Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 28, 2015

Posts in "Bridges"

January 28, 2015

Left Versus Right On How To Build Infrastructure

Traffic on Interstate Highway 110 through downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Traffic on Interstate Highway 110 through downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Two sharply contrasting views of transportation policy were on display in Washington Tuesday.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I- Vt., announced his Rebuild America Act, a $1 trillion, five-year plan to repair and build transit systems, bridges, highways, railroads, ports, the national electric power grid, and national parks.

He did not include financing proposals in the bill.

“What I wanted to do was focus on the need to build the infrastructure and not start the debate right away on how we fund it. There are many ways to fund it and honest people can have honest differences of opinion,” Sanders told reporters.

Sanders serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee which will be working on a highway reauthorization bill this year. He was skeptical about proposals to use repatriated profits of U.S. corporations now held overseas to pay for infrastructure.

He also said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D- Md., the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, is a co-sponsor of his bill.

Meanwhile, the limited-government, free-enterprise think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, issued its 2015 legislative agenda.

Full story

January 27, 2015

CBO Reminder To Congress: Infrastructure Funding 101

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In its annual budget and economic forecast Monday the Congressional Budget Office reminded members of Congress of some of the basics that set the bounds of the infrastructure debate:

  • While federal spending on highways and mass transit has been running at about $53 billion a year in recent years, “annual receipts from highway taxes, which are largely dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund, are projected to stay at $38 billion or $39 billion each year between 2015 and 2025….” Thus the shortfall is about $14 billion a year.
  • CBO predicts that over the long term gasoline consumption will decline, as vehicles’ fuel economy improves. This will “more than offset increases in the number of miles that people drive stemming from both population increases and real income gains per person.”
  • But just for this year, the drop in gasoline prices (down nearly 40 percent from this same point last year) will cause drivers to drive more miles, so CBO projects that “gasoline use and tax revenues will be roughly in line with last year’s figures….”
  • CBO predicts that oil prices will rise again later this year – a forecast which some private-sector economists and investors don’t agree with at all.

Full story

As Blizzard Hits, Cuomo Bans Travel

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan's financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan’s financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A massive nor’easter was hitting New York, New Jersey, and New England Monday night and Tuesday. That means that mass transit and the highways, at least in the New York City area, were closed, as of 11pm Monday.

In a press briefing late Monday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat just elected to his second term, said he’d ordered commuter railroad and subway service to stop at 11pm Monday to allow train cars to be moved to safe storage locations “so that when the weather does leave we’re in a position for the system to start back up.”

He said the city and state had learned from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that it was far better to protect subway and commuter trains so that service could be resumed as quickly as possible.

He also ordered a travel ban on highways and roads in a 13-county area, including the five boroughs of New York City, except for emergency vehicles.

“If you violate this state order it’s a possible misdemeanor; it’s fines up to $300,” he told a press conference.

Full story

January 21, 2015

Infrastructure Funding Deal Not Yet Clear

President Obama arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

What was not made clear in President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night was whether he’d be willing to sign a stand-alone bill to use profits of U.S. corporations now held overseas to pay for infrastructure.

Would he instead insist on a bill that included some of the tax increases that the White House sketched out over the weekend such as higher tax rates on dividends and capital gains?

Obama said Tuesday night that Congress must “close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America.”

The idea of using an overhaul of corporate taxes to come up with revenue for infrastructure was an element of his $302 billion Grow America Act unveiled last April.

But it’s an open question whether the president would sign a bill along the lines of the Partnership to Build America Act sponsored by Rep. John Delaney, D-Md. and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R- Pa.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Michael Bennet, D- Colo. have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The measure would let U.S. companies repatriate some of their overseas profits tax free if they invested them in infrastructure bonds.

Despite later in the speech lamenting the use of “gotcha” moments in politics, Obama took an opportunity to ding the proponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline by saying “let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline; let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year” as the Keystone XL project.

Absent from Obama’s speech was any mention of the simplest, but politically unpalatable, expedient of raising the gasoline tax to pay for a new infrastructure bill. Obama did not join the chorus of those saying, ‘why not raise gasoline taxes since the price at the pump is now so low?’

As infrastructure advocates wait for the repatriation-for-infrastructure details to be worked out, their goals haven’t changed.

As American Road & Transportation Builders Association president Pete Ruane said Tuesday night, what they seek is “a long-term revenue stream to ensure state governments have the reliable federal partner they need to make overdue improvements to America’s roads, bridges and transit systems.”

And Patrick Jones, CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, said Obama and Congress ought to give states “greater flexibility to meet their individual transportation funding needs—including the right to use tolling on their existing Interstate highways for the purpose of reconstruction.”

January 19, 2015

Week Ahead: Obama Agenda Setter And New Governors

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan, at the microphone, flanked by other newly elected governors outside the White House after meeting with President Obama on Dec. 5, 2014.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan, at the microphone, flanked by other newly elected governors outside the White House after meeting with President Obama on Dec. 5, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This week features the president’s attempt to steer the agenda with his State of the Union address, as well as a focus in Washington on unmanned aerial vehicles. That industry and members of Congress impatiently await a proposed rule on commercial drone use from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Tuesday

At the National Press Club in Washington, the Small UAV Coalition holds a discussion and drone demonstration with industry representatives including Jesse Kallman, head of business development and regulatory affairs at the flight control software maker Airware and Lucas van Oostrum, co-founder and chief technology officer at Dutch drone manufacturer Aerialtronics.

Full story

January 16, 2015

A Look Back At Our Week: It’s Just Congestion All Over

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Congestion. Transportation planners spend their lives analyzing it and trying to devise ways to relieve it.

Especially with lots of transportation wonks in Washington this week for the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, we heard much expert discussion about congestion on the highways, in our cities, and at our seaports.

On the highways, HNTB’s congestion pricing guru Matthew Click gave us his thoughts on why the San Francisco Bay area is the most interesting place in country in 2015 to watch for development of toll lanes.

Once you exit the highway and arrive in the big city, you may face the question: where can I find a place to park?

We heard from urban planners at the TRB meeting who find that, in fact, parking is much over-supplied in many cities. Maybe not in midtown Manhattan at high noon on a weekday, but in small and mid-sized cities.

Full story

January 15, 2015

Tolling Expert Sees Bay Area as Place to Watch in 2015

This week we asked Matthew Click, vice president and director of priced managed lanes for HNTB, an infrastructure design and construction management company, what he thinks will be the most interesting place in country in 2015 to watch for development of toll lanes and congestion pricing.

Click’s choice: the San Francisco Bay area.

Here are the points he made: Full story

January 14, 2015

Would You Sell Your ‘Tradable Driving Rights’?

Drivers and pedestrians in Manhattan last fall.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Drivers and pedestrians in Manhattan last fall. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Imagine you live in Manhattan 30 years from now, and as a resident of that island, you own something very valuable which you could sell to your hard-pressed fellow residents: the right to drive.

In this scenario, you and your fellow Manhattanites live under a government-imposed limit on how many miles you can drive.

(Don’t confuse this with the plot of the 1981 Isaac Hayes cult classic Escape from New York, in which Manhattan has become the only maximum security prison for the entire country.)

If you don’t choose to drive, you could sell your driving rights to another Manhattanite who wants to drive. Both of you end up better off and the total number of miles driven remains under the limit.

Full story

New Note from Thune on Infrastructure Revenues

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

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

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and also a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, has opened the door to using the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate, to pass a tax overhaul that would provide revenue for highways, bridges, tunnels and mass transit.

As reported by my colleague Niels Lesniewski, the South Dakota senator said Tuesday that using budget reconciliation would allow Congress to reform the corporate tax system, thus “dealing with what we know is going to be a crisis come May 31, and that’s funding highways.” (The current authorization bill expires on May 31.)

So Thune was pointedly linking a corporate tax overhaul and infrastructure funding: “We’ve got to come up on a long-term solution, five-six years for highways, and we need to reform corporate tax rates in this country.”

Full story

January 12, 2015

The Week Ahead: Annual Gathering Of The Policy Wonks

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The week’s marquee event in Washington is the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a five-day extravaganza of panel discussions, research presentations, and speeches by government officials, corporate leaders, and academic and think tank experts.

On the are nearly 750 workshops and sessions, on topics ranging from “Self-heating Electrically Conducting Concrete for Pavement De-Icing” to “Understanding the Gender Gap in Urban Biking.”

Monday

At the TRB meeting, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will forecast the year ahead for transportation and also discuss opportunities and challenges facing America’s transportation network over the next thirty years.

Also on Monday’s TRB agenda is a presentation from Timothy Butters, acting head the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Scott Darling, acting head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and other transportation officials who will explain how they go about the federal rule-making process for various modes of transportation.

Tuesday

At the TRB annual meeting, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart and his colleagues unveil the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements for 2015.

Last year’s NTSB list included banning the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices by anyone while driving a car or a truck, or while piloting a plane, a ship, or a train.

Tuesday’s TRB meeting features a session with state transportation department chiefs on steps they are taking to fund major capital projects in light of the continued uncertainty of federal funding. Featured speakers include Anthony Tata of North Carolina, Charles Zelle of Minnesota, and Joan McDonald of New York.

Thursday and Friday

As the TRB meeting continues, the World Bank is staging its own transportation event, Transforming Transportation: Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity. It features policy makers and experts from several countries including a panel discussion on The Role of Technology in Fostering Sustainable Mobility and Inclusive Growth, with Robin Chase, Founder of Zipcar, and others.

January 5, 2015

Let’s Review the Bidding on Infrastructure Funding

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday "we have to look at all the options" on revenue for infrastructure.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday “we have to look at all the options” on revenue for infrastructure. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sunday’s political talk shows reminded anyone still emerging from their holiday stupor that despite the New Year, lawmakers don’t seem closer to an accord on how to pay for highways and infrastructure.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the new chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, broke no new ground by saying on Fox News Sunday that “I don’t think we take anything off the table at this point” — including an increase in the federal excise tax on gasoline.

Thune’s comment drew the retort “WHAT?!?” on Twitter from Dan Holler, communications director for the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action for America, but what Thune said to Fox News on Sunday was what he said to us last November: “I’m not taking any options off the table” on revenue measures as part of a long-term surface transportation bill.

Full story

December 31, 2014

Transportation Hurdles Ahead In 2015 For Congress

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014  at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week.    (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

In the New Year, Congress faces far-reaching policy and spending choices that will put members under both time and political pressure. Will there be enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done, or will decisions be postponed in favor of short-term expedients?

Here are some of the issues that are likely to be contentious in 2015

  • Unmanned aerial systems: Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee let Federal Aviation Administration officials know at a Dec. 10 hearing that they’re fed up with the agency’s slowness in devising a rule to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation’s airspace.

Congress may take some of these decisions into its own hands if the FAA doesn’t act quickly enough. Some members see the UAV industry’s vast potential being stymied by the FAA’s inaction. Full story

December 23, 2014

Most Encouraging, or Discouraging, Of 2014, Part Four

Underside of the Brooklyn Bridge, which spans the East River in New York City. It opened in 1883. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Underside of the Brooklyn Bridge, which spans the East River in New York City. It opened in 1883. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Here’s the final installment in our round-up of views on the most encouraging, or discouraging, transportation news of 2014.

We thank all our contributors and wish all of them, and all of our readers, a very happy 2015.

“2014 ended on an encouraging note as Congress listened clearly to the safety concerns of professional drivers on the hours-of-service issue and FMCSA [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] started the ball rolling on creating the first real training requirements for truck drivers. OOIDA is hopeful that this momentum will carry forward into 2015 and a new highway reauthorization bill.”

Ryan Bowley, director of government affairs, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association

Full story

December 22, 2014

Most Encouraging News of 2014, Part Three

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt event on Sept. 8, 2014 in San Francisco.  (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt event on Sept. 8, 2014 in San Francisco. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Here’s the third in our series in which we ask transportation advocates, analysts, and interest group representatives to identify the most encouraging or discouraging transportation developments of the past year….

“One of the most encouraging developments of 2014 was President Obama’s proposal to lift the ban on tolling existing Interstate highways for purposes of reconstruction. While we don’t wish to see the Federal-aid highway program fail, it appears that the strangling of the system is causing people to think outside the box.”

Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO, International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association

 

“The most discouraging transportation development for me is Bertha [the world’s largest tunneling machine] getting stuck in Seattle. In my opinion that [State Route 99 tunnel] project should have never started. New freeway capacity in cities is disappointing. We know so much about how cities create value, and it’s not with more space for cars.

“The most encouraging is the citizen-led push in Dallas to tear down a freeway and to connect neighborhoods that were split by it.”

Jeff Wood, urban planner in the San Francisco Bay area and head of transportation consulting firm The Overhead Wire

 

“The most encouraging transportation development in 2014 was NHTSA’s decision to move forward with vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology in new light vehicles.  V2V technology has the potential to dramatically reduce highway fatalities and its safety benefits will be extended beyond auto passengers to include pedestrians and other road users.”

Alice Tornquist, vice president of government affairs, Qualcomm

 

“The continued booming expansion of transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft, etc…), as well as bike-share and car-share companies, that are transforming metropolitan transportation by providing more viable transportation options and vastly greater mobility. This development is incredibly encouraging because it shows how the disruptive power of technology continues to create competition, innovation, and economic and social benefits in transportation.”

Joshua Schank, president and CEO, Eno Center for Transportation

December 9, 2014

Study: Data, Not Politics, Must Drive Infrastructure

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

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.

Full story

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