Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 18, 2014

Posts in "Bridges"

December 9, 2014

Study: Data, Not Politics, Must Drive Infrastructure

3064336 445x318 Study: Data, Not Politics, Must Drive Infrastructure

Interstate 95 in Pennsylvania (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

State and regional transportation planners should start asking “what’s the return on investment?” to make sure that each infrastructure dollar is being well spent, says Emil Frankel, a top Transportation Department official in the Bush administration and the author of a study released Tuesday by American Action Forum, a center-right think tank, and the Eno Center for Transportation on using economic analysis to select transportation projects.

“In a time of scarce resources, we need better, more analytically driven decision making about how to use these resources more effectively and productively,” Frankel said in an interview Monday.

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December 5, 2014

A Look Back At Our Week: Tax Break, Cargo Preference

458800648 445x301 A Look Back At Our Week: Tax Break, Cargo Preference

Commuters at the Times Square Subway stop in New York City. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Mass transit and van poll advocates have urged Congress to enact permanent tax break parity between those who get employer-provided parking benefits and those who use mass transit. That parity ended at the end of 2013.

Parity crusaders will need to wait until next year and try to persuade the new Congress.

  • We also heard from rail infrastructure advocates who want the new Congress to enact a dedicated source of funding.

To make their case, they point to the tangible achievements of President Obama’s $830 billion stimulus, such as the new Niantic River Bridge along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.

  • Finding money for infrastructure, whether rail or highways or subways, is of course the seemingly permanent and inescapable problem, as a new report this week from the Eno Center for Transportation reminded us.

The report suggests that perhaps policymakers should simply decide that Congress is not going to increase the gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and should consider relying on general tax revenue to pay for infrastructure.

The current system “is really not working well… for anybody. So there’s a much greater reason to consider alternative to the user pays/Trust Fund structure at this point,” said Eno president Joshua Schank.

  • We reported on the confirmation hearing for Mark Rosekind, Obama’s choice to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As the agency tries to cope with multiple auto and auto parts recalls, senators urged Rosekind to be bold in re-invigorating it.

“If you are not feared and respected, then you cannot do a good job policing the safety of automobiles in this country,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told Rosekind. “I don’t think that NHSTA is either feared or respected at this point.”

  • We also looked at the controversy over the cargo preference, which requires that a certain percentage of commodities purchased by the government be shipped in U.S.-flagged vessels. The cargo preference is designed to preserve U.S. merchant marine jobs and the U.S. shipping industry.
  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., pledged to stop a House-passed Coast Guard bill which they say would in effect strengthen the cargo preference and make it more costly for the Agency for International Development to ship food to countries affected by famine or food shortages.

December 2, 2014

With Stimulus Visible, Rail Searches For New Funds

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President Obama speaks to the Recovery Act Implementation Conference on March 12, 2009 in Washington. (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

Apart from the Affordable Care Act – whose fate has yet to be determined by the Supreme Court – and judicial appointments, perhaps the most durable and visible accomplishment of President Obama’s two terms will be long-lasting steel structures like the $154 million Niantic River Bridge project along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.

It was finished in 2013 with $77 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and $77 million in Amtrak capital funds. It replaced a bridge built in 1907.

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December 1, 2014

The Week Ahead: Transit Tax Break, Takata, And Sustainable Investment

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Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is working to restore tax break parity for mass transit users. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Members of Congress try to complete their lame-duck spending bill and decide on the fate of a package of tax breaks – including reviving one that expired at the end of 2013 that gave the same tax benefit to employer-provided mass transit commuting as to employed-provided parking.


The OneRail Coalition, which includes the American Public Transportation Association, the Association of American Railroads, and railroad workers’ unions, holds a Capitol Hill briefing to promote federal and private sector investment in rail projects.

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November 18, 2014

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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November 14, 2014

A Look Back: Slow Down, New Yorkers, Road Salt & Girding For 114th Congress


458582922 445x296 A Look Back: Slow Down, New Yorkers, Road Salt & Girding For 114th Congress

New York City drivers must adjust to a new 25 mile per hour speed limit. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This week we looked at New York City’s new 25 mile per hour speed limit. Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner, said public attitudes toward speeding will need to change just as they did toward drunk driving in the past few decades.

A culture change is what’s needed since “Culture eats policy for breakfast,” she said.

Snow storms have hit parts of the country this week and we examined the cost increases that states and counties are facing for a commodity they need to keep highways open: salt.


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Thune Not Taking Revenue Options Off The Table

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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

As the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee next year, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., will have an agenda crowded with complex issues, with transportation financing only one of them.

Thune has begun his policy making role, taking time to confer with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx who visited South Dakota Tuesday.

Was there a meeting of the minds between the two on how to pay for infrastructure?

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November 12, 2014

McGovern Weighs Voters’ Contradictory Infrastructure Views

mcgovern 254 091312 445x296 McGovern Weighs Voters Contradictory Infrastructure Views

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is a seasoned observer both of his state’s politics and of the politics of transportation.

We got McGovern’s assessment Wednesday of Massachusetts voters’ defeat last week of automatic gasoline tax increases, as well as their election of Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker over Democrat Martha Coakley.

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November 11, 2014

Crumbling Infrastructure Creates Opening For Railroads

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A Union Pacific freight train in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

In one sense, the deteriorating highway infrastructure that road builders and members of Congress complain about is good news for freight railroads.

In a presentation at the Stephens Fall Investment Conference in New York Tuesday, Rob Knight, the chief financial officer of Union Pacific, said the trucking industry “faces continued challenges from regulations, highway congestion, and a deteriorating infrastructure.”

One reason that highway infrastructure is deteriorating, of course, is that Congress and most states haven’t been willing or able to raise new revenue to fix and expand it.

By contrast, Knight said, rail traffic moves “over a right of way privately owned and maintained.”

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November 6, 2014

The Curious Case Of Gov. Corbett

132191847 1 445x310 The Curious Case Of Gov. Corbett

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett got only 45 percent of the vote in his loss Tuesday. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Transportation advocacy and lobbying groups often say they want politicians courageous enough to push for big infrastructure bills, even if higher taxes are part of the package.

But this week’s elections provided one case of a governor, Pennsylvania Republican Tom Corbett, who pushed for and signed into law a significant transportation funding package, and yet went down in an overwhelming defeat to Democrat Tom Wolf on Tuesday.

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November 5, 2014

Mass. Rejects Automatic Gasoline Tax Increases

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There were contrasting results in Massachusetts and New Hampshire Tuesday on gasoline taxes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

There was no consistent pattern on Election Day in voters’ willingness to pay higher taxes to finance transportation infrastructure. The outcome depended on where a voter happened to live.

Massachusetts voters repealed annual automatic gasoline tax increases, reversing a decision the state legislature made last year.

Fifty-three percent of voters supported a ballot measure to rescind the law which adjusted the state’s gasoline tax every year by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index.

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November 4, 2014

In GOP Senate, Thune Would Be Pivotal Dealmaker

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Sen. John Thune, R-S. D., speaks to reporters as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

South Dakota Sen. John Thune is in line to become a pivotal transportation policy maker if his party wins the Senate majority.

Thune would be the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in a GOP-controlled Senate. He also serves on the Finance Committee which would need to approve any new revenue source for transportation funding.

A veteran labor union leader involved in transportation issues said that he and some unions with interests in the committee would be able to work with Thune who has a reputation as a pragmatist.

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November 3, 2014

Voters Get Their Say On Indexing Gasoline Tax

martha 445x235 Voters Get Their Say On Indexing Gasoline Tax

Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker debate indexing the gasoline tax.

Massachusetts voters Tuesday get a chance to rescind the decision their state legislators made last year to peg the state’s gasoline tax to the inflation rate.

But voters’ apparent confusion about the wording of the ballot measure, listed as Question 1 on the ballot, may skew the outcome.

A poll released by Suffolk University last Thursday found that more than three out of five voters think that the state’s gasoline tax increases should not automatically be tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Full story

October 30, 2014

New Hampshire Election Gives Read On Gasoline Tax

New Hampshire is one case where we’ll get a reading on Election Day on voters’ preferences on raising taxes to pay for infrastructure.

The increase in the state gasoline tax, which Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan signed into law last May is an issue in ads which the Republican Governors Association is running against her.

It was also a focus of the televised debate Wednesday night between Hassan and her Republican opponent Walt Havenstein.

The bill Hassan signed increased the state’s excise tax on both gasoline and diesel from 18 cents to 22.2 cents per gallon.

Full story

October 24, 2014

‘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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