Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 2, 2015

February 27, 2015

Week In Review: Ports Recovery And Protectionism

A container ship sits docked at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 17, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A container ship sits docked at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 17, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This week the 29 West Coast ports began their recovery from a damaging nine-month labor dispute that led to work slowdowns. Container ships lined up off shore as they waited to dock and unload their containers.

We looked at the need for the ports to regain the trust – and patronage—of shippers, some of whom have diverted ships to East Coast, Mexican, and Canadian ports.

The theme of protectionism ran through a couple of stories this week, with our look at the Buy America requirement for infrastructure projects – even for components as small of four-inch steel valves on a the Kosciuszko Bridge project in New York City.

(Kosciuszko, by the way, was a Polish military officer and engineer who designed fortifications along the Hudson River and helped the colonies win their independence.)

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Transportation Budget Has $3 Million For Nuclear Ship

 

(Image courtesy of http://www.nssavannah.net/)

(Image courtesy of http://www.nssavannah.net/)

Tucked in President Obama’s $94.7 billion Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for the Department of Transportation is $3 million for a ship berthed in Baltimore which has carried neither cargo nor passengers since 1970.

The Maritime Administration is seeking the money for maintenance and “radiological protection” for the nuclear-powered merchant ship Savannah, a National Historic Landmark and an artifact of the Eisenhower Era.

To anyone concerned about fossil fuel pollution, a merchant fleet with no carbon dioxide or sulfur emissions might seem appealing.

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February 26, 2015

More Than 2,000 Pedestrians Killed In First Half of 2014

Police investigate a truck crash in New York City's financial district on Aug. 23, 2012 in which a pedestrian was killed. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Police investigate a truck crash in New York City’s financial district on Aug. 23, 2012 in which a pedestrian was killed. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There were 2,082 pedestrians killed by cars and trucks in the United States in the first half of last year, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reported Thursday , which was a 2.8 percent decrease from the same period in 2013 and part of a long-term trend in road safety.

Since 2000, the number of U.S. pedestrians killed by vehicles each year has ranged from about 4,100 to about 4,900.

The GHSA report said Delaware and Florida had the highest rates of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in the first half of 2014.

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February 25, 2015

Decline In Military Shipments Endangers Merchant Fleet

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R- Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R- Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The struggle to preserve the U.S. merchant shipping fleet played out on three fronts Wednesday at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

First: while the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may be welcome news for stressed-out military families, it’s not good news for the merchant fleet.

Paul Jaenichen, the head of the Maritime Administration, told the subcommittee that the declining volume of Defense Department cargo due to the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Iraq “coupled with a more than 80 percent reduction in personnel and military bases overseas since 1990” is hurting the U.S. merchant fleet.

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How Oregon’s Pioneering Road Usage Fee Will Work

Mount Hood in Oregon (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Mount Hood in Oregon (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Jim Whitty is the evangelist for Oregon’s pioneering road user fee pilot program which begins on July 1.

Other states are watching how Whitty and Oregon conduct a 5,000-vehicle pilot program in which volunteers will pay a road usage charge of 1.5 cents per mile for the number of miles they drive, instead of the fuel tax. Drivers will get a credit on their bill to offset the fuel tax they pay.

Whitty, manager of the Office of Innovative Partnerships & Alternative Funding for Oregon’s Department of Transportation, is a wry, self-deprecating salesman for the program.

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February 24, 2015

Vendors Look To Reap Revenues From User Fee System

Traffic in Los Angeles: a future revenue source for data vendors? (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Traffic in Los Angeles: a future revenue source for data vendors? (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

The shift from the gasoline tax to mileage-based user fees which Oregon is launching this year, which California will be testing in 2017, and which other states may follow isn’t just a way for states to pay for transportation infrastructure, it’s a business opportunity for vendors such as Verizon Telematics and Sanef.

Telematics, data collection, and information technology companies envision a world in which, if drivers agree to turn over their driving data to the vendor, they get the benefits of:

  • usage-based insurance (which could give more precise evidence of one’s safety as a driver than current insurance systems);
  • remote vehicle diagnostics;
  • emissions reporting (without having to go into a state emissions station for onsite testing);
  • monitoring of teenage drivers in your family to make sure they aren’t going 95 miles per hour down the interstate highway.

Oregon’s pilot program involves only 5,000 vehicles and has three vendors running it. The state now is subsidizing those vendors.

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Blumenauer: Replace Gas Tax With Road Usage Charge

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Speaking to the second annual conference of the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance on Tuesday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D – Ore., pitched the idea of pairing an increase in the gasoline tax with a pilot program to support state experiments in taxing drivers by how many miles they drive.

Oregon is launching a voluntary mileage-based fee program in July.

Blumenauer proposes a gas tax increase of 15 cents a gallon, phased in over three years and indexed to the Consumer Price Index. This “can be the last time Congress ever has to act to raise the gas tax. And then I want to get rid of the gas tax, because it doesn’t work over the long haul.”

Alluding to Oregon being the first state to impose a tax on gasoline in 1919 and the state’s current experiment with a mileage-based fee (also known as a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, or a road usage charge), Blumenauer added, “for ten years the state that gave you the gas tax has been piloting projects to show how you can get rid of it.”

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Buy America Rules Reach Even Four-Inch Steel Valves

The Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. (Photo: New York Department of Transportation)

The Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. (Photo: New York Department of Transportation)

Here’s one recent and relatively small illustration of how far-reaching are the Buy America rules that have governed transportation infrastructure projects since 1978.

The state of New York is about to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge, built in 1940, which spans the Newtown Creek between the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

The bridge carries more than 160,000 vehicles a day and is a chokepoint on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, part of Interstate 278.

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February 23, 2015

Congress Faces Decision On Export-Import Bank

A Boeing 787-9 at the Farnborough Airshow in England, last July. (Photo: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)

A Boeing 787-9 at the Farnborough Airshow in England, last July. (Photo: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)

A day before more than 600 supporters of the Export-Import Bank arrive in Washington to make the case for the bank, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) urged Congress in a letter to change Ex-Im Bank rules so that it doesn’t aid “state-owned, state-supported, and credit-worthy foreign airlines.”

ALPA called for “targeted and meaningful reforms to the Export-Import Bank’s widebody aircraft lending practices.”

The Export-Import bank provides loans and loan guarantees to foreign purchasers of U.S. goods. In fiscal year 2014, the bank arranged $20.5 billion in financing which it said supported more than 164,000 American jobs.

Congress last year extended the bank’s charter until June, instead of giving it the five-year reauthorization it sought.

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Confidence A Key To Recovery From Ports Debacle

Ships wait to be loaded at the Port of Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2015. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Ships wait to be loaded at the Port of Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2015. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Will that shipment arrive in time? That’s a big question in the aftermath of Friday’s announcement from the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that they’d come to a tentative agreement on a five-year contract.

How soon can U.S. exporters, and the dockyard workers, terminal operators, railroads, and truckers upon whom they rely, convince customers in Korea, China, and elsewhere that U.S. products will get there as promised?

All sides need to “help restore confidence that the West Coast and the United States are open for business,” said National Association of Manufacturers president Jay Timmons.

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Week Ahead: Tolling, Flight Tracking, Energy Shipping

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It will be a busy week in Washington for transportation policy, with hearings, speeches, and panel discussions on everything from better tracking of airline flights to tolling on interstates.

Tuesday

The Mileage Based User Fee Alliance holds its second annual conference in Washington.

The Alliance includes state departments of transportation and contractors in the tolling business. Panelists will discuss such topics as California’s Road Usage Charge Pilot Program.

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February 20, 2015

Week In Review: Derailment, Delay, And Delta’s CEO

Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

This week was dominated by the derailment of an oil train near Mount Carbon, W.V. The accident, which caused explosions and fires and destroyed one house, illustrated the risks that towns and cities face as Bakken crude from North Dakota makes the journey from the oil well to the tank of your car.

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Unions, Governors Make A Transportation Weekend Of It

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trains and buses may be on a reduced weekend schedule but transportation events run at a brisk pace Saturday and Sunday.

In Atlanta, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO holds its annual executive committee meeting with 32 member unions in Atlanta. The unions represent workers from airline pilots to light rail operators.

Labor leaders will confer with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Saturday, and on Sunday Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y. and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. will meet with the union leaders.

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Bertha Breaks Through, But Tunnel Date Unknown

In a week of some bad transportation news – a crippled mass transit system in snowbound Boston, cracked rails and delays on Washington’s Metro, an oil train derailment in West Virginia, and the unresolved West Coast ports dispute, here’s one bit of good news: Bertha is now closer to her rescue and repair.

In January we reported on Bertha, the $80 million, 7,000-ton tunnel-boring machine that was stuck 60 feet under Seattle’s waterfront.

Bertha had been digging a tunnel under the waterfront part of the city to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct, a major north-south artery which was damaged by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001.

But the giant machine got stuck in December of 2013 after the project manager reported that “unanticipated and increasing resistance was experienced” and crews discovered damage to the machine.

On Thursday, part of Bertha’s cutter head broke through a wall of an access pit that will eventually allow crews to take the machine apart and repair it.

“We don’t have an estimated repair cost yet.” Chris Dixon, project director for the Seattle Tunnel Partners told the Seattle Times.

And when Bertha will return to her job of boring the tunnel is also not yet known.

February 19, 2015

Devolution For Transportation A Long-Term Strategy

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The conservative Heritage Foundation and its political arm Heritage Action want Congress to spend the money in the Highway Trust Fund on highways and not on subways, commuter trains, and other forms of mass transit.

Heritage transportation analyst Emily Goff said that current policy directs up to 20 percent of the money in the Highway Trust Fund to mass transit even though only 5 percent of commuters use mass transit. Most of the money that goes into the trust fund comes from gasoline and diesel taxes.

“How does the transit ride of someone in New York benefit someone who is a farmer in Montana who is using the roads?” she asked Wednesday at a Heritage briefing.

The think tank would like to devolve the federal transportation programs to the states. Goff said “letting the states who want to pursue transit do so” would result in better transit systems since states would design them to fit their needs and fund them themselves.

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