Transportation News for April 24, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on April 24, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 4/24/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle

DOT DETAILS NEW SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: Rejoice — the name of DOT’s latest program is only half-caps. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has just laid out the department’s new LadderSTEP program to help seven cities “foster sustainable economic development related to planned transportation projects.” Through the new pilot program, DOT will provide Atlanta, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix and Richmond with technical assistance “to help promote thoughtful planning and economic growth.” Check out the list of organizations interested in helping:
SHUSTER IN THE CLEAR WITH GOP LEADERS?: It doesn’t appear House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster will have to worry about the wrath of the GOP’s head honchos in carrying on his romantic relationship with a top lobbyist. Speaker John Boehner kept his lips zipped this week about the chairman’s relationship but expressed confidence in the steps Shuster has taken to ensure he isn’t breaking any lobbying laws by dating Shelley Rubino, vice president for global government affairs at Airlines for America, a group that spends millions of dollars trying to influence his panel’s legislative work. “I’m not going to discuss Mr. Shuster’s relationship with anyone,” Boehner said. “But I’m also very comfortable that the proper procedures were put in place to avoid a public professional conflict of interest.” That story from POLITICO’s Jake Sherman: A refresher on the chairman’s complicated romance:

I’M FRIDAY — WANNA COME OVER SATURDAY AND HAVE A SUNDAY? Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Keeping us amused this week, one MT reader writes: “I love that Sen. [Martin] Heinrich rides the Metro to work like a regular guy. And nobody bothers him. Is that a sign he’s a first-term senator in minority?” Mind you, this is the same lawmaker who just this month decided to repay nearly $2,000 he’d expensed for taxi or ride-share costs that, at second glance, “could not be definitively identified as … for official purposes.” USA Today’s Paul Singer scored that scoop last week:

Reach out: @jascholtes or

“Or caught in morning traffic when you’ve really gotta go? — Oh no!”

T&I LEADERS INTRODUCE COAST GUARD AUTHORIZATION: House T&I leaders introduced their biannual Coast Guard authorization bill Thursday, aiming to require the service to get another icebreaker on the water and prepare to use the C-27J aircraft the agency inherited from the Air Force. The measure would entitle the Coast Guard’s ranks to the same benefits as its DOD counterparts and align the agency’s leadership structure with that of the military branches, in an effort to improve coordination among the services. It would also ramp up requirements that cargo financed by the federal government be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels.

Congress just passed its last Coast Guard authorization in December after lawmakers came to agreement on a Senate amendment that would extend for three years a moratorium on discharge permits for fishing vessels.

Hard-up icebreakers: The lawmakers are again calling on the Coast Guard to assess whether it makes sense to revive one of its nearly 40-year-old icebreakers, since the service doesn’t have the money to build a brand new vessel and has only two operational icebreakers that are capable of sailing in the Arctic and Antarctic right now. The ship in question — the Polar Sea — suffered critical engine failure in 2010, and the Coast Guard stripped the cutter of parts to rebuild its sister ship, the Polar Star.

The bill: Legislative summary:

BLUMENTHAL PROPOSES TAXING ADD-ON AIRLINE FEES: Sen. Richard Blumenthal wants to tax the add-on fees airlines charge — for things like checked bags or food — to raise money for the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. Not collecting those taxes, he said Thursday, “means that the federal government is in effect losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that could go to our airports and improving their economic contribution to the nation.” Our Kathryn A. Wolfe describes the spat Blumenthal prompted between those representing the airlines and those who back the airports:

HOUSE ADDS PORTS ASSESSMENT TO CYBER BILL: In passing cybersecurity legislation out ofthe House on Thursday, lawmakers also signed off on an additional requirement that the Department of Homeland Security pinpoint cybersecurity vulnerabilities at the nation’s most at-risk ports. The amendment, offered by Rep. Janice Hahn, was adopted by voice vote. “The threat of a cyberattack on the networks that manage the flow of U.S. commerce at our ports is real,” Hahn said in a statement following passage of the bill. “I know that a significant disruption at our ports cripples our economy.”

More from Pro’s Tal Kopan on the cybersecurity bill’s prospects: The bill: The ports amendment:

METRO TAKES NEW SAFETY STEPS: Metro has decided to change a few of its safety protocols following the deadly smoke incident earlier this year, looking into the process for testing ventilation systems, creating a new maintenance crew to keep trash out of passageways and ensuring tunnel lights get fixed or replaced. More from Pro:

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED: Some are questioning the generosity of Southwest Airlines in its commitment to working with the Project for Public Spaces to hand out grants to help six U.S. cities recreate public spaces. In Milwaukee, the airline and the nonprofit group are providing $200,000 to redesign a downtown parking lot. And the local newspaper there, the Daily Reporter, reports that “at the same time, a public interest group is questioning whether closing tax loopholes used legally by the airline and other companies would offer a better way of paying for public spaces. … In two out of the past six years, the company has found ways to ‘zero out’ its federal income taxes.” More from the Daily Reporter:

MT MAILBAG: Seven unions that represent pieces of the FAA’s workforce have written to leaders of House T&I and its Aviation Subcommittee asking them not to privatize the agency or move its air traffic control functions to another entity. “We do not agree that a massive change to the FAA’s structure is the solution to the funding problem,” they write. “Instead, we urge lawmakers to develop a plan that addresses the FAA’s need for stable funding free of the threat of sequestration.” Read the letter for yourself:

MOVING ON UP: Eric Beightel has just left his post as a senior environmental policy adviser at DOT to join Parsons Brinckerhoff. At the engineering and design firm, he will be associate director of the federal environmental policy practice, advising clients on federal environmental review for transportation infrastructure development. Before his last job with DOT, Beightel was a policy adviser at OMB and an environmental protection specialist at the Federal Highway Administration.


— Study: Self-driving ‘taxibots’ could replace 9 in 10 cars. AP:

— A poet’s take on NYC’s MTA funding shortfall. The Wall Street Journal:

— Illness on flight diverted to New York “a big mystery.” AP:

— Speed cameras may be hated by drivers, but reduced ticket revenue is a sign they’re working. Route Fifty:

— How do we protect New York City’s pedestrians? The New York Times Magazine:

— Christie’s bridge scandal campaign debt nears $900,000. National Journal:

— General Motors’ recalls last year won’t soon be forgotten, especially with the company’s first-quarter report containing a by-the-numbers breakdown. AP:

— Trek Bicycle Corp. has recalled approximately 1 million bikes after reports of rider injuries, and one rider who was paralyzed. NBC News:

— A guide-dog discrimination lawsuit against Uber will move forward. CityLab:

— Trucking company involved in fatal Georgia crash has dozens of citations. WSB-TV Atlanta:

— Whether or not millennials are buying cars is beside the point. CityLab:

— Union Pacific earnings rise, cargo volume drops. The Wall Street Journal:

— Maryland’s top highway, transit officials resign. The Washington Post:

— The perennial debate over how much federal funding should go to mass transit is raging again. CityLab:

— Oregon bill would let motorcyclists drive between cars during jams. AP:

— Southwest earnings surge on higher demand, low fuel prices. The Wall Street Journal:

— What people want in a new Metro general manager. The Washington Post:

— Union Pacific earnings rise, cargo volume drops. The Wall Street Journal:

— Southwest earnings surge on higher demand, low fuel prices. The Wall Street Journal:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 37 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 159 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 565 days.

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