Transportation News for March 2, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 2, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/2/2015

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

IT’S DRAFTING TIME, BABY: Senate EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe is ready to kick it into high gear on the transportation bill, telling MT last week’s reauthorization hearing was the last one. His team is now meeting regularly with ranking member Barbara Boxer’s staff as they work to draft a long-term bill with the goal of pushing it out before the May deadline. “We’re through with our hearings on it and now we’re drafting, that’s what we’re doing,” he told MT. “It’s going to be a lot of the similarities [to the bill] we had in the past, you know the bill we drew up before. And so I think the main thing is I really am committed to meeting the deadline and getting this done without further extensions.”

What about highway safety? Last week Boxer took her colleagues to task, saying the EPW Committee was the only one doing any work in earnest on a long-term transportation bill. She even went so far as to say other committees should be “ashamed” for their lack of progress. So MT caught up with Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune to see where his committee was on its portion of the bill – highway safety programs. “We’re already laying the groundwork. We’re not drafting anything yet but we’re in the early stages of preparation of that,” he said. And that work goes public this week when the committee’s transportation panel holds its first reauthorization hearing (more on that below).

DeFazio says no to rubber-stamping: House Transportation ranking member Peter DeFazio told MT he’s not just going to agree to a carbon copy of the highway and transit bill approved by the Senate EPW Committee last year, saying there’s some serious changes that need to be made first. “I saw that Sen. Inhofe said he just wants to basically rubber-stamp the bill they passed last time, which is totally inadequate to the needs of the nation,” he said. “If we just want to do a status quo [bill] and devolve into a worse than third-world infrastructure, it would be a great bill.”

ON THE HORIZON: The House Rules Committee meets tonight on the Amtrak reauthorization, which is likely to see floor action this week. There are more than a dozen amendments to the bill that could also receive a vote, including former T&I Chairman John Mica’s privatization proposal. There are also several amendments from Rep. Paul Gosar dealing with Amtrak’s food and beverage losses, two proposals related to grade crossings and an amendment that would cap loans from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program at $600 million. See the full list of amendments:

Tuesday: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will be on Capitol Hill early Tuesday morning to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on the DOT budget request. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is also scheduled to testify on her department’s budget. Over on the House side, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will testify before the House T&I Aviation Subcommittee on the upcoming reauthorization. And at the American Enterprise Institute, Rep. John Delaney will be talking about his repatriation-for-transportation plan with a panel discussion to follow.

Wednesday: Sen. Deb Fischer, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce transportation subpanel, leads a hearing on FMCSA oversight. The midweek hearing is the first in a series as the committee gets ready to draft the highway safety portion of the transportation bill. FMCSA acting Administrator Scott Darling and NTSB acting Chairman Christopher Hart are among the witnesses.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding a Wednesday markup with votes on a couple of transportation bills expected. Up for a vote is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s bill to beef up training for first responders that deal with crude oil train accidents. The committee will also vote on a bill introduced by freshmen Sens. James Lankford and Gary Peters last week that would encourage agencies to use remanufactured auto parts when repairing government vehicles.

JUST ANOTHER MANIC MONDAY. 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.

“Have to catch an early train, got to be to work by 9…”

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LET’S DO IT ALL AGAIN: After a lot of behind-the-scenes wrangling Friday night following drama on the House floor, lawmakers were able to pass a one-week extension of DHS funding, staving off a potential shutdown for a handful of days ( ). But the short-term fix means there are more than 200,000 DHS employees, including TSA agents, who are looking at another week of uncertainty and the possibility of having to work without pay if Congress can’t reach a deal. ‘We’re prepared to say, for those that want to cut off the funding for the Department of Homeland Security, to 50,000 TSA employees, ‘We want you to go to work Saturday, we want you to protect our airplanes and our airways, we’re just not going to pay you, at least not until we do our jobs,” Senate Homeland Security ranking member Tom Carper told Kevin about the funding debacle’s impact on TSA agents. ‘It’s got to be demoralizing.’

LARSEN WORKING TO SPEED DRONE EXEMPTIONS: The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has been making noise recently about the FAA’s growing backlog of exemptions for small commercial drones but Rep. Rick Larsen is trying to help. The FAA has only approved 34 requests, while more than 450 have been filed. Larsen, the ranking member of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee, has been working with DeFazio on an idea to speed up the process by making exemptions ‘programmatic,’ like localities do for land use. ‘Right now, the FAA seems to be going through every exemption application bit by bit by bit regardless of whether that application has met criteria that have been met by another application already,’ he said. ‘So if there’s a way to adopt sort of a programmatic approach to these exemptions, I think that would move things along quicker with no degradation in safety or analysis.’

WELCOME ABOARD: This week the Senate Commerce Committee is bringing on Mike Reynolds as majority counsel. Reynolds, who was FAA deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs from 2002 to 2009, is joining the committee at just the right time – as it prepares to kick off work on the FAA reauthorization.

UBER DRIVER DATA BREACH AFFECTS THOUSANDS: Shaun Waterman with the report: “Ride-sharing giant Uber says personal information from as many of 50,000 of its current and former drivers might have been compromised by hackers last year. The breach was first detected in September, the company said in a statement Friday afternoon. A subsequent investigation determined that there had been ‘a one-time unauthorized access to an Uber database’ on May 13. To date, the company said, it was not aware of any reports of actual misuse of any personal information, but it is notifying affected drivers and offering a year’s credit monitoring to them.”

FRA KICKS OFF GRADE CROSSING CAMPAIGN: The Federal Railroad Administration announced a new safety campaign Friday for grade crossings that relies partly on asking law enforcement to write more tickets. The campaign’s first phase involves asking officers to be more visible at crossings, cite drivers who violate the rules “and consider rapid implementation of best practices” for safety, the agency said. The second phase will include steps like “smarter” use of technology, increased public awareness and improved signs, as well as a “call for new funding.” The campaign is a response to concerns over accidents at grade crossings, including recent high-profile collisions.


-“Putting a brake to oil train derailments.” USA Today:

-EPA tells CSX to clean up areas affected by West Virginia train derailment:

-Work on Tappan Zee bridge replacement continues, even in frigid temps. The New York Times:

-Trying to “humanize” driverless cars. CityLab:

-Searchers have recovered the fuselage from Air Asia Flight 8501. The Wall Street Journal:

-Why hasn’t Metro rolled out its fancy new rail cars yet? The Washington Post:

-Tesla doubled its staff in 2014. The Wall Street Journal:

-Let’s ask the captain: drones, birds and balloons. USA Today:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 90 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 212 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 617 days.