Transportation News for February 5, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on February 5, 2015



TALK OF SHORT-TERM PATCH BEGINS: As much as they don’t want to admit it publicly, lawmakers may be coming to terms with the realization that another cobbled-together patch of pay-fors is the likely (temporary) solution for the highway funding crisis set to come to a head in May. “I think we end up likely patching some pay-fors together to get a bill and that’s not going to be easy,” Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, told MT. “I think between now and the expiration of this current bill, we have to find something to buy some time until we can coalesce around a more permanent solution.”

What about repatriation? Using repatriation to shore up the Highway Trust Fund has been floated by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the administration, but many members of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have yet to warm up to the idea. “We don’t think it’s going to work,” said Rep. Dave Reichert, chairman of the Ways and Means revenue subcommittee. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch also opposes using repatriation for highway funding. Even if the tax-writing committees were on board, many concede it’s too heavy a lift to push through Congress before the May deadline.

So what would work? “One-off repatriation won’t work. And even if you do something similar to what we did in our draft last year, where you allow for repatriation to cover highway spending, that’s still not a permanent solution beyond another six-year highway bill,” Boustany said. “We’ve got to come up with something that’s broad based, user-fee based.”

Chairman Shuster’s take: House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster had little to say about the revenue issues when asked by POLITICO on Wednesday, reiterating that his committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over the funding problem. ?’We’re talking to Paul Ryan every day,” Shuster said of the Ways and Means chairman.

THEN THERE’S THAT PESKY GAS TAX: Most lawmakers, especially Republicans, are quick to back far away from any mention of hiking the gas tax as soon as it comes up, preferring instead to use general revenue transfers and budget gimmicks to lurch from extension to extension as they have for the past several years. But that didn’t stop the nation’s leading transportation groups, which gathered at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to rally for a hike in the nation’s fuel tax and support Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s bill. ‘Here we go again,’ ARTBA head Pete Ruane declared at the start of the presser, before railing against an ‘axis of ignorance,’ including ‘misinformed media,’ ‘gutless politicians’ and ‘irresponsible ideologues,’ that used ‘weapons of mass distraction’ to block a needed gas tax hike.

MALONEY INTROS METRO-NORTH BILL: Less than a day after a train-on-SUV crash that claimed six lives, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced a bill that would revive a capital grant program intended to help make railroad grade crossings safer.

Realistic PTC deadlines needed: Maloney said it’s also important that Congress set realistic deadlines for railroads to implement the automatic braking system known as positive train control. Freight and passenger railroads have until the end of this year to implement PTC but virtually no railroad is expected to meet that deadline. “We need to have new deadlines that are real,” Maloney said.

More answers wanted: Sen. Richard Blumenthal told MT he’s talked with the NTSB, FRA and the MTA and there still isn’t a clear picture of what happened other than that the SUV was likely stuck.

New York lawmakers led a moment of silence in the House chamber Wednesday afternoon in memory of the six victims.

NHTSA NOT AT TOP OF PRIORITY LIST FOR LAWMAKERS: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said his committee might eventually work on some NHTSA-related legislation this year, but it’s not leading his agenda. ‘We haven’t looked at it yet, not this year yet,’ he told Kevin. Despite a record year of auto safety recalls and Democratic calls for major reforms to the agency, the Michigan lawmaker said there is little chance of a major overhaul on the horizon. ‘I don’t know if it was ever going to be big and comprehensive,’ he said. The TREAD Act, an early-2000s NHTSA overhaul bill authored by Upton, ‘raised the fines. They’ve been paying for it. GM, Toyota paid huge sums as the law requires,’ Upton added. Democrats and the administration have both said the current cap on fines, $35 million, isn’t enough to make automakers truly fear the agency.

On the Senate side: There’s been a similar response from the GOP-controlled Senate. While Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune reintroduced his whistleblower bill late last month, he hasn’t committed to Congress doing anything more than that in terms of an NHTSA overhaul. He was also noncommittal when asked about the agency’s budget request for more money to hire additional employees for its defects investigation office. “Clearly, we want to work with them but it’s going to be tough in this budgetary environment with all the constraints we’re dealing with to get significant increases in funding for any agency,” he told reporters Wednesday.

FTA TO AUDIT METRO: Federal officials are going to inspect WMATA’s rail and bus systems after last month’s smoke incident that killed one passenger. In a statement, FTA said its audit will “assess the strengths and weaknesses” of WMATA’s safety operations, and showcase areas that need improvement. The audit, which will look at WMATA’s safety culture as well as rail and bus safety inspections, is being conducted under new authority granted to the agency under the 2012 surface transportation law. The FTA said it plans to be “vigilant and thorough” in its Metro safety inspection.

NSTB sets hearing on Metro smoke accident: The NTSB will hold a hearing in June to discuss the agency’s ongoing investigation into Metro’s smoke incident. The hearing, to be held June 23 and 24, will examine the conditions that led to the electrical arc that caused the smoke, emergency response efforts, the state of WMATA’s infrastructure and its “efforts to improve its overall safety and safety culture” since a lethal head-on collision between two trains in 2009.

GM PAID OUT $93 MILLION IN RECALL CLAIMS: General Motors has paid out $93 million in death and injury claims related to its faulty ignition switch recall, with that number likely to grow as other claims are settled.

In other recall news, a group of major automakers is looking to hire former NHTSA chief David Kelly to oversee an investigation into defective Takata airbags.

SECOND CRASH IN A YEAR FOR TRANSASIA: The TransAsia crash that killed more than two dozen people Wednesday is the airlines’ second fatal accident in recent months.


-Drone operator in White House crash could face charges. The New York Times:

-Judge rejects bid by driver in Tracy Morgan crash to delay trial. USA Today:

-Freight train carrying ethanol derails, catches fire in Iowa. The AP:

-California proposes new user fee for highways but just what that fee is remains unclear. The Sacramento Bee:

-Map: Where it’s legal to take your self-driving car out for a spin. Vocativ:

-The easiest cities for tech-related transportation. USA Today:

-CityLab throws its support behind a D.C. gondola. Yes, you read that right:

-In his first State of the State address, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan proposes eliminating automatic gas tax hikes. WUSA:

-Want to wear a D.C. Metro map on your wrist? Well now you can. The gift you never knew you needed. The Washington Post:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 115 days and DOT appropriations run out in 237 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 237 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 642 days.


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