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Elon Musk, chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla, will announce at a press conference Thursday plans that he has “to end range anxiety,” as he put it on Twitter Tuesday.
The lack of recharging stations makes electric car drivers fret that they may not make it to their destination, a topic discussed at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January.
On the coldest days of the year, electric vehicles suffer a more than 40 percent decrease in their range, according to one researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. That may limit the interest in buying electric vehicles in colder weather states.
Musk also caused a flurry of comment this week with his prediction that “when self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars, the public may outlaw the latter.”
He added, “Hopefully not.”
His speculation about autonomous vehicles wasn’t original. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute made much the same observation last year.
Congress is another week closer to the May deadline for re-authorizing highway and mass transit spending.
What that means: if lawmakers don’t pass an authorization bill before May ends, then the Highway Trust Fund would be paying out money to the states at a much slower pace than normal, which would hinder or halt projects during the spring and summer construction season.
This week most of the Obama administration’s transportation officials will be testifying on Capitol Hill at appropriations hearings.
Tuesday the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security hears from Melvin Carraway, acting administrator of the Transportation Security Administration about the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 TSA budget request and issues such as the effectiveness of the TSA’s Pre-Check program for trusted travelers.
The chairwoman of the panel is Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R- N.H., who is up for re-election in 2016.
Meanwhile the Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta will testify to the House appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.
Also Tuesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee gets the state and local perspective from North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, and Wyoming Department of Transportation director John Cox.
On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.
Finally on Thursday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation hears from Gregory Nadeau, acting head of the Federal Highway Administration, Therese McMillan, acting head of the Federal Transit Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind, and Maritime Administration chief Paul Jaenichen.
The administration witnesses are sure to make the case for budget certainty and for a long-term infrastructure funding solution. The latter is looking less and less likely in 2015.
Last month Edward Hamberger, the president of the Association of American Railroads, told a House panel that the freight rail industry simply could not and would not meet the end-of-year deadline set by Congress to have in place an automatic braking system called positive train control (PTC).
Accidents such as the one in Valhalla, N.Y. last month in which six commuters were killed when a train hit an SUV stopped on the tracks have given the PTC issue renewed urgency.
“We have spent over $5 billion trying to implement positive train control. We are not dragging our feet in any way,” Hamberger told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. “We are not going to make the deadline at the end of this year, but we are committed to getting it done.”
On Wednesday the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee seemed to acknowledge that reality by proposing a bill to push the deadline back by five years.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., Sen. Roy Blunt, R- Mo., Sen. Bill Nelson, D- Fla., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D- Mo.,
In a statement, Hamberger thanked the senators for proposing to remove what he called “an arbitrary and infeasible statutory deadline.”
Hamberger cited the technical difficulties of making positive train control work and said the industry sees the proposed new deadline as “a reasonable and responsible extension.”
The House is getting ready to pass the first transportation legislation of the 114th Congress, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee OK’d it last month it by a unanimous vote.
The Congressional Budget Office says the bill would authorize $7.2 billion in spending from 2016 to 2020. The biggest piece of spending is $5.3 billion for grants to Amtrak.
Among the amendments to the bill which the House will vote on is one by Rep. Julia Brownley, D- Calif. which would require each state to develop a plan to identify ways, such as grade separations, to make grade crossings safer.
It was in Brownley’s district last month that a collision took place between a commuter train and a truck which apparently was stuck on the train tracks.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
Oregon’s pilot program involves only 5,000 vehicles and has three vendors running it. The state now is subsidizing those vendors.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
So valuable is some big city real estate that rail yards can’t be just rail yards anymore, and a train station must be far more than a place to get on a train, it must become a “destination” or better still a “a place to be seen.”
If you’re a utilitarian traveler from Washington to New York or from Washington to Philadelphia, you might be satisfied simply with “a clean, well-lighted place,” a crime-free train station with tolerably hygienic bathrooms.
Add a good coffee shop, and perhaps a place to get a glass of wine and a sandwich. And a newsstand, and maybe a book shop, like the late lamented Posman Books in New York’s Grand Central Station.
That’s enough for some travelers.
And most importantly, the train service itself should be frequent and reliable.
But if your calling in life is real estate development, those expectations are far too modest.
At the height of the Cold War, defense analyst Herman Kahn wrote Thinking About the Unthinkable, a book which tried to inform readers about what would happen in a nuclear conflict.
When it comes to mass transit funding, “thinking about the unthinkable” is the idea that Congress might someday cut off money from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) which has been spent on subways, bus systems, and other forms of mass transit since the 1980s.
Approximately 80 percent of HTF money is spent on highways and 20 percent on mass transit.
Most of the roughly $40 billion a year that goes into the trust fund comes from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel paid by people who drive cars and trucks.
At a hearing Wednesday of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, some Republican members skeptically quizzed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx about why HTF money must go to mass transit, and whether the funds would be better spent on highways.
On Thursday, American Public Transportation Association President Michael Melaniphy fired back.
“There has been bipartisan support for federal investment in public transportation through the federal gas tax since 1983 when, under President Reagan, fuels tax revenues were dedicated to public transportation through the Mass Transit Account of the surface transportation legislation,” he said.
When you hear “Army Corps of Engineers,” you may think of Mississippi River levees. But the Corps’ decisions can also affect mass transit.
Case in point: Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif., is prodding Corps leaders on why the Santa Clara Valley Water District hasn’t yet received a permit from the Corps that would allow it to finish a flood control project on the Lower Berryessa Creek.
That project is crucial to the opening of a new Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Honda’s district.
The California Democrat has been working for years to extend BART to the Silicon Valley and got $900 million in federal funding for the BART extension.
Uber, Sidecar and other app-enabled car services have dealt a blow to regulated taxi cab monopolies because they’re nimble and operate outside some of the established rules.
A Cato Institute panel on Tuesday debated what, if any, regulations cities should impose on Uber and similar car services.
Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that the newer car services have forced taxis to become more efficient.
But he still sees a need for regulation of Uber and its peers.