundated with press calls regarding the lane closures in September 2013 and growing increasingly anxious about the scandal. The report details a meeting Drewniak had at Drumthwacket with the governor's legal team prior to the now-famous marathon press conference Christie held in January 2014.

"At the time, Drewniak was not concerned about what would happen to him because he was not personally involved in, and did not have any prior knowledge of, the lane realignment," the Mastro report stated. "Drewniak clarified that he might have been concerned at the time that the Office would let him go because of the statements in his emails about reporters, but not because he had any involvement with the lane realignment."

Wildstein said he also wasn't especially concerned about his future. Even as he planned to step down, he said he expected he would again have a role helping Christie, who at the time was considered a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

"I had been told by others that I was still on the governor's team - that I was still of value to the governor's team," Wildstein said Wednesday under questioning by prosecutor Lee Cortes.

He said he was given that impression by Drewniak as well as by Bill Stepien, the governor's former campaign manager, and Michael DuHaime, Christie's chief political strategist. They told him, "Governor Christie was happy I had stepped up and taken responsibility," Wildstein said.

Wildstein had already testified that he had told Stepien about the lane closures before they occurred and that he informed DuHaime after Christie's reelection in November 2013.

The governor, however, continued to say publicly that the lane closures had been a traffic jam. He still says he didn't learn what had occurred until the infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email was released to the public in January 2014.

Just a week after Wildstein's alleged Dec. 4 meeting with Drewniak, Christie held a press conference in which he was asked if anyone else in his administration acted "on your behalf" to close the lanes "for political retribution."

"Yeah, I have absolutely no reason to believe that, Angie, and I've made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they've all assured me that they don't," Christie said.

"Your campaign chief?" a reporter followed up.

"I've spoken to Mr. Stepien, who's the person in charge of the campaign, and he has assured me the same thing," Christie said.

But as the governor was talking, two other aides were exchanging text messages that directly contradicted what the governor was saying.

Christina Renna, the top deputy to one of the defendants charged in the lane closure scandal, then texted a staffer on Christie's re-election campaign, Peter Sheridan, according to court filing that was released in August of this year.

"Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved," Renna wrote.

"I'm listening... Gov is doing fine. Holding his own up there," Sheridan responded.

"Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or [Governor Christie's re-election campaign] emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad."

Less than a month later, on January 9, Christie held a press conference that ran for more than two hours and featured the normally combative Christie offering an apology for the scandal, though still denying having had any knowledge of it as it was happening.

Christie said he had learned of the details of the scheme and involvement from members of his staff just the day before, when private emails and texts were released after being subpoenaed by a legislative committee.

"I was blindsided," the governor said at the time.

He fired Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, that day.

Wildstein is testifying against Kelly and Baroni. The two were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations.

They are accused of closing local access lanes to the bridge - the world's busiest - to punish Sokolich for not endorsing Christie in his 2013 re-election bid. The bridge is located in Fort Lee, and the lane closures caused days of gridlock in the Bergen County town and surrounding communities.

Wildstein, who was the Port's director of interstate capital projects, has already pleaded guilty and implicated the two others.

Christie, who is currently a top adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, continues to deny having any knowledge or involvement in the scheme.

"I want to be really clear. I have not and will not say anything different than I've been saying since January 2014," Christie said on Tuesday at an unrelated press conference. "No matter what is said up there. I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments. I had not role in authorizing it. I had no knowledge of it. And there's no evidence ever put forward that I did."

-- Additional reporting contributed by David Giambusso. This story has been written through with additional news from Wednesday's testimony.