Transportation News for May 29, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 29, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/29/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle and Elana Schor

MEMORIAL BRIDGE CLOSURES AMPLIFY CRIES FOR CONGRESSIONAL ACTION: If you’re a NoVA to D.C. commuter, or the other way around, your daily trek gets worse today and isn’t expected to improve for months since the National Park Service is closing down the Memorial Bridge’s curbside lanes this morning and blocking some bus and truck traffic while the feds do emergency repairs to the ailing structure, forcing commuters through a bottleneck or onto the other busy bridges in the area.
Lawmakers swoop in: With the bridge as their backdrop, Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine will join D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Virginia Rep. Don Beyer for a press conference on Monday to call for some long-term congressional investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure. “There is nothing more emblematic of Congress’ failure to invest in our nation’s infrastructure than the bridge that brings people into our nation’s capital, a national memorial, falling apart,” Beyer said in a written statement on Thursday.

Fully federally funded: Norton noted that, unlike other infrastructure, National Park Service roads and bridges are fully paid for through federal funding. The D.C. delegate plans to introduce a bill on Monday that would authorize $460 million annually for federal lands transportation projects and would create a program called the Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Transportation Project with an authorization of $150 million annually. “This funding still leaves federal lands transportation at best a stepchild in infrastructure funding,” Norton said. “However, it would begin to erase the shameful neglect of federal transportation infrastructure.”

DHS ROLLS OUT NEW PRE-CLEARANCE PLANS FOR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS TODAY: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visits one of the nation’s busiest international airports this afternoon to lay out the department’s plans to enter into negotiations to expand U.S. preclearance efforts at hubs in nine foreign countries. Detailing the plan at JFK airport, Johnson is expected to explain how the department’s preclearance efforts, which began in 1952, cut down wait times for international travelers arriving in the U.S. and help pinpoint security threats before flights are bound for the states. The U.S. currently has preclearance operations set up at 15 locations in six countries: Canada, Ireland, the UAE, Bermuda, Aruba and the Bahamas. And the department aspires to ensure 33 percent of all U.S.-bound air travelers are undergoing preclearance by 2024.

How it works: U.S. Customs and Border Protection sets up shop at foreign airports and screens flyers there, instead of subjecting those travelers to immigration, customs and agriculture inspections upon arrival in the United States. CBP doesn’t provide this service for free, though. The foreign countries have to reimburse the agency for its services. More on the program’s expansion:

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

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“Down on the corner, by the traffic light.”

FOXX WORRIES EPW WILL SET TRUST FUND BAR TOO LOW: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is wary about the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s plan to lay out Highway Trust Fund investment goals before lawmakers tasked with finding the money have done their part. His worry is that EPW will set the bar too low, stifling the ability to negotiate for sufficient funds down the road. “I’m not going to be making any bones about the fact that, if they undershoot the target, that could end up having an adverse effect on the future discussions on this topic.” Our Heather Caygle explains that “the DOT chief has replaced his normal lapel pin with a Band-Aid with the number 33 written on it to symbolize DOT’s count for the number of highway and transit extensions in recent years.” More from Pro:

SHELL KNEW IT WAS IN FOR AN ARCTIC ‘ASS-KICKING’: Remember that time Shell Oil Co. ran its Kulluk drilling rig aground in the middle of the Arctic winter while trying to flee on New Year’s Eve in an effort to avoid millions of dollars in taxes owed if the vessel was still sailing in Alaskan waters on Jan. 1, 2013? That incident is fresh in the minds of NTSB investigators, who just wrapped up a report on the crash, which they chock up to the oil company’s “inadequate assessment of the risk” involved in towing equipment in that region, despite knowing the potential hazards. The safety board quotes an email from the master of the vessel hauling the Kulluk to the tow master of the drilling rig: “I believe that this length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing guarantees an ***kicking.” The report:

Timely criticism: Pro’s Elana Schor explains that “the NTSB’s inquiry comes as environmentalists mobilize to fight President Barack Obama over his decision to advance Shell’s bid to return to the Arctic for offshore drilling of up to six wells this summer. Foes of Arctic oil and gas production, including Democratic lawmakers, have objected to Obama’s move, citing concerns that the challenging conditions of the Alaskan waters make accidents like the Kulluk grounding impossible to avoid.”

FOXX AVOIDS DIRECT LINK BETWEEN AMTRAK FUNDING AND CRASH: Not drawing the same hard line as congressional Democrats, Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday that it’s “hard to say” whether more money could have prevented the Amtrak derailment this month. “Certainly having a greater level of investment would’ve given Amtrak a greater ability to manage its long-term capital needs differently,” Foxx told reporters. “But I don’t think you can categorically say that would’ve changed things.” The secretary says it’s obvious, though, that the crash emphasizes the need for all Amtrak trains to have positive train control technology as soon as possible. More from Pro:

HOUSE LEADERS TEE UP THUD FOR FLOOR ACTION: The House Rules Committee plans to meet Monday night to set rules for floor debate on the chamber’s transportation spending bill, likely setting up floor action later in the week. Debate during the Rules Committee markup and on the floor is expected to be consumed again by the mostly partisan feud over Amtrak funding levels, investment in positive train control technology and cuts to other accounts like the one to aid D.C.’s Metro.

A refresher on the bill appropriators approved earlier this month: . Bill text: Rules Committee agenda:

Rock bottom: Foxx noted Thursday that even some of the appropriators who supported approval of the spending bill in committee are concerned about its funding levels. “So I think there’s at least an awareness that we’re doing damage to ourselves but I wonder where rock bottom is,” he said. “I really do wonder where rock bottom is because we’ve got to be real close to it.” More from Pro:

BUSY TRYING TO SAVE LIVES, FEDS FORGO MORE TAKATA FINES FOR NOW: So consumed right now with trying to figure out what’s causing Takata airbags to send shrapnel flying at passengers, federal safety officials are holding off on levying additional fines against the Japanese manufacturer. Foxx said Thursday that more fines are expected but that “the first thing we’re focused on is trying to get a root cause established and protocols in place to get harmful products out of the marketplace.” The secretary said DOT was “arm-wrestling” with the manufacturer last year and has “more latitude” since the company has admitted the defect and agreed to a recall:

DOT APPEASES DEMOCRATS ON CRUDE-BY-RAIL REPORTING RULES: Lawmakers who have been begging DOT to extend an emergency order ensuring first responders have information about crude-by-rail shipments got their way on Thursday. In a letter to Sen. Maria Cantwell and seven other Democrats, Foxx announced that the department will extend “until further notice” the requirement that shippers of crude oil must give local responder teams a heads-up about shipments traveling through their regions by train. Foxx said the department did not intend to water down reporting requirements in its recent crude-by-rail regulations. DOT has been “laser-focused on ensuring that crude oil is shipped as safely and efficiently as possible throughout the United States,” the secretary wrote. More from Pro: The letter:

MOVIN’ ON: MT would like to give a special goodbye to a very special press person — Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Kevin Thompson, who’s spending his last day at DOT today. Always quick to answer emails and phone calls (even late at night) from the Pro Transportation team with a dash of humor and loads of patience, Kevin will be sorely missed. But don’t worry, Hill watchers — he isn’t going far. Kevin will start as deputy director of communications at the Department of Interior on Monday. Congrats on the new gig!


— Metro bans issue-oriented ads from system through year’s end. The Washington Post:

— After long delay, Port moves ahead with LaGuardia revamp. Capital New York:

— FAA contractor pleads guilty to Chicago control center fire. Pro:

— Complaints rise against nation’s railroad police. New York Times:

— Second anchoring rod in San Francisco Bay Bridge fails key test. Reuters:

— D.C. has taken a step to link Georgetown and Rosslyn via overhead gondola. The Washington Post:

— Uber, Lyft push back against proposed NYC regulations. AP:

— Analytics, apps set airlines on course to becoming ‘retailers with wings.’ Wall Street Journal:

— Plan to build tower at Grand Central in exchange for transit upgrades is approved. New York Times:

— EU raises pressure on France over transport law after Uber complaint. Wall Street Journal:

— Will auto dealers become an endangered species? LA Times:

— China’s big bet on infrastructure shows a commitment to innovation. The Washington Post:

— When an off-the-rack Rolls-Royce just won’t do. New York Times:

— Robot taxis might be driving Olympic athletes around Tokyo in 2020. Bloomberg Business:

— House Energy and Commerce lawmakers probe cyber protections for auto technology. Pro:

— New Jersey faces transportation funding woes and no easy fix. New York Times:

— South Korea to ban taxi services by private drivers in blow to Uber. Reuters:

— Former Senate Commerce staffer charged in fraud case. The Washington Post:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 64 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 125 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 531 days.

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