Transportation News for April 17, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on April 17, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 4/17/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from John Bresnahan, Anna Palmer, Doug Palmer, Jake Sherman and Heather Caygle

FOXX BEATS THE DRUM TODAY FOR GROW AMERICA: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is headlining an event this morning at The Pew Charitable Trusts, talking up two of his favorite transportation brainchildren: Grow America, the administration’s proposal to substantially boost transportation funding through revenue from a one-time tax on corporate profits held overseas, and Beyond Traffic, the department’s 30-year transportation plan.
Trade deal praise: Since lawmakers have just reached an agreement on a trade promotion authority bill, Obama administration officials are mounting a full court press in favor of the plan that doesn’t sit as well with many of their Democratic friends in Congress as it does with GOP lawmakers. And Foxx is laying on the praise in kind, saying in a statement this week that the trade plan “will boost trade and strengthen the economy, especially in areas where that trade travels: in the port communities that dot our coasts and waterways.” The secretary noted that the fast track proposal is just “one piece of the puzzle. We also need a world-class, efficient transportation and freight network to help more goods travel through our ports and trade routes.” Fast track agreement refresher:

COULD SHUSTER’S ROMANTIC TIES COMPLICATE HIS FAA DREAMS? In the middle of high-stakes negotiations on an FAA overhaul, House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster’s relationship with a top airline association lobbyist has been widely exposed, after POLITICO first confirmed the coupling this week, followed by the likes of the New York Times and The Associated Press. The question now is whether the chairman’s personal relationship with lobbyist Shelley Rubino will impact his ability to rally support for an FAA revamp, which could include changes to the U.S. air travel system and a new entity for running the nation’s air traffic control system.

The 49-year-old lobbyist is vice president for global government affairs at Airlines for America, a group that spends millions of dollars trying to influence the committee Shuster heads and whose members — all of the nation’s largest airlines — have a major interest in his FAA legislation. The chairman insists, though, that the two have gone above and beyond to ensure their personal relationship isn’t violating lobbying laws, drafting a formal document last summer stating that Rubino would not lobby him or his staff, including his committee aides. The scoop:

FINALLY FRIDAY — FREE AGAIN: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

MT can’t wait to hear whether Secretary Foxx gets as abstract with his description of “Beyond Traffic” at the Pew event this morning as he has in the past. Our favorite explanation of that vaguely titled plan: “I believe in the ‘Good Will Hunting’ approach, in the idea that genius can come from anywhere — the idea that sometimes, if you leave an equation on a chalkboard, then a Matt Damon might come along, and he will find you an answer. And that’s sort of what Beyond Traffic is.” — Foxx, circa March 31.

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

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INFRASTRUCTURE INDUSTRY HITS UP THE HILL: After making the rounds at the Capitol this week, those in the business of building transportation infrastructure are both heartened by lawmakers’ desire to enact long-term transportation policy and worried about their lack of action. “There was a combination of frustration and encouragement,” James G. Toscas, president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association, told MT. “You can see that they’re having trouble working this out. And the clock’s ticking, of course.”

Toscas visited congressional offices this week with others in his industry during the Transportation Construction Coalition’s “fly-in” to meet with legislators and aides on the top committees trying to hash out a long-term overhaul. It was clear, he told us, that getting to a long-term solution is “so overwhelmingly, everybody’s no. 1 priority. … It seems like the bill itself isn’t the issue, but rather, how you fund it,” he added. “We keep telling them: You figure it out. We’re okay with any and all of the above.” Toscas said his company is pushing for the highway bill to continue support for transportation research and to include a plan for better managing money coming out of the trust fund by investing in infrastructure that will last longer.

PORTMAN PUSHES TRADE AMENDMENT FULFILLING AUTOMAKERS’ WISH: Eyeing the newly agreed-upon trade promotion authority bill, Sen. Rob Portman plans to offer an amendment that would appease Detroit-based automakers by requiring the U.S. to include enforceable currency provisions into the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the Obama administration is opposed to including tough currency language in the TPA bill, but that the administration is willing to consider new criteria for determining whether any country is manipulating currency for an unfair trade advantage, as it now does every six months in a congressionally-mandated report on foreign exchange practices. More from Pro:

REPUBLICANS WARMING TO THE GAS TAX? Among members of the Grand Old Party, it’s never been too popular to sign onto legislation that would jack up taxes. And until now, sentiment toward proposals to hike the gas tax have been no different. So having eight Republicans openly supporting a bill that would do just that is nothing short of remarkable, our Heather Caygle explains: “Just asking about the gas tax, which has been stagnant for two decades, has been known to make more than a few Republican lawmakers duck the question, or worse, run away. But a group of Republicans are openly standing behind a bill unveiled by Reps. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) on Thursday that would index the gas tax to inflation and establish a bicameral, bipartisan commission — likened to the deficit supercommittee — that would come up with a long-term solution.” The whole story: The bill:

SENATORS ROLL OUT REPATRIATION BILL: Sens. Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer have introduced their bill aimed at filling the Highway Trust Fund by offering multinational corporations a tax holiday on their overseas earnings. Pro’s Brian Faler explains: “The proposal faces plenty of skepticism in Congress, in part because the Joint Committee on Taxation typically considers voluntary repatriation proposals to be revenue losers. Asked whether the bill would generate savings, a Boxer spokesman pointed to outside estimates by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former Obama economic adviser Laura Tyson that similar proposals could boost the nation’s GDP by hundreds of billions of dollars.”

FRA SPREADS OUT $21 MILLION IN GRANTS: The Federal Railroad Administration has announced it will lay out $21 million across eight grants. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports that “the bulk of the funds — $11 million — would go to projects related to Positive Train Control, with $2.6 million going to Amtrak and $3 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Another $6 million is allocated to passenger rail planning and $4.2 million for grade crossing projects, including improvements to California’s Pacific Surfliner’s Chesterfield Drive crossing and an underpass in Springfield, Ill.”

MICA UNVEILS FAA REVAMP PLAN: If you haven’t seen the text of Rep. John Mica’s new proposal to overhaul the air traffic control system, take a gander at the five-page document: Kathy explains that the proposal would essentially privatize the FAA’s air traffic functions and retain 95 percent of the current crop of air traffic controllers, who would be given stock options in the new corporation.

FROM THE TWITTER-SPHERE: Posting a photo of himself listening intently, @SenatorDurbin tweeted Thursday: “Sat down with some of Illinois’ brave fire chiefs today to discuss fire grants and crude-by-rail safety.” Check it:

CONSULTING GROUP NABS SOUTHERLAND: POLITICO Influence reports that Capitol Hill Consulting Group has brought on former Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) as senior vice president. Southerland lost his seat last year to Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham and served on House T&I during his four-year tenure in Congress.

MT MAILBAG: In a letter set for delivery to every member of Congress, seven labor groups are calling on lawmakers to lobby the Obama administration on their behalf to consider renegotiating Open Skies agreements with the UAE and Qatar, and to call for a halting of further expansion of air carriers from that region in the meantime. The letter:


— Flight delayed when snoring passenger poked with pen. AP:

— Indebted Ontario raids beer money to fund infrastructure. Bloomberg Business:

— Police: Woman blames coffee-drinking parrot for car crash. AP:

— Driving display startup raises $20 million to begin commercial production. The Wall Street Journal:

— Roadkill dangers may be rising amid California drought. The San Francisco Chronicle:

— How car-reliance squeezes the middle class. CityLab:

— Doubling of search zone planned if Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 isn’t found before June. The New York Times:

— Can America help make India’s deadly roads safer? The Wall Street Journal:

— Coast Guard scores largest drug interdiction off coast of Central and South America since 2009. AP:

— ‘Marijuana cars’ in Colorado aim to stop stoned drivers. USA Today:

— Toyota engineer: Electric cars won’t spread even with rapid chargers. Reuters:

— AIG says former airline industry boss will become its non-executive chairman. The Wall Street Journal:

— Big oil is about to lose control of the auto industry. Bloomberg Business:

— The steady rise of bike ridership in New York. CityLab:

— How America’s open road inspired three women of the 1910s. The Washington Post:

— Homeland Security chief: Florida mailman flew gyrocopter to Capitol ‘under the radar’. AP:

— California imports of Bakken crude by barge sets record in 2014. Reuters:

— Former Obama economic adviser calls for shift in biofuels mandate. The Wall Street Journal:

— Angry kin unmoved by South Korean leader’s vow to salvage ferry. AP:

— Greenbrier may stop building railcars deemed too weak. Reuters:

— Baggage worker trapped in jetliner called 911 for help. AP:

— Rail defect, tank car valves implicated in West Virginia oil train fire. McClatchy Washington Bureau:

— Authorities predict millions of Jakarta commuters will have to struggle through the world’s most congested traffic for almost another decade. Reuters:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 44 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 166 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 572 days.