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Transportation Nation

Infrastructure report card says $3.6 trillion needed by 2020

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.

The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade.  That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.

At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.

“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever.  Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.

“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything.  That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending.  There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”

The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-.  Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).

“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand.  We have to do additional ramps.  We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit.  There’s got to be a balance.”

The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre.  The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.

Virginia’s infrastructure graded at D+ and Maryland received a C+.

Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.

"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.

“We’re not going to raise that money.  People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.

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Transportation Nation

Lawmakers Warn of Severe Air Travel Disruptions from Sequestration

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The airport experience will get more aggravating if Congress does not avoid the automatic budget cuts called sequestration, three Virginia Democratic lawmakers said Monday at a news conference inside Reagan National Airport, predicting fewer flights available and longer security lines.

Representatives Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran and Senator Tim Kaine, flanked by members of air travel and pilots’ groups, issued a warning for every American who plans to fly: cuts to the FAA and TSA budgets would affect key personnel who now man air traffic control towers and security screening checkpoints.

Connolly said, “47,000 [FAA] employees could be furloughed one day per two-week pay period, the equivalent of ten percent of their workforce. That number includes 15,000 air traffic controllers. That will affect the scheduling of flights and the availability of flights.”  He added, the sequestration cuts would not force a simple belt-tightening but instead affect staffing levels at airports across the country.

Some Republicans are questioning why the possible $689 million FAA budget cut, which amounts to about four percent of the agency’s $15.9 billion budget, would cause so many problems. Moran said sequestration provides no flexibility to Congress or President Obama.

“The cuts are being concentrated on what’s called discretionary programs, which is a minority of the entire federal budget, and they are also being squeezed into a seven month period out of the fiscal year,” Moran said. “So if you had 12 months in which to spread them out, if you had the ability to identify which programs are a higher priority than others, if you didn’t have to cut every program, project and activity equally, and if you could deal with the entire federal budget, the effect would not be anywhere near as severe.”

“We can fix this.  It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact it’s not that hard to fix,” said Kaine, who said congressional Republicans oppose a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that includes tax increases and spending cuts.

Some Republicans disagree with that assessment.

Virginia Republican Congressman Frank Wolf was invited to the news conference but did not attend.  In a statement released by his office, Wolf urged both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to embrace “bipartisan plans to turn off sequestration.”

In his letter to the president, Wolf said the best solution is to enact the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which he said would reduce the deficit and prevent the automatic federal budget cuts.

The possibility of additional hour long waits on security lines caused by cuts to the TSA’s budget is not sitting well with travelers. Some are angry Congress has failed to reach a deal to avoid disruptions to air travel.

“They ought to go back to school and learn how to add and subtract.  This wouldn’t have happened in the first place,” said one woman at Reagan National Airport who declined to provide her name. “I’m totally disgusted with government.”

Others travelers weren’t buying the dire warnings about 90-minute flight delays.

“I feel that decline in services will be fairly minimal, except perhaps for business travelers. I feel like the amount of money being cut is a small percentage of the total,” said Ed Evan as he sat in the US Airways terminal.

If sequestration takes effect, Congress can act later to restore some of the cuts, but Connolly warned the process will be difficult.

“We have a continuing resolution funding the federal government that expires March 27, so there is an opportunity… to try to fix some of these problems,” Connolly said. “But you have to remember that once sequestration kicks in, that creates a new baseline for the continuing resolution. In other words, the new number is minus the sequestration.”

It remains unclear how much wiggle room the FAA and TSA will have to adjust air traffic controllers’ and security screeners’ work schedules to maintain adequate staffing during peak travel times and the coming summer vacation months.

“The fact is no one knows right now what the impact of the sequester will be,” said Geoff Freeman, the chief operating officer of the U.S. Travel Association.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Florida's SunRail Is On Pace to Launch in 2014, Gets Another $87 Million in Fed Funds

Friday, February 22, 2013

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff at Friday's SunRail announcement (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Another infusion of federal cash is keeping central Florida's SunRail project on track to open in 2014.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, speaking on behalf of transportation secretary Ray LaHood, paid a visit to a Florida Hospital in Orlando, where one of the stops for the 61 mile long SunRail line  is being built.  Rogoff was joined by local leaders, state department of transportation officials and Florida lawmakers including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown.

Rogoff announced the federal government would make $87.3  million available in funding for SunRail, bringing the FTA's investment to date in the Central Florida commuter rail line to $148 million. The Federal government has agreed to pay $178.6 million overall in New Start funds towards construction of the 32-mile long first phase of the line, about half the capital cost.

"We make incremental payments based on the progress of the project," Rogoff said. "They're making great progress, they're ready to spend that money, they're ready to keep these people on the job."

Rogoff highlighted the rail line as a jobs engine, which has already employed 800 people to work in construction.

"But what we're really excited about is all the additional jobs that are coming in from the economic development along the line," he added.

The Florida hospital station is at the heart of a 176 acre "health village" where the hospital is developing medical research offices, apartments and shops.

SunRail officials say there are more than two dozen retail, office, government and residential development projects associated with stations along the rail line, representing $1.6 billion in investment.

"We are here to celebrate the continuing completion of a transportation system for the metro Orlando area that is putting us into the 21st Century," said Senator Bill Nelson (left) "The only thing lacking is the high speed rail which we had $2.5 billion dollars on the table of the federal share," he added. (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Rogoff also talked about the need for additional spending on roads and other infrastructure in Florida-- particularly to fix up hundreds of bridges, highlighting president Obama's call for a $50 Billion infrastructure plan. "If that $50 billion dollars goes through, you're going to see more investment around here, not just on this type of  rail project but on highway and sea port projects that will keep the economy of Florida going."

Asked whether sunshine state might see federal funds in the future for high speed rail, Rogoff said "that is going to depend a lot I believe on the leadership of Florida."

Florida's Governor Rick Scott famously turned down federal money for a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa in 2011.

Meanwhile, SunRail officials say the first phase of the commuter rail line, a 32 mile long stretch from DeBary to Sand Lake Road, will open in 2014.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Officials: As Construction Site, World Trade Center Vulnerable To Floods

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

One World Trade Center with 9/11 in the foreground. (photo by melfoody / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official says a built-out World Trade Center site will be less vulnerable to future storms like Sandy once construction is done by 2020. But the authority hasn't decided what to do in the meantime to protect the site from rising tides.

Construction sites that include open pits, as does the 16-acre World Trade Center site, are vulnerable to flooding. And much of the site is built on landfill where the Hudson River once flowed--and would flow again if not for retaining walls.

But Port Authority executive director Pat Foye wouldn't elaborate on what steps could be taken to protect the site from flooding while under construction, and harden the site once construction is done in an age of climate change and rising sea levels.

"Port Authority people and outside experts are looking at how to make the site more resilient," Foye said. He wouldn't give details about possible mitigation efforts beyond saying, "The review continues."

Foye estimated it will cost $2 billion to repair storm damage to the World Trade Center, along with the rest of the authority's facilities, including airports, bridges and tunnels. Foye said $800 million alone is needed to fix the PATH train system, which only recently returned some of its lines to a pre-Sandy schedule.

Foye said insurance reimbursements and FEMA payments should cover those costs."There will be no material impact on the budget," he said.

Still under construction in Lower Manhattan is One World Trade Center, which carries a price tag of $3.8 billion, making it the world's most expensive new office tower. To offset the costs of the 1,776-foot skyscraper, the authority last year levied higher bridge and tunnel tolls and reduced spending on transportation infrastructure.

One World Trade Center is scheduled to be done by early next year. But some part of the larger World Trade Center site will be under construction, and vulnerable to flooding, for at least the next eight years.

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Transportation Nation

Port Strike Averted... for 30 Days

Friday, December 28, 2012

Container ship at Port Newark, NJ. (photo by joevare / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) A federal mediator has announced that dockworkers at East and Gulf Coast ports will not go on strike this Saturday, as threatened. The International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance have agreed to extend their contract negotiations for an additional 30 days.

A strike, which had the potential to cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages and economic activity,  seemed likely after talks between the two sides broke down on December 18.

At issue was a wage structure that includes royalties to union workers based on cargo weight. There is now an agreement in principle on wages, with more bargaining needed to seal the deal.

The National Retail Federation said it welcomed the news while striking a note of caution in a statement: "We continue to urge both parties to remain at the negotiating table until a long-term contract agreement is finalized." The New York Shipping Association agreed, saying, it "is looking forward to getting to the table to begin serious bargaining on the local agreement and to start the process of change.”

Below is a statement on the agreement by Director George H. Cohen of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “I am extremely pleased to announce that the parties have reached the agreements set forth below as a result of a mediation session conducted by myself and my colleague Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director for Mediation Services, on Thursday, December 27, 2012:

“The container royalty payment issue has been agreed upon in principle by the parties, subject to achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement. The parties have further agreed to an additional extension of 30 days (i.e., until midnight, January 28, 2013) during which time the parties shall negotiate all remaining outstanding Master Agreement issues, including those relating to New York and New Jersey.  The negotiation schedule shall be set by the FMCS after consultation with the parties.”

“Given that negotiations will be continuing and consistent with the Agency’s commitment of confidentiality to the parties, FMCS shall not disclose the substance of the container royalty payment agreement. What I can report is that the agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement. While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”

“On behalf of our Agency, I want to thank the parties, especially ILA President Harold Daggett and USMX Chairman & CEO James Capo, for their ongoing adherence to the collective bargaining process, which has enabled them to avoid the imminent deadline for a work stoppage that could have economically disruptive nationwide implications.”
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Transportation Nation

Drought Lowers Mississippi, Holding Up Barge Traffic

Friday, December 28, 2012

The confluence of the St. Croix (TOP) and Mississippi Rivers (BOTTOM) is seen from the air on May 31, 2012. (Karen Bleier/AFP-Getty Images)

(Eve Troeh, Marketplace) This year's drought is plaguing more than farmers. The Mississippi River is at its lowest water level in decades, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in emergency mode to keep barge traffic moving.

A stretch of the river from St. Louis, Missouri to Cairo, Illinois is so low right now, jagged bedrock is close to the surface. That could scrape or even puncture the huge barges that silently float the river. Each one normally carries 70 semi trucks worth of very heavy stuff, and they ship in groups 40 or so barges at a time.

Lynn Muench, Senior Vice President of Regional Affairs with American Waterways Operators, a trade group, says barges mostly ship heavy things that would be too expensive to send by rail or truck alone. That includes petroleum products, chemicals, sand, gravel, and salt for the roads this time of year.

One timely load some of these stalled barges are carrying? Fertilizer for spring planting.

She says the fleets of barges have lightened their loads, so they don't sink so deep in the water. For the next several week, barring heavy rain, the boat captains will have to have to line up all day, waiting, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers breaks up the rock. They can only pass in the night, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

"The price to move everything has almost doubled," says Muench.

She says the Army Corps should've seen this coming and busted up the rocks sooner. Mike Petersen, a corps spokesman in St. Louis, recognizes that the slowdown is annoying, but notes it is the best option, long-term.

"This is something that'll give us a permanent improvement in that stretch," he says.

He expects to finish the work in a few weeks. The drought, he says, could go on for years.

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Transportation Nation

Florida Port Directors Warn of Ripple Effect If Dockworkers Strike Goes Ahead

Thursday, December 27, 2012

(image courtesy of Florida Seaports Council)

(Orlando, Fla. — WMFE) Florida port directors held a conference call with Governor Rick Scott Thursday to warn about the impact of a looming dockworkers strike. The dockworkers union is prepared to strike unless there's agreement on a new contract before Saturday night, when an extension on the old contract expires.

A strike by International Longshoremen's Association dockworkers would disrupt the movement of container cargo from about 60 ships a week at Florida ports.

Port Miami director Bill Johnson says a dockworkers' strike would also affect thousands of other jobs. “It isn’t just six thousand people working on my port today, it’s tens of thousands of people working in South Florida and throughout the state," he said. "It isn’t just Miami impacted as a port, it’s Orlando, it’s Cleveland, Ohio. I mean this is an impact nationwide.”

Port Canaveral’s director Stan Payne said disruption to the transportation supply chain would reach far inland. "Our entire transportation structure in which billions of dollars has been invested, (will) simply cease to function," he said, "at huge cost to our economy and the jobs."

Florida’s 15 deepwater ports account for about 550,000 jobs and generate $66 billion dollars in economic activity.

Governor Scott has asked President Barack Obama to use a federal law-- the Taft-Hartley Act-- to stop the strike if a deal isn’t reached by the Saturday deadline.

The dockworker's union, the International Longshoremen’s Association, is continuing bargaining talks with the US Maritime Alliance, which represents the ports and shippers.

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Transportation Nation

Shippers, Dockworkers Making Last-Ditch Attempt To Avoid Massive Port Strike

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Port of Howland Hook in Staten Island, NY.

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATED WITH WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS

The White House is urging dockworkers and shipping companies to reach agreement on a contract extension for East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers whose existing pact expires this week.

Obama spokesman Matt Lehrich said Thursday the White House is monitoring the situation closely and urges the parties to "continue their work at the negotiating table to get a deal done as quickly as possible."

Earlier this week, a federal mediator called a meeting of the International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) and an alliance of shipping concerns in an eleventh-hour effort to avert a commercially crippling East and Gulf Coast port strike on December 29.

Director George Cohen of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said the parties have agreed to attend, but gave no information beyond that "due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations."

Dockworkers from Massachusetts to Texas are threatening to walk off the job if an agreement isn't reached by Saturday at midnight, when their contract extension expires.

Talks between the two sides broke down December 18. “We at New York Shipping Association are certainly disappointed that the USMX – ILA negotiations are apparently coming to an abrupt end," said association president Joseph Curto.

The New York-New Jersey ports handled $208 billion of cargo last year, most on the East Coast.

But in what may be a sign that negotiations are gearing up to resume, "no comment" was the uniform word from all sides in the dispute: the New York Shipping Association, USMX (a consortium of 24 container carriers and every major marine terminal operator and port associations on the East and Gulf Coasts) and the ILA, which represents 14,500 workers at more than a dozen ports extending south from Boston and handling 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas, about 110 million tons' worth.

The Associated Press reports that issues including wages are unresolved, but the key sticking point is container royalties, which are payments to union workers based on cargo weight.

Port operators and shipping companies, represented by the Marine Alliance, want to cap the royalties at last year's levels. They say the royalties have morphed into a huge expense unrelated to their original purpose and amount to a bonus averaging $15,500 a year for East Coast workers already earning more than $50 an hour.

The longshoremen's union says the payments are an important supplemental wage, not a bonus.

USMX, on its website, gives several examples of the economic devastation that could result from a strike, including these numbers related to the Port of New York and New Jersey:

  • Employs more ILA members than any of the 13 other East and Gulf Coast ports, the union’s 3,250 members would lose $7.5 million a week in wages alone.
  • A strike at the port, the largest on the East Coast, could also put at risk the nearly 171,000 jobs directly related to its operations.
  • A shutdown would result in $100 million in lost revenue a month for railroads, truckers and other port-related transportation industries that handle more than 250,000 containers per month.

The National Retail Federation wrote to President Obama last week and asked him to use "all means necessary" to head off a strike. “A strike of any kind at ports along the East and Gulf Coast could prove devastating for the U.S. economy,” said Matthew Shaw, the group's president and CEO.

Earlier this month, an eight-day strike shut down the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That strike was resolved only after a federal mediator was brought in.

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VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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NY/NJ Port Official: We Never Thought We'd See 13-Foot Storm Surge

Friday, November 30, 2012

(Bob Hennelly, WNYC -- New York) The New York City region’s cargo port system may have been up and running six days after Sandy struck, but the storm's unprecedented storm surge left its mark and is prompting a review of past assumptions about port vulnerabilities to another Sandy-like event.

"No one believed there could be a 13-foot storm surge ever in this port and there was," said retired Rear Admiral Rick Larrabee, director of Port Commerce for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "I talked to people who have worked here for 30 years who said they never feared for their lives but they did that night."

The Port Authority's cargo handling operation is a sprawling complex that encompasses waterfront facilities in Brooklyn and Staten Island, in New York as well as vast terminals in Newark, Bayonne and Jersey City in New Jersey

Top of the to do list is exploring how to make their facilities less vulnerable to the kind of prolonged power outage that came after the storm. "We have got to work with the utilities," Larrabee said. "We are all interdependent."

He also thinks it’s critical to keep a sense of urgency when it comes to following up on lessons learned.

"I have a theory about the half life of events like this. The further out it gets from when it first happened the fuzzier it gets," Larrabee said.

Larrabee said the storm surge enveloped 14,000 new cars on the docks on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, incapacitated 40 percent of the 50 gargantuan cargo cranes that stand several stories high and took out 2,500 trucks critical to moving freight off the docks.

It also flooded Larrabee's Ports Administrative Office and the Port's police headquarters, which still remains out of commission a month later.

Larrabee says before the storm, the area’s cargo network was headed for an increase in volume, but the storm and its aftermath could hurt the final annual total.

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WNYC News

PA Takes Stock of Damage at Ports

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The region’s cargo port system may have been up and running six days after Sandy struck, but the storm's unprecedented storm surge left its mark and is prompting a review of past assumptions about its vulnerabilities to another Sandy-like event.

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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

Port Authority Board Gets an Earful from Public Over 9/11 Memorial, Community Relations

Thursday, September 20, 2012

One World Trade Center (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) The day after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released a consultant's report lauding the agency's newfound zeal for transparency and accountability, the public showed up at the agency's monthly Board of Commissioners meeting with a very different assessment.

It was a full house.

A contingent of 9/11 family members used the public comment period to urge the Commissioners to reject a Memorandum of Understanding entered into last week between the bi-state agency and the National September 11th Memorial and  Museum. The deal, reached a day before the eleventh anniversary of the terror attacks, cleared the way for work to resume. Construction at the site had halted last year after a funding squabble.

Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son on September 11th, took the Port Authority to task for not sufficiently involving the 9/11 families in the process. "Do not approve this MOU until we can have full public disclosure involving the 9/11 families as well as the community."

Richard Hughes of the Twin Towers Alliance told the panel it was being expedient with their deal with the Memorial and Museum that calls for passing ownership of the former site of the Twin Towers to the non-profit in exchange for adjacent land where the Deutsche Bank building once stood.

"You have eight acres of prime important downtown real estate -- a site that is sacred to all of us  -- and you are giving it away or swapping it, but it is really giving it away, without public debate, behind closed doors," Hughes said.

Under the agency's public comment period protocol, Commissioners don't respond directly to the public. But speaking to reporters afterwards, officials defended the deal as breaking a lengthy impasse and insuring the project stays on budget while guaranteeing the site remains a memorial.

Of particular concern to family members at the hearing were the plans to place several thousand of the unidentified remains from the attack in the museum. Boosters of that plan say it will permit work to continue on identifying the remains. The 9/11 families want the surviving families to be polled.

The full board approved the MOU over their objections -- but after the vote, Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye reminded reporters the agency had lost 84 employees in the attack. He said he understood the families' concerns about the remains. "Given the grievous loss those family members experienced that is an issue that resonates with me," Foye said.

But it isn't only how the Port has handled Ground Zero that had members of the public fuming.

Casandra Dock came with residents of of the city of Newark. She chastised the Commissioners for not holding public meetings of the board west of the Hudson in New Jersey.

"I come before this board today -- since this is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey  -- to ask this board to have some of these board meetings over in Newark, New Jersey," Dock said.

In the board's brief public meeting it did move on some items without controversy. John F. Kennedy International Airport will host a animal handling facility that the Port Authority says will be the most comprehensive facility of its kind in the nation. The board also approved the deal with ARK Development LLC to convert a vacant building at JFK into what Foye says will be a state-of-the-art facility that will handle everything from household pets to horses.

"And this facility will provide animal daycare and kenneling services, more efficient animal transport services--a full service veterinary hospital. The facility is expected to serve approximately 70,000 wild and domestic animals a year,"Foye said.

The deal will net the agency more than $100 million dollars in rent over the next 20 years.

The Port also funded a study looking at the feasibility of taking over Atlantic City International Airport. It will also take a look at running its existing PATH train from where it currently ends -- in Newark Penn Station --  out to Newark Liberty Airport.

The latest board actions come as the agency grapples with how to fund some $44 billion dollars in upgrades it says the region's transportation infrastructure will need by 2020.

 

The World Trade Center construction on 3/8/12 (photo by Kate Hinds)
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Transportation Nation

Port Authority: We've Reformed. Critics: Really?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

(New York, NY -- WNYC) Two consulting firms hired to conduct an independent review of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have concluded that the bi-state agency has experienced major improvement in how it is operating  -- but still must find additional ways to raise revenue to pay for the region's aging transportation infrastructure.

Last year, in the midst of a public outcry over toll and fare hikes at the agency's bridges and tunnels, Navigant Consulting and Rothschild Inc were retained to take a detailed look at the Port Authority. The consultants reported that under the agency's watch the redevelopment costs for the World Trade Center had ballooned from $11 billion to $14.8 billion.

The initial outside review described a dysfunctional bureaucracy with a debt load that had more than doubled -- from $9 billion to $21 billion in just ten years -- while boosting the compensation pay for its employees by 19 percent over the same period.

Now, just seven months later, Port Authority chairman David Samson says a multi-faceted push to reform the agency has paid off with glowing reviews from the same consultants for the management team put in place by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Samson quoted from the latest Navigant report which concluded "the Port Authority has made great improvements in transparency and efforts to complete the World Trade Center program within the estimated costs." Samson said the agency had embarked on "50 distinct initiatives" to revamp everything from its basic governance structure to how the agency manages its capital projects.

The consultants also backed up the Port Authority's controversial toll and fare hikes as being "necessary" to support the agency's capital spending for its Interstate Transportation Network. That point is still hotly contested by local elected officials from both states and the Automobile Association of America. AAA has taken the Port Authority to court over what it claims is the illegal diversion of toll revenues to support non-transportation related projects like the World Trade Center.

And the same day that the Port Authority rolled out the consultant report on the agency's increased transparency, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis was expressing outrage over the agency's decision to appeal a judge's order requiring the Port Authority to turn over an internal report on the impact of its toll hikes on the New York Container Terminal on Staten Island. Malliotakis says the terminal, which provides 550 good-paying jobs, has already lost 58 percent of their business "mostly due to these toll hikes." "What makes this organization so unbelievable is their arrogance in that they feel they can hide this information from the public who partially paid for this study to take place," Mallitokis said. The agency maintains the report is just a draft.

On the conference call to announce the major reset at the Port Authority, executive director Pat Foye insisted the agency's efforts at cost containment had produced tangible results. According to Foye, requiring the agency's non-union staff to contribute to the cost of their health insurance will save the Port $41 million dollars over the next 18 months and tens of millions of dollars in the out years.

But Port Authority officials conceded they still face formidable fiscal challenges. "Our ambitious ten-year capital plan budgets $26.9 billion dollar in capital expenditures for the 2011-2020 planning period. But there is more than $44 billion dollars of known investments that we need to maintain our region's competitiveness," said Port Authority vice chairman Scott Rechler.

"The agency's 80-plus year-old faculties are at capacity and are in critical need of state of good repair work," Rechler said. "There is a significant backlog of projects due to past deferral of state of good repair expenditures. For more than eight years our tunnels, bridges and terminals departments have not met its 80 percent target of preventative maintenance routines which could lead to more costly emergency repairs down the road in the future."

"The region's airports have aged significantly, frequently ranking among the worst in the nation in terms of customer satisfaction, and upgrades will require up to $6.5 billion dollars in additional capital through 2020," Rechler added.

Foye says the Port Authority is going to look to the private sector to help it finance some of its big ticket items -- like the rebuilding of the Goethals Bridge, which links Staten Island and New Jersey. Foye says the public-private partnership model is being given "serious consideration" for upgrading the Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia, as well as at Newark Airport's Terminal A. He says using this model could help the agency raise the $6 billion dollars needed to complete all three projects.

The consultants identified several areas where they felt the Port Authority could bring in as much as $150 million dollars in additional cash annually in non-toll revenue. On the list of possible money makers: additional advertising revenue, improving toll violation recovery, selling off some of the agency's real estate portfolio like the Newark Legal Center and the Teleport business park -- as well as selling air rights to the Port Authority's midtown bus terminal and its Journal Square PATH train station.

Port officials told reporters they are also looking to raise revenue by bringing new hotel capacity to the area around JFK Airport. "The JFK region doesn't have the hotel rooms adequate to service the millions of people who go through each day," Foye said. "We are working on two or three hotel opportunities right now that we expect to be announcing in the future."

New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a long time Port Authority critic, credited the Port Authority with "responding to years of inadequate accounting and managerial procedures" but hoped "the newfound commitment to proper governance" would endure.

“My greatest concern is that once the agency no longer feels public pressure to reform, it will return to its old ways," Huttle said in a statement. She's still pushing for passage of the Port Authority Accountability and Transparency Act, which legislators say would increase the Port's public accountability and require an annual audit.

Any legislation to reform the agency has to be passed in both Albany and Trenton. The Port Authority, a bi-state compact, was created by an act of Congress in 1921.

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Transportation Nation

U.S.Senators: Port Authority Exec Was "Argumentative," Lacked "Civility and Decorum"

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The George Washington Bridge (photo by Kate Hinds)

The conflict between New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is escalating -- and now another U.S. Senator has added his signature to a letter formally complaining about the behavior of a Port Authority executive at a hearing in April.

The letter charges that Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, "failed to meet the basic standards of civility and decorum" during his testimony at the hearing. It is addressed to senior executives at the Port Authority and co-signed by Lautenberg and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV).

The bruising hearing, ostensibly about toll hikes, quickly devolved into a barbed back-and-forth between Lautenberg and Baroni. Lautenberg wanted Baroni to answer questions about the fairness of the agency's 2011 toll hikes. Baroni replied that "it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them" -- a reference to the senator's use of an agency-funded EZPass. Many listeners perceived the remark as an attempt to embarrass the senator. (Listen to some audio from the hearing here.)

The comment rattled Lautenberg and Baroni avoided answering a key question: what did New Jersey Governor Christie know about the toll hikes and when did he know it?

The Senate's Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rockefeller, later followed up by sending questions in writing to Baroni. But the Port Authority said releasing any communications between the agency and the governors' offices would be "inappropriate."

In the letter, the two U.S. senators do a slow burn. "This repeated failure to respond to the Committee's questions not only shows a lack of respect for legitimate congressional oversight; it also directly contradicts repeated assertions by Port Authority officials that the agency is increasing its transparency." The last line of the letter reads: "Please provide this information to the Committee no later than August 14, 2012."

A Port Authority spokesman would not comment.

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Transportation Nation

Coal for Asian Export Could Lead to Rail Traffic "Like We've Never Seen Before"

Monday, July 30, 2012

A coal train in the Laurel, MT rail yard. Picture by Jackie Yamanaka.

(Billings, MT – YPR) An additional 60 trains of coal could roll through the Northwest rail network every day headed across the Pacific if forecasts are correct. Two manufacturing firms signed deals last week to build 20 new barges to increase export capacity, a sign of optimism from coal exporter Ambre Energy that port redevelopment proposals will gain approval.

Terminal developers are eying the lucrative Asian market, hungry for energy -- coal from Montana and Wyoming's Powder River Basin -- to fuel its economic engine. For example, Australian-based Ambre Energy is involved in two proposals to expand the Pacific Northwest port. Exports are constricted because of limited port capacity.

An expansion won't come easy though, considering the chorus of critics citing environmental, traffic, human health, and community concerns with coal shipping, export and even coal use. But in these tight economic times, coal shipping expansion remains popular with the general public, according to one recent survey.

An interim Montana legislative committee became the latest to weigh in on whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should expand an environmental review for Pacific Northwest port projects with a mixed response to the idea, which would slow redevelopment.

The Sierra Club is leading an effort called the Beyond Coal campaign that includes stopping coal exports. Among the concerns cited: the global impacts of coal-fired power plants, the impact of coal dust on human health, and the increase in freight rail traffic that can snarl traffic in local communities.

The Sierra Club,  affiliates of the Billings, Mont.-based Northern Plains Resource Council, and local governments like Missoula, Mont. are among those asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand its environmental reviews beyond just the port terminals projects and look at broader environmental areas and issues.

Letters from interested parties have become the weather vane revealing which way the winds of legislative oversight are blowing. The railroad BNSF's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Rose recently wrote a letter to Wash. Governor Christine Gregoire to address concerns about the port projects. The Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee (ETIC) of the Montana Legislature sent a letter of it's own to the Corp’s office in Portland, Oregon also opposing an expanded environmental review.

During a recent hearing, the panel heard from proponents, opponents and informational witnesses on the issue before voting on whether to send a letter to the Corps.

All of this back and forth follows a dramatic forecast released in a report by the Western Organization of Resource Councils called Heavy Traffic Ahead.

“Make no mistake about it,” says Terry Whiteside, a transportation consultant and co-author of the report. “This is a huge, huge increase in volume like we’ve never seen before in this part of the world.”

Whiteside projects an additional 27-to-63 trains per day could be the result of increased coal exports to Asia. He calculated that figure based on the export projections of 75 million tons of coal/day by 2017; up to 170 million tons of coal/day by 2022.

“The problem with the study is that it wrongfully assumes that BNSF would originate 100 percent of the Powder River Basin coal,” says spokeswoman Suann Lundberg in Fort Worth, TX. “That’s just not logical. The Powder River Basin is accessed by both the Union Pacific and the BNSF on what we call the ‘joint line.’ 50 percent of it moves on Union Pacific and 50 percent of it moves on BNSF. “

Lundberg says BNSF was not contacted by the authors of the study. She adds the railroad would only have access to one of the proposed six port terminals and the others are either located on other railroads or served jointly among railroads.

Whiteside says he did not contact the railroads, instead he looked at the empirical data and “forced it back on the system.” He adds the study wasn’t designed to be a debate about what the railroad wants.

“I don’t think its any secret that railroads are forecasting the volumes (rail) are going to grow,” says Jim Lewis of Montana Rail Link (MRL), which owns the track between Billings, Mont. and Sand Point, Idaho.

He says there are many reasons, including population and consumption growth for consumer goods, as well as high diesel prices and the semi-driver shortage facing the trucking industry. Lewis says the increase in rail freight traffic is driven by market demands, which can change. He says that’s happening now with the decrease in corn and other agricultural commodities because of the drought and it’s happening with coal.

“I find it kinda ironic that we’re talking about the potential for increased coal traffic in a year when we are forecasting our coal traffic will be below or flat to 2011 volumes,” Lewis says.

He says he also wasn’t contacted for the WORC study. As for the study’s projected increase in rail traffic number, Lewis says they’re not possible given MRL’s capacity constraints. There’s only a single track tunnels over the pass near Bozeman, Mont. and at the Continental Divide. “It would be very costly to try to expand upon that capacity in those two areas,” he says.

Lewis says currently on average, about 19 trains pass through Billings each day, some are MRL traffic, most is BNSF. He says some freight trains terminate at the Laurel, MT rail yards, about 15 miles west of Billings with the remaining 15 continuing west. Lewis estimates the maximum freight rail capacity on the MRL portion of track is about 30 trains/day.

BNSF is investing in its infrastructure. Since 2000, the railroad has spent over $36 billion on maintaining current lines, laying new track, and buying locomotives.

Lundsberg says in Montana, BNSF is spending $111 million in 2012  on infrastructure. She says these capital expenditures, however, are not aimed solely at forecasts of a growing Asian export market for coal.

“Freight traffic will increase with or without coal exports,” she says. “And that means additional traffic and we’re preparing for that.”

That has caused a face-off between groups like the Montana and Billings Chamber of Commerce and environmental organizations like WORC. Economic developers argue Montana and the rest of the country needs the jobs, tax revenue, and infrastructure that increased coal mining and the railroads bring to the region. Conservation groups worry it will be local communities and citizens who will bear the burden of paying for under- and over-passes to re-route traffic past this projected increase in train traffic while corporations are making millions of dollars and should be the ones to pay that cost.

The one thing all sides agree upon is why now is the time for the railroads to have discussions with local governments and citizens about coal, the proposed export terminals, and ways to mitigate the expected growth in rail traffic and resulting traffic jam issues.

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Transportation Nation

Private Ferry, Floated By Municipal $, Flourishes In New York

Monday, July 16, 2012

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn ride the East River Ferry with the Williamsburg Bridge in the background. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Several Brooklyn-to-Manhattan commuters were baffled at 7:45 this morning to find an unexpected boarding ritual taking place at the head of the gangway leading to their ferry. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a likely candidate for mayor, stood there waiting to shake hands.

"Congratulations!" Quinn told the riders, one by one. "You're among the million passengers to take the East River Ferry!"

That's a million paid customers in just over a year, more than double the initial projection of 409,000 annual riders. But that success comes at a price to the city: a $3.1 million subsidy per year over the three-year life of the pilot program.

The money comes from the city's Economic Development Corporation. Private ferries that criss-cross the Hudson River, connecting New Jersey to various parts of the harbor, do not receive subsidies.

The East River Ferry started with 12 days of free service last June. From the beginning, it proved popular with New Yorkers and tourists. The boats follow a route that goes from Wall Street to East 34th Street in Manhattan with stops along the way -- four in Brooklyn and one in Queens. Then they ply the trip in reverse. (Bloomberg and Quinn boarded at the North 6th Street stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a three stop ride to Wall Street.) In spring and summer, the ferry adds a Brooklyn harbor loop and makes the short hop from Lower Manhattan to Governor's Island.

Weekend service is especially popular in the warm months. Billy Bey, the company running East River Ferry, says it has had to operate larger vessels on the weekends to hold the crowds, and a new landing at Brooklyn Bridge Park has been fitted with wider gangways to speed boarding and disembarking.

The ferry isn't cheap: $4 for a one-way trip, compared to the $2.25 base fare per subway ride with a Metrocard; and the ferry charges $140 for a monthly commuter pass, compared to $104 for a 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard.

But sometimes a passenger like Bloomberg can catch a break. The mayor ordered a $2 cup of coffee from the on-board concession stand, which a woman who gave her name as Jennifer served up gratis. Jennifer said she was happy to do it "because he's the mayor," although she initially called him Mayor Giuliani. But Jennifer also noted a Bloombergian particularity: the mayor added milk to his Joe but, true to his crusade against empty calories, no sugar.

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Montana Locality: No Studies That Will Slow Coal Train

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A coal train traveling near Billings, MT. Picture by Jackie Yamanaka.

(Billings, MT-YPR) – The largest city and county in Montana decided to deal with the impact of possible increased coal train traffic locally rather than join the efforts of other communities in calling for a regional environmental study on the issue. Yellowstone County officials object to any study that is critical of coal.

"We need to look at this as an opportunity," says Yellowstone County Commission Chairman John Ostlund. "We have more coal than anybody in the world, countries around the world want to burn it. We need the jobs. We need the tax base. These are the greatest opportunities and problems to have that we could ever hope to have."

The Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council (YVCC), an affiliate of the environmental group Northern Plains Resource Council, recently asked Billings and Yellowstone County officials to ask to be included in an  Environmental Impact Statement scoping hearing for the Cherry Point Port Terminal in Whatcom County, Washington.

The Helena City Commission recently agreed to write a letter to the U-S Army Corps of Engineers to look into increased rail traffic on Helena, the capital city, as it conducts an environmental review on the Cherry Point Port terminal.

YVCC’s Svein Newman asked Billings' Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC), a city-county transportation planning board, to join Helena.

“The issue faced by Billings is similar to the issue faced by Bozeman, Helena, Spokane, and more (communities),” he says. “And instead of over a dozen individual studies to arrive at similar conclusions it makes sense to focus on one (study), especially when it is not funded by county taxpayers.”

Asian customers are interested in buying more U-S coal, but the lack of port capacity is restricting shipments. If ports are expanded, or new ports built, coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming is the most direct and closest source via rail.

Opponents of coal port terminal expansion cite concern about the environmental effects of burning coal, the human health effects of coal dust blowing from rail cars, and the impact of increased coal trains on motor vehicle traffic. YVCC projects the number of coal trains passing through Billings could triple from 2009 figures to 40 trains per day because of the growing demand for U-S coal in Asia.

Billings officials, however, are not interested in conducting another rail traffic study. There have been 8 such studies, the most recent in 2004. Instead, they want staff to look at the recommendations from past studies, for example, whether signs to alert motorists when there’s a train blocking the road keep traffic flowing.

“Pardon me if I sound kinda blunt, but I think having a sign that says ‘train on tracks’ when you can actually see the train on tracks is kinda redundant,” says Greg Krueger, Development Director for the Downtown Billings Partnership. “It just says, ‘there’s a train on the tracks’ and prepared to be frustrated.”

PCC Chairman and Yellowstone County Commission Chairman John Ostlund laughed and asked if that should be on the sign.

“I think so,” replied Krueger. “But I do believe if we have signal upgrades that could interface with reader boards, that I’ve seen in other cities, that says ‘southbound traffic/train on tracks/turn left now.’ What I am saying is a train route that in essence takes you around the tracks.”
Other options that could be considered include:  adding left turn lights on the main thoroughfares through Downtown Billings when there’s a train on the tracks and improving one downtown underpass so it could accommodate emergency vehicles.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Jim Reno calls these options “low-hanging fruit.” While being stuck at a rail crossing is an inconvenience, he says, it should be welcomed by the community. Reno says increased rail traffic points to a growing economy.

“We embrace the fact there’s additional landings at the airport. We embrace when we see more (sugar) beet cars. We embrace when we see unit trains of wheat and grain,” he says. “We should come at it (increased coal train traffic) from a positive view point as opposed to my impression that it came early on as an anti-carbon, anti-environmental. We should get past that and look at it as an opportunity that frankly some regions of this country would welcome the opportunity to have economic growth.”

Recently, the Yellowstone County Commission unanimously adopted a resolution formally declaring support for coal and coal based power and the expansion of ports on the West Coast to accommodate increased shipments Powder River Coal from Montana and Wyoming to customers in Asia.

The PCC did not formally take action on how to address traffic concerns through Billings from increased coal train traffic. But it indirectly told a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to review the recommendations of past rail studies and determine: project prioritization based on projected train traffic, costs, funding sources, responsible party, and a time frame. The TAC recommendations would then be considered at a late date by the PCC.

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Lautenberg, Christie Appointee Feud Over Toll Hike, ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Port Authority's Bill Baroni, testifying at a Senate hearing

Listen to a conversation about the hearings -- and hear some audio from them - below.

UPDATED A Senate hearing ostensibly on the fairness of toll hikes devolved into a slugfest between Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)  and Bill Baroni, Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Lautenberg has been seething since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC commuter tunnel under the Hudson River in late 2010.  Last summer's  Hudson River toll hikes -- raised by as much as 50% -- only added fuel to the fire.

Lautenberg had a line of questions prepared, including when the Governors of New Jersey and New York knew about the 2010 toll hikes and whether Baroni thought they were fair.

But Baroni, a Christie appointee, was prepared. "It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them," he said, pointing out that the senator -- a Port Authority commissioner from 1978-1982 -- had used an agency-funded EZ Pass at Port Authority toll crossings 284 times (a perk -- since discontinued -- formerly available to Port Authority commissioners for life).

Lautenberg seemed caught off guard by the statement, and although he quickly brought the line of questioning back to the toll hike, it looked like he had brought a butter knife to a switchblade fight.

The senator was also unable to pin Baroni down on one of his key issues: what did Governor Christie know about the Port Authority's plans for last summer's toll hikes, and when did he know it? Baroni wouldn't get specific. "I'm not going to talk about conversations that I have with different administration officials," he said -- spurring Lautenberg to retort: "Are you running a protection agency there?" "Excuse me?" responded Baroni, all wounded indignation.

But with all things Lautenberg and Christie-related, all roads lead back to the ARC tunnel. Senator Lautenberg is furious with the governor for canceling the trans-Hudson tunnel -- a project which the senator had long championed. "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?" he spat at Baroni. A brief mic outage muted the Port Authority executive's response.

Lautenberg went on to grill Baroni about accusations of political patronage at the Port Authority, and told Baroni he had two weeks to supply the Senate committee with the names of people Governor Chris Christie had recommended for employment at the Port Authority.

"Sure!" said Baroni. "Should we go through them now?"

"Your impertinence is barely tolerable," Lautenberg told Baroni.

Later in the hearing, which stretched to almost 70 minutes, Baroni described the agency's plans to expand platforms at Harrison's PATH station. "Under the plan, we're going to be able to go to ten cars, and that's going to help us bring more rail —"

The senator abruptly hit the gavel twice. "Thank you very much. This hearing is over."

After the hearing, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee chided Baroni: “I am troubled and disappointed by accounts of inappropriate discourse and decorum by a witness at the Senate Commerce Subcommittee this morning. A basic level of civility is expected from every witness who testifies in a formal Senate hearing and reports suggest that standard was not met today.”

Later this afternoon, Governor Chris Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, sent the following statement dripping with enmity: (full statement at end of post) "Let’s accept the obvious:  the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie."

For his part, Lautenberg sent out a statement saying "Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion.  I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy."

Lautenberg has requested that the GAO examine interstate tolling authorities. Meanwhile, late this afternoon, word was released that a joint New York-New Jersey hearing on the Port Authority -- scheduled for this Friday on Staten Island -- is being postponed.

Read below for a partial transcript of a piece of this morning's exchange. You can watch a archived video of Wednesday's hearing here.

Here's a transcript of part of this morning's exchange:

Lautenberg: The question is: did the size of the increase strike those of you who make decisions at the Port Authority as being fair? I mean, that’s a substantial -- 50% increase to cross the bridge. That’s a lot of money.

Baroni: Senator, thank you for the question, and I know that the conversation we heard, some of my colleagues talking about much it is. But as I described before, Senator, that if you are a cash-paying, non-EZPass using, rush hour driving truck, you are causing the most challenges physically to our crossings.  For every fully-loaded tractor-trailer that goes across our bridges, it (causes) 10,000 times the damage to our bridges as one car. But one of the reason we built all of the discounts in, Senator, is to be able to -- those folks who are commuting, who have an EZ Pass, or drive in off-peak, and, Senator, respectfully I understand the concerns that people have about paying tolls across the Hudson. It is something that commuters as you mentioned, Senator, each and every day – but respectfully, Senator, you only started paying tolls recently. For years, Senator, as former commissioner of my agency, you received free EZ Pass. Year after year – in fact, I have a copy of your free EZ Pass. I’ve got letters from ‘01 --

Lautenberg: how often was it used? Do you know?

Baroni: yeah, actually. ’01, ’02, ’03

Lautenberg: what? how many times?

Baroni: I can tell you. In...

Lautenberg: I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness.

Baroni: Well, Senator, you took 284 trips for free in the last two years you had the pass.

Lautenberg: I want you to answer this question. (Baroni. Sure!) Is this fair? Is this toll increase fair to the public at large?

Baroni: I think, Senator, for those--

Lautenberg: talk about the individual cars (crosstalk) I want to keep you on track. So. Let's go.

Baroni: Senator, it's impossible..certainly, Senator. It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.

After that testy exchange, Baroni talked about the Port Authority's discount toll programs and how many vehicles use EZPass (81%) -- but  Senator Lautenberg was doing the slow burn.

Lautenberg: To pull out that little thing that I got after serving after in the Port Authority for four years -- I don't even think about using it, Mr. Baroni.

Baroni: of course not, because we took it away.

Lautenberg: Well, what happened, what happens, it was there, that's what they did, that's what I took and I'm not going to defend it. That's a silly thing to bring into this. I want to discuss your direction of this grand agency and where the money is gone, and why the increases were so large. What - what - is that fair play in your view? Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion dollars worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars a day off the road? Do you want to talk about those things?

Christie's office sent out the following statement:

"As we learned today, Senator Lautenberg himself perpetuated some of the very dysfunction that only now, under Governors Christie and Cuomo, is being reversed through reforms and intensive audits.  A few counterpoints raised by Deputy Executive Director Baroni:

→ Senator Lautenberg, a wealthy businessman who was a commissioner of the Port Authority from March 1978 to December 1982, received free annual passage at Hudson River crossings and parking privileges at all NY/NJ airports for 24 years.  Mr. Baroni pointed out that in the final two years of his free EZ Pass, the Senator made no less than 284 free toll crossings.

→ At the height of his hypocritical moments today, Senator Lautenberg became enraged when Mr. Baroni pointed out that one of Sen. Lautenberg’s 2002 campaign staffers in charge of “U.S. Senate Candidate Visibility” was hired at the Port Authority after the campaign as a “principal energy specialist.”

While Mr. Baroni told the Senator he was available to talk all day and present evidence about PA tolls and operations, the hearing ended abruptly with Senator Lautenberg visibly angry over the turn of events.  Repeatedly, Senator Lautenberg tried to stop Mr. Baroni from providing answers that didn’t fit the hearing game plan or that held inconvenient truths.

→ “I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness,” Senator Lautenberg said as he cut off Mr. Baroni’s discussion of EZ Pass discounts available to motorists and the Senator’s free privileges.  “Certainly Senator,” Mr. Baroni replied, “it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls when you don’t pay them.”

→ Let’s accept the obvious:  the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie.

→ The toll hikes at the NY/NJ crossings were the last thing the Governors wanted to see happen.  But by 2010, the agency was mired in a fiscal crisis years in the making that required the reduced toll hikes the two Governors finally had to approve.  And the undisputed fact of history is that only since Governor Christie took office have reforms been enacted, payroll numbers and costs beenreduced and independent audits – warts and all – been ordered.  Sure, hold a hearing, ask all the relevant and necessary questions you like, but Senator Lautenberg should have spared us the hypocrisy and fake outrage.

 

And

Here's Senator Lautenberg's statement:

PORT AUTHORITY’S BARONI CALLS $12 TOLLS “FAIR”

LAUTENBERG PRESSES PORT AUTHORITY ON ALLEGATIONS OF PATRONAGE AND MISLEADING THE PUBLIC

BARONI ENGAGES IN “DISTRACTION, DECEPTION AND DIVERSION” AT HEARING

WASHINGTON – At a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Surface Transportation subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg pressed Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni on the Port Authority’s recent toll hikes and allegations of patronage and mismanagement.

During his testimony, Mr. Baroni stated that $12 tolls on drivers are “fair” and repeatedly refused to answer questions about when Governor Christie became aware of proposed toll increases.

In contrast to Mr. Baroni, witnesses from AAA and the American Trucking Associations were very clear about their strong opposition to the toll hikes, the burden they put on families and businesses, and the lack of opportunity for public input about the toll increases.

“We called this hearing to help New Jersey drivers understand the reasons behind these massive toll increases and what steps the Port Authority is going to take to fix their serious problems,” said Sen. Lautenberg. “Instead, Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy. Despite this stonewalling, I will continue to stand up for New Jersey commuters and businesses.”

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Transportation Nation

100 Years Ago, Arrival of Ship Carrying Titanic Survivors Set Off Media Frenzy in NYC

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Popular illustration, titled "Arrival of the Ship of Sorrows," shows Titanic survivors disembarking in New York.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The sinking of the Titanic on April 15 in 1912 was the biggest news story of its day. But people on land had only the barest facts about the tragedy at sea until almost three days later, when more than 700 survivors reached New York on the steamer Carpathia. What followed was an unprecedented media frenzy.

The Carpathia had wireless communication with the shore but on its way to New York had sent only a trickle of news. After a couple of days, it was known that most of the passengers and crew on the Titanic had died — but not much beyond that.

A theory for the near-news blackout is that the White Star Line, which owned the Titanic, was trying to manage the story by shutting out the media.

For example, newspaperman Carlos Hurd, who worked for a Hearst paper in St. Louis, happened to be on the Carpathia. Hearst editors in New York sent frantic messages to him begging for news but the ship's crew intercepted them.

That left the public was frothing for details of the disaster. By the time the Carpathia arrived in the New York harbor on April 18 around 9:15 P.M., thousands of people were standing outside Pier 54 at West 13th Street on the Hudson River.

Many were family members of passengers who didn't know if their relatives were dead or alive. Reporters waded in and worked the crowd, interviewing relatives while waiting to catch survivors coming off the ship and record their memories while they were still visceral.

Meanwhile, out in the harbor, more than 50 tugboats jammed with journalists met the Carpathia in lower New York harbor. Reporters with megaphones yelled up at the ship, offering $50 or $100 for eyewitness accounts. Photographers' cameras lit up the side of the ship with flashes of magnesium powder.

This was before the rise of radio and movie reels, when newspapers ruled. It was also a Darwinian moment in the history of American journalism.

Mitchell Stephens, professor of journalism at NYU and author of The History of the News, says there were dozens of papers in multiple languages coming out three times a day in New York, with 'Extra' editions. "It was cutthroat competition between these newspapers for stories and to be first on the streets with stories,” he said. “So the streets were full of newspapers being hawked all day long."

Stephens added that the U.S. also had the highest per capita newspaper circulation in the world in the early 20th century. The fight was on to feed that audience. "Races for news were nothing new and packs of journalists were already starting to develop," he said.

Two of the heavyweights in the city were William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and the up-and-coming New York Times.

Carr Van Anda was the editor of The Times in 1912. He rented out the top floor of the Strand Hotel, now called the Liberty Inn, and set up a temporary newsroom to better cover the disaster. The hotel was just a block from Pier 54. Then Van Anda set his sites on interviewing the Titanic’s 22-year-old wireless operator, Harold Bride. He even paid Bride’s employer, Guglielmo Marconi, who was the inventor of the wireless, to make sure he got an exclusive interview.

Marconi sent a message to Bride on the Carpathia that read, “Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures.”

When Harold Bride got to New York, a Times reporter met him onboard and took down his istory. He then reported what he'd heard: that the band played on while the ship went down and that a stoker had broken into the wireless room and tried to steal Bride's lifejacket as the Titanic was sinking, forcing the operator to beat the stoker senseless.

As for Hearst man Carlos Hurd, he spent his trip on the Carpathia interviewing Titanic survivors and hiding his notes from the crew.

He wrote up his stories and put them in a cigar box rigged with Champagne corks as floats. When the ship reached the harbor, Hurd spotted a Hearst editor in a tugboat and hurled the cigar box into the water. The editor fished it out and rushed it back to the newsroom in Lower Manhttan. Before the Carpathia had docked, an 'Extra' edition of The New York World was on the street with the banner headline:

"Titanic Boilers Blew Up, Breaking Her In Two After Striking Berg."

Not quite as fast as the Internet, but fast. And accurate. And heartbreaking.

 

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