Transportation News for May 12, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 12, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/12/2015

By Jennifer Scholtes, with help from Heather Caygle and Kathryn A. Wolfe

EIGHT DAYS OUT, AND STILL NO PATCH PLAN: House lawmakers are set to leave town for Memorial Day recess on May 21, and the Senate plans to clock out a day later, leaving Congress only eight workdays to reauthorize transportation policy before it expires on May 31. In the Senate, more legislators seem to be glomming on to the idea this week of extending both policy and funding into December. But senators like Tom Carper are still holding out hope that their colleagues will decide to approve a two-month policy patch to retain the deadline pressure that’s spurring discussion of a long-term overhaul. And word in the Capitol is that Carper is expected to introduce his extension version today.

‘Bludgeon’ bargain: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Monday night that Democrats want an extension through July “because they think they can bludgeon Republicans into increasing taxes.” “They might as well get it in their heads that we’re not going to do it,” he told reporters. Although Hatch would not divulge the ideas he’s been mulling, the chairman said he’s “got some things on the griddle that could come into fruition to give us a multi-year highway bill.”

Making concessions: It’s not just Democrats, though, who would still prefer to do the summer patch. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe told MT on Monday that, although he has ceded to the year-end option, it’s still not his ideal outcome. “I’m not alright with it,” he told us. “But if it means we’re going to have a long-term transportation bill, then I will do it.”

Enduring ‘brain damage’: The two-month extension preferred by folks like Inhofe and Carper has one major factor working in its favor: Lawmakers don’t have to reach agreement in the next two weeks on how to pay for a Highway Trust Fund infusion, which would be needed to execute the year-end patch. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noted Monday that lawmakers will still have to endure the pain of coming up with funding offsets to enact a year-end extension. “My concern is that if they go through the brain damage, if you will, to find additional money to get through December, they could actually take the extra step to try to get us through six years because it’s going to require some gymnastics to get there either way,” the secretary said.

DOT PREPS STATES FOR AUTHORITY EXPIRATION: Secretary Foxx is writing this week to state transportation departments, bracing them for the possibility of a lapse in authority, which would prevent the department from making payouts or helping states with infrastructure projects. Foxx pointed to the two-day lapse in 2010, warning that “for all intents and purposes, Federal support for highway infrastructure programs will stop.” It is unlikely, though, that this transportation doomsday scenario will actually play out since Congress will almost surely pass some kind of extension before departing for Memorial Day. The letter:

FISCHER EXPECTED TO INTRODUCE INFRASTRUCTURE BANK BILL TODAY: Reuters reports that aides to Sen. Deb Fischer say the senator will introduce a measure today that would create a new infrastructure bank, partly funded through repatriation money, and that would “offer states more authority over their own compliance with federal infrastructure requirements.”

IT’S TUESDAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“Don’t seem like a whole lot, after 30 years of drivin’ up and down the interstate.”

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TSA FALTERS IN MAINTAINING AIRPORT SCREENING TOOLS: The TSA is doing such a bad job maintaining its screening equipment that the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general fears the agency may be less effective at spotting dangerous items, and that “the safety of airline passengers and aircraft could be jeopardized.” In a report released this week, the IG also said the agency could be shortening the equipment’s life span, which could lead to delays in both passenger and baggage screening. The House Homeland Security Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson, called the agency out for the shortcomings. “Correctly maintaining sensitive screening equipment at our nation’s airports is critical to both protecting the flying public and preserving this taxpayer-funded investment,” Thompson said in a written statement. The report:

T&I DEMOCRATS URGE JOINT HTF HEARING: Democrats on the House T&I Committee don’t want to defer anymore to Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan on finding money for the Highway Trust Fund and called this week for a joint hearing on pinpointing a long-term revenue stream, saying they were “incredibly frustrated” about the prospect of another short-term funding patch and “share in the responsibility” of keeping the trust fund solvent. Read the letter Rep. Peter DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton sent to Ryan, T&I Chairman Bill Shuster and top Ways and Means Democrat Sander Levin:

SENATORS URGE INVESTIGATION INTO CLAIMS OF DESCRIMINATION AGAINST FLIERS: Six Democratic senators wrote this week to DOT and the Commerce Department, asking them to open an investigation into allegations that Kuwait Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines have been discriminating against Israeli passport holders and openly gay travelers. “Any airline that ignores our laws should be punished to the maximum extent and possibly have their DOT-issued permit revoked that allows them to fly to and from U.S. airports,” the letter says.

DOT SEES JUMP IN AIRLINE COMPLAINTS: Complaints about airline service were up more than 55 percent last month compared with last March and up more than 27 percent from this February, DOT reported Monday. The consumer report also includes data on tarmac delays, on-time performance, cancellations, chronically delayed flights and the causes of flight delays. Check it out:

HEY LeBRON, GOT ANY HIGHWAY FUNDING?: If only lawmakers were more like buzzer-beating NBA stars, Secretary Foxx laments. “We have a clock that is running out. We’ve got 20 days left. And gosh, I wish we had the equivalent of LeBron James when it comes to taking the kind of courageous stance that needs to be taken to move this country’s infrastructure forward,” the secretary said Monday. “But alas, he plays basketball. He’s not in Congress.” More from Pro:

ADDING A LITTLE AMERICANA TO YOUR SWEDISH RIDE: Volvo is making its foray into the U.S. manufacturing industry, announcing this week that it will open its first American plant, located outside Charleston, S.C. — a decision the company says will bring $500 million in investment and up to 2,000 plant jobs in the next decade. Pro’s Brian Mahoney brings it:

SENATE RECEIVES NADEAU NOMINATION: The White House has officially sent the Senate the nomination of Greg Nadeau to be administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, a post he has held in an acting capacity since last summer. Nadeau, a Maine native, has been showered with praise from his home-state senators in recent days. “Greg is an experienced and thoughtful leader who will ‎be a champion for improving and strengthening America’s highway system,” said Sen. Angus King, who employed Nadeau as a senior adviser during his tenure as governor of Maine. King’s counterpart, Sen. Susan Collins, said the nomination is “well-earned recognition of Greg’s expertise in transportation policy.”

IGNITION-SWITCH DEATH TOLL RISES TO 100: Fatalities from GM’s defective ignition switches have now reached 100, according to data the automaker released this week: AP explains that “GM recalled 2.6 million of the cars last year, but acknowledged it knew about problems with the switches for more than a decade. Through much of last year, the company had blamed the switches for 13 deaths but conceded the toll would rise.”

CONSUMER GROUPS SLAM GOOGLE OVER AUTONOMOUS CAR DISCLOSURES: Google divulged this week that its autonomous cars have been in 11 minor accidents over the past six years and that its vehicles didn’t cause any of the collisions. The disclosure comes after consumer advocates began to pressure the tech company to publicly release its accident reports. But they want Google to go further, committing to release all accident reports and to make other documents public. More from Pro: The letter:

AUTO INDUSTRY TRUMPETS U.S. BOOM: Groups that represent automakers and dealers released a report his morning on the economic impact of their industries, touting $72 billion in U.S. operations investment and the indirect creation of more than 1.1 million U.S. jobs. Check out the report by The Association of Global Automakers and the American International Automotive Dealers Association:

INDUSTRY SAYS INCUMBENTS SHALL NOT FEAR GAS-TAX BACKLASH: The American Road & Transportation Builders Association is trying to get word out that lawmakers shouldn’t be afraid to be thrown out of office for supporting gas tax hikes. The group noted this week that 95 percent of Republican state legislators who voted to increase gas taxes in 2013 and 2014 won reelection last November, and that 88 percent of their Democratic counterparts were voted back into office after supporting such a hike. “… if legislators are honest with their constituents and clearly explain why a gas tax increase is necessary and important and what benefits their constituents will derive from it, they have little reason to fear the ballot box over a gas tax vote,” the organization’s president and CEO, Pete Ruane, said in a written statement.

WARNER CALLS ON FOXX TO LEAD DRONE INTEGRATION: Sen. Mark Warner wrote this week to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, asking the DOT head to “personally take the lead” on integrating drones into the national airspace and ensuring the devices stay out of sensitive areas like airports and the White House grounds. The senator called on the secretary to start a pilot program at a U.S. airport to use drone mitigation technology in an effort to protect hubs against “innocuous recreational UAS mishaps as well as more nefarious incursions.” The letter:


— Support builds to redo U.S. air-traffic system. The Wall Street Journal:

— D.C.’s congresswoman uses a bridge to make a point. The Washington Post:

— Bolt Bus explodes on Massachusetts turnpike. Gothamist:

— Bikeshare makes sure busy docking stations have room. The Washington Post:

— Tampa ramps up to be a leader in the new relationship with Cuba. Miami Herald:

— ‘Metropocalypse’ Strikes D.C. Metro Commuters. The Wall Street Journal:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 19 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 141 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 547 days.

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