Transportation News for March 13, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 13, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/13/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kevin Robillard

SO HOW DO YOU FIX THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND? Great question, huh? ARTBA rolled out its plan Thursday (, which proposed marrying a 15-cent gas tax hike with a federal tax rebate for the middle class. And while most of the prominent transpo groups have thrown their weight behind a gas tax hike, the idea has stalled (and stalled and stalled) on Capitol Hill. “They’re thinking creatively but I don’t think that a fuel tax increase is going anywhere,” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune told MT about ARTBA’s proposal. “I just don’t think there’s an appetite for — in either the House or Senate — a fuel tax increase, particularly if there are other alternatives, and I think there are.”
Murphy says second look coming: Not everyone was so quick to shoot down the idea. Sen. Chris Murphy told Kevin a combination of a gas tax hike and an income tax rebate will get a “second look” from Congress because of a lack of other options. Murphy and Sen. Bob Corker floated such a proposal last year, including a 12-cent gas tax hike phased in over two years and an accompanying middle-class tax cut, but they never introduced an actual bill. “The easily available pay-fors have disappeared over the last few years,” Murphy said. “So I think my proposal with Bob is going to have to get a second look in the House because there aren’t a lot of easy alternative ways to pay for an extension of the transportation fund.”

Quiet back pats: The Connecticut lawmaker acknowledged any gas tax hike would be a tough political sell. “It’s not lost on me that there hasn’t been a rush of Republican senators to sign on,” he said. “But quietly we’ve received a lot of pats on the back. We knew our proposal was going to be a heavy lift, but I just think there probably aren’t going to be a lot of other options on the table.”

COMMERCE LEADERS PRESS TAKATA FOR DOCUMENTS: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune and ranking member Bill Nelson have fired off another letter to embattled airbag producer Takata about the company’s “painfully slow” response to federal investigators and committee inquiries. Notably, Takata has failed to turn over certain documents including a company email chain from 2011 about possible defects and an internal Takata inspection report for its production factory in Monclova, Mexico. “People are driving around with a lethal bomb in their steering wheel, and if it’s defective and it goes off, they are filled with shrapnel. That has killed five people; that’s documented,” Nelson said in a floor speech Thursday.

‘Defectos!’ email: The email chain in question is titled “Defectos y defectos y defectos!!!!” and when translated into English says, “A part that is not welded = one life less, which shows we are not fulfilling the mission,” according to the Thune-Nelson letter ( The original Commerce Committee request for Takata documents related to the defective airbags was sent in late November. Federal safety officials announced in late February they would begin levying daily $14,000 fines against Takata for failure to fully comply with NHTSA’s safety investigation.

Related read: Honda prepares to launch multimillion-dollar ad campaign to urge drivers to get their defective airbags fixed. The Wall Street Journal:

DeFAZIO WANTS GAO TO LOOK INTO CRUDE OIL RESPONSE: House Transportation ranking member Peter DeFazio wants the GAO to investigate whether railroads and emergency responders in certain states are prepared to handle a potential crude-by-rail disaster. “As trains travel from oil production areas such as the Bakken in North Dakota to refineries along the Gulf, East and West coasts, they pass through a number of states, including very rural areas,” he wrote. “I have significant concerns that emergency responders in these states, particularly in the most remote and environmentally sensitive areas, may not be sufficiently prepared to respond to a serious rail accident involving the transportation of crude oil, such as what happened in Lac-Megantic, Quebec; Casselton, N.D.; or Lynchburg, Va.” Read the missive:

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp also sent a crude-by-rail letter Thursday, to OMB asking the agency to hurry up and finalize tank car regulations. “While I understand that this is a complicated rule that we absolutely must get right, it must be finalized as soon as possible to ensure safety for North Dakota’s communities,” she wrote. Read it:

WELCOME TO FRIDAY, FOLKS. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Your MT host is giving her Friday kudos award (and possibly a drink) to a 75-year-old Virginia woman who strangled a rabid racoon with her bare hands after she was attacked while bird watching (

Let’s chat! Send scoops, tips, complaints and transpo trivia my way via or @heatherscope. And don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“They’re tearing up streets again; they’re building a new hotel…” (h/t Adam Snider)

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HART: The Senate easily confirmed Christopher Hart to lead the NTSB on Thursday, setting him up for a two-year term atop the national safety agency. Hart faced no opposition, with the upper chamber voting 97-0 to approve him. Hart has been acting chairman since Deborah Hersman left to lead the National Safety Council. A Harvard Law graduate, aerospace engineer and licensed pilot, Hart has held safety positions at NHTSA and the FAA and served as an NTSB member from 1990 to 1993 and from 2009 to now. The Senate also voted to confirm Bella Dinh-Zarr as a member of the NTSB by voice vote.

Thune’s frustrations: MT caught up with Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune after the vote and he said while he’s glad the two NTSB nominees were easily confirmed, he’s still frustrated that several of DOT’s agencies don’t have permanent leaders. “We’re frustrated by that,” he told MT about the lack of communication from the White House over DOT-related nominations. “We raised it with [Transportation Secretary Anthony] Foxx at the budget hearing and told him we needed to get those nominees up here because they’re important positions to fill, but we’ve not heard back.”

Refresher: “There are five acting administrators out of the nine modal administrations, including one at FMCSA who will no longer be able to serve in that capacity at the end of the month. We have only gotten one nomination for any of those positions, and that’s at the FTA, so we can’t even begin the confirmation process for the rest of these important safety agencies,” Thune said at last week’s Commerce hearing with Foxx.

GHSA VOICES COMPLAINTS ON SAFETY GRANTS: The Governors Highway Safety Association is again voicing complaints about how hard it is to qualify for NHTSA safety incentive grants. According to the group’s data (, no state qualified for the teen graduated license incentive, only one state qualified for the distracted driving incentive and four states qualified for the impaired driving incentive. A number of states also failed to qualify for motorcycle and occupant protection grants. “GHSA continues to be extremely disappointed that more states aren’t qualifying, particularly since many have strong laws in the above areas,” spokeswoman Kara Macek wrote in an email. “We’ve called on Congress to restructure these incentive programs in the next reauthorization.”

An NHTSA spokesman noted that the transportation bill offered by DOT last year proposed revising the eligibility criteria for the teen graduated license and distracted driving grant programs. The DOT bill didn’t go anywhere on Capitol Hill but the department has vowed to roll out an “improved” version of its proposal soon.

MENDEZ AGAIN WARNS OF BIKE, PEDESTRIAN DANGERS: At the DOT-hosted Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets on Thursday, Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez noted one-way biking and walking was different than most other forms of transportation: It’s getting more dangerous. “Generally speaking, this is the, really, the safest time to travel in the history of traveling,” he said, noting roadway fatalities were down by 25 percent in the past decade. “But for people who are riding bicycles and walking, it’s much different. … This is a story in which injuries are going up, not down. And deaths are rising, not falling.” From 2009 to 2013, bike deaths went up 15 percent and pedestrian deaths rose 16 percent.

— Here’s a full list of the mayors who were in attendance, including Birmingham, Ala., Mayor William Bell and Ithaca, N.Y., Mayor Svante Myrick:


-Opinion: Dangerous trains, aging rails. The New York Times:

-Vested interest alert: Boeing worked closely with Ex-Im Bank on new loan rules for aircraft sales. The Wall Street Journal:

-Metro suspends its search for a new general manager. The Washington Post:

-Malaysia transport minister vows to take stern action if reports are true of an air traffic controller sleeping when Flight 370 vanished. The Wall Street Journal:

-Two class-action suits against Uber and Lyft are headed for jury trials. The L.A. Times:

-DJI to become first billion-dollar drone company. Fast Company:

-One of Spain’s “ghost airports” comes to life. CityLab: