Transportation News for February 25, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on February 25, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 2/25/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kevin Robillard and Kathryn A. Wolfe

NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S HIGHWAY BILL: The Senate EPW Committee this morning kicks off its second hearing on the transportation bill. We now know a little more about what to expect from the reauthorization, particularly that Chairman Jim Inhofe won’t settle for a short-term patch. “As my boss told me this morning, we will have a highway bill this Congress,” EPW Deputy Staff Director Alex Herrgott said at the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance conference Tuesday. “A short-term bill is unacceptable to us. And one way or another, we know we have to get something done that’s proactive.” (Notably, Herrgott said “this Congress” and not “by the end of May” when setting out the marker for lawmakers to pass a long-term bill.)
So what’s this bill going to look like? Inhofe has been pretty quiet about what to expect from the upcoming reauthorization, except that the bill will likely have additional permitting streamlining provisions and more of “the good stuff.” Herrgott provided a little more insight about the direction the committee’s heading: “We’re aggressively drafting a bill that’s responsible and takes into account long-term funding — not financing — long-term funding constraints,” he said. “We’re at a tipping point where it is no longer just acceptable to pass your grandfather’s highway bill. We’ve got to do something that’s innovative, that’s responsible and isn’t just kicking the can down the road.”

Reality check: While Inhofe and House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster have both said they won’t accept a short-term bill, time is quickly running out for lawmakers to reauthorize and fund surface transportation. The May 31 deadline is right around the corner and several lawmakers have started to say publicly and privately that a short-term patch, at least to get to a longer bill, is the only way out of the upcoming deadline.

MT exclusive: NAM leader to call congestion a ‘hidden tax’: Tom Riordan, the chairman of the small and medium manufacturers group at the National Association of Manufacturers, will tell the EPW Committee today that increased congestion is harming economic growth. “Congestion is really a hidden tax and an increasing drag on American competitiveness,” the CEO of Neenah Enterprises will say, noting traffic jams are raising costs by about 1 percent a year nationwide. Here’s a longer preview of his testimony:

And a Carper sneak peek: Sen. Tom Carper is expected to call on his time as governor of Delaware during his remarks at today’s hearing, particularly his firsthand knowledge of the need for a “vital” partnership between federal and state governments for transportation projects. “I know all too well how we in the federal government have not been great partners in recent years by approving short-term patch after short-term patch. I’m committed to changing that,” Carper is expected to say.

DELANEY TALKS DYNAMIC SCORING: Speaking of coming up with the roughly $100 billion in revenue needed to fund a long-term transportation bill, Rep. John Delaney said it’s time for Democrats to get on board with dynamic scoring. “I’m one of the few Democrats who are in favor of dynamic scoring. The argument among most Democrats is that it’s something that Republicans want to use to lower taxes. And while that’s true, I believe people who want to invest in our country are going to have to embrace this as a methodology,” Delaney said at the MBUFA conference. “I tell people who care about this issue, ‘If you don’t embrace dynamic scoring, you might as well go home.’”

Controversial among economists, dynamic scoring is code for Republicans’ long-favored “tax cuts pay for themselves” talking point. Such estimates are used to justify new laws on the basis that they’ll boost the economy, a process that many Democrats decry as dubious.

Blunt on repatriation bill: MT caught up with Sen. Roy Blunt on Tuesday to find out why he hasn’t offered a Senate companion to Delaney’s repatriation-for-transportation bill introduced in the House in January. “We’re moving in that direction but Sen. [Michael] Bennet and I are still talking about how to do that. And if that discussion has moved enough since Congressman Delaney filed the bill, that we might want to make some changes in the initial Senate bill.” Blunt and Bennet were the Senate sponsors of a companion bill to Delaney’s infrastructure bank legislation last Congress and have signaled they want to sponsor the Senate version of Delaney’s latest transportation legislation.

THUNE: FRA LEADER SHOULD BE ‘HIGH PRIORITY’: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said the White House should make nominating a permanent leader for the Federal Railroad Administration a priority, considering the two high-profile accidents in the past week — a crude oil train derailment in West Virginia and a commuter train collision in California (more on both below). “I think there are very serious issues that require serious attention and full-time commitment. Getting a permanent position, having them send up a nominee for a position like that, should be a high priority,” Thune told MT.

“It’s not for us to say what the administration decides to do but I just think these are serious issues that require serious attention and I hope that they’re giving it that.” The FRA currently has an acting administrator, Sarah Feinberg, but she has little rail experience with a résumé that mostly features high-profile communications jobs.

WE’RE LOVING WEDNESDAY OVER HERE. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Got any good scoops, tips, complaints or transportation trivia? Hit me up at hcaygle@politico.comor send a tweet: @heatherscope. And don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“With the headlights pointed at the dawn, we were sure we’d never see an end to it all…” (h/t Maggie Chan)

ROUNDING UP WEDNESDAY: The EPW hearing on MAP-21 isn’t the only thing happening today. This morning, a House Oversight panel takes a look at global tracking technology for aircraft in light of the upcoming one-year anniversary of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s disappearance. At the same time, the House T&I Coast Guard subcommittee holds a hearing on the administration’s maritime budget request for fiscal 2016. Around lunchtime, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx takes the stage at AASHTO’s legislative briefing. And in the afternoon, the T&I aviation subcommittee will hold a roundtable on the upcoming FAA reauthorization.

HEITKAMP EXPECTS TOUGHER TANK CAR STANDARDS: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp says she expects the final incarnation of the administration’s pending oil-trains rule to include a mandate stronger than the current industry tank car standard, the CPC-1232. “We expect that the tank car standards are going to be more stringent than the 1232s,” she said on a call with reporters to announce the reintroduction of her bill to strengthen hazmat training for first responders. The North Dakota lawmaker said last week’s derailment and fire involving several CPC-1232 cars in West Virginia should serve as a wake-up call to those who think the 1232 standard is adequate. “Those folks arguing that the 1232 may in fact be puncture-proof really can’t make that argument anymore,” she said.

Related: CSX to pay about $360,000 for last year’s derailment in Lynchburg, Va. ThinkProgress:

SECRET SERVICE CONDUCTING DRONE TESTS: The Secret Service plans to conduct a series of drone exercises in the coming weeks, the agency announced Tuesday. The news comes nearly one month after a drone operated by a government employee crashed on the White House lawn in the middle of the night. “Because these exercises will be conducted within the normally flight restricted areas in the Washington D.C. area, they have been carefully planned and will be tightly controlled,” the agency said in its announcement.

WRONG TURN BEFORE CALIFORNIA TRAIN CRASH: The driver of a truck that collided with a California commuter train early Tuesday morning took a wrong turn before the crash, investigators said. More from the L.A. Times: “Twenty-eight people were injured, four of them critically, but no one was killed when the five-car Metrolink commuter train — en route from Ventura County to downtown Los Angeles — struck a truck on the tracks in Oxnard and derailed.”

“Oxnard police said the truck driver, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Ariz., was attempting to turn his 2005 Ford F-450 onto 5th Street when he instead pulled onto the railroad tracks and became stuck. …Police said they found Sanchez-Ramirez about a mile and a half from the crash, and arrested him on suspicion of felony hit-and-run involving multiple injuries.” Read the story:

-Be sure to check out this L.A. Times graphic on the safety features included on new Metrolink cars:

BYE-BYE BLAKEY: Longtime Aerospace Industries Association President Marion Blakey is leaving the group to run Rolls-Royce North America. Austin Wright has more:

85 CITIES SIGN UP FOR PEDESTRIAN SAFETY CHALLENGE: Eighty-five mayors around the country have signed up for DOT’s project aiming to increase pedestrian safety. The cities include metropolises like New York, car-reliant southern cities like Orlando, college towns like Ithaca, N.Y., and tiny towns like West Simsbury, Conn. The mayors will participate in a pedestrian safety summit on March 12 before the “Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” begins. Here’s a full list of cities:


-Southwest grounding 128 planes for overdue inspections. The Wall Street Journal:

-Takata hires a German engineering firm to assist defective airbag investigation. The Detroit News:

-Iowa legislature sends gas tax bill to governor’s desk. The Des Moines Register:

-West Coast port cities bustling after weekend contract agreement. The Wall Street Journal:

-Uber beefs up New York presence as enemies unite. Capital New York:

-Tesla’s Model S named “best car” by Consumer Reports for second year in a row. Time:

-Why the cold weather wreaks havoc on trains. Wired:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 95 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 217 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 622 days.

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