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John Mica

Transportation Nation

Mica Gets Transportation Subcommittee Posts

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

John Mica (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Representative John Mica (R-FL) will retain some influence in helping set transportation policy, even though Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster has taken over as chair of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Mica was appointed to three subcommittees:  Highways and Transit; Railroads Pipelines and Hazardous Materials; and Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. He was also named chair of the subcommittee on Government Operations under the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Winter Park Republican says he's proud of his legacy as chair of the Transportation Committee.

"My replacement is fortunate in that we passed a highway bill, we passed an FAA bill that was stalled for many years under the Democrats, we passed a Coast Guard reauthorization, we passed pipeline safety legislation, so most of the major bills have been passed," he says. "So [Shuster] has time to reassess and then move forward with a highway bill and find a responsible way to go beyond the next two years. "

But Mica says it will be a challenge to try to fix congested and crumbling highways. "Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to increase gas taxes, and that doesn’t really even solve your problem because people are using even less of the traditional gasoline."

"You have alternative fuels, you have plug in cars, and you have cars going much further on one gallon of gas."

 One source of revenue included in the current transportation bill allows for extra toll lanes to be built on existing interstates like I-4.

Mica says Amtrak -- which he labels a "Soviet style passenger rail system" -- also needs reform, and he favors allowing private operators to run the passenger rail system.

Meanwhile, Mica says he’s excited about the prospect of private passenger rail starting in the state - with All Aboard Florida proposing a Miami to Orlando service beginning in 2015. "It'll be a project that actually will make money and pay taxes with the private sector," he says. "That's the way we need to be going with passenger rail service across the country."

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Transportation Nation

Top Transpo Congressman, John Mica, Mulls Next Move

Friday, November 09, 2012

Shovel Ready: Congressman John Mica talks to reporters at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new intermodal rail terminal in Winter Haven, Florida (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) John Mica, the chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, joined with Florida Governor Rick Scott and other business leaders and elected officials near Winter Haven Thursday, for the symbolic groundbreaking of a new intermodal rail terminal.

Before grabbing one of the gold painted shovels, Mica, a republican from Winter Park, Fla. praised the governor for his business savvy and leadership in supporting the project, which will serve as a distribution hub for trains and trucks delivering cargo throughout Florida. The project came about after rail company CSX reroute freight traffic from 62 miles of track to accommodate the SunRail commuter train.

"We are very fortunate to have Governor Scott with his business background at this time and his vision for transportation and infrastructure," said Mica.

"You cannot build this state or this community or projects like this without people like Governor Scott."

Florida Governor Rick Scott, CSX Chief Executive Michael Ward and US House Transportation Comittee Chair John Mica (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Mica and Scott have not always seen eye to eye on big transportation projects in Florida, notably on the failed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, which the Governor nixed early in 2011 by rejecting $2.4 billion dollars in Federal stimulus money. At the time Mica panned the Governor's decision, labeling it a setback for the state's transportation, economic development and tourism.

While the high-speed rail plans collapsed, there's evidence to suggest Mica may have -indirectly- helped Central Florida's SunRail Commuter train avoid a similar fate during his tenure as chair of the house transportation and infrastructure committee.

Mica lists the two year Highway Transportation bill and the FAA bill as  accomplishments during his chairmanship, but he says those came about in spite of the Obama administration.

Looking ahead to a second Obama administration, Mica said he hopes the president will work better with Congress on transportation issues this time around. "They've been absent without leave," said Mica. "I’m hoping that their second time around they’ll be more cooperative."

Advocates for increased transportation and infrastructure spending have lauded President Obama's stimulus plan and his advocacy of a national rail network.

Mica, who comfortably staved off a Democratic challenger to retain his seat in Florida's U.S. House District 7 Tuesday, is due to be termed out of his role as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. However he says he'd like to hang onto the position if possible.

“Oh we’ll see," he said. "It depends on whether they grant waivers or not, and that’s yet to be decided.”

"I’ve been honored to chair for the last 2 years, ranking for four years, chaired a sub committee for six years, and I intend to be a leader in whatever capacity my colleagues choose,” said Mica, who's also in line for other potential committee chairmanships.

"But I’m not moving from transportation even if I took another slot,” said Mica, who added he intends to be in a key position to make decisions on transportation policy.

Republican Congressman Bill Shuster of Penn. has already expressed an interest in the committee chair position.

Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad was also pondering the implications of the second Obama term. Prasad said it's important that there's leadership at the Federal level and that members of congress can work together to craft a long term highway transportation bill.

"I just hope we can get to a deal," said Prasad.

"The last deal was only two years, and partly because I think folks in congress wanted to get past this election... Now that the election's over, let’s not wait another two years to get another two year bill, let’s work next year and have a long term bill that creates a transportation vision for the country.”

Historically transportation funding bills were non-partisan bills approved for six years at a time to facilitate planning of longer term projects. For more on how that changed this Congress, read our previous coverage.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Florida Congressman Mica Triumphs over Adams in "Most Negative Campaign Ever"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

John Mica on primary night (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Veteran Florida congressman John Mica, the chairman of the House transportation committee, successfully fought off challenger Sandy Adams in Tuesday's Republican primary.

Mica says Adams put him through the most negative campaign ever. Reapportionment left Mica and Adams -- who currently represents Space Coast-based District 24 --  battling for the same seat.

“We tried to stay positive and respond where we could," said Mica, "but it was probably the most negative campaign I’ve ever had to experience and made it very unpleasant for me and my family.”

In the weeks leading to the election, Tea Party favorite Sandy Adams piled on the pressure, labeling Mica a big spending, establishment Republican -- as well as a cheerleader for President Obama.

(photo by Matthew Peddie)

But Mica won by a wide margin in the end, capturing 61% of the vote.

“I don’t think we’ve every mobilized anything like this in our lives," he told supporters at a sports bar just north of Orlando on Tuesday night. "It was a very difficult race. I could tell you that everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at us but I’d have to include the cabinets and all the appliances too.”

He said his victory showed "the heart and soul of the Republican Party is doing fine in Central Florida."

University of Central Florida Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett said he wasn’t surprised at the vitriol in the race.

“Certainly it’s been negative, certainly it’s been personal, but that often happens in primaries where the candidates are very much alike on policy," said Jewett. "These two people are very conservative Republicans when it comes to policy.”

Jewett said what was unusual about the race was the fact that redistricting put two incumbent Republicans in the same district.

“It’s just virtually unheard of in the country that in a state where you gained two seats -- Florida now has two more congressional seats than it did before -- that you end up with two fairly high profile, popular Republicans in the same district. I mean it just doesn’t happen."

Jewett said the nature of the race forced Mica to downplay his record of helping to bring big projects to the district -- like the SunRail commuter train -- which are usually selling points for an incumbent.

(photo by Matthew Peddie)

Speaking at her campaign headquarters in Maitland, Sandy Adams said she was pleased the race brought the focus back to conservative values. She told Central Florida News 13 she's unsure of her political future.

"I’m a firm believer that when one door closes another one opens and I follow the path I’m led. So we’ll see.”

Mica, who heads the influential House Transportation Committee, says he wants to continue in that role -- but that’s up to House leadership.

He says he also plans to continue with a campaign to cut unnecessary spending in government.

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Transportation Nation

Sandy Adams Takes on "Rock of Gibraltar" Mica in Battle for US House Seat

Friday, August 10, 2012

John Mica and supporters  (photo by Matthew Peddie)

The chair of the House Transportation Committee finds himself in a scrappy fight for re-election, but he's standing his ground and turning to mobility metaphors to express his confidence: "I think I have some life left on the odometer," he said, touting the benefits of his seniority in the house. Meanwhile, his opponent, Sandy Adams, is pointedly using his Washington experience against him.

Mica's U.S. Congressional District 7 used to stretch from his home in Winter Park, metro Orlando to Ponte Vedra, a seaside town 130 miles north, not far from Jacksonville.  Redistricting shifted the boundaries closer to Orlando, and District 7 now centers on Seminole County, just north of Orlando's exurbs.  Neighboring District 24 -- currently represented by Sandy Adams -- moved South, leaving Adams to scrap with Mica in the Republican primary.

As the influential chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, Mica has been in Congress nearly 20 years, long enough for people to know who he is. Under siege from his opponent Sandy Adams, he’s flying his conservative colors and highlighting his record as a whistle blower on wasteful spending.

“You get to election year, and people want to know what you’ve done, and what you stand for, and I think I’ve got a very strong record of cutting waste, government bureaucracy and also of providing leadership,” says Mica.

But Adams says he's exactly the kind of insider politician voters don't want.

Her campaign is running an ad that labels Mica "Obama's best cheerleader", citing his support for SunRail, Central Florida's 62 mile long commuter rail line, which the ad brands a "boondoggle".

Adams also criticized Mica over a highway tolling provision in the recently passed highway funding  bill.

"Lexus lanes" are a talking point in the District 7 primary (photo by Matthew Peddie)

"It was his bill, he put the tolls on I-4 after telling people he would not," says Adams. "That’s a career politician.

"That's total political malarkey," says Mica. He says the bill preserves free lanes and stipulates if new toll lanes are built, “then you have to use the money for the construction or to reduce indebtedness, which would reduce or eliminate the tolls."

And Mica says he's no cheerleader for the Obama administration.

"It's totally absurd, taken out of context," says Mica. "I am the best cheerleader in Congress for transportation and getting people working."

"I was able to defeat Harry Reid and get a transportation bill done that the Democrats couldn't do, an FAA bill that cut Harry Reid's $3,720 airline ticket subsidies,  so I'm not the best friend of either Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama."

After nearly a decade in Tallahassee as a Florida state representative, Adams is no political newcomer, but she’s staking her claim as a cost cutting outsider.

“I am not a career politician," says  Adams. " I am, and remain, a citizen legislator.”

She says the choice is clear for voters on August 14th in the Republican primary. "They have a choice between a 20-year career Washington politician, or someone that they sent less than two years ago to fix the mess he helped create."

"I am not a career politician" says Sandy Adams

Adams defeated a Democrat in 2010, but this time she’s up against a formidable Republican. "I'm sort of the rock of Gibraltar," says Mica, who says District 7 needs a representative with his staying power and leadership.

And in the highly competitive 435 member U.S. Congress, Mica says his seniority is a good thing. "It will easily be another decade-and-a-half before another full committee chair comes from Central Florida, just because of seniority."

Mica's clout has allowed him to out-raise his opponent nearly two to one. At the end of July, his campaign had nearly a million dollars cash in hand while Adams had half that.

After a Rotary lunch meeting in Orlando Thursday where both Mica and Adams spoke, Mica was quick to quash any suggestion he'd paid for a high profile endorsement from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. "Oh absolutely not. You don't know what a stingy bastard I am. I wouldn't pay anybody for an endorsement."

Meanwhile Adams' campaign has picked up steam in recent days, with an online fundraising site raking in nearly $30,000 in just over 24 hours.

"We're doing just fine," says Adams.

There's also a Democratic primary in District 7, with new-deal Democrat Nicholas Ruiz up against blue-dog Jason Kendall for a chance to take on the winner of the Mica-Adams contest.

Jason Kendall says if he makes it through his primary, there are enough moderates to give him votes in November.

"Sandy’s something of an extremist," says Kendall. " Getting endorsed by Allan West or Sarah Palin might work in some places but I know a lot of people were really turned off by that endorsement.”

Both Republican candidates have a strong base of supporters, but there are some who still haven't made up their minds, like Steve Grier, who was at a recent Mitt Romney campaign event in Orlando. Grier said he wants to learn more about Adams and Mica.

"I like a lot of things about John Mica," he said. "I know that he was for SunRail, which I’m not real crazy about that aspect. But that remains to be seen. Honestly, I’ve had my eyes more on the presidential aspect of the race.”

 

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Transportation Nation

Progress? Transportation Bill Shows a Pulse

Thursday, June 21, 2012

(UPDATED WITH SENATOR BOXER'S COMMENTS) The surface transportation bill appears to have been removed from life support and may be on the mend.

Positive statements are emanating all over the Capitol about House-Senate negotiations over surface transportation legislation. It was only days ago lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were pronouncing the deal dead and predicting another extension.

“The conferees have moved forward toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a highway reauthorization bill. Both House and Senate conferees will continue to work with a goal of completing a package by next week,” reads a joint statement issued by chief negotiators Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.)

Speaking in the hallway of the Senate building Thursday afternoon, Boxer said the House and Senate are working cooperatively -- and getting along better than they were two weeks ago. "We are really finishing up our work," she said. "If all goes the way it's going now, we  should be through with most of the bill very soon, and then w'ell tackle the outstanding issues. I'm ... quite optimistic."

She added: "We'll be working over the weekend." (Listen to her comments below.)

"Significant progress is being made," Reid said. "We're certainly in better shape than we were 24 hours ago."

Of course, none of this necessarily means the conference will reach agreement. Lawmakers remain at odds over policy issues like environmental reviews for construction projects and so-called transportation "enhancement" projects like bike lanes and medians--not to mention political issues like a Republican bid to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and a repeal of EPA coal ash regulations.

If no agreement is reached by June 30th, the government's authority to spend money from the Highway Trust Fund expires.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Moves to Shake up Transportation Conference Amid Hill Sniping

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (photo by Todd Zwillich)

Senate negotiators tried to break an impasse with House Republicans over a surface transportation bill Tuesday, thought the proffer did little to quell a cross-Capitol war of words.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate-House conference committee trying to reach a transportation bill deal, told reporters she and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent the deal toward the house earlier in the day. Boxer said the offer was "very warmly received" but also acknowledged it skirted contentious political issues including building the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and gutting new coal ash regs from the EPA.

Boxer dismissed reports from earlier in the day suggesting the conference was near collapse, and that another temporary extension would be needed to keep highway funding going past a June 30 deadline.

A spokesman for conference vice-chair Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said, "we will take a look at the proposal and discuss it with our conferees." It was a noncommittal response skirting the obvious: Time is running short to get a deal by the end of the month, and House conservatives are dead against agreeing to a transportation deal that doesn't go over President Barack Obama's head and force approval of the Keystone pipeline.

"We're going back and forth on all that stuff. I think in the final analysis it all has to be in there," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a Republican negotiator. On Boxer and Inhofe's offer, Hoeven said, "Let's just say we're still working on it."

Those issues could still be worked out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to be helping quiet talk of a faltering conference Tuesday afternoon. Asked it negotiations were falling apart, Reid said, "I don't have any dire statement to give."

But then things got heated. "There's a battle going on between (House Speaker John) Boehner and (House GOP Leader Eric) Cantor as to whether or not there should be a bill," Reid told reporters. "Cantor, of course, I'm told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that's better for them. I hope that that's not true," Reid continued.

The statement elicited swift and sharp reactions from House GOP leaders.

“Leader Reid’s claims are ridiculous and patently false.  Rather than making up stories that have no basis in reality, Leader Reid should follow the House’s example and focus on pro-growth measures that will get the economy going and get people back to work,” read a statement from a Cantor spokesperson.

Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel was less diplomatic about Reid's comments. “That’s bullshit.  House Republicans are united in our desire to get a sensible, reform-minded transportation bill done, including job-creating energy initiatives like Keystone.”

Aides to Reid did not clarify his statement. But one aide described Senate Democrats as "not pessimistic" about the chances of an agreement by June 30.

Earlier, Boxer said that issues outside the Senate offer, including Keystone, coal ash regulations, and financing changes, would have to be "worked out later."

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

 

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Transportation Nation

Negotiators Kick Off Highway Bill Conference; Boxer Warns "Failure Is Not An Option"

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Crazy George)

Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate began their formal conference over surface transportation funding Tuesday, in a negotiation that could take up to a month and where tens of billions of dollars are at stake.

Lawmakers from both sides of the Capitol gathered in one of the Hill's largest hearings rooms to begin hashing out an agreement between the chambers. On the table: A two-year Senate bill worth $109 billion backed by a broad bipartisan vote, versus House demands to cut spending, reform federal projects, cut regulations and force approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The extension governing highway funding expires June 30. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) the champion of the Senate bill and the conference committee chair, told lawmakers they'll need to reach agreement by early June in order to get an agreement written and passed in time.

It won't be easy. Several tries left House Republicans unable to agree amongst themselves on a multi-year transportation policy. Meanwhile, many House conservatives consider the Senate bill a non-starter, largely because of its funding levels.

Now House Republicans begin the the conference at a distinct disadvantage. House and Senate Democrats are strongly behind the Senate bill, as are many Senate Republicans. The White House has also strongly backed the Senate's bid. SenatorJames Inhofe (R-Okla) leaned on House conservatives to accept the Senate's bill, which he helped craft with Boxer.

"I have every expectation we are going to be able to do that which the majority of Americans want done," he said.

House Republicans hold a few cards and are making some demands of their own. They want the Senate's $109 billion price tag reduced and are pushing hard to force the White House to accept final construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. They have also laid down markers repealing pending EPA coal ash pollution regulations.

"Let's not just spend more money. Let's have some serious reforms," urged Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) the conference committee's vice-chair.

Boxer began the proceedings with a long list of lobbying and interest organizations that support the Senate bill, ranging from AAA and trucking groups to the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"If the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce can work together, then surely we can work together," she said, adding that "failure is not an option for us."

But the reality is that in the 112th Congress, failure is, in fact, an option. Leadership aides in the House and Senate predicted that the election-year talks would likely lead to an agreement rejected by House Republican rank-and-file members. That could force Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pass any final agreement with the help of large numbers of Democrats. Failing that, Congress can do what it's done nine times since 2005 and simply pass another extension of current law to avoid a shutdown.

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Transportation Nation

Mica Takes Aim at "Bloated" TSA

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica, said airports that switch from all-federal security screening to private run security could save tax payers millions of dollars.

His remarks came in a press conference at the Orlando area's Sanford Airport.

Mica said this week the newly enacted Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act should streamline the process for airports that want to contract with private security screening firms instead of relying on Transportation Security Administration run screening.

The Winter Park Republican said that, in the decade since it was created, the TSA has ballooned into a "mammoth agency that attempts to intimidate small airports that are efficiently run."

He said switching the 35 top airports in the nation to private security screening would save tax payers one billion dollars over the next five years.

Mica said the TSA rejected some airports which applied to contract with private security because it said that would cost more.

But he said the agency's reasoning was not backed up by a Government Accountability Office report.

"GAO said that TSA cooked the books, that they added costs in," he said.

Sixteen of the nation's 457 airports currently run private security screening,  and there are others that want to do the same, like Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Sanford already tried to opt out of all-federal transportation screening, but was rejected by the TSA last year.

The airport’s president, Larry  Dale,  said opting out of TSA run screening is about more than saving money.

“We’re already responsible for security here," Dale said.  "If things screw up we get the blame. We want to have a part and a say in the security of this airport.”

Airports which opt out of all-federal screening will get to choose who screens their passengers, but security firms would still have to meet federal approval and operate under TSA guidelines.

Sanford could hire its own agents to run security screening, but it's more likely to contract with a private firm.

"We're not going to go out and do it ourselves like Jackson Hole (Wyoming) does, as a much smaller airport," Dale said.

Sanford has reapplied to opt out, and Dale hopes to have an answer from the TSA within months.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Reversing a Radical Rewrite: Can Boehner Go Bipartisan?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rep. Bill Shuster at bat in congressional baseball game, perhaps pinch hitting for Mica. (House photo)

It’s hard to see clearly through the wreckage of the House transportation bill, but Speaker John Boehner’s actions last week—saying his chamber would work with legislation put forth by the Democratic Senate, “or something like it,” and asking Railroad Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster to lead the way—suggest the speaker might actually be looking to win minority votes on a bill he touted as a boon for long-term job growth.

The stunning turnaround came as Boehner at last admitted defeat on the unpopular five-year legislation he and transportation chairman John Mica put forth. Reminiscent of the FAA showdown, which left congressional leadership singed, the current transportation authorization expires March 31st, and has already been extended eight times since its expiration in 2009.

There was plenty not to like in the House bill, which would have paid for transportation in part with a controversial extension of oil and gas drilling and would have exiled transit projects from the highway trust fund, undoing a legacy left by Ronald Reagan. Conservatives complained that the price tag was too high, while moderate metropolitan Republicans chafed at the snub to mass transit funding. U.S. Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a former Republican congressman,  repeatedly trashed the bill as "lousy," "terrible," "the worst bill in decades" and "taking us back to the horse and buggy days."

Even had it passed the House, the Boehner-Mica bill’s severe provisions would have guaranteed a showdown with the Senate, almost surely leading to gridlock and brinkmanship. This just as independent voters are recoiling even further from what they see as congressional dysfunction and party extremism.

In the absence of consensus among Republicans, Boehner’s decision to shelve the bill seems apt. More telling, though, was his move to bench Mica and enlist Shuster. Congressional Quarterly, in initially reporting the decision, painted the hand-off as a rebuke of Mica, presumably for failing to gather and hold Republican support. The speaker’s office insists that wasn’t the intent, however, and indeed an alternate narrative seems plausible: Boehner is trying to reach across the aisle.

Going bipartisan would be so unusual for House Republicans, many activists fear it's a feign or a trap. But if Boenher wanted to use the week long recess to regroup and try to shore up Republican support, he could have easily stuck with Mica, who authored the bill to Boehner’s liking and who has repeatedly bent loyally to the prevailing conservative winds in the House. Instead, the speaker tapped Bill Shuster, a moderate on transportation who hails from Pennsylvania, a half-urban, half-rural state that relies fairly heavily on rail (and which produced the pro-transit Senator Rick Santorum).

Perhaps more importantly, Bill Shuster is a Shuster. His father, Bud Shuster, chaired the House transportation committee from 1995 until he resigned from Congress in 2001—largely because a party policy on term limitations for committee heads forced him to give up his beloved chairmanship. Bill took Bud’s seat in a special election later that year.

During the six-year Shuster chairmanship, as with the six-year reign of Don Young that followed, the task of transportation lawmaking was carried out with great bipartisan comity and, not unrelated, rampant earmarking.  The chairmen got their pork—Young his infamous Alaskan bridges to nowhere and the senior Shuster the irregularly numbered Interstate 99, now the “Bud Shuster Highway”—but so did their colleagues.

The last two long-term surface transportation reauthorizations happened under these men’s watch, and in those votes and several since the players who are today taking center stage showed their colors. When Bud Shuster sponsored TEA-21 in 1998, Mica voted for it, and Boehner voted against it. When Young sponsored SAFETEA-LU in 2005, Mica and Bill Shuster voted for it, and Boehner was one of only nine who voted against it. In 2008, when the new Democratic chairman Jim Oberstar pushed through Amtrak reauthorization, Mica and Bill Shuster voted for that too, and Boehner voted against it.

To his credit, Boehner has been consistent in pining for fundamental changes in transportation funding. In 2005, sore about earmarking in SAFETEA-LU and Ohio’s status as a “donor state” (one that pays more into the Highway Trust fund than it gets back from Washington), he argued that “in a perfect world, the states would keep the taxes they collect and the federal government would only get involved in those projects that are inherently federal.”

By contrast, Mica spoke in favor of SAFETEA-LU’s increased funding, though he wanted more donor/donee equity, then he boasted of the money he brought home. In 2007, after the I-35 bridge collapse, he was thinking big, meeting with President Bush to explain the urgency of a national infrastructure effort. Shortly after, he told the Texas Transportation Summit that the nation’s infrastructure needed dramatic overhaul, even mentioning high speed rail and inland waterways, two sectors that probably weren’t represented in Texas enough for this to be considered pandering.

As we know, Mica’s excitement about high speed rail waned after the 2010 midterm elections made him chairman. He cooperated with his party leadership’s efforts to constrain the budget and defeat President Obama’s infrastructure initiatives. But Bill Shuster hasn’t been quite so loyal. He has parted ways with Boehner and Mica when necessary to support transportation funding, and he has often prevailed. In 2007, Shuster voted against an unsuccessful Republican effort to defund Amtrak by half a billion dollars; the other two voted for it. In 2008, Shuster was the only one of the three to support Oberstar’s National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act, which passed the House 367-55.

Shuster’s rhetoric  has also been maverick -- for a Republican. In 2005, when both Boehner and Mica publicly complained about the federal redistribution of state tax revenues, Shuster actually defended the doner/donee designations, and called out Mica’s home state in the process.

"It has been the wise practice in surface transportation reauthorization to take into account that some regions are saddled with greater needs than others and need a larger rate of return to maintain our national transportation system,” he said on the floor of the House.

Pennsylvania “ranks third in the amount of through truck traffic that neither originates nor terminates in the State. Pennsylvania receives little benefit from such commerce traveling through our State, yet States such as Florida, which is able to get its goods to the large Northeastern markets, benefit, while we still suffer from the constant pounding and damage caused by this through traffic.” Apparently Shuster didn’t get the memo.

Given Shuster’s moderate views and votes, it’s hard to imagine that Boenher would swap Mica for Shuster if the plan was for Republicans to hold their ground and fight. At any rate, Democrats are taking the Pennsylvanian's new prominence as a good sign. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had kind, hopeful words for Shuster. “His father I knew very well,” he told The Hill. “If his son is anything like the dad, it will help get this bill done.”

And if the son is shopping legislation that’s a little more like his dad’s, that’ll probably help too.

 

(Hat tip to the essential Project Vote Smart)

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

TN MOVING STORIES: Detroit's Furious Bus Riders, NYC Taxis To Remove "Off-Duty" Signs, LA To Get More Bikeways

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Transit, Jobs, Construction Noise: Rockland Residents Air Worries About Swiftly Approaching Tappan Zee Bridge Project (Link)
Transit Museum Forum on Back of the Bus is TONIGHT (Link)
NY City Council Bill Would Up Electric Bike Fine (Link)
Study: Only 28 Percent of Neighborhoods Affordable (Link)
As GOP Struggles in Michigan, Obama Chortles — Says Fuel Efficient Cars Will Save $8000 (Link)
New Prospect Park Drive: Defined Lanes, Less Room for Cars (Link)

A Detroit bus stop. (By Flickr user JSmith Photo)

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica thinks that critics who believe Congress can pass a better transportation bill next year are “smoking the funny weed.” (Politico)

Detroit transit riders are outraged over huge bus cuts -- and the mayor's hiring of a private contractor to manage the city's troubled transportation department -- and plan to seek federal help in reversing the mayor's decisions. (Detroit Free Press)

New York Times editorial: the proposed Tappan Zee greenway "could be a splendid public attraction." (Link)

NYC cabs will have to start removing their taxi-top 'off-duty' signs to make way for the new system: available if the medallion number is lit, or unavailable if it’s dark. (New York Daily News)

Rules requiring rear-view video cameras in cars have been delayed again. (AP via Yahoo Finance)

Megabus' weighty double-decker coaches, currently being investigated by New York's Department of Transportation, have run afoul of authorities from Canada to Maryland. (DNA Info)

Worried Democrats want Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gas prices. (The Hill)

The mayor of London said some lines on the Underground would have driverless trains in two years. (Telegraph)

Commercial truck traffic on the NJ Turnpike has declined by 7.5%; high fuel prices and last month's toll hike are cited as possible reasons why. (Star-Ledger)

Nearly five months after a $50 million HOT lane project opened in metro Atlanta, drivers remain dubious, the impact on traffic is unclear, and many questions remain unanswered. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

830 miles of new bikeways have been approved for Los Angeles County. (LAist)

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Transportation Nation

AUDIO: Mica's Constituents in the Dark About HR7

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida

Listen:

(Orlando, Fla -- WMFE) "I'm afraid I have not heard about the bill" one voter says. "It's a blank for me right now," another admits. "I have not a clue," a third offers, summing up the general level of awareness about the House transportation funding bill in the home district of its chief author, John Mica (R-Fla.)

Mica has acknowledged that his transportation bill looks unlikely to have an easy road through Congress -- in fact it's been divided into three to boost the chances -- but he believes his constituents will understand the rationale for the $260 billion, six-year spending plan. Given their low-level of awareness about the bill being hotly debated in Washington, his confidence may be justified. (Listen to tape above).

Mica says the push back from fellow lawmakers isn't because of the merits of the bill, but rather, because it doesn't have thousands of earmarks like its previous transportation funding legislation.

The bill has drawn the ire of mass transit advocates, who are unhappy with plans to scrap a requirement to fund public transport from gas taxes, and the bill, HR7, is currently stalled in the legislature.

Despite the bill's unpopularity, the Winter Park Republican told WMFE in Orlando that he thinks people in his district would support moves to put transportation money back in the hands of states to spend as they see fit.

“I don’t think that bureaucrats in ivory towers in Washington know what’s best for Florida, or for our communities," he said.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Undaunted by Redistricting, John Mica Declares He's Staying Put

Friday, February 10, 2012

Florida Congressional Districts

Representative John Mica will run in his current, but remapped, Congressional District 7 in central Florida. The nine-term Republican Congressman and current chair of the House Transportation Committee was dealt a re-election hurdle with  Florida's redistricting plan that pitted several formidable Republican candidates against each other. Mica waited until after two others declared in which districts they would run before committing to his own.

"After consultation with my wife Pat, my family and my supporters, I have decided to continue my public service in what constitutes District 7 in the final map approved by the Florida Legislature, which includes Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties," Mica said in a statement Friday.

This sets up a potentially tough primary for the top transportation legislator as he will face Sandy Adams of Orlando. She's a first term incumbent who also resides in the newly formed 7th district and which now includes about 50 percent of her current constituency according to Sunshine State News.

Mica is well funded however, and says he wants to finish work he has underway. "Weighing heavily in this decision were two major factors, first my commitment to significant transportation projects like SunRail for our community and infrastructure for our nation" as well as projects for  seniors and veterans.

Mica won reelection in 2010 with 69 percent of the vote.

For more updates on all things central Florida, tune into WMFE. Or see the maps and data at the Florida State Senate website.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Mica's District Decision, Toronto's Transit Plans, GPS Units Talking to Insurance Companies

Friday, February 10, 2012

Top stories on TN:
GOP House Works to Undo Reagan Legacy on Transportation (link)
Port Authority Pushes Back on Scathing Audit, But Acknowledges Need for Reform (link)
New York State Makes It Easier for Vets to Get Commercial Drivers Licenses (link)
Poll: Sixty Percent Think Stickers on Cars are Okay (link)
European Cities Allowing Bikes to Run Red Lights (link)
After Red Light Cameras Are Turned Off, Houston City Council Approves Big Settlement With Vendor (link)

(photo by miss604 via flickr)

Port Authority audit and the governors: reality check. "Little about this political bill of indictment seemed properly hinged to reality." (New York Times)

The Senate's transportation bill restores the commuter tax benefit. (The Hill)

An internal review finds no conflicts of interest but cites shortcomings in the State Department's environmental review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline project. (Los Angeles Times)

In the U.K., GPS units are communicating with car insurance companies to monitor driver behavior. (Marketplace)

A reclaimed Los Angeles bus yard begins life as urban wetland. (Los Angeles Times)

Toronto's city council voted for light rail over the mayor's subway transit plan... (National Post)

...but the mayor's not ready to give up just yet. (Toronto Star)

D.C. no longer requires parallel parking skills on its driving test. (Washington Examiner)

Congressman John Mica -- the head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- will announce what district he's running in today. (St. Augustine Record)

And: TN is #10 in a list of top 25 transportation twitter feeds. (UrbanLand)

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Transportation Nation

Senate Backs FAA Deal, Sends to President

Monday, February 06, 2012

(Washington, D.C) Twenty-four times a charm.

The Senate gave final approval Monday evening to a four-year authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, breaking a sorry streak of 23 temporary authorizations going back to 2007.

The 75 to 20 vote sends the bill to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. It authorizes about $16 billion in spending each year on the agency. The bill governs significant parts of airport and runway programs, air traffic control, airline safety, and navigation regulations.

Lawmakers reached a deal in January that included a compromise on federal union rules. Democrats agreed to increase from 35% to 50% the proportion of workers at a company who must petition for unionization before a shop can vote to organize. While the deal paved the way for the FAA bill to enter final negotiations, it also enraged several unions. They've been letting Democrats know about their displeasure with the deal, and it helps explain why 14 Senate Democrats, many of them with heavy union backing, voted against the final package. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal Vermont Independent, also voted against the bill.

The deal also continues the controversial Essential Air Service, a subsidy program designed to encourage airlines to fly to out-of-the-way and unprofitable airports. House Republicans had tried to kill the subsidy, but some Senate Democrats representing rural states, kept it on board.

Passage of FAA's authorization represents a detente from partisan clashes over the summer. One even lead to a partial shutdown of the agency lasting more than a week. But it is unclear whether bipartisanship will reign over other, larger transportation issues in Congress. The Senate is now moving toward taking up a 2-year, $109 billion Highway Bill reauthorization. If it passes it will go up against a 5-year, $260 House GOP alternative slated for floor action next week.

The House bill contains many controversial provisions, including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It's also likely to include an attempt to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: FAA Funding Agreement Reached; Tappan Zee Bridge Tolls' Worst Case Scenario; MTA, Union Resume Talks

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Top stories on TN: NYC held its first bicycle station community planning workshop. How the stimulus revived the electric car. One academic says NJ Governor Chris Christie’s hiring recommendations at the Port Authority far outpace his predecessor’s patronage hires. House Republicans rolled out parts of a $260 billion transportation infrastructure bill. President Obama dropped by the DC auto show. Karachi has the most beautiful buses in the world.  And: the history of Critical Mass rides.

Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by icadrews via flickr)

Lawmakers say they've reached an agreement on a $63 billion, four-year bill to extend the Federal Aviation Administration's operating authority and the agency's air traffic modernization effort. (AP via NPR)

The U.S. DOT is making $500 million available for a fourth round of TIGER grant funding. (DOT)

Engineers and transportation wonks are crunching numbers for the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project to see what drivers might pay if toll revenue alone funds it. Worst-case scenario: $30 tolls by 2022, up from the current $5. (Crain's New York Business)

New York's MTA and the transit workers union will resume contract talks tomorrow. (Wall Street Journal)

Security video in the NYC death of cyclist Mathieu Lefevre differs from the description in the police report. (Streetsblog, New York Times)

The Motor City loses one of its rarest breeds: a woman car executive. (Forbes)

Florida Congressman John Mica needs to decide what district he'll run in. (Orlando Sentinel)

Boston's transit system set a modern ridership record in 2011 -- but those numbers will almost surely dip this year, as the T considers fare increases and service cuts. (Boston Globe)

General Motors’ bankruptcy unit has agreed to pay nearly $24 million to resolve environmental liabilities at Superfund sites in New Jersey, Maryland and Missouri. (Star-Ledger)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a Congressional Budget Office report that the highway trust fund would be empty by fiscal year 2014 shows President Obama has been right to call for increased funding for transportation projects. (The Hill)
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Transportation Nation

House GOP Unveils 5-Year, $260 Transpo Bill

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

House Republicans rolled out parts of a $260 billion transportation infrastructure bill Tuesday, casting the legislation as a major vehicle for job creation and energy production.

The five-year bill reauthorizes highway, transit and safety programs but also eliminates or consolidates dozens of existing federal functions. Supporters said its designed to streamline federally-funded projects, cut bureaucratic red tape and give states more flexibility to spend money on projects they prioritize.

Congress hasn't approved a "permanent" transportation bill since 2005, and if this one succeeds it will be the first successful bid following eight temporary extensions. But while groups representing the construction industry, trucking and other interests are supportive, Republicans and Democrats are bound to clash in an environment where parties have been more interested in showing their differences than their ability to compromise.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week he gave the bill little chance of passage.

Republicans are calling their bill the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, and House GOP leaders are targeting it for floor action later in February. But there are some big hurdles standing between the bill and President Obama's desk. More on that in an minute. First, here are some of the key provisions:

-A $260 billion, 5-year bill that feeds the Highway Trust Fund at $35 billion per year via the federal gas tax. Republicans intend to make up a sizable funding shortfall with revenue from expanded domestic energy production, including natural gas, offshore drilling, shale and other projects. Republicans stressed that the bill contains no earmarks, which is notable considering that the transportation authorization bill is a traditional home for thousands of them.

-Consolidation or elimination of some 70 federal highway and transit programs

-Elimination of transportation "enhancements" that require states to spend up to 10% of their federal highway money on non-highway projects like bike paths or beautification projects. "We're going to get the maximum amount of money in our real infrastructure and hopefully people will see the difference," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fl., who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

-No federal Infrastructure Bank. Instead the bill expands from 10% to 15% the amount of federal highway dollars states can put into their own infrastructure banks, if they've got them.

-Expedited environmental review for many federal projects. Mica stressed that Republicans aren't "running over" environmental protection rules, but that times for those reviews should be shortened. The bill also shrinks some consecutive environmental assessments into concurrent ones.

-$1 billion in expanded funding for state and local transpo loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). It's a popular program, and that one has bipartisan support.

-Cuts AMTRAK funding by 25% in 2012 and 2013.

-Has no provisions for high speed rail except for what Mica described as "placeholders"

-Increases the allowable weight for trucks to 126,000 lbs, another provision that has the rail industry hopping mad.

-New incentives for states to require that convicted drunk drivers must use breathalyzer locks to start their cars. Beverage and Restaurant groups are up in arms over the provision and are vowing a fight. "We're going to work with everybody. The bill isn't final," said Mica, acknowledging the controversy.

And final it is not. Mica's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to mark up the bill in a marathon session Thursday. So long, in fact, that the chairman urged reporters to bring "hemorrhoid cream" to the session. But that's only part of the work that needs to be done. GOP leaders intend to use expanded energy revenue to help pay for the bill's big funding gap. That means that other committee's, including the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee have to get involved to authorize new projects and raise money.

After that's all done the bill goes head-to-head with a smaller, two-year Senate bill with significantly fewer reforms but higher spending for the Highway Trust Fund.

And here's a twist to watch: Over the weekend House Speaker John Boehner suggested Republicans may use the bill as a vehicle to try and force President Obama to approve the controversial Keyston XL oil sands pipeline. That's assuming the pipeline isn't passed as part of a deal to extend payroll tax breaks and unemployment benefits through the end of the year.

Mica, who is fond of stressing the commonalities he and Senate Democrats have over transportation issues, laughed when asked if inclusion of Keystone XL might upset the chances for an election-year compromise.

"What are you, some kind of troublemaker," he said.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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Transportation Nation

Mica Set to Unveil New Tolling Plan for Interstates Tuesday

Saturday, January 28, 2012

U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown and John Mica

(Orlando, Fla.) Congressman John Mica says he will unveil next Tuesday a major five-year transportation bill to allow more public private partnerships to expand the capacity of Interstate Highways.

Locally Mica, who Chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee, says that means creating new tolled lanes on Interstate 4. "What I’d like to do is double the  amount of lanes we will have, express lanes that we will have in the center of I 4 going not just up in the Seminole county but into Volusia county. We’re working on that now," he said.

Mica made the announcement at Friday’s Sunrail Groundbreaking Ceremony in Altamonte Springs.

Expanding lane and toll capacity is also a major goal for the Florida Department of Transportation.

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Transportation Nation

Central Florida SunRail Commuter Train Breaks Ground

Friday, January 27, 2012

State and Local Sunrail Supporters Bang in Ceremonial Rail Ties

(Orlando, Florida) State and local officials joined supporters of Central Florida’s commuter train SunRail to break ground on the project in Altamonte Springs Friday.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer Buddy reflected the positive mood surrounding the $1.2 billion project. "It’s a historic day for all of Central Florida, it ushers in a new era of transportation options for our residents, it ushers in jobs, smarter growth, so a very important day," he said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

But there are concerns that the SunRail line, which is slated to start service in the spring of 2014, will be relying on the regional bus service LYNX too heavily to bring passengers closer to major destinations.

Seminole County Commissioner Carlton Henley Chairs the LYNX Board of Directors.

He says LYNX is already struggling to provide services to its existing routes and that additional SunRail capacity highlights the need for a dedicated funding source for transportation programs." I would like to see, quite frankly, a sales tax approach," he said. "I don’t want to put any burden on property, but I think a regional sales tax would produce the revenue that’s need for both roads, rail, and bus."

Lynx Board Chair Carlton Henley

The SunRail line will come in two phases and eventually connect along 61 miles of track between Deland and Poinciana.

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: Politics Means No Surface Transportation Bill This Year

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood doesn't think there's much chance Congress will pass a surface transportation spending bill this year.

The bill is on its way to being three years late -- it was supposed to be reauthorized in September, 2009.

"Given the politics, the number of days that remain, the differences between what the Senate and House are looking at -- I think its very unlikely we will have a surface transportation bill during this year of Congress," LaHood told a gathering of transportation professionals at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting.

"When you look at the number of days that Congress will be in session -- it is limited.  Given the political atmosphere that is around us now with presidential politics and every member of Congress seeking reelection in November that obviously will play into what happens."

LaHood told reporters after the panel that another big obstacle is the differences between the two-year Senate bill and the five-year House bill, which as of yet has no "pay-fors." "I think the difference between a two-year bill and a five-year bill is a pretty big gulf to overcome particually given the number of legilsative days," LaHood said.

But his remarks seemed to take his own top aides by surprise.

"I didn't hear him say we're not going to have a reauthorization bill this year," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, who was in the audience and left with Secretary LaHood.. "I'm an optimist, the real way we are going to put people to work the fastest and make progress on all these policies, is by getting a reauthorization bill as soon as possible."

LaHood's comments came at a panel of transportation secretaries going back to Alan Boyd, who was Lyndon B. Johnson's transportation secretary.  The moderator asked the secretaries if they were optimistic or pessimistic about the future of transportation funding.

“I’m hopeful but I’m very concerned," said Boyd, who went first, "because it seems to me looking and listening as I do now from my vantage point in Seattle so many of my fellow Americans want to have good roads, good bridges, but they don’t want to pay for it, they want somebody else to pay for it. There is this sense to me  around the country: no new taxes.  The world keeps changing and if America is going to be the leader it says it is and wants to be its got to improve its infrastructure. "

(LaHood did express optimism about the future of high speed rail -- that story here.)

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: House Blasts Feds Over Chevy Volt Battery Fire Investigation, PATH Ridership Booming

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Top stories on TN: The president gave two nods to transportation in his State of the Union address -- to the auto industry and cutting red tape. San Francisco and Medellin won the ITDP's Sustainable Transport Award. New York State released a report saying there were no environmental barriers to replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. A Maryland county is exploring bike share. Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood -- which has only one bus line -- will get two more buses added to that route later this year. And the Bronx will join Staten Island in having real-time locating information for all its buses.

A natural gas hydraulic fracturing site near Platteville, Colorado (photo courtesy of Senator Mark Udall's Flickr stream)

The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to give more weight to factors including affordable-housing policy in deciding which local mass-transit initiatives will get federal money. (Bloomberg)

Hydraulic fracturing -- fracking -- has produced so much gas that the price is at a ten-year low. (NPR)

Maryland's Montgomery County wants to use bus rapid transit, not rail, for its Corridor Cities Transitway project. (Washington Examiner)

California's high-speed rail project relies on risky financial assumptions and has just a fraction of the money needed to pay for it, the state auditor said in a new report. (AP via San Francisco Chronicle)

Adolfo Carrion Jr. -- former Bronx Borough President and HUD executive -- will launch a consulting firm that will advise "private sector businesses that are building roads and bridges and pipes and wires and buildings." And: "I'm going to work with players in the affordable housing production universe and I'm going to advise governments about smart growth here and around the country." (New York Daily News)

Airlines are turning increasingly to renting planes -- and the trend is likely to keep growing. (The Economist)

The head of the MTA’s largest union — currently locked in bitter contract negotiations with the transit agency — refused yesterday to rule out the possibility of a crippling subway strike. (New York Post)

Elected officials in Toronto are pushing a new transit plan that could have a new busway operational in less than three years -- and shovels in the ground for new light rail lines by 2014. (Toronto Star)

Disabled parking placard abuse is rampant in downtown Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times)

House Transportation Chair John Mica intends to release text of the “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs” proposal perhaps as soon as Friday. (Transportation Issues Daily)

A House committee is holding a hearing this morning on whether NHTSA delayed warning consumers about possible fire risks with the Volt because of the federal government's financial investment in General Motors. (New York Times)

Residents and officials in Tenafly (NJ) blasted a plan to extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail through the community, saying it would bring pollution, accidents and noisy train horns. (The Record)

Customs officials intend to shut down their inspection station at Brooklyn's Red Hook terminal. (New York Times)

More commuters rode PATH trains across the Hudson River in 2011 than in any other year since the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took over the rail system in 1962. (Wall Street Journal)

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