Infrastructure Bank

Transportation Nation

NY Gov Cuomo Offers No Details on Tappan Zee Bridge Funds

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge spanning, on the day of this photo, a serene Hudson River. (Flckr / duluoz cats)

(New York, NY - WNYC) In the Q & A after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the members of a new state Infrastructure Bank Board, he talked today about how the state might pay to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge after the federal government did not grant a $2 billion loan application.

(Ray LaHood wrote about the projects that did get the funding here.)

The proposed $5.2 billion project is a high priority for Cuomo.  It would build two spans to replace an aging, overcrowded bridge across the Hudson River in New York City's northern suburbs.

Environmental and transportation groups have criticized the replacement bridge's design because it makes no provision for transit.  Some opponents have suggested Cuomo's  vehicles-only approach contributed to the project's failure to win federal transportation funding.

But Cuomo downplayed the decision by the Obama administration not to grant a loan on April 26.   Cuomo said he's considering public-private partnerships that could leverage private financing, but he has no proposal at this time.

Here's an excerpt of the Q & A:

Q: Was it disappointing to not get the federal transportation loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge? Also, any progress on the next steps in terms of funding?

Cuomo: I believe the federal transportation funds will be reauthorized and I believe we will be competitive. Howard, anything new on the Tappan Zee financing?

Director of State Operations Howard Glaser: We’re doing many things simultaneously: the environmental review, the financial plans, working out labor agreements. So you’ll continue to see that work being done over the next few months.

Q: Do you need public-private partnership legislation to fund the bridge?

Cuomo: We’re talking about public-private partnership legislation. We don’t have an immediate proposal on that.

[Cuomo then talked about the various political obstacles to the project, and the need to overcome them to show that the state can still think and build big.]

[We're battling] inertia and institutional opposition—just bureaucratic opposition: opposition of the system, opposition to change, opposition to risk, which is very real and one of the main challenges you’re going to face.

The Tappan Zee Bridge is a project that has been talked about for decades, literally. The Tappan Zee Bridge--and there’s a project called the Peace Bridge in Buffalo--are large scale public works projects that have been talked about for decades but have somehow defied progress, let alone completion. That is one of those cultural enemies, I think, to progress. This sense that big projects are just too difficult to tackle.

Building a bridge: it’s controversial, it’s complex, there’s going to be opposition and [the idea that] if there’s opposition, we should stop. We’re trying to do the exact opposite with the Tappan Zee. We’re trying to say, ‘When there is a pressing need, government should be able to respond quickly, expeditiously, efficiently. Hear everyone, fair process, due process…but then get it done. Get it done.’

Government was about functioning [during the tenure of former NY State Governor] Al Smith. Government was about functioning and performing, competently, quickly. So the Tappan Zee Bridge, which we’ll be involved in, is a project that we identified early on, that is not just going to be about repairing that bridge. But it’s going to be about making the statement that government can work and society can work and we can still do big things. We’re that good. So keeping the Tappan Zee on time and moving along is very important to us.

Q: The biggest roadblock seems to be how to pay for it.

Cuomo: We’re working through a number of financing options and we’ll present a number of options for discussion and we’ll pick the best one.

Q: Will you be passing legislation during this session to allow you to raise public-private money for the Tappan Zee Bridge? Would it have to go through legislation?

Cuomo: It would not have to go through legislation. No.

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It's A Free Country ®

Who Had the Better Week—Cuomo or Christie?

Friday, April 06, 2012

Both governors made big investments this week: one in infrastructure, the other in Israel.

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

New York Invests $1.2 Billion in Roads Under New Infra Bank

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

New York is investing $1.2 billion in new, accelerated road and bridge projects, just days after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the funding bill for his "New York Works" infrastructure bank.

The funding -- almost ten percent of the entire $15 billion projected spending on infrastructure -- came even before appointees to a 15-member committee to administer the fund were named.

The funding will accelerate road and bridge projects across the state, with the largest single payment -- nearly half a billion dollars -- going to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. But there are projects everywhere, from the Hempstead Turnpike in Long Island to the Latta Brook Road in Chemung County to Rt 52 over the Callicoon Creek in Delaware County to Route 9N in Port Henry, in the North Country.

The $1.2 billion in accelerated funding comes on top of $1.6 billion in previously planned spending on roads and bridges. It does not include the more than $5 billion replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, a project which has drawn fire for its lack of mass transit.

In a measure of how Governor Cuomo views the political potency of building new infrastructure, word of the investments came in a series of ten carefully-designed press releases, each targeted to a different media market with quotes praising the governor from local legislators.

The infrastructure bank has won support from business and labor leaders, who see a significant new infusion of funds into construction as a shot in the arm for the economy, particularly upstate.

And while many details of the fund are as yet unreleased, some infrastructure bank experts shrugged off the disbursement of funds before its governing structure has even been named.

"You can't just jump to where we should be," said New York University professor Michael Likosky, who has advised governments on setting of infrastructure banks. "That's a lot of the reason why these things have failed up to now."

Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, was also nonplussed. "These were projects that had to happen," Yaro said, noting that New York has slowly defunded road projects over the years, leaving many roads and bridges in critical condition.

The grand idea of the NY Works fund is that it will coordinate capital spending among 45 agencies and authorities, including the state Department of Transportation, the New York MTA, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Thruway Authority, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and others. The governing body will prioritize and coordinate state projects -- the lack of which can tangle with interest costs, construction materials, and labor availability.

The $1.2 billion in new spending consists of $247 million in state capital funds and $917 million in new federal funds. When it's fully constituted, the fund is supposed to draw in private capital -- but, unlike Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Governor Cuomo hasn't said which private sector investors have indicated they will invest in the fund.

This tranche of funding includes $212 million for bridge decking and structural replacement on 115 bridges, $250 million for 2,000 miles of pavement, and $687 million for "transportation projects of regional or statement significance throughout the state that had been delayed due to resource constraints," according to the press releases.

The Governor's office promises a live web link to on going New York Works projects, but that list is not yet live.

Here are the ten press releases (with lists of projects)

April 2012

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in Western New York as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Finger Lakes as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Hudson Valley as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Capital Region as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects on Long Island as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Southern Tier as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the Mohawk Valley as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in New York City as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in the North Country as Part of NY Works Program

04.03.2012 Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Road and Bridge Projects in Central New York as Part of NY Works Program


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Transportation Nation

New York Governor Cuomo Touting Infra Bank in Election Email

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo briefs the cabinet on the 2012-13 budget (March 27, 2012, Governor's flickr stream)

The Andrew Cuomo 2014 Committee is proud of the Governor's infrastructure bank, so proud it wasted no time sending out an email touting the so-called "New York Works" program as "the cornerstone of this budget."

The New York Works program was finalized as part of Tuesday''s budget deal. It would use $232 million in capital funds and $917 million in new federal funds for a total of $1.2 billion in new spending. That funding would, in turn, leverage private resources to inject $15 billion into infrastructure spending.

The fund would also pool planning resources across 45 state agencies. Among the agencies and authorities the Governor calls out in a brief on the plan are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the MTA, and the Department of Transportation.

"Yesterday was an exciting day for New York," begins the email, which landed in mailboxes Wednesday afternoon.

In the past year, infrastructure spending has gone out of of favor, particularly among Republicans. Governors Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Rick Scott in Florida all killed big rail projects, and Republicans in Congress have balked at passing a surface transportation bill, which runs out at the end of this month.

So it's notable that Governor Cuomo sees infrastructure spending as part of his ticket to electoral success. His email describes New York Works "as a new and smarter strategy for putting New Yorkers back to work by rebuilding our aging infrastructure and helping put our state's economy back on track."

The Governor will also name nine of 15 members of a task force to decide on projects -- the legislature will name the remaining six. The governor is promising to post the projects on line so "New Yorkers can track the projects in their community" in real time. The list will be posted "over the next several days."

Infrastructure banks already operate in several states; President Barack Obama has tried and failed to get one through Congress.

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov. Cuomo Budget: MTA Not Gutted, $$ For Amtrak, Infrastructure Fund

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

UPDATED Well, the numbers are out, and the Governor is proposing the New York MTA get $251 million to plug what its losing from the payroll tax the Governor cut last year.

However, while there are no cuts, the MTA's budget remains flat, even as ridership is increasing.  Which means, the authority still has a $35 million budget gap to close, as it announced in December.

(Full analysis of the budget here.)

The $251 million is somewhat less than the $310 million the MTA will lose as a result of the MTA payroll tax cut, although the state argued in a conference call with transit activists today that that's actually not less than the MTA needs, because the tax cut doesn't go into effect until April 1, three months after the MTA's budget did.

[Confusingly, in the text accompanying the budget numbers, the state says it will give $190 million more to the MTA than it did from the general fund last year, which "includes $250 million to the MTA."  Waiting for an explanation on that one to from the governor's office. If past is prologue, that may take some time to sort out.]

There's also $770 million for capital construction aid (as the MTA has outlined in its capital plan.)

Both Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers' campaign and Kate Slevin of Tri-State Transportation Commission seemed to feel they'd dodged a bullet in the FY 2013 budget.

Even Transportation Alternatives had generally kind, if wary, words:
“Today’s budget treats transit riders with respect and is a step in the right direction for New York,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. “We need the governor to treat public transit as a priority, not an afterthought. "

The governor is also proposing $1.16 billion to start off his "New York Works" infrastructure bank for "bridges, roads, and major infrastructure projects,"  with most of that money ($917 million) coming from the federal government.

The budget also includes $9.7 million to improve Amtrak rail service.

And: if you live in Broad Channel or the Rockaways, the state will reimburse you for your tolls, if  Governor Cuomo has his way.

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Transportation Nation

New York Governor Cuomo Proposes $15 Billion Infrastructure Plan

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

UPDATED WITH TRANSCRIPT: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to build, build, build.   In his state of the state address Wednesday, he put forth a $15 billion plan to repair roads, bridges,  parks, flood control, and municipal water systems. (Transcript of his actual remarks below)

Cuomo did not specifically refer to transit projects, (in fact, the word "transit" wasn't uttered during the speech) though he did discuss capital construction by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which he controls.

Cuomo said all the investment would come under one umbrella "New York Works" fund.

"Right now, believe it or not, agencies and authorities do their own construction, their own development,  their own master plan – all  disconnected one from the other, without even any conversation."

In a speech that veered wildly from prepared remarks, Cuomo said:  "So the MTA has a capital plan that they are pursuing different that the Port Authority, which has a capital plan which it's pursuing , different from the Department of Transportation which has a capital plan which its pursuing , different from the Department Of Housing which has a capital plan that it’ pursuing.  It makes no sense.  It never did. This is not the time to be squandering resources. "

The idea of having one entity make funding decisions won praise from planners: "The state has really been substandard in capital construction," said the Citizens' Budget Commissions Elizabeth Lynam.  "It's a long time coming that they tried to orchestrate that."

"In the long run if you put together a board that looks to state infrastructure interests--  not just political interests -- that can be very strong," added City College of New York Professor Robert "Buz" Paaswell.  But Paaswell said setting up a fund would be very complex -- since authorities can legally borrow, while the state DOT cannot.

But transit advocates were dismayed by Cuomo's glancing over public transportation.

“While the Governor is right to call for greater investment in infrastructure, Albany cannot continue to give short shrift to funding transit across our state,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “Public transit projects create a jobs dividend that stretches from the five-boroughs to Upstate New York. From manufacturing jobs in the North Country to construction jobs in the metropolitan area, fully funding public transit not only helps get millions of people to work every day, it creates good-paying jobs for New Yorkers.”

Cuomo first introduced the idea of an infrastructure bank during his tax proposal, which passed last month.  In his state of the state he offered more details, but the governor has yet to release a full-blown plan.

"We want to find a  20 to 1 leverage in these projects so we maximize the impact of the state money," Cuomo said.

Among the fund's uses:  "We are planning to improve more than 100 bridges which will include finally building a new Tappan Zee bridge, because 15 years of planning and talking and commiserating is too long. It is time to build and to act and to perform."

"We are going to repair 2000 miles of roads," he added.  "That’s from Buffalo to New York City 5 times. We are going finance upgrades to 90 municipal water systems,  improve 48 parks and historic sites that are visited by 37 million people per year.  And after hurricane Irene and storm Lee repair 114 flood control projects across this state."

Cuomo also proposed a $2 billion "energy highway" from Quebec to New York City.

"We have a tremendous need for power in downstate New York.  Let's connect the supply dots to the need what Eisenhower did in the 50s by building an interstate system is what this energy highway can be to the next generation."


I’m proposing setting up the New York works fund and task force.  This task force will be made up of leading public and private3 sector experts and members of the legislature.  It will coordinate for the first time all the states capital construction,


Right now, believe it or not, agencies and authorities do their own construction, their own development,  their own master plan – all  disconnected one from the other, without even any conversation.


So the MTA has a capital plan that they are pursuing different that the Port Authority which has a capital plan which its pursuing , different from the Department of Transportation which has a capital plan which its pursuing , different from the Department Of Housing which has a capital plan that it’ pursuing.


It makes no sense it never did.   This is not the time to be squandering resources.  You can’t have that many agencies and authorities coming up with their own vision for the state -- we need a comprehensive vision and we need the expertise frankly to help us get it done. It’s not the state’s forte.


There are people in the private sector who are expert at this who want to be helpful. We want to invite them in, put together a task force, and actually lead this effort.


We want a comprehensive master plan of all of the state’s construction over the next few years and how we can coordinate and maximize that work that work to have a positive synergy among the projects.   We also want to accelerate the construction.


We cant do this on government time -- this has to happen on real time. It can’t take 3 years to put a shovel in the ground, it just can’t work that way any more.  And it’s not going to.




As I said in the beginning the task for us is to find leverage with private sector partners. We want to find a  20 to 1 leverage in these projects so we maximize the impact of the state money.


We are planning to improve more than 100 bridges which will include finally building a new Tappan Zee bridge, because 15 years of planning and talking and commiserating is too long.  I is time to build and to act and to perform.


We are going to repair 2000 miles of roads.  That’s from Buffalo to New York City 5 times. We are going finance upgrades to 90 municipal water systems,  improve 48 parks and historic sites that are visited by 37 million people per year.  And after hurricane Irene and storm Lee repair 114 flood control projects across this state.


Let’s build an energy highway system that doesn’t exist now…we have supply of power in northern New York, Quebec, we have power supply in western ny we have a tremendous need for power in downstate ny lets connect the supply dots to the need what Eisenhower did in the 50s by building an interstate system is what this energy highway can be to the next generation.


If we want the state to develop and we need the job and we need the businesses,  we’re going to need the power this is the way we’re going to do it.


The state can master plan a system, issue an ftp  allow private sector companies to come to in to bid it  build it we believe it can generate $2 billion in infrastructure. This is no doubt a comprehensive and ambitious jobs program, 15 billion in infrastructure,  4 billion for a convention center, 2 billion for Javits transformation, 2 billion for energy, 1 billion for gaming,  1 billion for buffalo that we believe will generate additional money for the private sector.  This program will make a major impact on the of this state’s economy if we get it done.



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Transportation Nation

NY & NJ Port Authority Chief Expects Transpo Building Push Once World Trade Center Is Done

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Patrick Foye, head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (image courtesy of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s new executive director said he’s been thinking about the “peace dividend” he expects once 1 World Trade Center is completed in 2013 – when the authority will be able to turn its energies toward “tens of billions” in overdue transportation infrastructure overhauls.

Pat Foye delivered the keynote speech for a conference about globalization and the New York State economy. The event was held in Manhattan at the SUNY Levin Institute, which is named after Neil Levin, the former Port Authority chief executive who died at the World Trade Center on September 11.

Anticipating a building push, Foye criticized the environmental review process that big building projects must pass through in the New York City region. “There’s no field of human endeavor that benefits from a 10-year study," he said. “We can do this quicker and cheaper and have greater certainty in the process.”

Foye sat down for a Q & A after speaking at the conference.

What did you mean by the “World Trade Center peace dividend?”

1 World Trade Center is 50 percent leased, which is terrific. The building is on track to be finished at the end of 2013. It’ll be open to tenants in the first quarter of 2014. The Port Authority has commitments it made to the World Trade Center site and to Downtown Manhattan in general. Once those commitments have been met, the Port Authority will be able to take funds and increasingly focus them on airports and ports and the PATH train and bridges and tunnels—the George Washington Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel, the Staten Island bridges—all the incredibly important infrastructure that help drive the economy of the region.

We’ll be refocusing on the Port Authority’s core mission, which is critical transportation infrastructure that serves both states. That’s what the future looks like.

Your predecessor, Chris Ward, said the recent toll and fare hikes were not enough to do what the Port Authority needs to do while finishing the World Trade Center. Are you facing hard choices about delaying or canceling critical infrastructure projects?

Life’s about hard choices, whether you’re sitting at your kitchen table with your spouse or whether you’re in business or a big governmental entity like the MTA or the Port Authority.

I’m probably the wrong guy to ask because I’m an MTA board member and, a year ago, I voted against the MTA fare increase because I thought voting against it was the right thing to do.

But I think the toll increase was the right thing to do for the Port Authority at the time. I personally would not be advocating—and I’m not advocating—for higher toll levels now. I think that given the economy, that would not be an appropriate thing to do. And I know it’s not something that either Governor Christie or Governor Cuomo would support. It’s something the Board of Commissioners would not support.

So I think the toll and fare increase, which was a painful decision made in August, was at the right level.

How would you streamline the environmental review process for large building projects? Would you have less reviews, tighter deadlines?

Look, everybody is committed to environmental protection. I’ve got three daughters. I care a lot about the water I drink, my wife drinks, my neighbors drink. I feel the same way about the air we breathe and chemicals in the soil. That’s a given.

The question is, with unmet transportation needs in the hundreds of billions and unemployment as high as it is, isn’t there a way to shorten the process without compromising the environment?

I believe there is. I think President Obama, a president with a terrific environmental record, led the way on the Tappan Zee Bridge when he gave Governor Cuomo a waiver of the NEPA process. It’s one of only 14 projects in the country to get that waiver.

[NOTE: The Tappan Zee Bridge connects New York’s Rockland and Westchester Counties, accommodates 135,000 vehicles each weekday and is in constant need of repairs. An expedited federal review is supposed to speed construction of a replacement bridge by coordinating the permitting process.]

How does the state’s new infrastructure bank work and how will it affect the Port Authority?

The state and region’s transportation infrastructure needs can be measured in hundreds of billions of dollars. State and government budgets everywhere are under pressure. Taxpayers have reached the limit of their ability to give more.

The infrastructure bank is designed to come up with menu of projects: the Tappan Zee Bridge, perhaps the Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia Airport, which is a Port Authority asset, perhaps the MTA’s East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway projects.

The bank would then combine the state and Port Authority together with sources of private capital: public unions, private pension plans, corporate pension plans, institutional investors. The state would not pay a fee but would co-invest, if you will.

Why is it needed?

We have an economic crisis. And I think people have generally have lost some confidence in the ability of Washington to address these concerns. We need to do something and we need to do it now.

The state has the projects and the expertise but doesn’t have the ability to borrow at those levels.

The governor has been very public about the importance of fixing the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is an incredibly important asset for the entire region. The state infrastructure fund will be looking at the Tappan Zee as among the first projects that it considers.

Is it like bonds in that investors can expect a set rate of return?

The infrastructure fund will afford investors the opportunity to invest in debt, perhaps subordinated debt, preferred equity, common equity or a common equity equivalent.

Every project is different. It’s got its own history, its own needs from a financing point of view. One of the advantages of the Tappan Zee Bridge, for instance, is it has a whole history of toll collection, and that can be plotted. That gives comfort and assurance to investors.

Projects with toll or fare revenue, that will help the financing get done.

(Some of the answers in this interview have been condensed.)

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Transportation Nation

Cuomo: I'll Include Transit in Infrastructure Fund

Friday, December 09, 2011

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a press release describing his tax and stimulus plan this week, he sketched out an infrastructure bank that would draw funds from accelerated payments from the state, couple them with money from the Port Authority and private pension funds, and leverage all that to create a $10 billion investment fund.

That won big praise from people like Marcia Hale of Building America's Future, who called it a "wonderful, wonderful' plan.

But it had folks like Bob Yaro of the Regional Plan Association scratching his head.  The press release (and later the bill) said it would fund roads, bridges, canals, dams, water tunnels, even parks. Neither document mentioned transit.

But on Friday, Cuomo said otherwise.  "We specifically are going to be talking about an infrastructure fund that will be all-inclusive," Cuomo said at a question-and-answer session with reporters after a ceremonial bill signing of the portion of the bill that provides jobs to "inner-city" youth at Medgar Evers college in Brooklyn.

"Of state agencies and state authorities, including the MTA, the Port Authority, DOT and coordinating all of the above."  Cuomo promised more details in the state of the state.

At the same event, Cuomo promised funds lost to the MTA from the payroll tax cut would be matched "dollar for dollar" by other state funds.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: LIRR Pilots Quiet Cars, and Higher Hudson River Tolls = More People Riding Mass Transit

Monday, December 05, 2011

Top stories on TN:

The lost highways of Washington, DC. (Link)

The MTA wants transit apps, but it doesn't want to release key data. (Link)

Do higher CAFE standards create more jobs? (Link)

Andrea Bernstein, Brian Lehrer discuss transit systems and climate change. (Link)

The George Washington Bridge (photo by Kate Hinds)

Lots of New York news this week, as the legislature returns to Albany for a special session:

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to create an infrastructure fund that will finance the repair and development of highways, bridges and major construction projects--and promote innovative public-private partnerships with business and labor. (Capitol Confidential)

Lawmakers will meet to enact a compromise bill extending “taxi hail” service to the outer boroughs, among other issues... (NY Post, NY Times)

...including the MTA's payroll tax, which sources say they want to modify without financially hurting the strapped agency. (NY Daily News)

But: New York Daily News opinion: repealing the payroll tax is "a train wreck of a proposal that would cripple the subway...The idea that the MTA could provide anything remotely close to a safe and affordable service after such a financial pounding is fantasy.'"

In other news:

Higher Hudson River tolls have led to less traffic -- and more people riding public transit into New York City. (New York Times)

House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica said he's finished negotiating over some FAA funding issues until Congress resolves a dispute over a labor ruling. (Politico)

U.S. factory production is up--which means automakers are hiring. (The Takeaway)

Toyota begins selling "the world's smallest four-seater." (Detroit Free Press)

A blueprint for how Germany created a financially viable public transit system.  (Washington Post)

The Long Island Rail Road is piloting a quiet car program on one line. (Long Island Press)

The mayor of Ventura, California, is going blind -- so he's moving to Washington DC, where the transit system will enable him to lead a normal life without driving. (Los Angeles Times)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: California Bullet Train Cost Estimate Doubles, Atlanta Tries Downtown Transit Hub Again, and Honda Cuts Production

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Why NYC taxi medallions are worth more than ever. (Link)

The federal government says so-called "Chinatown buses" have more accidents. (Link)

Safety concerns prevent Pittsburgh bicyclists from becoming regular commuters. (Link)

A rendering of a California bullet train (image courtesy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The cost of California's high-speed rail project has jumped to $98.5 billion, according to a business plan being released today. (Los Angeles Times)

The president's infrastructure bank proposal comes up for a vote in the Senate this week. (The Hill)

Atlanta's trying one more time to build a transit hub downtown. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Ray LaHood says Republicans prioritize thwarting the president. “Republicans made a decision right after the election—don’t  give Obama any victories. The heck with putting people to work, because we can score points.” (The Daily Beast)

Parts shortages from three months of catastrophic flooding in Thailand have forced Honda to cut U.S. and Canadian factory production by 50 percent for the second time this year. (NPR)

Airlines are trying to cut boarding time on planes. (New York Times)

Transit wish list: the Triboro RX line, which would connect Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx -- without coming into Manhattan. (Second Avenue Sagas)

An upstate county official slams the NY State Department of Transportation for not being prepared for this weekend's snowstorm. (AP via Wall Street Journal)

Transportation groups are pushing for a gas tax increase, but Congress and the White House aren't biting. (Politico)

Does London's bike-promoting mayor put cars first? The Guardian says yes.

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Transportation Nation

Infrastructure Bank Likely to Return as a Political Weapon

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

President Obama's jobs plan may have died in the Senate last night, but that that doesn't mean debate over a national infrastructure bank died along with it.

That's because Senate Democrats are likely to bring the infrastructure bank back as one of several stand-alone jobs bills expected on the floor in the coming weeks. It's all part of the president's promise to ratchet up political pressure on Republicans by making them vote on popular parts of his jobs bill piece by piece.

Senate aides say a federally-run infrastructure bank with$10 billion in loan-making authority is on their list, along with possible bills funding unemployment insurance, teachers and firefighters jobs, a payroll tax cut holiday and veterans hiring incentives.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) who directs Senate Democrats' political messaging, confirmed the spate of politically-charged jobs bills when he spoke to reporters just after the Senate defeated Obama's jobs bill last evening.

"This will be an ongoing fight until our Republican friends see they have to do something about jobs. And they will see it," he said.

House Republicans are not seeing it yet, at least on the infrastructure spending issue. A transportation subcommittee hearing on the topic quickly turned into a bashing session on the idea of an infrastructure bank, even though it enjoys bipartisan support in the Senate.

Republicans repeated their charge that the bank would create a new level of federal bureaucracy where loans and grants are already too slow to filter to states planning projects. Their primary concern: thirty-three states already have their own infrastructure banks funded under the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

“Many people would be skeptical that bureaucrats in Washington would have any idea about which projects would be most worthy of a federal loan," said Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), the subcommittee's chair.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, declared the federal infrastructure bank "dead on arrival in the House of Representatives."

But if Republican opposition is vehement, Democratic support, at least in the House, seems tepid. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the subcommittee's senior Democrat, pointed out loans from an infrastructure banks are just that: loans. They have to be paid back. And he said transportation projects without a dedicated revenue stream, like a toll road, are unlikely to generate the money. Instead, DeFazio and other liberal Democrats back the idea of increased direct government spending on transportation projects as a way to beef up infrastructure and create jobs.

“An infrastructure bank could be useful to help this country deal with a massive infrastructure deficit. But it has its limits,” DeFazio said.

That view was backed up by Ron Utt, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “The inevitable source of revenues through an infrastructure bank seem likely to be taxes,” he said.

Still, despite the chilly reception in the House,  Senate Democrats seem likely to go ahead with their strategy of pressuring the GOP with repeated votes on jobs projects including an infrastructure bank. The proposal is likely to be paid for with a millionaire's surtax similar to the one that funded the broader jobs bill.

"We are going to keep at it, and keep at it, and keep at it...and they will see," Schumer said.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: FAA Allows NYC Helicopters Into Off-Limits Airspace, NYC Taxis May Get New Roof Lights, Michigan Town Loses Streetlights

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New York's Tappan Zee Bridge got expedited approval from the feds, but construction is years away. (Link)

(photo by Dino Abatzidis via Flickr)

A House committee will hold a hearing on President Obama's infrastructure bank proposal today. (The Hill)

The UAW reached a tentative deal with Chrysler. (Detroit Free Press)

New York is considering a new roof light system for taxis. (DNA Info, New York Times)

The Federal Aviation Administration said it's allowing some NYC sightseeing helicopters to use airspace that's supposed to be off-limits to local air traffic. (WNYC)

DC's Metro is trying to figure out ways to make parking easier for for riders -- and is also encouraging riders to bike to stations by building bike corrals. (Washington Examiner)

A Michigan town is losing more than half its streetlights as part of a settlement over an unpaid electric bill. (Detroit Free Press, Michigan Messenger)

Transportation Alternatives has compiled a list of NYC's most dangerous intersections for pedestrians and bikers. (New York Daily News)

Reimagining urban flight: an environmental designer creates 'urban fly lines.' (The Takeaway)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Senate Dems Tweak Infrastructure Proposal; Cuomo Wants Speedy Federal Approval for New Tappan Zee Bridge

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top stores on TN:

The ARC tunnel dispute fueled rancor between NJ Governor Christie and the Obama Administration. (Link)

GM signs car share agreement. (Link)

LIRR train (photo by Adam E. Moreira via Wikimedia Commons)

One New York politician wants the Long Island Rail Road to institute a bill of rights for passengers. (WNYC)

Jobs bill update: a procedural vote will come tonight. (Washington Post)

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are working on a Plan B: merge a corporate repatriation tax holiday to an infrastructure bank proposal. (Politico)

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo wants speedy federal approval for a new Tappan Zee bridge. (Capitol Confidential)

Maryland leaders debate applying sales tax to gas purchases to boost funds for that state's infrastructure. (AP via Washington Post)

The future of Ann Arbor's transit system could include streetcars or monorail. (

The NYC subway map did away with Charlton Street. (New York Times)

A project aimed at untangling an Amtrak, Metra, and freight train logjam broke ground yesterday on Chicago’s South Side. (WBEZ)

Should California allow hybrids with no passengers back into the carpool lane? Research says yes. (KQED)

Outgoing NY MTA head Jay Walder toured the top of the Verrazano Bridge. (NY Post)

How to store your bike in your apartment? Turn it into a bookshelf. (Apartment Therapy)

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Transportation Nation

Mica's Love-Hate Relationship with Infrastructure Finance

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


It was only minutes after President Barack Obama delivered his jobs speech to a joint session of Congress last Thursday night that House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair John Mica (R-Fla) was dismissing outright one of the President’s main proposals. “I’m strongly opposed to any type of a new federal infrastructure bank,” Mica told Todd Zwillich after the speech. “We’ve already had experience with some of these federal grant programs that requires Washington bureaucrats, Washington red tape, Washington approvals and then bowing and scraping to Washington.”

There are many kinds of potential infrastructure banks, of course, and indeed some lawmakers—including Mica’s Democratic predecessor, James Oberstar—imagined a bank as the grant-making group of technocrats Mica abhors. Others, however, have suggested that a federal infrastructure bank should act... well, something like a bank: It should loan money independently of politics with revenue generation in mind.

In his speech last Thursday, Obama telegraphed a few clues that he was imagining the latter type (my italics for emphasis): “No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere. We’re cutting the red tape that prevents some of these projects from getting started as quickly as possible. And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it will do for the economy.”

The President went on to say that, “This idea came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat,” a reference to the Building and Upgrading Infrastructure for Long-Term Development, or BUILD Act, sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Since revealed, the infrastructure bank provision of the American Jobs Act is almost a cut-and-paste from the BUILD Act. Both would create an “American Infrastructure Financing Authority” that would “provide direct loans and loan guarantees to facilitate infrastructure projects that are both economically viable and of regional or national significance” and are backed by “tolls, user fees, or other dedicated revenue sources.”

Again, Chairman Mica opposes this. What does he support? The expansion of a program called TIFIA, which stands for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. And what does TIFIA provide? Direct loans, loan guarantees and standby lines of credit "for qualified projects of regional and national significance" "with tolls and other forms of user-backed revenue."

By now you've noticed that the Kerry-Hutchison infrastructure bank (which Mica opposes) bears a striking resemblance to the already-popular TIFIA program (which Mica supports). But there are some differences:

  • The program that Mica supports helps the public and private sectors build transportation infrastructure, while the program Mica strongly opposes would help these same sectors build transportation, water, or energy infrastructure.
  • The mechanism that Mica supports can loan up to 33 percent of an eligible project’s total costs, while the mechanism Mica opposes can loan up to 50 percent.
  • Mica’s reauthorization proposal (pdf) from July set aside $6 billion to the program that Mica supports, while Obama and Kerry and Hutchison want to set aside $10 billion for the program that Mica opposes.
  • The program that Mica opposes because it would be run by “Washington bureaucrats” would in fact be run by a revolving group of seven people appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, no more than four of whom could be from the same political party; the program that Mica  supports is run entirely by executive branch bureaucrats working under the Secretary of Transportation.

Which of these key differences between the infrastructure bank and TIFIA causes Chairman Mica to hate one and love the other? Mica spokesperson Justin Harclerode acknowledged this was a good question, but could only re-emphasize the contrast in positions without explaining it. “You’re right that Chairman Mica supports TIFIA. We know that TIFIA works, and he plans to capitalize TIFIA more than in the past,” he emailed. “There have been various [infrastructure bank] proposals, but we just don’t believe that creating another government-sponsored enterprise like Fannie or Freddie is the way to go.”

Meanwhile, are there other TIFIA lovers out there who are infrastructure bank haters? Are we missing something? I’m looking for wonky insight. Don't tell me this is just partisan posturing!

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.


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Transportation Nation

President Proposes $10 Billion Infrastructure Bank

Thursday, September 08, 2011

With one foot on the terra firma of national pride and another in his old familiar haunt of progressivism, President Barack Obama Thursday proposed a $10 billion infrastructure bank with $50 billion in expedited infrastructure spending to help stimulate the economy.

"Everyone here knows that we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over this country.  Our highways are clogged with traffic.  Our skies are the most congested in the world," said the President while a sour-faced Speaker John Boehner sat to his right.

"This is inexcusable.  Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower.  And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?  At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?"

In a speech that sounded at times feisty and at times impatient, the President repeatedly urged congress to pass a bill the administration put at $450 billion, which he said would be paid for by other cuts.

But still the speech sounded more like old-style Obama than the man who last month, back to the wall, agreed to $2.4 trillion in spending cuts, with no tax increases.   Thursday the President once again called on the rich to pay "their fair share," an idea that the public has embraced but that Congress has rejected.

"There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work.  There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America.  A public transit project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of traffic in the country," the President said, pointedly picking a Texas city to highlight.  Texas is home to the Republican Presidential front-runner, Governor Rick Perry.

The President made his strongest pitch yet in favor of an infrastructure bank, a federally-backed bank that would leverage government funds to draw private capital for large projects like roads, transit, bridges, and dams.

The President said it would  issue loans "based on two criteria:  how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the economy."

"This idea came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat. The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by America’s largest business organization and America’s largest labor organization.  It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike.  You should pass it right away."

In a fact sheet released by the White House, the administration said the National Infrastructure Bank would be capitalized with $10 billion "in order to leverage private and public capital and to invest in a broad range of infrastructure projects of national and regional significance, without earmarks or traditional political influence. The bank would be based on the model Senators Kerry and Hutchison have championed while building on legislation by Senators Rockefeller and Lautenberg and the work of long-time infrastructure bank champions like Rosa DeLauro and the input of the President’s Jobs Council."




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Transportation Nation

Obama's Big Speech May Simply Ask for Things to Remain the Same

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The White House is holding the details of its infrastructure spending plan close to the vest, but as clear as anyone can make out it amounts to this:  don't spend less than we're spending now.

By all accounts, tonight President Obama will urge Congress to get $50 billion to $100 billion out the door on road and bridge construction spending as quickly as possibly, in the belief that getting money into the economy through construction jobs will help stop the economic hemorrhage.

(Note: I'll be live-chatting the speech over at our sister site, It's a Free Country, here. )

There's also widespread belief he'll push for an infrastructure bank -- a federally-backed bank that would funnel private capital to big projects like roads, bridges, and transit.

But as far as anyone can tell, much of what he'll be proposing won't be new money, it will just be a plan to front-load spending that, in a parallel universe, would have already been authorized by now.

Now, let's recap. In September, 2009, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill -- the massive, multi-year legislation that funds roads, bridges, and transit -- was set to expire.

At the time, everyone -- including Rep. John Mica (R-FL), then the ranking Republican member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (and the current chair) -- wanted the bill to double in size from $244 billion over four years to about half-a-trillion dollars over six years.

But no one knew how to pay for it.

There were ideas, to be sure.  Raise the gas tax, which hasn't gone up since 1993. Toll highways.  Charge people for the number of miles they drive.

But at that point in the Obama administration the focus was on reforming health care. Until that got done, there wasn't going to be any talk of raising taxes. The administration pushed for, and got, an 18-month extension to March, 2011.  The bill was extended again.  And now, at the end of this month, it expires again -- in an atmosphere where the GOP-controlled Congress has made clear its willingness to shut down a federal agency rather than cave on spending priorities.

Which brings us to our present circumstance.  Congress wants to drastically reduce the size of the transportation bill from current levels, to $230 billion over six years.  The Democratic Senate wants $109 billion over two years, essentially matching the current level of spending.

And the president wants spending to happen as quickly as possible.

But no one in Washington is suggesting a level of spending that, just two Septembers ago, had bi-partisan support.

On Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a "clean extension" of the transportation bill, setting the stage for further discussions.

But what it amounts to is this:  in September 2011, the President's rare address to a joint session of Congress will be used, in part, to argue that to stimulate the economy, it shouldn't heave its budget axe.

Instead, it should do about half as much as it might have done anyway, two Septembers ago.


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Transportation Nation

Rendell: Congress Should "Take a Deep Breath" and Pass Infrastructure Bank Now

Monday, August 08, 2011

That the group Building America's Future thinks the U.S. should be investing more money in infrastructure is about as shocking as 90 degree temps in August, but in a conference call announcing the release of its new report: "Falling Apart and Falling Behind," former PA Governor Ed Rendell, one of BAF's chairs, gave a particularly urgent call to arms on an infrastructure bank, which would leverage federal funds to funnel private investment into roads, bridges, transit, and rail.

"Congress has to take a deep breath and listen," Rendell said, when asked how to clear the increasingly daunting hurdle of asking the federal government to do anything about infrastructure spending .

"Let’s take the infrastructure bank.  If we create the infrastructure bank and hold it for major transportation projects of regional significance, if  we fund it at $5 billion a year, $5 billion in credit subsidy from federal treasury,  that would produce over  $600 billion in private sector investment, and in the end because these would be loans that would be repaid, in the end cost to the federal treasury? Zero.  Zero.   And we get $600 billion that we could invest in infrastructure repair in the next decade."


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Transportation Nation

White House Not Giving Up on Infrastructure Bank

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

White House Photo

The White House is stepping up talk of  enacting an infrastructure bank, and may even be considering making such a bank part of any deal it makes with Congress on the debt ceiling.

An infrastructure bank, using federal seed money and private capital, would invest in large infrastructure projects that could pay back over the years through tolls or other revenues--like sales taxes that back local transit projects.

Washington sources say an infrastructure bank could be part of a deficit deal or emerge as a free-standing piece of legislation.

In the last week, the President and administration officials keep slipping the concept into the public debate.  The most recent incarnation was Monday's White House press conference, when the President dropped the words "infrastructure bank"  at the end of a thought on economic growth.

"I mean, the infrastructure bank that we've proposed is relatively small. But could we imagine a project where we're rebuilding roads and bridges and ports and schools and broadband lines and smart grids, and taking all those construction workers and putting them to work right now?  I can imagine a very aggressive program like that that. I think the American people would rally around (it) and (it) would be good for the economy not just next year or the year after, but for the next 20 or 30 years."

The fact that the President even said the words "infrastructure bank" probably slipped by most folks, who were focusing on the President's vow not to have a short-term deal on debt. But it's a concept he's bringing to the forefront as other avenues for infrastructure spending are noticeably fading.

Stimulus spending, clearly, is out. And as we reported last week, Rep. John Mica, (R-FL), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, last week introduced  a six-year, $230 billion surface transportation bill. The bill was a long way from the president's proposed $556 billion proposal, which Obama sent into the world on Valentine's Day. Even so, the Senate isn't expected to ask for much more than the House, and instead may be looking at a $109 billion, two-year bill.

Which may be why the White House is bring the infrastructure bank concept to the fore. Just a few days before the President mentioned it, Austan Goolsbee, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, pushed the concept in a television interview, as part of a number of other ideas to get the economy moving. "We ought to extend the payroll tax cut. We ought to create the infrastructure bank. We ought to pass the free trade agreements to get exports going..."

The president also talked about infrastructure in his weekly address:

"With a recovery that’s still fragile and isn’t producing all the jobs we need, the last thing we can afford is the usual partisan game-playing in Washington," President Obama said. "By getting our fiscal house in order, Congress will be in a stronger position to focus on some of the job-creating measures I’ve already proposed – like putting people to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure..."

The president has been nothing if not consistent on infrastructure. On Labor Day, he put forward a $50 billion infrastructure plan. On Columbus Day, he refined that plan after a White House meeting with mayors and governors.  In his State of the Union address, he pushed making high speed rail accessible to 80 percent of Americans by 2036.  On Valentines Day, his budget proposal included a $556 billion surface transportation bill.

But the administration has been noticeably lacking when it comes to ideas for financing infrastructure.  Called repeatedly before Congress, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would only say that he "looks forward" to working with them to sort out financing details.

The infrastructure bank, by contrast, is a much easier sell. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who introduced a bill in the Senate earlier this year, said it would only need $10 billion of federal seed money to start. Kerry's bill has the support of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), and Mica has said he supports an infrastructure bank.

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Transportation Nation

Bang for the Buck: How States Spend Precious Transpo Dollars

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) Last week, we noted that Indiana and Pennsylvania had launched formal studies to explore transportation funding opportunities—a move that somewhat resembles dithering, given that both states already posses a keen enough sense of funding sources to have made several attempts at additional tolling and/or taxing and/or privatization over the last few years

Today, the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation (a financial benefactor to Transportation Nation) offer a helpful layer to the drumbeat for more investment. Their new report, Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results, investigates not where more money might come from, but our habits in spending the money we have. Pew and Rockefeller analyze the criteria (or lack thereof) that states use (or don’t) to greenlight projects and measure their success.

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If, in this new age of austerity, we’re going to have to “doing more with less,” as House Transportation Chairman John Mica likes to suggest, then we’ll want to avoid waste. That would mean, in essence, finishing smart projects and not starting dumb ones.

But separating the smart from the dumb has been all too subjective a task, and to execute a single project often requires decades-long agreement among multiple administrations’ officials at the federal, state, and local levels. This precarious arrangement has recently failed spectacularly, and millions of dollars have been wasted laying the groundwork for projects—like the ARC tunnel and Florida High Speed Rail—that would later fall through political trap doors. Turning this game of Chutes and Ladders into a smooth pipeline of worthwhile infrastructure won’t be easy.

Click the map for interactive version.

“Some Americans may think of the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems as ends unto themselves,” the Pew-Rockefeller study says. “In fact, they are instruments that can influence broader societal goals—from strengthening our economies and giving citizens better access to jobs to creating a cleaner environment. Slowly but surely, federal and state policy makers are beginning to realize this. Still, in many states, this process is in its early stages, and states vary enormously in how well they are tracking transportation’s impact on key policy goals.”

The report goes on to call out specific states as being particularly thoughtful (Oregon, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota) or not (Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire) when it came to employing cost-benefit analysis and performance measures into their 2010 spending. (See the interactive map and state-by-state fact sheets here.)

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Transportation Nation

Lawmakers Try Again on Infrastructure Bank

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Washington, DC –Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) If at first you don't succeed, try try again. But with less money.

That seems to be the philosophy behind a new congressional push to establish a government-owned "infrastructure bank" to help fund America's ailing water and transportation systems.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers--backed by unions and business groups--is pushing the idea as a way to pay for projects without dipping into the Treasury at a time when Washington is allergic to spending.

"We've got to be creative," said  Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who is behind the effort with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John Warner (D-VA). They see the bank as a way to help fill the yawning gap between what the nation's aging infrastructure needs and what Congress and the public seem willing to pay. (You can watch a video of today's press conference here.)

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