Transportation News for February 3, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on February 3, 2015

Politico Morning Transportation: Budget filled with transpo goodies but GOP says no way — Foxx talks 30-year plan with Google — Transportation deaths down in 2013 — Uber audits its privacy practices

By Heather Caygle, with help from Kathryn A. Wolfe and Kevin Robillard

LOTS OF TRANSPO GOODIES IN BUDGET: President Barack Obama’s budget was officially released on Monday and there were lots of transpo nuggets tucked inside the $4 trillion proposal. Under the Obama plan, almost all modes would receiving a funding boost in addition to more money for innovative financing, including the oversubscribed TIGER program, a national infrastructure bank and additional federal dollars for policing auto safety defects. DOT has a roundup of budget highlights here:

Capitol Hill reaction: Republicans wasted no time panning Obama’s budget, calling the plan costly, partisan and out of touch with the American people. But below all the back-and-forth rhetoric, there still may be room to compromise on transportation. Both sides have said repatriation could be a good way to funnel money into the Highway Trust Fund, and while Republicans may not be supportive of the mandatory tax rate proposed by Obama, many have endorsed the idea more broadly. And they also agree on something else – neither side wants to propose a gas tax hike. Obama’s chief economic adviser, Jeff Zients, shot down that idea during a budget briefing Monday, telling reporters the president has “no plans” to propose a gas tax increase.

Budget bites: The headline-grabbing aspect of Obama’s proposal is the six-year, $478 billion transportation bill that would be partially funded by a mandatory tax on companies’ profits stashed overseas. But there’s also some other less flashy but important priorities in the administration’s plan:

-Grow America 2.0: Under the administration’s reimagined Grow America Act, highway spending would receive a 25 percent increase in fiscal 2016 over current levels, rising to about $51 billion. Similarly, FTA would receive $18.2 billion in fiscal 2016, a nearly 70 percent increase over the current funding level.

-Auto safety: Obama’s budget would significantly boost funding for the NHTSA department that investigates vehicle defects, providing enough federal dollars to “more than double” the number of people working in that area, according to DOT. The proposal would also create a new Office of Safety Oversight to oversee all transportation modes.

-Crude by rail: The plan would significantly shift funding for a DOT effort aimed at making the transport of crude oil by rail safer. The budget proposes that a multi-modal effort, to be located inside the office of the DOT secretary, be funded with $5 million. Last year’s budget proposed a similar office funded at $40 million. DOT said this year the agency decided instead to shift most of the money into programs at specific modes, including funds for PHMSA and FRA to hire more inspectors and enforcement personnel.

-Flat funding for FAA: Unlike other accounts – but similar to past years – Obama’s budget would maintain mostly flat funding for the FAA. The plan also again includes a call to allow airports to charge higher Passenger Facility Charges as part of the price of a ticket. In addition, the agency is asking for additional employees following last year’s crippling fire at a Chicago air traffic control facility and more money for drone research.

-New Starts projects: Despite Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s hesitation for two of the state’s most prominent transit projects – Metro’s Purple Line and the Red Line in Baltimore – both are recommended to receive $100 million each in federal grants during fiscal 2016.

-The kitchen sink: There are a lot of other transpo nuggets in Obama’s budget proposal, including rehashing the idea of folding rail into the Highway Trust Fund and giving it a new name: the Transportation Trust Fund, resurrecting last year’s proposal to create an “infrastructure permitting improvement center,” and requesting additional dollars to speed up research on driverless cars and vehicle-to-vehicle technology.

Hahn isn’t happy: One thing that isn’t sitting well with Rep. Janice Hahn – the level of funding for port projects in the budget, which goes against the harbor maintenance spending levels outlined in last year’s water resources bill. “We laid out annual spending targets and charted a steady path to 100% utilization of [the harbor maintenance tax] in 2025,” she said in a statement. “Instead of reaching 100% by 2025, the president’s budget would return only 30% of HMT money to our ports in 2025,” she added, calling it a “huge step backwards.”

FIRST LOOK – NAM CHIEF TALKS TRANSPO: National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons is giving his “state of manufacturing” address today, which will touch on several transportation topics. Timmons will talk about the impact of the ongoing dispute between West Coast port operators and dockworkers and the need to further invest in infrastructure. Snippets from his speech:

On the port dispute: “Washington has to act, of course – the administration should increase pressure on the parties to resolve the slowdown. But manufacturers have to act, too – all of them, large and small, all businesses and all citizens.”

And infrastructure investment: “Beyond this challenge, too many of our ports, roadways, railways and runways are getting worse by the year and are in desperate need of repair. …The needs of business – both here at home and as we compete in the global economy – demand that the government invest in improving our aging infrastructure.”

WE TAKE TUESDAY SERIOUSLY ‘ROUND HERE. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Let’s chat! Send scoops, tips, complaints and transpo-related song lyrics or send a tweet: @heatherscope. Please don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“You’ve got a country road, Carolina soul. Baby, you’re just so homegrown…”

FOXX LOOKS FAR, FAR INTO THE FUTURE: The Department of Transportation has released a draft of its much talked about, long-term plan and boy, is it a doozy. The draft proposal, which clocks in at 300 pages, is intended to guide infrastructure policy decisions over the next three decades. A personal passion of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the report, entitled ‘Beyond Traffic,’ aims to help policymakers grapple with a population increase of 70 million and a 45 percent increase in freight traffic by 2045 – all while population shifts to the South and West and people continue migrating away from rural areas. Full report here: and summary here:

Gettin’ Google with it: Foxx teamed up with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt for a virtual fireside chat to officially unveil the plan Monday night. “If we don’t get ahead of these problems, we’re going to be stuck in traffic for a long time,” Foxx said during the convo. He also took questions from Google employees, one of which responded “Oh God. Really?” when Foxx said there have been more than two dozen short-term transportation extensions. Kevin brings it home for Pros:

TRANSPO DEATHS DROP IN 2013: Transportation fatalities overall dropped slightly in 2013 but railroad-related deaths jumped 6 percent, the NTSB said Monday. There were about 35,000 transportation-related deaths in 2013 – a 3 percent decrease compared to the previous year – but a number that the NTSB still finds “very troubling,” said acting Chairman Christopher Hart. All other modes – including highways, aviation, maritime and pipeline transportation – except for rail saw a decrease in 2013 deaths. Nearly 900 people were killed in railroad accidents that year, about 40 percent of which involved light, heavy and commuter rail incidents.

-Related: NTSB issues safety recommendations after investigation into 2013 Metro-North derailment. Read more:

UBER AUDITS PRIVACY PRACTICES: Tony Romm has the scoop: “A law firm hired by Uber to review its privacy practices gave the company good marks but recommended that the ride-hailing app do a better job of communicating its rules with consumers. The assessment by Hogan Lovells, conducted in the weeks after an Uber executive suggested spying on reporters, found that Uber ‘has dedicated significantly more resources to privacy than we have observed of other companies of its age, sector, and size.’ It’s not clear if Uber’s self-assessment will assuage vocal critics like Sen. Al Franken, who has twice written the company seeking information about the data it holds on users.” Read the full report:

Related must reads:

-Google is developing its own Uber competitor. Bloomberg: (h/t Maggie Chan)

-Uber opening robotics lab to build driverless cars. TechCrunch:

KULM MOVES FROM AMTRAK TO FTA: Amtrak Media Relations Director Steve Kulm wrapped up his last day at the company on Monday. Kulm will be heading to the Federal Transit Administration to join the agency’s communications and congressional affairs office. This will be the second stint at DOT for Kulm, who was FRA’s director of public affairs during part of the George W. Bush administration.

-MT would also like to give a hat tip to Beth McGinn, who wrapped up her communications job at ARTBA at the end of last week after more than three years with the advocacy group and will be returning to Capitol Hill.

SUBCOMMITTEE MEMBERSHIPS ANNOUNCED: Both the Senate EPW Committee and Senate Commerce Committee unveiled their GOP subcommittee rosters Monday. EPW’s list here: and Commerce here:


-Chat with Uber driver contributed to Super Bowl superstar Malcolm Butler’s game-winning confidence. ABC:

-At ICAO safety conference, Malaysia says real-time aircraft tracking must become industry focus. Reuters:

-How low can they go? UberX prices are dropping again. WAMU:

-Serious crime on Metro dropped by 27 percent in 2014. Also, bike thefts saw significant decline. WTOP:

-Purple Line supporters sue town of Chevy Chase over lobbying disclosure. Bethesda Now:

-Op-ed: “Don’t railroad our neighborhoods: High-speed rail shouldn’t destroy thriving parts of town.” The Houston Chronicle: (h/t Kathryn Wolfe)

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 117 days and DOT appropriations run out in 239 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 239 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 644 days.

Up next on the MT docket – Wednesday. Come back tomorrow.
Go to POLITICO Morning Transportation Now >>

Tags: , ,