Transportation News for February 13, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on February 13, 2015


By Heather Caygle

With help from Kevin Robillard, Brian Faler and Kathryn A. Wolfe

LAWMAKERS TAKE ON METRO SAFETY: House lawmakers are ready to take on Metro today in the first Hill hearing on the mid-January smoke accident that left one woman dead and sent dozens of others to the hospital. The joint hearing, co-hosted by two House Oversight subcommittees, kicks off bright and early at 9 a.m.

What to expect: Reps. Mark Meadows and Gerry Connolly, who lead one of the two panels holding the hearing, met with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday in preparation for today. Connolly, who represents the Northern Virginia suburbs, said he plans to laser in on two issues with his questioning: How did WMATA respond to a 2006 letter from the FTA asking it to examine its ventilation systems? And why isn’t every D.C. Fire-EMS employee trained in how to respond to an emergency situation in Metrorail tunnels?

“Mark and I both wanted to highlight the safety issues and to reinforce for everyone concerned – NTSB, WMATA, the localities, the jurisdictions, the city of Washington – that it has the keen eye of Congress and we’re following this closely and we care deeply about its resolution,” he told Kevin on Thursday afternoon.

The Meadows take: Meadows, for his part, spent some time Thursday riding the Metro system with staffers and said the committee also plans to look at issues beyond safety: “Obviously, safety is the one big thing, but we’re going to be waiting for the NTSB to come back with a report. Outside of that, we’re looking at the critical areas that need to be addressed from a management standpoint, a maintenance standpoint, a funding standpoint.”

-Related: Metro officials delayed decisions Thursday about whether to increase fares and cut service. The Washington Post:

FOXX’S KIND WORDS FOR GOP CONGRESS: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday that “in some ways, yes,” it’s actually beneficial that the House and Senate are now both controlled by Republicans. He continued during a pen and pad: “Honestly, I think there’s a window of time and there are a subset of issues that I think there’s common ground on. And you’re seeing some of those being discussed now that don’t touch on transportation, but I think transportation is one of those issues.”

Show they can govern: More from Foxx: “And I do think there is a need that this new majority has to demonstrate that they can govern and one of the most basic ways in which that can be shown is through a strong and robust transportation bill.”

On paying for surface transportation: “It’s just that for so long, we’ve just assumed that the answer to our problems was just putting more money in the jukebox and we haven’t necessarily looked at the records that we have in there – they’ve changed since 1956,” he said. “One of the concerns I have about our conventional pay-fors is that they’re formulaic.”

And the gas tax specifically: “However you rack and stack the gas tax, the curve is going in the same direction, which is in a downward direction. There’s a structural deficiency in the gas tax,” he said.

What about DOT’s role in the upcoming FAA reauthorization? “We are working through that internally and we intend to be relevant in the discussions about aviation.”

HANDS OFF MY TRANSIT: GOP newbies to the transportation world are agitating about kicking transit out of the Highway Trust Fund, but so far, Republican transportation leaders don’t seem eager for a second round of transit wars. A trio of House R’s questioned transit’s role in the Highway Trust Fund at a midweek hearing, but the House and Senate chairmen in charge of crafting the transportation bill don’t want to play ball. Why? “The lessons of history,” House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster said, referring to the unrest within the GOP caucus a few years ago that forced House Speaker John Boehner to pull a bill from the floor over language that would have removed transit’s share from the HTF. Senate EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe has similarly ruled out removing transit. Kevin brings the full story:

WE’RE ALL IN FOR FRIDAY. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

WYDEN’S MOTTO: JUST SAY NO – Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden doesn’t really like most of the ideas being floated to fix the Highway Trust Fund – he’s a big “no” on repatriation or a gas tax hike. But Wyden watchers won’t be surprised about the one idea he does endorse: bonds. The Oregon lawmaker loves to talk bonds and even credits himself with having a major role in the Build America Bonds program created in President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. “There are really three contenders on the field, and one of them has actually worked, and worked well over the last few years,” he said. “There is, in my view, a clear market in the private sector in investing in infrastructure. Why? Because it is a good investment.” Wyden said a gas tax hike isn’t politically viable, pointing to last year’s bipartisan proposal offered by Sens. Bob Corker and Chris Murphy. “We had a bill and it was not exactly a bipartisan magnet,” he said.

64 MILLION CARS RECALLED LAST YEAR: Automakers recalled nearly 64 million cars in 2014, which is more than twice the previous record set a decade ago, federal safety officials said Thursday. The AP reports: “Automakers issued 803 recalls totaling almost 64 million vehicles. …The total number of recalled vehicles shattered the old record of 30.8 million in 2004. The previous record for number of recalls was 684, in 2008. General Motors led automakers with 84 recalls totaling nearly 27 million vehicles in the U.S., according to company figures. … At least 12 million vehicles in the U.S. from 10 automakers have been recalled for defective air bag inflators made by Japanese parts supplier Takata Corp.” Full story:

Related: NHTSA car defect database had malware links that could infect consumer computers. Bloomberg:

HOUSE T&I HAS KUMBAYA MOMENT ON RAIL: While the next big bills on the House Transportation Committee’s docket might not sail through so smoothly, the panel’s lawmakers were able to come together Thursday to unanimously approve its Amtrak bill. But it wasn’t without a soupçon of drama. Former committee Chairman John Mica offered and then withdrew an amendment that would have allowed privatization on the Northeast Corridor. Without the support of the committee’s leadership, a privatization effort isn’t likely to go very far, but Mica made it clear he isn’t dropping the issue. He said he wants to ‘actively solicit support to take a bipartisan amendment to the floor and to have it heard and debated there and hopefully adopted.’

DOT REVISES OIL TRAIN RULES: The revised DOT rules governing crude-by-oil tank cars give companies more time to implement the changes, according to multiple reports. More from Bloomberg: “The Obama administration revised its proposal to prevent oil trains from catching fire in derailments, giving companies more time to upgrade their fleets but sticking with a requirement that new tank cars have thicker walls and better brakes. The changes, described by three people familiar with the proposal who asked not to be identified because the plan has not been made public, are in proposed regulations the U.S. Transportation Department sent to the White House last week for review prior to being released.”


-The Obamization of Uber. POLITICO Magazine:

-West Coast ports go through with partial shutdown. Reuters:

-Tesla plans to develop a battery that can power your house. Yup. CNET:

-Former Korean Air executive sentenced to one year in prison after “nut rage.” The New York Times:

-Them’s fightin’ words: Lyft executive equates Uber to the “Wal-Mart” of transportation. Entrepreneur:

-A 43-foot yacht blocked traffic in snow-blanketed Boston in what the AP calls “one hull of a traffic jam.”

-Want to know where the largest bikeshare systems in the U.S. are located? Fret not, Greater Greater Washington has the answer:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 107 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 229 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 634 days.

Tags: ,