Transportation News for May 7, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 7, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/7/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle

CALLING ON PRIVATE-SECTOR INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT: Sen. Michael Bennet headlines the Bipartisan Policy Center’s launch this morning of its Executive Council on Infrastructure, an initiative aimed at encouraging private-sector investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure. The group plans to hold several public and private meetings over the next year to come up with recommendations for getting the private sector to invest in infrastructure. “The business community has both an interest and obligation to identify ways to overcome the barriers keeping billions of dollars of private capital on the sidelines,” Douglas Peterson, McGraw Hill Financial’s CEO, said in a written statement this week. Watch the event live at 9:30 a.m.:
EPW LEADERS HAMMER OUT MULTI-YEAR TRANSPO PLAN: Chairman Jim Inhofe says he and ranking member Barbara Boxer are working hard on a bill that would re-up transportation policy and funding for five or six years. They talked Wednesday morning and have agreed to “start immediately” on the legislation, working on it over “the next couple of weeks,” Inhofe said. More from Pro:

End-of-July tide-over: The chairman also says his plan to temporarily extend transportation policy until the end of July could give the leaders enough time to finalize their long-term reauthorization, run it by the Finance Committee and get House leaders onboard. But Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch says it is unlikely the senators will be able to round up the requisite support in the House for their long-term proposal, making an extension through year’s end the way to go. “We’re not going to get it without tax increases, and I don’t think that’s going to be acceptable to the House,” Hatch said Wednesday. “So it’s nice to talk about it, but the reality is it’s going to be pretty hard to do.”

‘Very fluid’: Those two temporary extension plans — through the end of July or through the end of the year — are still the main proposals being floated among senators. And Sen. John Thune said Thursday that consensus hasn’t settled yet in one direction or the other. “At this point it’s still very fluid,” Thune said. “I’m for getting a long-term bill as long as we can so we’re not doing these continual and perpetual extensions. But I’m not sure at this point what the best way to achieve that is. … I don’t think we have a clear path yet.”

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

Gracias, American Society of Travel Agents, for publishing your list of the top 20 strangest things clients have asked travel agents over the past year. MT’s favorite is probably: “Can you book two rooms in different parts of the resort — one for me and my wife, and the other for my girlfriend?” Or maybe: “Does the crew actually sleep onboard the cruise ship?”

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“I wish I could find a soul to steal. I could be the engine, you could be the wheel.”

NORTH DAKOTA DERAILMENT INFLAMES CONGRESSIONAL IRE: Lawmakers who have already been criticizing the DOT’s new crude-by-rail regulations have only been emboldened in their demands after the latest fiery derailment in North Dakota. Following the disaster, eight Senate Democrats wrote to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Wednesday calling on him to issue an emergency order requiring oil shippers to provide detailed information on those rail shipments to first responders, shifting “the onus for information sharing onto the railroads and not communities.” That letter:

Positive Train Control: The DOT posted its final thoughts Wednesday for its new tank car rules, stating that Positive Train Control would not have prevented the accidents the department reviewed in creating the rule. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe explains that “the rule stops short of suggesting that PTC won’t prevent future oil train derailments, and recounts that FRA’s 2010 PTC rule suggests some 44 accidents per year — including those not related to overspeed derailments — could be prevented by PTC. But it notes that there is ‘little, if any, overlap between the prevention measures in the PHMSA rule and the accidents that PTC will prevent.’” DOT’s final analysis:

Volatility legislation: The House’s top Democratic appropriator, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, outlined a bill this week that would immediately ban interstate rail shipment of crude oil with a Reid Vapor Pressure volatility level above 8.5 pounds per square inch and call on the Obama administration to set a national limit on the volatility of oil shipped by rail. More on that:

BROOKINGS DEBUTS INFRASTRUCTURE IDEAS: Brookings is set to release a new paper this morning on financing transportation infrastructure, offering four short-term proposals and three long-term plans for building up infrastructure and finding the cash to do it. In the report, The Hamilton Project will recommend restoring the Build America Bonds program, overhauling the gas tax, expanding the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act from $1 billion to $10 billion annually, and calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out high-priority projects funded by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund’s surplus. The think tank will bring transportation experts together to talk about the report on Monday:

FRA RAIL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM WRITES BIGGEST CHECK IN HISTORY: Although New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo already jumped the gun on this one nearly two weeks ago: The FRA announced this week that it is, in fact, delivering its largest railroad improvement loan in history to the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The agency is chipping in nearly $967.1 million to help develop Positive Train Control on the Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road. The nearly $1 billion is a big deal for the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, which has provided 34 loans over the past six years, totaling about $2.7 billion. Details from FRA:

REPUBLICAN POLICY COMMITTEE DEEMS FUNDING ‘LESS URGENT’ THAN AUTHORITY: The Senate Republican Policy Committee posted an issue update this week on the state of the Highway Trust Fund, seemingly pushing lawmakers to consider a clean transportation policy extension this month, instead of trying to delve into funding issues in the time between now and the May 31 authority expiration. “While questions remain on how much money to put into the fund and how to raise that money, those questions are less urgent,” the committee advises. “The Department of Transportation has said that it will be able to provide funding through late July or early August.” Check it out:

OUTSIDE GROUPS WEIGH IN ON EXTENSION PLANS: TTD, the transportation arm of the AFL-CIO, has come out in support of Inhofe’s July policy patch idea. “Congress should pass a clean, short-term extension through July and then get to work on a robust long-term bill that expands investments and job creation and is paid for with a sustainable revenue stream,” TTD President Ed Wytkind said in a statement Wednesday. Wytkind’s endorsement comes one day after Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Janet Kavinoky told reporters she thinks her organization will also back the mid-summer plan. The AFL-CIO and Chamber are often on opposite sides of an issue but have been in lockstep when it comes to transportation funding, including both groups endorsing a gas tax hike.

Year-end patch opposition: The Transportation Construction Coalition sent a letter to House and Senate leaders Wednesday refuting claims by some lawmakers that a year-end extension is needed to ensure certainty for the summer construction season. “We want to clarify that the duration of the next extension will have little impact on the 2015 construction season,” the group wrote. “When Congress chose last summer to again temporarily patch the Highway Trust Fund and extend the authorization of the programs for eight months, it guaranteed a disruption of this construction season. It has already occurred.” TCC, which represents a variety of alphabet-soup groups including ARTBA, AGC and ASCE, said the next patch should be “of limited duration” and have explicit timelines for the tax-writing committees to act.

Reality check: The TCC letter also included a nice reality check about the patch Congress enacted last summer, which was supposed to be the bridge to a multi-year bill: “The simple fact is Congress has had nearly 10 months and all the necessary information to finalize ‘a long-term solution to the Highway Trust Fund’ and yet we are right back to the same scenario, with the same rhetoric, and, potentially, the same ‘solution’ as took place last July.” Read the letter:

Teamsters takes sides: The Teamsters issued a statement Wednesday in support of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s threat to block trade legislation from moving forward before a transportation reauthorization bill. “Sen. Reid knows what America’s priorities should be,” Teamsters President James Hoffa said. “This Congress needs to figure out how to properly fund the nation’s transportation network in the next few weeks, and shouldn’t be wasting its time on a fast-track bill that has no set deadline.” Pro’s Brian Mahoney brings it:

‘LINE-OF-SIGHT’ ON THE MIND: The FAA signaled this week that it might let people fly drones out of sight in rural or “isolated” areas. The announcement comes as part of a new initiative to “explore the next steps” in drone operations, the agency is taking on in partnership with CNN, which will focus on newsgathering activities; PrecisionHawk, which will look at crop monitoring; and BNSF, which will look at command and control issues.

B4UFLY app: The agency also showcased a new smartphone app to help model aircraft and drone operators figure out where it’s safe and legal to fly. The B4UFLY app is scheduled for release to about 1,000 beta testers later this summer. The rundown:


— Investigators say Germanwings co-pilot appeared to rehearse crash. The Wall Street Journal:

— U.S. airports are better, but not best. The New York Times:

— Southwest Airlines hasn’t decided whether or not to oppose Texas high-speed rail. CityLab:

— Tesla’s new battery doesn’t work that well with solar. Bloomberg Business:

— How an app destroyed their streets: Readers count the Waze. LA Times:

— Gas prices or economy, experts disagree on what drives U.S. demand. Reuters:

— Woman known for trying to sneak on planes jailed in Chicago. AP:

— Scared of self-driving cars? They’re a lot closer than you think. Bloomberg Business:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 24 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 146 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 552 days.

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