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Alex Goldmark

Alex Goldmark appears in the following:

Snapshots of the American Commute

Friday, October 29, 2010


Our partner The Takeaway asked for your snapshots and sounds from your daily commute. They got some striking photos, some cluttered traffic and a healthy dose of personality.

See the full slideshow here.

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Nissan Recalling Two Million Vehicles

Thursday, October 28, 2010

(Jerome Vaughn, WDET—Detroit) Nissan is recalling more than two million vehicles worldwide for an issue that could lead to engines stalling.  The recall affects more than a dozen models from the 2003 through 2006 model years, including selected Nissan Xterra sport utility vehicles, Titan pickup trucks, and Infinity QX56 SUVs.

About 750,000 of the vehicles were produced in the US.  Others were manufactured in Japan and Europe. A faulty electrical relay for the engine control module could cause the engine to stall.
Nissan says no accidents have been reported in connection with the issue.Dealers will make repairs at no cost to consumers.  Affected owners will be notified by mail.

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GM to Expand Production, Pay Back More of Bailout Money

Thursday, October 28, 2010

(From WDET—Detroit, and Transportation Nation) General Motors will build a new small Cadillac at its Lansing Grand River plant.  It will be built on the same platform as the Cadillac CTS, which was named Motor Trend’s car of the year in 2008.

Motor Trend Detroit Editor Todd Lassa says the new ATS will be designed to compete with the best small luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz C- Class and the B-M-W 3 series. “The Cadillac ATS, I think, will do well against the Mercedes C-Class.  The BMW 3 series is the car everyone wishes they could build.  Cadillac wishes it could build that," he says.

GM CEO Dan Akerson tells WDET his company will invest $190 million in the Grand River plant to make the ATS.  That will mean the addition of a second shift, creating 600 jobs.  The car is set to launch in 2012.

Bailout Payback

In other GM news, the Department of the Treasury announced they have approved the buyback of $2.1 billion in preferred stock from GM. This brings the total repayment of government bailout money up to $9.5 billion of the $49.5 billion total.

Here's the official announcement from GM and from Treasury. They are only slightly different in what they highlight.

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Lautenberg Launching ARC Tunnel Investigation

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This press release just out from the office of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who is steaming mad about the cancellation of the ARC tunnel.

Here's the press release.

LAUTENBERG LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO CANCELLATION OF ARC TUNNEL PROJECT
NEWARK – U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today announced that he has launched an investigation into the cancellation of the nation’s largest infrastructure project.  The investigation seeks to determine the circumstances, actions and motivations that led to the largest loss of Federal transportation resources in New Jersey history.  Following a preliminary report that will be released before the end of this year, a final report will be delivered to the public within six months that will catalog all details and include recommendations to prevent such a loss of Federal revenue in the future.
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Billions for Rail Means an Election Opportunity

Thursday, October 28, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The U.S. Department of Transportation announced $2.4 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail projects around the country. The bulk of the the money, a combined $1.7 billion, is going to Florida and California for ambitious intercity rail projects that have already received $3.5 billion in federal grants as well as local bond money. Here's the complete list of grants.

Today's announcements are for FY2010 yearly allocation the the Federal Railway Administration's High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, as approved by Congress. It is not stimulus money, which amounts to another pool of approximately $8 billion dedicated to HSR. These announcements come just five days before election day and some elected officials are using the occasion to prove they can bring home the bacon. Thursday morning, our partner The Takeaway covered how America's diminishing appetite for infrastructure is playing out politically. But local politicians sure seemed happy to tout the millions headed to their districts. Here's how the announcements—leaked on Monday in most cases—are being discussed and celebrated by political officials around the country, just part of our regular coverage of the intersection of transportation and politics.

In Iowa—The official announcement - Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood makes the official announcement at 1:30 p.m. EST (full audio here) at the Iowa City Rail Depot. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Iowa Governor Chet Culver and U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack all joined LaHood as he called the full package "historic" and touted the job-creating power of rail construction. They also held a local event touting plans to connect Iowa City and Chicago.

In Michigan— on Wednesday, Democratic politicians made some hay of the $161 million their state is getting to connect Detroit with Chicago. Senator Carl Levin, Congressman Mark Shauer and other local leaders all turned out. It just so happens the event took place in Jackson, MI, a congressional district up for grabs on Tuesday.  U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari discussing the Michigan grant with WDET.

In CaliforniaA second official announcement
Federal Railroad Administration head, Joe Szabo, made his own announcement in Fresno, Cali. to a supportive audience at a local high speed rail conference. California got the largest share of the grants in this round. Of the $901 million, $715 million will go to the San Joaquin valley, and $16 million to connect San Fransisco with San Jose. Something Rep. Jim Costa is pleased to hear, and share. “Our years of hard work have paid off and the Valley will kick off construction of our nation’s first high-speed rail system,” he said. He also reminded constituents he was the author of the $9.95 billion bond measure that is funding the mega-project to connect LA and San Fransisco. The fate of this project could hinge on the outcome of the governor's election Tuesday.

In Florida—$800 million isn't enough. Republican candidate for governor Rick Scott says the feds should pay even more. They've already given $1.25 billion to connect Tampa and Orlando, but Scott says Washington should pay 100 percent of the cost, of the $2.6 billion project. Then there's this from Tampabay.com: "The announcement comes just days before Hillsborough County voters decide on a 1-cent sales tax increase for transportation, of which about 43 percent would go toward light rail. Supporters say local light rail is necessary to the success of high-speed rail." Just a little something.

In Virginia—$45.4 million in grants will go to the first steps of planning for a Richmond to D.C. line. This would eventually connect to the Boston-Washington Northeast corridor, and Senator Jim Webb likes it.  “I worked with Virginia officials to secure these funds because high-speed passenger rail promises significant economic benefits for Richmond and the Commonwealth,” Webb wrote in a press release. “These funds will spur job creation and economic growth, while reducing traffic on our highways in a cost effective way.” Neither Senator in Va. is up for re-election this year.

In NY—$1.5 million goes to the Empire Corridor rail project in Western, NY. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) is quite pleased. Her area pulled in just one of the smallest allocations, but look how she spreads the news. She's also in no danger of being unseated on Tuesday, just giddy for rail maybe.

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TRANSCRIPT: Senator Lautenberg Reacts to Gov. Christie on ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Here's the full statement from NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on the decision to kill the ARC tunnel by NJ Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) earlier Wednesday.

We've also posted video of the full speech from Christie, and the reaction from Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood.

LAUTENBERG BLASTS GOV. CHRISTIE’S DECISION TO KILL ARC TUNNEL PROJECT

SENATOR DEBUNKS GOVERNOR’S ARC TUNNEL MYTHS

NEWARK – Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) issued the following statement in response to Governor Chris Christie’s decision to kill the critical Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Tunnel project:

“The Governor was given a deal from the federal government on Sunday that put no extra imposition on the state of New Jersey for its obligation to the ARC Tunnel project, and the Governor refused it.  It was clear from the beginning that Governor Christie planned to kill the ARC Tunnel no matter what.  In doing so, the Governor has once again put politics over performance.

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VIDEO: Christie Speech Killing ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Here's the video and full transcript of NJ Governor Chris Christie's speech announcing his decision to kill the ARC Tunnel for a second, and final, time.

(Part 1)

(Part 2)
Full Transcript after the jump from the Governor's office.
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Feds Foil DC Metro Bomb Plot in Planning Phase

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Federal officials indicted a naturalized American citizen on charges that he was plotting a series of attacks on DC area Metro stations. He was arrested after meeting with men he thought were part of Al-Qaeda about the plan.

Authorities stress the plot was in the very early stages, the public was never in any danger, they say.

The Washington Post has more.

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NY MTA to Increase Tolls

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Tolls are going up for New York's bridges and tunnels. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved on Wednesday increases expected to generate an extra $107 million per year.

The new rates will take effect on December 30. Most crossings will cost drivers an additional $1, with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll increasing by $2.

Drivers using the electronic payment system, EZ Pass, will see a 5 percent increase on their already reduced tolls. In effect, these toll hikes will fall disproportionately on cash customers. This is intentional, to encourage more and more commuters to adopt EZ Pass for the growing discounts.

Earlier this month the same MTA raised mass transit fares, so it is not just autos catching the brunt of a transportation money crunch in the NY metro area.

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ARC Tunnel is Dead--Again UPDATED

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

UPDATED 10:25 p.m. EST

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) An official familiar with the project confirms that NJ Governor Chris Christie is terminating the largest infrastructure project currently underway in the United States.

Christie first announced his intention on October 7th to halt progress on the ARC tunnel after cost projections were as much as $5 billion more than allocated funds. Federal officials had convinced Gov. Christie to take two weeks to reconsider his plans. A final decision from his office has been expected since Friday.

The Star-Ledger and AP report federal officials offered to change the terms of financing for the $8.7-$14 billion dollar ARC tunnel, but did not offer additional federal funds to the State of New Jersey which would have to pay for any cost overruns. That was, apparently, not enough to sway Gov. Christie who has received national support and attention, particularly from the Tea Party movement, for his "belt-tightening" stance on the ARC tunnel project.

The tunnel would have doubled commuter rail capacity between New Jersey and New York City.

The Governor's office is expected to make a formal announcement Wednesday.

Matthew Schuerman is following the story closely for our partner WNYC.

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UPDATED: Palo Alto Says No to High Speed Rail

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The city of Palo Alto says they don't want a high speed rail station. It would cause too much traffic, cost too much to build parking lots, and would hurt regional airports according to the City Council.  That, and they just don't like the rail project in general according to a report in the Mercury News. The Council voted Monday against building a station in their city. There have also been concerns raised about noise and visual pollution from the trains.

The California High Speed Rail Authority was considering three potential locations for stops in the area along the planned Los Angeles-San Fransisco line including Redwood City and Mountain View as well as Palo Alto.

The Palo Alto City Council has voted no confidence in the entire project in the past, and has joined other local municipalities in a lawsuit opposing the path of the proposed project.

UPDATE: Rachel Wall of the California High Speed Rail Authority tells Transportation Nation that Palo Alto will still be included in the environmental review process currently underway; however, the draft Environmental Impact Report slated for release in a few months will include community input -- for or against -- in its assessment of different station possibilities.

The mid-Peninsula station is an optional one (not required under the 2008 bond measure that is financing the project known as Prop 1A), meaning a station in the Palo Alto area may not get built at all, or it may get built in another community.

That said, any community that does get a station would likely have to foot a large part of the bill for it, so it is unlikely that a station would be imposed on a city that didn't want it.

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Obama's $2.5 Billion High Speed Rail Spending for Election Week

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Less than a week ahead of elections around the country, Congressmen are happily announcing money their states are getting for high speed rail. Official allocations will take place tomorrow.  California is getting nearly a billion dollars, Florida just over $800 million while several smaller projects in the Midwest for "higher speed" rail will also get funding, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Monday we reported on the money going to Florida and New England for intercity connections. Today local officials released more funding details for the Midwest and West Coast in what seems like a pre-election day affirmation of Presidential support for high-speed rail around the nation.

This week's $2.5 billion in grant announcements are not stimulus funds. They are the part of the FY2010 yearly allocations from the DOT and the Federal Railway Administration, (which has quite a handy website with plenty of charts, data, and interactive maps). The bulk of the allocations went to two of the largest states, California and Florida, receiving $900 and $800 million respectively.

The largest share of funding in the Midwest--$230 million-- goes to Iowa and Illinois for enhanced Amtrak service from Chicago to Iowa City. The Amtrak line from Chicago to Detroit received $150 million to increase its current speed to 110 mph--not quite the 220 mph that denotes most HSR, but certainly "higher speed" rail than the existing top speeds under 80 mph.

The Obama administration isn't funding every request though. They declined to give $8 million requested for a study and design of a potential Chicago-to-St. Louis bullet train.

In addition to this $2.5 billion for HSR this year,  there is still a largely unspent pot of $700+ billion in stimulus money dedicated to high speed rail. Of the $8 billion in stimulus money allocated for HSR,  just $871 million has been obligated.

Here's an updated list of all the projects receiving federal money, both stimulus funds as well as yearly allocations.

(Thanks to MidwestHSR for the tip on some of this.)

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New Fuel Efficiency Standards Announced for Trucks

Monday, October 25, 2010

(Washington, D.C.—Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Proposed new government fuel efficiency standards for three categories of trucks are out today. Federal agencies say the rules should boost fuel efficiency by 15 - 20 percent  over the next eight years.

Officials say their goal is to reduce CO2 emissions and improve fuel efficiency in combination tractors, heavy duty pickup trucks, and vans and vocational vehicles like buses.

The new regulations, released by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would take effect starting in 2014. They include new engine and tire standards intended to make commercial fleets more fuel efficient.

The agencies are going for a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel use in combination trucks by 2018. Heavy duty pickups running on diesel fuel are expected to achieve a 15 percent reduction by 2018, while gas-powered heavy duty trucks and vans should cut their fuel use and emissions by 10 percent, according to DOT.

The rules go after a range of fuel-wasting problems in truck fleets, including poor aerodynamics, leaky air conditioners, and sub-optimal tire performance.

Of course, all of these new standards will likely raise short-term costs for trucking owners. Officials say up-front costs will more than pay for themselves by cutting fuel costs over several years.

There’s a 60-day public comment period before regulators set about making the rules final. Read, if you dare, the entire 673-page of proposed regulations here.

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High Speed Rail Money to Florida, New England

Monday, October 25, 2010

UPDATED: (Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation)

The US Department of Transportation announced allocations for high-speed rail today. Florida is getting $800 million more for a plan to connect Tampa and Orlando. That leaves the project $360 million short of the needed $2.6 billion...but almost close enough to get started. The project has already received $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Up north on the east coast, AP is reporting Connecticut and Massachusetts are getting a combined $121 million from the federal government to launch high-speed rail across southern New England. The plan is intended to bring high-speed passenger rail service to New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, Mass. within five years.

U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd's office has called this "a major federal investment." The money will go to refurbishing existing tracks, building a second one in parts and to upgrade and construct stations along the way.

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Participate: Show Us Your Commute

Monday, October 25, 2010

One of our partners The Takeaway has opened a collaborative project to get people like you all across the country helping us really understand the American commute. You can send in snapshots and sounds of your daily routine.

Share the pictures and the sounds of your morning commute. Send us a photo, a video or audio of one thing that tells the story of your commute. It could be the train that always comes late. The people you see on the bus line. The spot where you always park your car.

The Takeaway will harvest your daily observations, insights and gripes and post the collection here for listeners to vote on their favorites. You can upload a photo or audio file here, or you can download The Takeaway iPhone app and use that.

What is the American commute? Tell us.

Link

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Breaking: ARC Tunnel Cost $4 Billion Lower Than Thought

Friday, October 22, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The AP is reporting federal estimates for the ARC transit tunnel are considerably lower than those cited by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when he pulled his support for the transit project citing cost concerns. According to AP reports, three government officials familiar with the transit project—the largest currently underway in the United States—confirm federal estimates for the tunnel are $9.77 billion, about $4 billion lower than the worst case scenario, $14 billion, cited by Governor Christie.

Just under $9 billion in funds are currently dedicated to the project including $3 billion from the federal government, $3 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The State of New Jersey would be responsible for the rest, including any cost overruns, a liability that led Governor Christie to oppose the project. New York City and New York State are not paying any money for the tunnel.

Governor Christie pulled his support for the project two weeks ago, effectively canceling it. After meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, he agreed to a two week reprieve, which ends on Friday. His office would not comment on the newly released figures cited by the AP.

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Infrastructurist: What Transit Capacity Looks Like

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) For the visual learners out there, Infrastructist came up with this infographic charting the growth in ridership—it has more than quadrupled since 1984. NJ Transit wants that green line above to keep getting fatter. But right now it can't. The agency says all the Hudson river crossings are currently at or near capacity already.  The ARC tunnel would allow an additional 70,000 commuters to cross.  Governor Chris Christie has said he's for the project, but that NJ can't afford it, particularly if there are cost overruns.

If you want moving visuals, here's the official NJ Transit promo video. (Still up, even though Gov. Christie says he's shutting the project down, pending the two-week review) It's a bit slow going at first, so fast forward to about 2:15 into the video to see renderings of the tunnel and new station (the computer generated commuters are a little creepy though, unless you're a fan of the video game the SIMS)

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NYT Poll Finds 22% Would Cut Transportation to Balance Budget

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Buried deep within an excellent New York Times poll about the governor's race is a striking finding: 22% of New Yorkers would cut transportation to balance the budget. Given the choice of what to cut, transportation was the runaway choice over health care, and education.

This is the first time this question has been asked and there's a little unpacking to do here, so we called Marjorie Connelly, an Editor in the Survey Department of the New York Times.

"If you had to choose, which of the state funded services do you think should be cut, local education, higher education, health care, or transportation?"

There were no follow up  questions, or specific definitions about what constitutes "transportation." So, Connelly posits that for this survey, of which this was just one tiny part, when respondents hear transportation they aren't thinking roads and bridges so much as commuter trains. "I think people are hearing public transit. They are probably thinking subways, and perhaps Metro-North type trains."

A few extra correlations run by the NYT support this.  Connelly tells us they found that "the further you got away from New York City the more likely people were to pick transportation" as the area to cut. The less you use public transit the more you are likely to say cut it. That's logical.

Even in New York City, transportation was the plurality, but there's a gaping hole between New York City and upstate Downstate 38 percent chose transportation to cut, but upstate, far more people chose transportation to cut—58 percent of respondents.

No other factor seemed to predict who wants to cut transportation, not age, not race, not income, just location, a proxy for likelihood to use transit.

The answer might have changed if some sense of what the relative expenditures are for health care, education compared transportation. That would give a sense of which service is eating up most of the budget. If you are curious, New York State spends $4.3 billion on transportation compared to $14.2 billion on health, and $23.1 billion on local education not counting an additional $5.6 billion on higher education.  That doesn't Medicaid spending.

In the same poll, 51 percent of respondents support reducing pension benefits for future state employees, and 35% think its a good idea to lay off 5% of state employees to balance the budget.

Other budget categories that were not asked about are human/social services, mental hygiene, public safety,and environment, categories with spending levels closer to transportation. It would be interesting to see how transportation stacks up against an expanded list.

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Congressional Disruption: Senior House Transportation Leader, DeFazio, Now FacesTight Race

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Washington, D.C. — Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) One of the House's most powerful voices on transportation all of the sudden finds himself in a tough re-election race.

Even in an anti-incumbent year, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), was considered one of the most invulnerable. The 11-term congressman won reelection in 2008 with 82% of the vote in his sprawling coastal Oregon district and was once heavily courted by Democrats to run for Senate. But now a recent GOP poll has DeFazio just 6 percentage points ahead of Republican Art Robinson. All the important caveats about the validity of one single poll — and a GOP internal one at that — of course apply here. But DeFazio chairs the House Highways and Transit subcommittee, so any prospect of his ouster does raise questions, especially about the prospects for the next national highway bill.

DeFazio has told constituents on the campaign trail that passing the $500 billion national highway authorization bill will be one of his top priorities should he be re-elected. The bill is in limbo now as lawmakers struggle to make up a $150 billion funding shortfall for the bill without taking the dreaded and politically suicidal step of raising the federal gas tax. DeFazio, who enjoys heavy support from transit unions, has made beefing up infrastructure and transit programs, including high-speed rail, a priority during his time at the head of the committee.

The Republican most likely to take over the Highways and Transit subcommittee in the event of a GOP House takeover is Rep. John "Jimmy" Duncan (R-Tenn.), an 11-term veteran who is nearly guaranteed re-election. Still, even in this fractious Congress, Duncan, a conservative, and DeFazio, a staunch progressive, are not as far apart as one would think on transportation policy.

Duncan has repeatedly called for a long-term reauthorization of the traditionally bi-artisan highway bill, which he helped craft along with DeFazio and other senior members of the House Transportation Committee. But Duncan has also joined calls for a ban on lawmakers' pet spending projects known as earmarks, which make up about one percent of total funding in any given highway bill. While that may not seem like much, it can easily decide the fate of that extra new lane on your local commercial road or the highway overpass your county council is trying to get built.

A broader question, beyond simply who heads up the Highways and Transit subcommittee, might be what a House GOP takeover means for big-picture federal spending. One of Republicans' biggest planks is reducing the government expenditure, especially on the domestic discretionary side. That could put GOP priorities and a well-funded highways bill at direct odds.

Republicans have already spent time attacking President Barack Obama's call for a $50 billion infrastructure spending package aimed at highways, rail lines, runways and air traffic control. The White House says it wants to try and pass the funding in the Lame Duck congressional session scheduled for the weeks after the midterm elections.

One poll isn't enough to suggest that DeFazio is really in danger of losing his seat. As surprising as those latest numbers are, poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight still give DeFazio more than a 99% chance of reelection.

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GM to Recall 300,000 Vehicles Over Seatbelts

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Jerome Vaughn, WDET -- Detroit)  General Motors is recalling more than 300-thousand vehicles, because of seat belt problems. The recall affects Chevrolet Impala sedans from the 2009 and the 2010 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the front seat belt assembly may not have been properly anchored.  The problem could prevent passengers from being secured by the seat belt during a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

GM says it has no reports of injuries or fatalities connected to the issue. Dealers will inspect both front seat belt assembles and make any necessary repairs at no cost to consumers.  Affected owners will be notified by mail beginning later this month.

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