Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 25, 2014

October 24, 2014

A Look Back: Congestion Pricing, Fuel-Efficient Planes & Sand For Fracking

452912796 445x317 A Look Back: Congestion Pricing, Fuel Efficient Planes & Sand For Fracking

Falling prices for jet fuel won’t hurt demand for Boeing’s new fuel-efficient 787 airplanes, CEO Jim McNerney said this week. (Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

This week we took a look at congestion pricing, tolls that vary with the amount of traffic on a particular stretch of highway.

Can that market-based strategy reduce gridlock in some cities where it is most needed?

The problem: older highways such as the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, one of America’s most congested roads, have no adjacent space to add a new toll lane.

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Friday Q & A: Former Federal Pipeline Regulator Brigham McCown, Part One

81089067 445x290 Friday Q & A: Former Federal Pipeline Regulator Brigham McCown, Part One

Gasoline tanker cars parked at a refinery in California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Brigham McCown served under President George W. Bush as acting head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA), which regulates shipment of materials ranging from oil to hazardous medical waste.

He also served as chief counsel of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees trucking and buses.

He has formed the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure, a non-profit that will promote “innovative technologies and safer outcomes for national infrastructure projects.”

Here are some excerpts of our conversation with McCown:

Because of the public’s fear of accidents in shipping crude oil by rail, is more shipment going to shift to pipelines?

In a lot of instances, transportation infrastructure tends to lag the development of areas…. We’re now obtaining oil from locations where we previously haven’t.

While there is a mature pipeline infrastructure system in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, for example, it’s not unusual that that infrastructure lags behind production in the Bakken.

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‘Catastrophic’ Distracted Driving, And Not By a Teenager

169601728 445x295 ‘Catastrophic’ Distracted Driving, And Not By a Teenager

Smoke from a May 28, 2013 truck-train collision in Rosedale, Md. caused by a truck driver’s distracted driving. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

We’re just concluding Operation Safe Driver Week, a joint effort of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

FMCSA notes that nearly 4,000 people are killed annually in large truck and bus crashes.

This week also happens to be National Teen Driver Safety Week, with the familiar warnings to teenage drivers to not text when driving.

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October 23, 2014

United Airlines Sees No Ebola Effect

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United Airlines jets sit at gates at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

United Airlines bookings haven’t been affected by the Ebola outbreak, United’s chief revenue officer Jim Compton said Thursday.

He told investment analysts that the airline’s transatlantic business has “experienced several recent pressures, including Middle East unrest, the Ukrainian conflict, and more recently, concerns about Ebola” but “we have not seen any meaningful impact on bookings to date.”

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Energy Boom – And Sand – Benefit Union Pacific

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A Union Pacific train in Illinois (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Now is a great time to own a piece of a railroad, judging by the profits announced Thursday by the nation’s largest, Union Pacific.

The railroad, which serves West Coast and Gulf Coast ports and is a major shipper of grain, as well as of coal from Wyoming to power plants, set an all-time record for quarterly profits and for freight revenue, up 11 percent from the third quarter last year.

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Can Congestion Pricing Work Where It’s Needed Most?

452281681 1 445x296 Can Congestion Pricing Work Where It’s Needed Most?

Can congestion pricing ease traffic on roads like this one in Chicago? (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Congestion pricing of highways, or “priced managed lanes,” is now used from Houston to San Jose.

The toll goes up when a highway is more congested. Only people who most want to use that highway will pay the toll. Others will defer trips to off-peak times or try to find another route.

But can congestion pricing work where it’s most needed?

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October 22, 2014

Boeing: Oil Price Won’t Hurt Demand for Fuel-Efficiency

453149592 445x286 Boeing: Oil Price Won’t Hurt Demand for Fuel Efficiency

Boeing is counting on sustained demand for its fuel-efficient 787 aircraft (Photo credit should read Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing reported healthy profits Wednesday as Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney assured investors that declining oil prices won’t crimp airlines’ desire to buy more fuel-efficient planes.

McNerney seemed to allude to events such as the shooting down of Malaysia Flight 17 over Ukraine in July when he said, “Notwithstanding a somewhat richer mix of global economic and geopolitical developments throughout this year, which we are monitoring very carefully, global passenger traffic trends are strong and air cargo traffic continues to gradually improve, although the latter still remains a watch item for us.”

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Infrastructure Loan Fears Misguided, Reader Says

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A Staten Island ferry heads across New York harbor. New ferry terminals were built in 2005 with TIFIA loan backing (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

TIFIA is the federal loan program, which uses Treasury funds to help finance state and local governments’ infrastructure projects: bridges, ferry terminals, toll roads, etc.

Last week I mentioned that the new bridge across the Hudson River in New York is financed partly by a $1.6 billion TIFIA loan. TIFIA, which is run by the Department of Transportation, stands for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

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Bipartisan Accord on Travel Ban? Well, Maybe

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New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There was bipartisan accord in Tuesday night’s New Hampshire Senate debate that barring travelers from three Ebola-affected African countries is, or at least might be, necessary.

And there was bipartisan accord about the need to be bipartisan. And yet Republican candidate Scott Brown repeatedly attacked President Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak.

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October 21, 2014

Debate Just Starting on Mandate for ‘Talking Vehicles’

169021616 445x301 Debate Just Starting on Mandate for ‘Talking Vehicles’

The aftermath of a highway accident last year in Brentwood, Calif. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Should the federal government require your new car to be equipped to communicate with other cars on the highway, in order to prevent accidents?

The comment period closed Monday for initial public and interest group response to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposal to create a standard requiring vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication capability for cars and light trucks.

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Ebola Shift Shows Fine Line Between Reassuring And Deterring Travel

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she’d support Ebola “travel bans if they would work.” (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

It’s a change that will affect only about nine passengers a day, but Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced Tuesday that all passengers traveling to the U.S. from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone must travel through the five U.S. airports with heightened Ebola screening.

Administration officials had said that 94 percent of the approximately 150 daily arrivals in the United States from the three African countries were already using the five designated airports.

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Steady Travel Industry Nerves Needed Amid Ebola Fears

457062030 1 445x296 Steady Travel Industry Nerves Needed Amid Ebola Fears

Travelers at the international arrivals terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After a plunge in airline stock prices following the first Ebola case in the United States on Sept. 30, those stocks have recovered. Investors in the airline and the hotel industries await the next episode in the Ebola outbreak.

The industries have been understandably guarded in their comments on the outbreak.

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October 20, 2014

From Texas To Wisconsin, Voters To Determine Transportation Policy

In two weeks, voters decide which party will control the Senate and House, as well as choosing 36 governors and 6,049 state legislators.

In some places voters will also be making transportation policy directly through ballot initiatives and referenda.

A common factor in three states, Texas, Maryland and Wisconsin, is the attempt to ensure that some tax revenues are used only for transportation and aren’t diverted to other purposes.

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With Gasoline Under $3 A Gallon, Drivers Are Thriving

146224083 1 445x304 With Gasoline Under $3 A Gallon, Drivers Are Thriving

American drivers are enjoying an autumn windfall of lower gasoline prices (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Sometimes the bit of data that makes transportation news is staring you right in the face. So it was this weekend when I drove from Washington, D.C., to Princeton, N.J., and back.

I was driving a rental car and normally don’t pay too much attention to the price of gasoline.

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The Week Ahead: Distracted Teen Drivers, Earnings Reports & Another Ebola Hearing

170795739 273x335 The Week Ahead: Distracted Teen Drivers, Earnings Reports & Another Ebola Hearing

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney will discuss his company’s third quarter earnings on Wednesday. (Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images)

This week we’ll be watching the Ebola effect on commercial aviation as tighter screening proceeds at five U.S. airports and as the political debate continues over a ban on issuing visas to would-be visitors from three Ebola-affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Some earnings reports out this week will also give an indication of the health of the transportation sector.

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