Transportation News for April 15, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on April 15, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 4/15/2015


T&I LAWMAKERS PRESS COAST GUARD ON MISSION REALIGNMENT PLANS: The Coast Guard’s head of operations will appear this afternoon before the T&I subcommittee that oversees the service to talk about its mission — an aim that has become increasingly difficult to achieve in an era of aging assets and budget cuts. Vice Adm. Charles Michel, the Coast Guard’s commandant for operations, is expected to bring up some of the same concerns the head of his agency raised during the State of the Coast Guard address a month and a half ago. The big boss — Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft — said then that he is “concerned that aging platforms and crumbling infrastructure continue to hinder mission success.”

Making tradeoffs: Zukunft has noted that his agency has suffered a nearly 40 percent decline in its acquisition budget over the past four years, while “at the same time, there has never been a greater demand for the Coast Guard.” And the commandant has committed to taking “decisive action to alleviate this strain. We will not do more with less. Those days are over. Rather, we will make tough decisions and tradeoffs.” Watch the committee hearing live at 2 p.m.:
WAKE UP, IT’S WEDNESDAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

MT is amused: After watching The Wall Street Journal’s latest news recap on the “Bridgegate” scandal (, YouTube suggests a series of Chris Christie-related videos as well as a single oddball documentary on a guy who lives in a cave and scavenges road-killed squirrels. Yes, we clicked it: Reach out: @jascholtes or

“I got no fare to ride a train. I’m nearly drowning in the pouring rain.”

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FAA PREPS FOR OPENING TRAVEL TO CUBA: A few hours before the White House announced Tuesday that it intends to remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told Congress that his agency is looking into the country’s aviation authority to make sure it meets U.S. safety standards. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports that “Huerta noted that U.S. air traffic controllers already have a ‘very open relationship with our Cuban air traffic counterparts,’ because the two countries share an airspace boundary and ‘pass flights back and forth daily.’” More from Pro:

HUERTA EXPRESSES FRUSTRATION OVER PILOT DATABASE DELAY: The administrator also told lawmakers he is “as frustrated as anyone” at how long it has taken his agency to issue a rule creating a database of pilot training and performance records but that “it is important that we get it correct.” The rule was originally slated for publication this January but has been pushed to next April. Kathy explains:

LEGISLATORS SUGGEST SCRAPPING PHMSA: Wading through a backlog of overdue regulatory decisions, including new rules for railcars that carry crude oil, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has few fans in Congress right now. And tempers ran so high when PHMSA’s chief testified before House T&I lawmakers this week that some even suggested Congress dismantle the agency DOT created in 2004 to regulate the transportation of hazardous materials. “We have to reauthorize PHMSA reasonably soon. Should we? Or should we come up with something new?” Rep. Michael Capuano told acting Administrator Timothy Butters. “There’s something wrong. … Whose butt do we have to kick? Whose budget do we have to cut? Whose budget do we have to enhance — to make this work?”

Regulatory alternative? Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking Democrat of the full committee, lobbed similar criticism, explaining that the agency was created “with the idea that we need to have a laser-like focus and more efficiency,” but he wonders if PHMSA has lived up to that expectation. “I wonder if it would be better if we had some people who just looked at pipelines — that’s a unique mode — if we had safety people at FRA that were dealing with tank cars and understood railroads better, if we had the aviation people dealing with stuff that the industry itself says it doesn’t want to carry on airplanes,” DeFazio said. “And we are not seeing the kind of performance we need here out of this theoretically integrated, efficient agency that will be arm’s length from all of those that it regulates.”

TRUCKING GROUP BUCKS FOIA DENIAL OF HAIR-TESTING TALKS: The American Trucking Associations presses on in its battle to get the Department of Health and Human Services to divulge transcripts from meetings about doing hair testing to detect substance abuse. The trucking group filed a FOIA request almost two years ago to try to get the information, but the department withheld some of the documents and redacted parts of the others. So the group appealed the document denial this month: “We believe we should have every right to see what they’re talking about, because this isn’t a national security issue, this is highway safety,” the trucking association’s executive vice president of chief of national advocacy, Dave Osiecki, told MT. “It’s a little frustrating getting blunted in trying to get answers.” The group is advocating for DOT to make hair testing an optional alternative to its current requirement that truckers be tested through urine samples.

FAA LAGS IN CYBERTHREAT PROTECTION: The FAA is behind in addressing new cyberthreats that its transition to new air traffic control systems have created, the GAO reported Tuesday: Pro’s David Perera explains that “slightly more than a third of air traffic control systems nationwide are networked via the Internet, and that figure should climb to between 50 [percent] and 60 percent by the end of this decade, says the watchdog agency. … Historically, network-based cyberattacks haven’t been a worry for the FAA because older systems have limited connectivity and point-to-point network connections technologically incapable of sharing information across wider networks.” Without a broad plan, the FAA risks overprotecting against some cyber risks while not protecting enough against others, the GAO reported. More from Pro:

JETBLUE EYES FUTURISTIC TERMINAL FOR TRANSFORMATION: A midcentury marvel, JFK airport’s striking ’60s-era terminal could be born again if JetBlue gets its wish. The Wall Street Journal reports that the airline and its hotel development partner “are in advanced negotiations with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for the rights to turn the iconic Trans World Airlines terminal at Kennedy Airport into a modern hotel, according to people familiar with the matter. Talks could still fall apart, these people said, but JetBlue has emerged as the preferred bidder and is in exclusive discussions with the Port Authority. The possible deal is the latest sign that airport hotels are emerging as a sweet spot in the lodging sector as developers and investors seek new ways to tap top-tier cities without paying premiums for downtown addresses.” The full story:

U.S. PLANS TO ALERT SOME TRAVELERS OF ‘NO-FLY LIST’ STATUS: The Obama administration has decided to begin telling some suspected terrorists that they are on the no-fly list. American travelers can petition TSA to be taken off the list once they find out and request an unclassified explanation about the restriction. The Associated Press reports: “The changes partially lift a veil of secrecy enshrouding a policy that has been a centerpiece of the government’s counterterrorism efforts since the September 2001 terror attacks. But the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been challenging the constitutionality of the no-fly list in an ongoing federal lawsuit, said the changes don’t go far enough in giving travelers the legal due process they are entitled to, including seeing the evidence held against them and getting an opportunity to challenge it.”

LOBBYING MOVEMENT: According to POLITICO Influence, new lobbying registrations have been reported for representing the National Tank Truck Carriers and the American Trucking Associations. And new lobbying terminations include contracts with Delta, the U.S. Airline Pilots Association and Eastern Contra Costa Transit Authority. The details:


— Ohio House panel approves resolution rejecting Connecticut’s insistence that one of its aviators beat the Wright brothers to the first successful airplane flight. AP:

— Toyota plots a comeback for Prius after ceding stardom to Tesla. Bloomberg Business:

— TSA fires Denver airport screeners accused of scheming to pat down attractive passengers. Reuters:

— Driver unable to pay fine for rig weight is jailed for four days. AP:

— VW turmoil pushes Porsche chief to forefront of CEO race. Bloomberg Business:

— Union Station moves forward with grand development plan. The New York Times:

— The unexpectedly compelling case for ferries. CityLab:

— J.B. Hunt profit tops expectations despite clogged West Coast ports. The Wall Street Journal:

— Texas Senate panel backs bill to put a stop to red-light cameras. The Dallas Morning News:

— Kenyan drivers fume over city plan to get traffic moving. AP:

— Driver’s license suspensions create cycle of debt. The New York Times:

— Only small number of Jeeps fixed 2 years after recall began. AP:

— NJ transit to propose 9 percent fare increase to help close budget deficit. The Wall Street Journal:

— Could cramped airline seats be dangerous? AP:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 46 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 168 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 574 days.