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Infrastructure in the News 9.7.16


New York Times: With Nod to Flint Crisis, Senate Weighs a $9 Billion Water Infrastructure Bill

With senators in a standoff over annual spending bills, the chamber is expected as soon as Wednesday to take up a bipartisan, $9 billion measure that would authorize spending on the nation’s water infrastructure. The bill includes $280 million to address the crisis over contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich., as well as funding to combat the pollution runoff that has fed the vast bloom of algae in the waterways of southeastern Florida.

Marketplace: Where do infrastructure dollars produce the most gain?

There's at least one economic issue both candidates for president support — spending money on infrastructure. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton proposes to spend $275 billion on building and upgrading roads, bridges, electricity and water systems. Republican Donald Trump said he would spend at least twice that.

Property Casualty 360: Transportation transformation has big implications for insurance

The progress of mankind has relied heavily on technology advancement in two key areas: transportation and communications.

Associated Press: British Airways suffers global delays due to computer glitch

British Airways travelers are suffering delays globally due to a computer glitch in the check-in systems, the latest in a string of technical failures to hit major international airlines.

Wall Street Journal: Americans Drive to a New Record in Gasoline Consumption (full article follows Morning Transportation)

Americans fueled up this summer at levels not seen since the recession began almost nine years ago, new data shows.

Wall Street Journal: Gasoline Glut Threatens a Crude-Oil Rally Fueled by Car Travel (full article follows Morning Transportation)

Surging demand from drivers in the richest countries helped power a big rally in crude this year. But many analysts say that surge is ending.

San Francisco Chronicle: Major job losses feared when self-driving cars take to the road

Millions of Americans make a living by driving trucks, delivery vans, taxis and ride-hailing cars. When technology takes the wheel, what will happen to their livelihoods?

Associated Press: Judge gives temporary OK to protect Hanjin Shipping in US

A federal judge has temporarily granted Hanjin Shipping Co.’s request to have bankruptcy protections from its South Korean proceedings recognized in the United States.


The Salt Lake Tribune (CO): Matthew Winkler: Ask Colorado if infrastructure spending works (re-post from Bloomberg View, also in Chicago Tribune)

Here's something all of divided America should be able to agree on: Smart infrastructure investment works. For evidence, look at Colorado, where elected officials of both parties trace an economic boom to a decision 27 years ago to spend more than $2 billion on a new Denver airport.


Lawmakers will review a plan to cut $2.8 million from the state’s transportation budget later this month.

Florida Today: Brevard transportation impact fees to resume Jan. 1

Brevard County's transportation impact fee moratorium will expire at year's end, and Government Center officials hope a "mad rush" of developers trying to beat the deadline does not overwhelm their understaffed building department.

Philly Voice: Audit: Pennsylvania Turnpike could face 'transportation disaster'

An audit claims that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's financial situation could lead to dire consequences if new laws are not enacted.

KEPR TV (WA): Officials hoping to identify better transportation options for the Tri-Cities

County officials expect to see a lot more growth in the Tri-Cities -- up to 450,000 people by the year 2040.

The Village Voice (NY): Is Tri-State Transportation Too Big to Plan?

A new federal rule could unify the New York region’s jumble of official transportation plans into a single vision for the entire metropolitan area. But some planning advocates worry the Obama administration is moving too far, too fast during its final months to fix a problem that has vexed transportation experts for generations.

Fox 19 (OH): Man vs Streetcar: What is most efficient for transportation?

The Cincinnati streetcar has been a controversial topic around the city since planning for the project began. With just days before the streetcar opens, FOX19 NOW decided to set out to see if it was the most efficient form of transportation around the city.

Press Banner (CA): Advocates lining up for and against new transportation tax

Competing groups are lining up on opposite sides of a November ballot measure to fund new highway projects in Santa Cruz County with a sales tax increase.

Associated Press: Metro ridership tumbled 11 percent this spring

Metro’s rail ridership has fallen to levels not seen in more than decade.

Associated Press: 2 street collapses above sewer line to cost about $10M

Officials say two street collapses above a century-old Baltimore sewer line near downtown earlier this year are expected to cost the city at least a combined $10 million in repairs.

Washington Post: Metro plans fall opening of long-delayed transit center in Langley Park

The opening of a long-delayed transit center in Langley Park, the Washington region’s busiest bus-only transfer point, is planned for this fall.

By Brianna Gurciullo and Lauren Gardner | 09/07/2016 05:37 AM EDT

With help from Jennifer Scholtes and Annie Snider

WHAT'S DONE IS DONE? A pair of Connecticut-based groups said Tuesday they've found a document showing that - despite the FRA's claims that no final decision has been made - the agency finalized maps detailing its preferred route for future upgrades to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor in April, and that state agencies signed off on the information as part of their historic preservation obligations starting in July. The FRA told POLITICO it has not finalized anything and a recommendation will be made later this year.

Blumenthal seeks answers: One proposed change would affect residents of Old Lyme, Conn. The state's congressional delegation has loudly protested FRA's initial proposal to build an elevated track through the town as part of a bypass to add capacity to the congested line, and the agency has since vowed not to pursue an aerial structure through the historic district. Comments from FRA officials at a meeting there last week created some confusion about what is and isn't on the table, but an agency spokesman later talked to the Connecticut Mirror and clarified regulators' commitment not to sanction the aerial railway if the bypass is included in their recommendation. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said through a spokeswoman that the document raises "serious concerns about the transparency and sincerity of this process and I have demanded a thorough explanation from FRA."

Other options up in the air: Blumenthal doesn't have a specific alternative he favors among the four under FRA consideration as part of its high-level environmental review of the planning document for the Northeast Corridor's future, a spokeswoman previously told MT. But she pointed to the feds' work with Connecticut and Massachusetts to upgrade and expand service on Amtrak's Hartford Line as an example of some rebuilding he supports.

IT'S WEDNESDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Don't forget to send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to or @brigurciullo.

"I broke free on a Saturday morning/I put the pedal to the floor/Headed north on Mills Avenue and listened to the engine roar."(h/t AAE's Adam Snider, a former MT scribe)

Want to keep up with all of MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist: We so far have the last 20 songs that've been featured in the newsletter.

BEGGING FOR A TSA BUMP: Today the top guys in charge of TSA and all of DHS are headed to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for a press conference. This power-player appearance comes, coincidentally, as the White House makes clear that it wants Congress to throw in more cash for TSA if lawmakers resort to another stopgap spending bill this month (effectively keeping federal funding levels frozen beyond the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, rather than doing a wholesale rejiggering for each agency).

As Pro Budget and Appropriations Brief author Ben Weyl explains, "a continuing resolution to keep the government open is almost certainly in the offing - though if history is any guide, lawmakers won't make it easy."

An exception? In making the case for more TSA cash in its recent "anomalies" requests, the Obama administration notes that the agency had to divert some of its funding so it could grow its workforce to handle long lines at the nation's busiest airports this summer. And without more money, "TSA will not have sufficient funds to maintain these staffing levels under a CR," the White House contends.

Real talk: What the administration is more implicitly saying is that airport screening lines are likely to get long again - or security will be lacking - if Congress doesn't make an exception for TSA this month. So expect TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to both boast this morning about the department's ability to shrink checkpoint queues this year and the need to "remain vigilant" in the face of threats to the nation's aviation system.

ANOTHER ANOMALY: The administration also asked Congress to appropriate money to Amtrak based on the new accounting structure dictated by the FAST Act, which divides funding into separate accounts for the Northeast Corridor and long-distance routes. The request isn't surprising, given the work Amtrak and FRA have put into the new system and the confusion that could ensue by having lawmakers contradict it in a CR.

COURT REJECTS CHALLENGE TO DIGITAL BILLBOARDS GUIDANCE: A federal appeals court shot down a petition from a group called Scenic America to scrap DOT guidance on digital billboards. In 2007, DOT outlined how FHWA field offices should consider state proposals to put up digital billboards alongside interstates. But the court ruled Tuesday that Scenic America lacked standing to claim that the government failed to meet notice-and-comment requirements, our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros. The group had based its case on a highway law against "flashing, intermittent or moving" lights. Over 6,000 billboards across the country now display messages on a digital screen.

GULF COAST WORKING GROUP BRIEFS LAWMAKERS: A working group has sent its update on restoring passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast to the heads of the Senate and House transportation committees. FRA plans to send a final report to Congress by the end of the year. The update: Or if you'd rather skip the nine-page document and still get everything you need to know, our Lauren Gardner's story from last week:

ON THE MEND: WMATA made significant progress in fixing safety defects over the summer, according to the FTA, which has required the local authority to take hundreds of actions to address flaws. In mid-July, WMATA had 600 so-called open remedial actions to complete. At the end of August, the number was 275. WMATA could have worked on other open remedial actions but may be waiting for FTA verification.

GLITCH HITS BRITISH AIRWAYS: British Airways was recovering Tuesday from a glitch that took down self-service check-in kiosks for hours and prompted delays at several U.S. airports, including Chicago O'Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In North America, the problem cropped up late on Monday, The New York Times reported , and was fixed in London by Tuesday morning. Plus, a Black Lives Matter sit-in blocked the runway at London City Airport on Tuesday, causing flights to be canceled or diverted. BA joins Delta and Southwest in scrambling to deal with technological problems this summer. Delta said its outage cost the airline about $100 million in revenue.

** A message from Airlines for America: Every day, U.S. airlines connect 2.2 million people to what matters most. Whether it's a family vacation or an important business trip, the 675,000 U.S. airline employees proudly operate 27,000 flights a day, including the most important one-yours. Airlines for America: We Connect the World. Learn more at **

WRDA UP? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the first procedural step to bring up the Water Resources Development Act last night after a tense afternoon of negotiations with Minority Leader Harry Reid. The bill has broad support from Democrats, especially since it includes an aid package for lead-contaminated Flint, Mich., and other communities grappling with water infrastructure problems. But with lawmakers in town for just a short few weeks between summer recess and October campaigning, Reid signaled he would only allow the measure to advance if a deal could be reached on top priorities, including Zika response and funding to keep the government open past September.

"I'm willing to do what I can to act responsibly by not blocking this bill as the Republicans would do. But we will legislate very carefully," Reid said on the floor Tuesday. That move drew pushback from his own camp, though, including from Sen. Barbara Boxer, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has labored for more than six months on the Flint package.

Warm-up routine, bipartisan style: As McConnell filed a motion to proceed to the WRDA bill last night, EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe joined Boxer, Stabenow and Michigan Democrat Gary Peters in a huddle on the floor, giving Boxer a quick shoulder massage and pulling her and Stabenow into a group hug.

A final deal to take up the WRDA bill does not yet appear to have been struck, and no votes have been scheduled. But Inhofe was feeling optimistic last night when he came off the floor. "We have all the leadership - I talked to Chuck Schumer, everyone's really interested in this. I think we're ready to get this thing passed," he told our friends at Morning Energy, noting that Reid was "much more cooperative than he would have been an hour and a half ago."


- Today is Andrew Dohrmann's last day serving as a staffer on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for ranking member Barbara Boxer, after holding the job for six years. Dohrmann is joining T.Y. Lin International as government relations director in the infrastructure consulting firm's Oakland, Calif., office. In an email to colleagues, Dohrmann said he was proud of the committee's work on MAP-21 and the FAST Act.

- Greg Bowles was promoted to vice president of global innovation and policy at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Joe Sambiase was promoted to director of maintenance and airworthiness. And Kyle Martin was brought on as director of European regulatory affairs.

- Bruce Wise, director of railroad sales at Whitmore Rail, was inaugurated as president of the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association. Nate Bachman, vice president of marketing and sales at Georgetown Rail Equipment, and Greg Spilker, vice president of Encore Rail Systems, were also elected to the REMSA board of directors.

- Maria Stratienko has moved on from her role as Senate Commerce Committee special assistant and legislative correspondent to a new job as scheduler in ranking member Bill Nelson's personal office, our friends at POLITICO Huddle reported.


- All eyes are on Chris Christie as trial in bridge scandal starts. The New York Times.

- Maglev between D.C. and Baltimore? MTA embarks on environmental study. WAMU 88.5.

- Those chirps and chimes in your car have science behind them. The Associated Press.

- Major job losses feared when self-driving cars take to the road. San Francisco Chronicle.

- Volvo Cars, Autoliv team up to develop autonomous driving. The Associated Press.

- Washington Metro fourth-quarter ridership plunges 11 percent. The Washington Post.

- Judge allows Hanjin ships to dock safely in U.S. ports. The Wall Street Journal.

- Bosch concealed Volkswagen use of 'defeat device' software: lawyers. Reuters.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 22 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 387 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 61 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,487 days.


8:30 a.m. - The National Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to DOT, kicks off a two-day meeting. The FHI 360 Conference Center, 8th Floor, 1825 Connecticut Ave. NW.

10 a.m. - Two House Transportation subcommittees hold a joint hearing on maritime navigation programs. 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.

11 a.m. - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger hold a joint press conference on airport security and wait times. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Arlington, Va. Terminal C, Door 6. Departures, Main Level.

11:30 a.m. - The American Public Transportation Association, NTSB and the American Public Health Association hold a conference call on "public transportation use as a traffic safety tool."

1 p.m. - FAA Administrator Michael Huerta delivers the "grand opening" keynote address at InterDrone 2016 in Las Vegas. Sign up to watch the livestream here:

1:30 p.m. - The American Moving and Storage Association has a fly-in on the Hill. About 70 members of AMSA will meet with lawmakers to push for a less restrictive 34-hour restart rule, stopping the Labor Department's overtime rule and suspending the Safety Fitness Determination rule.

1:45 p.m. - FRA holds a hearing on a proposed rule to implement a competitive passenger rail service pilot program. DOT, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Conference Center Room 7.

2 p.m. - The Unified Carrier Registration Plan Board of Directors meets to continue working on the UCR Plan and Agreement. Residence Inn Washington, D.C. Downtown, 1199 Vermont Ave. NW.

2:15 p.m. - Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx holds a conference call with reporters on FASTLANE grants.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

** A message from Airlines for America: By transporting 2.2 million passengers and 49,000 tons of cargo every single day, the U.S. airlines make the world a little smaller-and that means big opportunity. The U.S. airlines employ 675,000 skilled workers. For every 100 of those workers, the industry supports an additional 473 non-airline jobs. In total, the U.S. airlines drive 5 percent of our entire gross domestic product and act as a crucial pillar of the American economy. Air travel is the safest form of inter-city transportation, and it's also a comprehensive network of people, goods, and ideas. So whether you're expanding your business or your horizons by visiting one of our 800 destinations, the U.S. airlines make it possible with 27,000 flights a day. Airlines for America: We Connect the World. Learn more at **

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Court rejects argument against DOT digital billboard memo Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/06/2016 11:23 AM EDT

A federal appeals court today denied an outdoors group's attempt to shut down DOT guidance to field offices on how to consider proposals for digital billboards along highways.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit ruled that petitioner Scenic America, a group that advocates for limits on outdoor billboards, didn't have standing to argue that DOT violated notice-and-comment requirements in guidance distributed to Federal Highway Administration division offices in 2007. That memo outlined how those offices should weigh state proposals to erect digital billboards beside Interstates and other thoroughfares.

The case centered on the 1965 Highway Beautification Act's prohibition against "flashing, intermittent or moving" lights, which Scenic America argued is one of the few effective requirements in the law. More than 6,000 billboards nationwide have shifted to digital displays that show a message or advertisement for a set period of time before changing to another.

The court also ruled that FHWA's interpretation of the law's lighting provision was reasonable, even if digital billboards weren't envisioned when the agency and states first reached agreements on billboard standards in the 1960s and 1970s.

The panel expressed skepticism during oral arguments that throwing out the guidance would do anything to change how states consider proposals to build digital billboards.

Americans Drive to a New Record in Gasoline Consumption

Americans fueled up this summer at levels not seen since the recession began almost nine years ago, new data shows.

But before you raise your Icee in salute to the U.S. economy, consider this: Nine years is a stunningly long road to recovery in gasoline consumption for an economy that replaced all the jobs and output lost during the deep recession several years ago.

Americans purchased about 406 million gallons of gasoline per day, on average, in June, according to data the U.S. Energy Information Administration released last week. That just surpassed a previous record set in July 2007. Given that fuel consumption typically peaks for the year in July or August, when road-trip season is in full swing, Americans likely purchased an all-time record volume of gasoline this summer.

The thirst for fuel shows gasoline is relatively cheap and that Americans are working, vacationing and driving more. But the recovery was long, even by the standards of the current sluggish expansion.

U.S. consumer spending recovered to its peak level in two years. Overall economic output recovered to the level where it stood in late 2007, when the recession began, in three years.  The U.S. replaced all the jobs lost in the wake of the recession by early 2014, more than six years after the recession began.

That itself was a historically slow employment recovery and partially explains why it’s taken this long for Americans to fuel up like it’s summer ’07. There’s no need to commute if you don’t have a job.

The share of adults with jobs has risen since touching a recent low in 2011, but the fraction is still near the rate last consistently recorded in the early 1980s, as women were entering the labor force in larger numbers.

Another factor constraining driving was gasoline prices. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline topped $4 in spring 2008 and approached that national average level in 2011 and 2012. Relatively high prices for gasoline discouraged some drivers from taking extra trips and even incentivized them to move closer to employment and use public transit.

In 2014, use of trains, buses and other forms of public transit reached the highest level since 1958, before slipping slightly in recent years.

But miles driven recovered to prerecession levels in late 2014, so efficiency is also playing a role. And when gasoline reached record-setting prices, buyers favored smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles to pickup trucks and SUVs. Many of those smaller cars are still on the road.

The average fuel economy of vehicles purchased in August was 25.3 miles per gallon, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. That’s up more than 25% from October 2007, the first month for which data is available.

But lower fuel prices the past two years have renewed interest in larger vehicles. Average fuel economy of newly purchased cars and trucks was a half mile per gallon less in August than in the same month in 2014.

Gasoline Glut Threatens a Crude-Oil Rally Fueled by Car Travel

Surging demand from drivers in the richest countries helped power a big rally in crude this year. But many analysts say that surge is ending.

In the U.S., lower gasoline prices led consumers to drive a record three trillion miles in the past 12 months. In June, gas consumption hit an all-time high, 9.7 million barrels a day. And in July, pickup trucks, SUVs and other gas guzzlers reached a record share of auto sales.

Yet as the summer-driving season ends, low fuel prices may not be enough to entice consumers to pump in more gasoline. More broadly, economic growth isn’t strong enough in the U.S. and Europe to produce the necessary increase in jobs or new manufacturing that would spur large, long-term increases in oil demand.

Most of the world’s oil gets processed into fuel. That makes driving trends and gasoline and diesel consumption among the biggest factors for oil prices. A glut of those fuels built up this summer, slowing demand for oil and stalling an oil-market rally that had been the biggest since the financial crisis.

Crude rallied into a bull market and above $50 in recent months but has retreated each time. On Tuesday, U.S. crude settled at $44.83 a barrel, up 39 cents on the day.

Many traders, pointing to stockpiles that are holding or even growing, are betting that a glut hasn’t eased enough to keep supporting this year’s rally.

Data last week showed U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined fuels growing to a record. Supplies of crude, gasoline and diesel are so high that even record demand hasn’t been enough to balance the market. Global gasoline storage has been filled to a near-record level all summer, almost 500 million barrels, according to Citigroup Inc.

The trend has forced investors and analysts to tear up predictions that oil prices would rally in the second half of this year. Morgan Stanley sliced its third-quarter forecast to $45 from $50 a barrel, saying it had overestimated demand that is now decelerating in important markets.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch on Aug. 25 said it expects demand growth in countries from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to shrink by 120,000 barrels a day in 2017. U.S. government forecasters expect that next year’s driving season is unlikely to top this year’s.

Job growth is slowing in the U.S. and Europe. As oil and gasoline prices stabilize or have less room to fall drastically, they may not keep drawing people to drive more or to continue buying SUVs, trucks and larger cars that use more fuel.

“We have likely already experienced the modest uptick in demand we would expect,” said Rob Haworth, senior investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which manages $133 billion in assets.

Many analysts expect European consumers to revert to long-term trends of driving less and using cars that burn less fuel per mile. The International Energy Agency says Europe’s oil-demand growth is likely to be flat for the rest of the year after several quarters of growth near 2%. Demand in developed economies in Asia is on a similar path and may even decline from last year, IEA says.

To really boost demand, businesses and governments would have to make big investments in new factories or roads, but they aren’t, said James Koutoulas, chief executive at Typhon Capital Management LLC. He has been betting oil prices will keep retreating at $50 because demand can’t catch up with supply.

“We’ve got no infrastructure spending, no help from [lawmakers] in any country,” said Mr. Koutoulas, whose firm manages about $80 million in assets, largely commodities. “You have no demand stimulus.”

European countries and Japan have highly fuel-efficient fleets, slowly growing economies and populations that are barely growing or, in Japan’s case, outright shrinking. Even in best-case scenarios, there is little scope for a rapid increase in oil consumption because there is scant growth in the number of people with cars. With little economic growth and increasingly deindustrialized economies, there is little scope for industrial demand to increase either.

U.S. job growth is also slowing. Over the past year, 2.4 million jobs were created, down from a 3.1 million pace in early 2015. Population and job growth tend to drive motor-fuel consumption. Data from the U.S. Labor Department, for example, show the average consumer without a job spends $700 a year on gasoline, compared with $1,370 for those with earnings.

Oil markets will have to go back to relying on emerging markets for demand, said Francisco Blanch, head of commodity research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

China’s economy grew by just under 7% in 2015, according to World Bank estimates. While robust compared with developed economies, that is significantly slower than 2010 when growth was above 10%. Other emerging markets are much smaller and not yet adding fuel-consuming factories or newly middle-class car buyers the way China was.