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March 6, 2015

Posts in "Transit"

February 27, 2015

Week In Review: Ports Recovery And Protectionism

A container ship sits docked at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 17, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A container ship sits docked at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 17, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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.)

Full story

February 23, 2015

Week Ahead: Tolling, Flight Tracking, Energy Shipping

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.

Tuesday

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.

Full story

February 20, 2015

Unions, Governors Make A Transportation Weekend Of It

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trains and buses may be on a reduced weekend schedule but transportation events run at a brisk pace Saturday and Sunday.

In Atlanta, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO holds its annual executive committee meeting with 32 member unions in Atlanta. The unions represent workers from airline pilots to light rail operators.

Labor leaders will confer with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Saturday, and on Sunday Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y. and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. will meet with the union leaders.

Full story

February 19, 2015

Devolution For Transportation A Long-Term Strategy

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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.

Full story

February 13, 2015

Thinking The Unthinkable About Mass Transit Funding

Rep. Garret Graves, R- La., a skeptic about using Highway Trust Fund money for mass transit. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Garret Graves, R- La., a skeptic about using Highway Trust Fund money for mass transit. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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.

Full story

‘Snow Farms’ Are A Real Estate Growth Sector In Boston

 An MBTA bus travels through Boston this week amid snow banks (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

An MBTA bus travels through Boston this week amid snow banks (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

You’ve heard of funny farms, fish farms, and fat farms. How about a “snow farm”?

So much snow has fallen in Massachusetts in the past several weeks that, according to the Boston Globe, Mayor Martin Walsh “had opened 10 new snow farms” to pile up snow that has been plowed and removed from the city’s streets.

Bostonians are girding for yet another snow storm this weekend.

Walsh is recommending that the city’s mass transit system, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), close on Saturday and Sunday because the National Weather Service is forecasting blizzard conditions, with up to 14 more inches of snow.

This week the head of the MTBA, Beverly Scott, resigned after heavy criticism of her agency over train service being suspended for more than 24 hours twice in the last two weeks.

A day before announcing her departure, Scott said, “We are running an extremely aged system that is getting a pounding every single day. What happened here, it would have taken anybody down.”

Pennsylvania is poised to help Massachusetts in the form of 18 plow and mechanic trucks, three backhoes, more than 20 plow operators and other personnel.

February 12, 2015

Mass Transit Project Awaits Army Corps Permit

Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.

Full story

February 11, 2015

What Rules To Govern Uber-Type Services?

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.

Full story

February 9, 2015

Friday Q & A: Harvard’s Mihir Desai, Part Two

Interstate 405 freeway during bridge repair work in 2011 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Interstate 405 freeway during bridge repair work in 2011 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Here are more excerpts from our interview with Harvard Business School finance professor Mihir Desai on the movement toward using revenues from taxing overseas profits to fun infrastructure.

It sounds like you would agree with part of what Rep. Delaney is proposing. Tax past earnings, but not future earnings?

What’s really important to me is that we get the corporate tax on a good footing, and it’s in a very bad place… We have the highest statutory rate… we’re not raising much money, and our international provisions are extremely complex and raise very little money.

And our system is very distinct from the rest of the world which makes [the United States] an inhospitable place for our companies to be incorporated, as we’ve seen via the inversion wave.

My primary concern is not about the stock of previous earnings. My primary concern is: how do we use this as an opportunity to get the corporate tax on a good footing?

Full story

February 5, 2015

Heritage: Focus Highway Spending On Highways

Cars on Interstate 280 in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Cars on Interstate 280 in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A book of government cost-cutting ideas offered by the conservative Heritage Foundation on Thursday includes a big one for transportation: limit spending from the Highway Trust Fund only to the amount of revenue the fund collects from federal highway taxes.

Eight-five percent of those revenues come from gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, but there is some revenue from excise taxes on trucks, trailers, and truck tires.

Heritage says its idea would save $179 billion over 10 years.

The Heritage Budget Book said that “Congress diverts at least 25 percent of HTF dollars to non-road, non-bridge projects, including bicycle and nature paths, sidewalks, subways and buses, landscaping, and related low-priority and purely local activities.”

Instead, it said, Congress should limit trust fund spending to the roughly $39 billion collected from the gasoline, diesel, and other highway taxes “and refocus the federal highway program to encompass only Interstate Highway System maintenance and expansion, and a few other federal priorities, letting the states or private sector take over the other activities if they value them.”

This, the foundation said, “would free up valuable HTF money for road and bridge projects that will benefit those motorists paying for the program in the first place.”

The Congressional Budget Office noted in its annual forecast last week, federal spending on highways and mass transit has been running at about $53 billion a year.

CBO estimates that the revenues from federal taxes on gasoline and diesel which go into the Highway Trust Fund will stay at $38 billion to $39 billion a year from now until 2025.

Full story

February 4, 2015

Governor Seeks Repeal of Automatic Gas Tax Hikes

Larry Hogan on the campaign trail last October with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Glen Burnie, Md. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Larry Hogan on the campaign trail last October with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Glen Burnie, Md. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In his first State of the State address, Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan told the state legislature Wednesday he’d seek repeal of the automatic increases in the state’s gasoline tax which his Democratic predecessor Martin O’Malley signed into law in 2013.

That law “would automatically increase taxes every single year without it ever coming up for a vote,” Hogan said. The tax increases are pegged to the Consumer Price Index.

He said citizens deserve to know how lawmakers vote “every time the state takes a bigger share of their hard-earned tax dollars.”

Full story

New Yorker Sees Risk Of Terrorists Using Oil Trains

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D- N.Y.  (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D- N.Y. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Could terrorists use one of the trains transporting flammable crude oil throughout the country as a weapon of mass destruction?

That disquieting scenario was sketched out Tuesday by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D- N.Y.

At a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Maloney said he represented an area of the Hudson Valley that “sees an enormous amount of oil being moved both by rail and by barge down the Hudson River.”

Full story

February 2, 2015

Obama Budget Plan Fills In Infrastructure Details

Crews work on a freeway overpass in Novato, Calif. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Crews work on a freeway overpass in Novato, Calif. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Last year President Obama said in his budget proposal that he wanted to use revenue raised from overhauling taxes on corporations to pay for infrastructure.

This year’s budget proposal will fill in the details of how Obama proposes to do that.

Essentially, according to administration officials, he seeks to impose a tax on foreign earnings that U.S. companies have earnings stashed overseas, ending the deferral that they now use to postpone paying taxes on that money.

We won’t know for months what, if anything, of this proposal will emerge from Congress. But momentum does seem to be growing to use overseas profits to help pay for highways and other infrastructure.

Full story

January 30, 2015

A Look Back: Cuomo, Coons, Coal, Climate Change

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

This week we looked at the buzz over a new revenue source for the nation’s highways and transit systems. Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., Rep. John Delaney, D- Md., and others are proposing ways to tax repatriated profits and fill the Highway Trust Fund.

Think big – $170 billion, Delaney says. We’re a long way from a committee markup, but things seem to be moving.

We also used the appearance of Henry Kissinger before the Senate Armed Services Committee to revisit the perennial struggle of “guns versus butter,” or America’s overseas commitments versus its domestic needs (like subways, buses, and tunnels).

Kissinger once worked for a man who said, “Until we make public transportation an attractive alternative to private car use, we will never be able to build highways fast enough to avoid congestion.” That was in 1969. Are we there yet?

As well as congestion this week we also examined Cuomo, climate change, Chris Coons, and coal.

In that order:

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York ordered highways closed and commuter railroad and subway service to halt at 11pm Monday in the face of a blizzard, which in the end turned out to be a bit underwhelming, at least in New York. We looked at the economic winners and losers from the storm.
  • The Senate voted to disagree with the idea that “more frequent and intense extreme weather events” are damaging the nation’s highways, subways, and ports. It voted to kill an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill offered by Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., that he said “simply acknowledges that climate change is having an impact on our infrastructure” and doesn’t blame humans for it.
  • Burning coal to produce electricity allowed me to write this and allows you to read it, at least if you’re in one of the regions of the country where coal is heavily used, as in the Mid-Atlantic States. Burning coal produces carbon dioxide and, many scientists say, it contributes to climate change.

But railroads make money by moving coal from mine to power plant.

We heard this week from Norfolk Southern how a decline in coal shipments is hurting the railroad’s bottom line.

January 29, 2015

Kissinger A Reminder Of Strategic/Transit Trade-Offs

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The connection between international strategy and mass transit might seem tenuous.

But Thursday’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Iran, nuclear weapons, and related matters was a reminder of the lasting tension between spending money on domestic needs, such as transit, and overseas commitments.

In 1969, Kissinger faced the same choices when he served as President Nixon’s national security.

In his memoirs, White House Years, Kissinger writes that he and Nixon in 1969 had to decide what U.S. strategy would be in Europe to defend against potential Russian, (or Soviet as it was then) aggression.

One option was to build up U.S. nuclear forces based in Europe; another option was to build up U.S. conventional (non-nuclear) forces stationed there. Full story

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