Transportation News for June 26, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on June 26, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 6/26/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle and Kathryn A. Wolfe

LAWMAKERS HIT THE ROAD WITHOUT HIGHWAY PLAN IN HAND: Recess has officially begun, and both chambers won’t gavel back in for 11 days. Despite a flurry of hearings over the past few weeks to try to think through some long-term transportation funding options, lawmakers have left town just as undecided as ever.
Our Heather Caygle reports on the parting jabs Democrats got in this week as they took one last opportunity to blast Republicans over highway funding. “As we speak, no progress has been made in forging a bipartisan, long-term agreement to fund our highway program,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Thursday. As House and Senate tax writers remain at an impasse over how to handle the upcoming Highway Trust Fund deadline — with less than four weeks to cook up a solution when they return in July — Democrats have jumped at the opportunity to highlight that inaction. They conveniently forget to mention, though, that Congress hasn’t passed a long-term highway and transit bill in a decade, even though Dems controlled both chambers for part of that time.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride: What was supposed to be a press conference on the current highway funding crisis mostly devolved into a lot of gloating over the Supreme Court ruling that upheld Obamacare subsidies, a major victory for Democrats. Reid even made a joke about it. “We’re here today, of course, to talk about the big news of the day — transportation funding,” he said, soliciting a big laugh from his fellow lawmakers and the crowd of reporters.

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“She needs a carburetor, a set of plug wires. She’s ridin’ me around on four bald tires.”

TRUCK DEBATE DRAGS ON, DIVIDED: With these vote margins, the fight over whether to allow longer trucks on the interstate is sure to be a fierce one, right down to the day Congress sends the president fiscal 2016 spending legislation. Senate appropriators agreed 16-14 on Thursday to tack language onto their THUD bill that would allow trucks as long as 33 feet (up from the current 28-foot max). And a subsequent vote broke down even more narrowly, 15-15, on tempering that language with the caveat that DOT could increase truck length if the agency first makes a “statistically significant finding” that the increase would not harm public safety.

DOT weighs in: It isn’t common for a federal department to jump into legislative debate at this phase, but DOT is standing strong on its stance that Congress shouldn’t be changing truck size and weight laws until the department is able to get enough data to properly assess the impact. Citing the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approval of the truck-length language, DOT spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling said in a written statement that “safety is the top priority for the U.S. Department of Transportation, so we find troubling any change in policy that might compromise safety for the American traveling public.”

OPEN SKIES CONTINGENT GROWS IN SENATE: A staggering 21 senators signed on this week to a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Secretary of State John Kerry, asking the department chiefs to request consultations with Qatar and UAE on whether the countries are unfairly subsidizing their airlines. “International flight routes are extremely competitive and we fear that these subsidies may have led to market distortions,” the letter reads. “If so, failure to take action could cause harm to the U.S. passenger airline industry and the broader U.S. economy, including significant job losses.” The letter:

PASSENGER RAIL BILL ADVANCES, EMBODYING NEW SAFETY MANDATES: That passenger rail bill Sens. Roger Wicker and Cory Booker introduced last Thursday is already off to the full Senate. The Senate Commerce Committee rapidly approved the measure on Thursday by voice vote, agreeing to add language that would direct carriers transporting flammable liquids to ready response plans for oil spills and force DOT to develop a rule requiring all DOT-117 tank cars and all non-jacketed DOT-117R cars to be equipped with thermal blankets.

Safety afterthoughts: The legislation, which was already prepared for introduction when the Amtrak train derailed in Pennsylvania last month, now includes a long list of safety mandates inspired by that crash, including a requirement that all passenger rail operators develop safety plans to reduce risk of over-speed derailments while they work to implement positive train control technology. During the markup, lawmakers also agreed to add provisions that would direct DOT to develop rules within two years to require passenger and commuter trains to be equipped with both inward-facing and outward-facing cameras in all cabs.

IT’S TIME TO DIAL A SENATOR: Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe has some advice for construction-industry types who want to see Congress move on a long-term transportation funding plan: Start calling up the nay-saying senators. “Those are the people you need to concentrate on,” Inhofe said this week during a sit-down with the American Society of Civil Engineers. “You need to have your engineers … and supporters look and see how they voted last time, if they voted against it, and say: ‘Why’d you vote against it, and are you going to vote against it again?’ I can assure you that if you confront them — and they know you’re paying that much attention — that will be singularly the best thing that you folks can do.” Check out ASCE’s video of that talk:

PURPLE LINE LIVES ON: Local transit advocates have been on edge since Republican Larry Hogan assumed the Maryland governorship earlier this year after campaigning for months against the Purple Line mass transit project. But things are looking up after Hogan’s announcement Thursday laying out his transportation agenda. More from The Washington Post: Hogan said “Maryland ‘will be moving forward’ with the Purple Line, providing that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties pick up more of the cost and the light-rail line is modified to save state taxpayers money.

“The governor also announced he was not going ahead with the Red Line in Baltimore, saying the projected $2.9 billion cost of that light-rail project was less economically justified than the 16-mile rail line in the Washington suburbs. ‘We are not opposed to mass transit, but we do oppose wasteful and irresponsible spending on poorly conceived projects,’ Hogan said.” Full story:

COMMITTEES COMPLETE LEGISLATIVE SWEEP BEFORE BREAK: Almost exactly halfway through the first session of the 114th Congress, committee leaders are under pressure now to send bills off for floor consideration, and they were certainly feeling the pre-recess rush this week. On Thursday alone, Senate appropriators moved their THUD bill through full committee and the House Homeland Security Committee approved five aviation security measures, as well as a bill to make it easier to stop Visa Waiver agreements with partner countries. Senate Commerce also sent on its passenger rail legislation, a port performance bill and a two-year Coast Guard authorization.

Pro coverage of that legislative flurry:

THUD: | TSA bills: | Visa waiver proposal: | Port performance measure: | Coast Guard authorization: | Passenger rail proposal:

STAR SEARCH, METRO STYLE: Calling all singers, dancers, musicians and other performers: Metro is holding auditions from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday at WMATA headquarters (600 5th St. NW) for chances to perform at station entrances this summer. Show ‘em what you’ve got!:


— Alfa Romeo’s new sedan is big on horsepower and hubris. Bloomberg Business:

— A closer look at the safest U.S. city to drive. Route Fifty:

— Automakers tackle the massive security challenges of connected vehicles. The Wall Street Journal:

— Video maker sues so it can promote Muslim film in NY subways. AP:

— Courtney Love tweets ordeal during violent Uber protests in Paris. The New York Times:

— Malaysia Air plans to shuffle fleet from large to small. Bloomberg Business:

— California lake fire grew after private drone flights disrupted air drops. LA Times:

— Bangkok airport denies security slip after Tokyo finds a gun. AP:

— American Road & Transportation Builders Association sizes up the Drive Act:

— Why don’t carmakers kill off unpopular models? Bloomberg Business:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 36 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 97 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 503 days.