Transportation News for April 29, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on April 29, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 4/29/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES and HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kathryn A. Wolfe

THUD COMING IN FOR LANDING: The House Appropriations THUD panel is set to mark up its fiscal 2016 spending bill today. And even though lawmakers have yet to vote on the legislation, it’s already mired in controversy. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the bill is “very disappointing,” particularly the funding levels, which are about $6.8 billion below the administration’s request for transportation programs. “We’re not happy with the funding levels for sure,” he told reporters Tuesday. “It’s very disappointing overall because the country is sucking wind.” The House bill would shave funding for Amtrak, WMATA and the TIGER grant program. More details:
Policy riders are no bueno: The DOT chief also took aim at several policy riders included in the bill that relate to the trucking industry and, separately, Cuba travel restrictions. “What’s happening is that the appropriations process is now being used to create policy, and when it comes to safety, that’s a real problem,” Foxx said. The spending bill contains several provisions favorable to the trucking industry, including more truck weight or length exemptions for states. It also continues a prohibition on enforcing a controversial trucker “restart” provision pending the outcome of a study.

Throttling Cuba travel: Foxx and some travel groups also criticized the bill for its travel restriction provisions, which would prohibit new scheduled air service between the United States and Cuba and foil attempts to broaden cruise ship service (Kathryn has more: House THUD Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart defended the travel restrictions, saying that “Congress cannot sit idle” as the administration tries to “circumvent the tourism ban” and provide concessions to the “Castro dictatorship.”

Tune in: Grab the popcorn and a fresh copy of the bill text ( for the 9:30 a.m. markup webcast:

HOUSE TAKES ON ‘GYROCOPTER’: Also this morning, members of the House Oversight Committee will hear from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and other officials from NORAD, the Secret Service and Capitol police on keeping D.C. airspace safe. The hearing stems from a series of incidents this year affecting restricted airspace around the nation’s capital, including a Florida man landing his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn earlier this month and a drone crashing onto the White House lawn in January.

Across the Capitol, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson said the gyrocopter pilot, Doug Hughes, should just be counting his lucky stars he’s unharmed after pulling such a dangerous stunt. “Let me emphasize, Mr. Hughes is very lucky to be alive. He was extremely lucky to be alive and anybody else contemplating that kind of stunt in the future should also understand that Mr. Hughes is very lucky to be alive,” Johnson said Tuesday.

Check out witness testimony and watch the hearing live at 10 a.m.:

ON THE RADAR: As if Wednesday weren’t wacky enough, there’s a couple of other Capitol Hill happenings to keep an eye on today. A Senate Banking subcommittee kicks off a hearing on private investment in public infrastructure at 9:30 a.m. And in the afternoon, the House T&I highways panel will hold a hearing on federal motor carrier safety programs.

HURRAY FOR HUMP DAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

We’re sorry to inform our Beltway insider audience that, although the private bus-to-work phenomenon has now hit the district, it appears to be much less posh and far more “cozy” than those sweet buses they’ve got out in the Bay Area. Check out the ad Bridj has posted on PopVille, showing off its Super Shuttle-esque commuter vans:

Reach out: @jascholtes or

“When I’m holding your wheel, all I hear is your gear. When my hand’s on your grease gun, oh it’s like a disease son.”

** A message from the Auto Care Association: The auto care industry is a coast-to-coast network of more than 500,000 independent manufacturers, distributors, parts stores and repair shops that keep every motorist moving. Our four million employees generate 2.3 percent of America’s gross domestic product. Our network delivers products at the speed that keeps America’s cars on the road. **

TSA NOMINEE FACES POTENTIALLY TRICKY CONFIRMATION: Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle already seem quite fond of Coast Guard Vice Commandant Peter Neffenger, the president’s pick to head the TSA. But Senate confirmation could still be a difficult feat, even for a guy who’s in good with Congress — a legislative body filled with folks especially critical of the TSA since they spend so much of their lives schlepping through airport checkpoints. More from Pro:

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND? If any readers have a crystal ball and can predict how the Highway Trust Fund showdown will end, please kindly shoot MT an email. In the meantime, here’s what we know: Members of the Senate Finance Committee met on the issue Tuesday afternoon but didn’t settle on a resolution. Some members are pushing a clean policy extension that would last until July, when current funding is set to reach critical levels, while other lawmakers want a longer extension, possibly until the end of the year. “I don’t have any problem with that,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch told Heather when asked about backing a clean policy extension. “We’re going to try to come up with an answer, it may be a two-step approach, but we’ll see.”

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also threw his support behind a clean policy patch on Tuesday, saying if Congress has to do an extension, that idea makes the most sense because it doesn’t require any additional funding and would give lawmakers more time to find the dollars for a multiyear bill. “What I think happens if we go longer than that is they’ve got to find more money,” he said. “If you’re going to have to go struggle to find money, if you’re going to have to look under mattresses and use duct tape and chewing gum, do it for a six-year bill. Why go through the brain damage for a few more months?”

Where does Shuster stand? House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster said Tuesday he’d like to see a longer extension that gives state DOTs certainty through the busy summer construction season, which lasts beyond September in some parts of the country. “I want to go several months. I think it’s very important to get us through the construction season,” Shuster said during a National Journal forum. “Just like doing a long-term bill, the patch is going to be driven by the amount of money that we find.” The T&I chairman said lawmakers would need to find about $10 billion to shore up the trust fund through December.

Mailbag: Senate Finance Democrats sent a letter to their Republican counterparts Tuesday telling them to get on the ball when it comes to transportation funding. Read it:

SHUSTER ADDRESSES LOBBYIST RELATIONSHIP: Shuster addressed his personal relationship with a top A4A lobbyist on Tuesday, saying he never thought of recusing himself from work on the FAA bill and has gone “above and beyond” what the rules require to avoid any conflict of interest. “I think people in this town know my integrity level,” Shuster said at the Newseum during a National Journal forum. “I’ve been very transparent, and one of the things is this is a personal and private relationship. But I think I’ve gone above and beyond what the rules require, what the law requires, to make sure that we’re doing things appropriately.” Read more:

AUTO INDUSTRY WHISTLEBLOWER BILL SAILS THROUGH SENATE: Swiftly and without fuss, the Senate passed a bill Tuesday night that would set up incentives for auto industry whistleblowers to come forward with safety concerns when defects are not reported, giving those safety reporters up to 30 percent of the penalties paid out for those violations. Senate Commerce leaders John Thune and Bill Nelson cheered the action, which sends the legislation over to the House. “While laws and regulations currently provide certain penalties for unaddressed safety failures,” Thune said in a written statement, “this legislation seeks to help identify and stop problems before anyone is killed or seriously injured.” The bill:

DOT CALLS FOR 100 PERCENT RECALL REPAIR RATE: After slapping down more recall fines in one year than in the previous four decades combined, DOT is calling on the auto industry to make sure more defective vehicles are fixed or pulled off the roads. “Being aggressive about safety doesn’t mean just being aggressive about compliance,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Tuesday. “Our goal will be to repair every vehicle that we know has safety defects. We have to fix 100 percent of them, and no other target is acceptable.” Foxx noted that in 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalled nearly 64 million vehicles and collected $126 million in fines — more than the agency had previously collected in its 40-year history. The rest from Pro:

CHICAGO TRANSIT ACCIDENT HIGHLIGHTS OPERATOR FATIGUE: NTSB has weighed in on the Chicago Transit Authority accident last month, when a train rode over a bumping post and struck an escalator, injuring 33 passengers and causing more than $11 million in damage. The board said the accident was caused by operator fatigue and flaws in design of the station’s safety features. “The operator had worked 12 consecutive days,” the NTSB reported. “During the accident trip, she fell asleep before the train entered the O’Hare station.” The report:

OBAMA WANTS U.S. IN ON JAPANESE AUTO MARKET: President Barack Obama made clear this week that the U.S. is seeking more access to Japan’s auto market in bilateral negotiations taking place amid broader Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. “There are many Japanese cars in America, I want to see more American cars in Japan as well,” Obama said in a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was in Washington this week for an official visit. Pro’s Adam Behsudi has more:


— By the 2020s, traffic congestion could be a whole lot worse, and only the affluent will be able to live, work in central urban districts. The Wall Street Journal:

— Obama wants to see more U.S. cars in Japan. Pro:

— Freight trains collide in New Mexico, killing crew member. The AP:

— Car-safety chief: Decision near on reopening Jeep probe. The Wall Street Journal:

— Study suggests that flying is greener than driving. The Washington Post:

— JetBlue posts strong results on lower fuel prices. The Wall Street Journal:

— Port truck drivers strike for second day. The LA Times:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 32 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 154 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 560 days.

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