Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 24, 2014

November 21, 2014

A Glance Back at Our Week: Congestion, Oil By Rail, And A Streetcar Nixed

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Container ships at the Maersk terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

This week we asked whether the cancellation of a planned streetcar line in the Washington, D.C. suburbs is perhaps a turning point for trendy transportation/urban development projects.

We heard in person from Bjorn Kjos, the head of Norwegian Air Shuttle who has set up an Ireland-based subsidiary to offer low-priced transatlantic service, a potential threat to legacy U.S. airlines such as United and Delta. Kjos is being stymied by Obama administration regulators.

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Friday Q & A: Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Part One

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Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call via Getty Images)

First elected to the House in 2000, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., is the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee. He’s playing a lead role on the bill that the House is poised to take up next year to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and perhaps make basic changes in how the nation’s airspace is managed.

Larsen also represents a district that includes Boeing’s giant aircraft manufacturing plant in Everett, Wash.

Here are excerpts from our conversation Thursday.

Is it likely that Congress can pass both a long-term surface transportation bill and a FAA reauthorization bill next year? That’s an awful lot in one year.

I can only speak for the House of Representatives and I believe we’re going to give it the old college try.

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November 20, 2014

A Bipartisan Move To Reward Whistleblowers

 

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Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has introduced a bill with Sen John Thune, R-S.D. to incentivize auto industry whistleblowers

In a bipartisan response to a spate of automobile industry recalls, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Thursday they were introducing a bill to give automobile industry whistleblowers up to 30 percent of the penalties resulting from a Department of Transportation or Justice Department investigation when the penalties are $1 million or more.

Full story

By Tom Curry Posted at 4:38 p.m.
Autos

Head Of Low-Fare Carrier Woos Americans

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CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle, Bjorn Kjos (Photo: Junge Heiko/AFP/Getty Images)

Bjorn Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle, parent company of a low-fare carrier that wants Department of Transportation permission to provide more flights between Europe and the United States, made his case to airline industry leaders at a speech in Washington Thursday.

Kjos said he’d be a job creator for Americans by bringing European and Asian tourists to American cities, hotels, and tourist sites.

And he said “if I fly twice as many people into the U.S., I need twice as many cabin attendants, I need twice as many pilots.”

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Despite Airbag Defects, Driving Safer Than 20 Years Ago

454356950 445x238 Despite Airbag Defects, Driving Safer Than 20 Years Ago

Labor Day holiday traffic in Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2014. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

On the eve of Thursday’s Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on defective vehicle airbags that may have killed four people in the United States, President Obama nominated Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, to fill the long-vacant job as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Governors Highway Safety Association cheered the nomination, calling Rosekind a leader in investigating and deterring drunk driving, drugged driving, and distracted driving.

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November 19, 2014

NTSB Ruling Affirms Regulations Still Apply to Drones

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., holding an unmanned arial vehicle at a 2013 hearing. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is at right. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The National Transportation Safety Board took a significant step this week on unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones. It said that federal aviation regulations still apply to drones even as everyone in the UAS world awaits the Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed rule governing drone flights.

In most cases UAS flights are banned. The FAA has granted some exemptions: in September it gave exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies.

In its ruling Tuesday the NTSB, acting as a quasi-court of appeals, sided with the FAA in the case of Raphael Pirker who’d flown a drone above the University of Virginia campus in 2011.

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What If Every (Travel) Day Were Like Thanksgiving?

New data released by the U.S. Travel Association says that everyday air travel could soon come to resemble the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when passenger volumes can increase by 108 t0 259 percent more than that of a normal day.

According to the data, almost “half of our [30] major airports are already experiencing Thanksgiving-like congestion levels at least one day every week (an increase from 6 in last year’s study.)” and that all 30 airports will reach Thanksgiving-peak levels on an average of one day per week within the next six years.

During a conference call Tuesday, Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said, “The already bad news about our overwhelmed travel system has gotten worse… and this headache goes beyond the traveling public and passengers,” adding that congestion is bad for the economy and is tied closely to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that in 2013 alone, 38 million trips were avoided because of unwillingness to deal with airport congestion, costing the U.S. economy $35.7 billion.

When asked about the congressional role in easing air travel congestion, Dow said that when Congress takes up next year’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization, it should provide more infrastructure investment and give more spending flexibility to airports.

He also insisted that Congress should look at  adjusting user fees and investing in NextGen air traffic control systems.

But when asked about his confidence in Congress to address these concerns in an FAA reauthorization bill, Dow said, “if past is prologue, it’s unlikely that Congress will increase investment.” But he expressed a little optimism by later noting that flexible spending and local control are “Republican principles” and would perhaps appeal to the new Republican-led 114th Congress.

A Streetcar Setback in D.C. Suburbs

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Emergency responders take part in a drill on H Street Northeast in Washington. A new streetcar is in a test phase. (Photo Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The momentum to transform America’s cities with streetcars and light rail systems got a setback Tuesday when the Arlington County Board in the Washington, D.C. suburbs voted to cancel a planned $550 million streetcar system.

The decision followed the election on Nov. 4 of prominent streetcar opponent John Vihstadt, an independent, to a full term on the board, following his victory in a special election last spring.

The county board chairman, Jay Fisette, a Democrat, said that he and other streetcar proponents “were caught flat-footed” by the public opposition. Full story

Now Let’s Prep For The Next Keystone XL Vote

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. D-N.D., voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After the Senate fell one vote short of approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Senate majority leader, vowed that another vote “will be an early item on the agenda in the next Congress.”

Since the Keystone XL issue will soon be back, note that even one of its most ardent supporters, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., doesn’t buy the argument made by Republican proponents that building it will ease freight railroad congestion.

Bakken crude oil is moved by rail from her state to refineries in other parts of the country, but has caused backups for shippers of other products.

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November 18, 2014

A New Funding Source For Air Traffic Control?

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Lightning flashes near an air traffic control tower under construction at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas last year. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

My CQ colleague David Harrison reports on an interesting split on the future of the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control.

Paul Rinaldi of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Tuesday that there’s a need for a new structure outside of FAA for traffic controllers.

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Freight Coalition Looks For Dedicated Revenue Stream

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Container terminal in the Port of Los Angeles (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A coalition of shippers, port authorities, retailers and other business groups is calling for a new revenue source to go solely to paying for large-scale infrastructure projects that would ease the movement of goods.

The Freight Stakeholders Coalition doesn’t have a unified position on what this new revenue source should be. But the Coalition will focus on the revenue issue as Congress begins to work on next year’s surface transportation bill.

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Amtrak Files Complaint Against Two Of Its Hosts

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A section of CSX rail line in Kentucky ((Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

Brisk business for the nation’s freight railroads and a rail infrastructure that can’t accommodate all who want to use it — combine those two factors and you get passengers on one Amtrak line late in arriving 97 percent of the time.

The on-time performance of Amtrak’s daily Capitol Limited service between Chicago and Washington, D.C. was 2.7 percent for the quarter which ended on Sept. 30, down from 33.6 percent the previous quarter.

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November 17, 2014

D.C. Streetcar Gives Congress Nearby Case Study

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The District of Columbia’s first modern streetcar line is still in a test phase (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Cruising very slowly with no passengers on board on its test runs up and down H Street Northeast in the nation’s capital, the Washington, D.C. streetcar gives members of Congress and think tank experts a local, real-world example, which could illuminate the national transportation debate.

In an editorial Monday, the Washington Post urged D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser to “bring focus and rationality to the project before proceeding with any expansion” beyond the initial 2.2 mile H Street line.

 

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Would Keystone XL Ease Rail Congestion?

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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. John Hoeven, R-N. Dak., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., mke the case for the Keystone XL at a press conference in September. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Canada and Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and Montana to a hub in Nebraska for delivery to Gulf Coast refineries. The House passed the bill on Friday.

The vote has election year resonance in the Louisiana Senate race, but for our purposes the pertinent question is: if the pipeline is built, what effect would it have on rail congestion in the northern Plains and Midwest?

Full story

Q & A: Rep.-Elect Aguilar, Part Two

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Pete Aguilar, just elected to represent California’s 31st congressional district. (Photo By Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call)

Here are more excerpts from our conversation with Pete Aguilar, whom voters just elected in California’s 31st congressional district.

The California high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco has been a high-profile issue here in D.C. 

Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of the railroads subcommittee, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California are both opposed to federal funding of it. Where do you stand on that?

I would have liked if they had started in more populated areas as they began the project…. When we have lines like the San Bernardino County line that has 12,000 people in it every day, I would have liked to have seen the population centers [included in the plan for high-speed rail]… That was a flaw that I saw in the project.

Would that line run anywhere near you?

It would not. Eventually in future segments, it may come into the city of Ontario.

Is Amazon building a big facility in your district?

They have three. They’ve opened two in the city of San Bernardino, these are distribution centers. And they have just open a third two months ago in the city of Redlands….

The Inland Empire is growing and expanding and I think that the fact that we were able to have Amazon come to our region shows that there is continued growth opportunity.

These are good paying jobs that have health care benefits and education reimbursement on Day One. Those are things that the Inland Empire needs and that’s why we’re so excited to have them.

Could you tell me about Ontario Airport?

Ontario Airport is a part of the Los Angeles World Airports; they own Burbank, Ontario, and LAX.

Many local governments have passed resolutions in support of local control, ensuring some local stakeholders are part of that process.

We have seen rapid declines of people traveling through Ontario airport and we want to make sure that that airport returns to what it should be, which means more non-stops, more activity: commuters, travelers, business people all getting where they need to be.

Ideally you’d like your constituents to be able to fly non-stop from Ontario to Chicago or from Ontario to New York?

Absolutely. We’d love expanded opportunity. Right now LA controls the gate fees and they control many of the things that would impede airline operators to come to the region. So we need to make sure there are local voices who con to advocate for improvements.

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