Transportation News for March 19, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 19, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/19/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kevin Robillard, Theodoric Meyer and Jennifer Scholtes

TOUGH DECISIONS AROUND THE CORNER: Funding for highway and transit programs may not run out until the end of May, but lawmakers are going to have to figure out their strategy much sooner than that, likely around mid-April. House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster said Wednesday that it’s almost time for Congress to make that tough decision everyone is waiting for –whether to pursue a multi-year transportation bill or turn attention toward another short-term patch. “I’m focused on getting something done before May 31, but if we have to do it then we’ll have to address that,” he told reporters when asked about a short-term fix. “After Easter recess is probably when we’ve got to make a decision.”
Let’s focus on the long game, for now: Some members of the House Ways and Means Committee have already said a short-term patch is the realistic option, but Shuster said he’s still optimistic about a multi-year bill. “Every day that goes by it gets more and more difficult to meet that deadline, but I had a conversation with Chairman [Paul] Ryan yesterday and he’s working very hard on trying to figure out where the dollars are going to come from so we still have our eye on that,” he said. “I believe if we get the funding solution, I think we can move fairly quickly on a bill.”

CHATTING WITH THE CHAIRMAN: The T&I leader sat down with reporters for a 30-minute pen and pad Wednesday and covered lots of ground in addition to the transportation bill, including whether he wants more done on crude-by-rail regs, what the FAA needs to do on drones and why he thinks creating the TSA was “a big mistake.” Pros can get my five key takeaways from the chat here: and your host did save some tidbits on rail issues for MT (more on that below).

THE DAY AHEAD: House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster sits alongside Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this morning to weigh in on the state of the waning Highway Trust Fund. National Journal will be live-streaming the event, which is optimistically titled “Running on Empty: Tackling America’s Infrastructure Crisis”: Shuster will likely be asked to elaborate on his predicted timeline for a decision on whether to go ahead with a short-term patch or a long-term highway and transit bill, as well as on his disdain for solving the trust fund issue through devolution (

And on the Hill: House appropriators will hear this morning from transportation leaders during two simultaneous hearings. FHWA Deputy Administrator Gregory Nadeau along with leaders from FTA, NHTSA and MARAD will testify before the THUD subcommittee about the Obama administration’s fiscal 2016 DOT budget request. And acting TSA chief Melvin Carraway talks to another House approps panel about his agency’s budget aspirations. Both hearings kick off at 10 a.m.

MT IS THANKFUL FOR THURSDAY. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Your MT scribe has seen a lot of odd things in life (I mean, I did grow up in the South) but can now add one more thing to that list: two koalas in a one-on-one wrestling match, WWE style (complete with grunting). All they need is tiny spandex outfits. Check it out:

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.

“Driving down the interstate, running 30 minutes late…”

SHUSTER: YOU CAN’T OUTLAW STUPIDITY — The T&I chairman said while he’s concerned about the recent spate of high-profile grade crossing accidents, it’s also up to drivers to be safe behind the wheel. “It’s almost always not the railroad’s fault that somebody gets hurt; … it’s the passenger vehicle that’s trying to run or the truck trying to run around a crossing when it should stop,” he said. “If we could outlaw stupidity we’d try to do that, but it’s a hard thing to do.”

Related: Maloney wants deep dive into crossing accidents: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is calling for the FRA to take on a “deep dive” investigation into grade crossing deaths. “In light of the rising number of collisions at grade crossings and several serious passenger train derailments, I believe we must take a comprehensive, fresh look at safety measures, new technologies, and education efforts to prevent future accidents,” Maloney wrote in a letter ( to FRA acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg.

Feinberg indicated the agency is working to address grade crossing deaths during a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters last week. More than 260 people were killed in grade crossing accidents last year, according to Operation Lifesaver, an increase of about 16 percent compared to 2013.

DIRECT TESLA SALES COMING TO N.J.: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill allowing Tesla to sell its electric vehicles directly to consumers, ending a spat between the automaker and the Republican. “I said last year that if the Legislature changed the law, I would sign new legislation put on my desk and that is exactly what I’m doing,” Christie said Wednesday. The law will allow Tesla to operate four dealerships in the state. Dozens of states have laws barring or restricting the direct sales of cars by automakers. Tesla’s business model requires overturning those laws, something auto dealers have fought vigorously. Last March, Tesla founder Elon Musk wrote ( a scathing blog post attacking Christie after the state DMV moved forward with regulations restricting Tesla’s sales.

LaHOOD FOR CONGRESS? IT’S HAPPENING: Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s son Darin has officially thrown his name into the ring to replace scandal-plagued Rep. Aaron Schock, who is stepping down later this month. “It’s extremely exciting,” the younger LaHood, currently a state senator, told WMBD Radio in Peoria. “This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.” The elder LaHood represented Illinois’ 18th District in Congress for 14 years before Schock’s election in 2008. Read more:

BLUNT, MANCHIN UNVEIL RAIL PERMITTING BILL: Sens. Roy Blunt and Joe Manchin are out with new legislation aimed at streamlining the permitting process for rail projects. The TRAIN Act, which would expand on permitting reforms made in the 2012 surface transportation bill to now apply to rail infrastructure, has the backing of Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune. Bill text:


-U.S. charting “new territory” in review of subsidy claims related to Gulf carriers. Reuters:

-Secret Service won’t press charges against man who crashed landed a drone onto the White House lawn. Pro:

-FedEx chairman says he thinks there’s a “good chance” Congress will agree to extend maximum lengths for certain tractor trailers. DC Velocity: (h/t Kathryn A. Wolfe)

-Uber’s low-cost car service banned in Germany, again. The New York Times:

-Let’s talk Purple Line (and some other stuff): Four takeaways from chatting with Maryland’s new transportation secretary. WAMU:

-Google’s self-driving cars hit regulatory roadblock in California. The Wall Street Journal: (h/t Maggie Chan)

-MWAA board moves to increase oversight following DOT IG report. The Washington Post:

-Mailbag: Rep. Janice Hahn writes to House appropriators on harbor maintenance funding. Read it:

– The Onion: “‘What If No One Travels Anywhere Ever Again?’ Wonders Panicked Transportation Secretary.”

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 73 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 195 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 601 days.