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Transportation Nation

Ray LaHood: If You Want Federal Transportation Money to Go to Biking and Walking, Start Agitating Locally

Monday, July 23, 2012

By Ray LaHood, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation

Last week Transportation Nation readers sent me a number of great questions to answer in my latest "On the Go" video. Today, I'd like to return the favor by answering one or two more questions right here on Transportation Nation.

Greg asked: "How can DOT give Americans more transit, walking, and biking options when the vast majority of the money will just be passed to state DOTs to buy more highways?"

Well, Greg, as I acknowledged in "On the Go," some readers of Transportation Nation may not be happy with every part of the new transportation bill, MAP-21. But at DOT, we aren't about to stop moving American transportation forward.

The new bill actually increases the portion of funding going to transit. It broadens the New Starts program to include projects that expand capacity on existing transit lines, and that's a great opportunity for cities with legacy systems. It also provides a big bump to our transit State Of Good Repair program.

And, although highway formula funding is passed to the states, states can still use some of those funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects and other activities that improve air quality and relieve congestion. It's true that MAP-21 permits the states to redirect transportation enhancement funding for purposes other than active transportation, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will.

If accessibility advocates and biking and walking advocates make their voices heard in their state capitols and in their county and city councils, there's no reason to believe that the tremendous progress we've made in the last three years can't continue.

(video of Secretary LaHood from "On The Go")

Tanya asked, "What's your favorite transit line? What city works the best?"

I don't know if Tanya is testing me here or not, but I've already been asked to pick my favorite Olympic sport, and I am not about to pick a favorite transit line or city and arouse the disappointment of every other community in America.

I will say that our nation's transit agencies are doing a great job of moving people where they need to go as safely and reliably as they can. Whether it's by bus, light rail, commuter rail, subway, paratransit, or streetcar, Americans are taking more than 10 billion transit rides each year. And the American Public Transportation Association recently reported that the first quarter of 2012 was the fifth consecutive quarter of ridership growth. As our economy continues to recover, those numbers are only going to increase even more. So my favorite transit line is any one that helps people get where they need to go.

I'm also pleased that MAP-21 gives the Federal Transit Administration a safety oversight role for the first time. We worked with Congress for more than two years to secure that authority, and I know the folks at FTA will hit the ground running in their new mission.

Okay, that's it from here. Thanks again to Transportation Nation and its readers. I appreciate your interest, and I encourage you to stay engaged.

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Transportation Nation

President Obama Signs Transportation Bill (TRANSCRIPT)

Friday, July 06, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a bill signing ceremony July 6, 2012 at the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. President Obama signed HR 4348, the transportation and student loans bill, into law during the ceremony. (Getty Images)

After a day of campaigning around the midwest, President Barack Obama returned to the East Room of the White House to sign the much-debated highway funding bill flanked by construction workers, college students and lawmakers.

The two-year, $100 billion Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) combines student loan interest rate caps with road transportation funding. The president's signature is the final stroke that ends over 100 days of political wrangling over transportation funding, something that until recently was a bi-partisan legislative cake walk (albeit pork-filled cake).

Here's a summary of what's in the final bill.

And here's President Obama's statement as he signed it:

Hello, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  I apologize for keeping you waiting a little bit, and I hope everybody is staying hydrated -- (laughter) -- because it is hot.

Welcome to the White House.  We wouldn’t normally keep you this late on a Friday afternoon unless we had a good reason -- and the bill that I’m about to sign is a pretty good reason.

I want to very much thank the members of Congress who are here.  We got a number in the front row, but, in particular, I want to recognize Senator Boxer and Congressman Mica, whose leadership made this bill a reality.  And although Barbara couldn’t make it, we want to make sure that everybody acknowledges the hard work that John did on this on bill.  (Applause.)

Now, we’re doing this late on Friday afternoon because I just got back from spending the past two days talking with folks in Ohio and Pennsylvania about how our challenge as a country isn’t just to reclaim all the jobs that were lost to the recession -- although obviously that's job number one.  It’s also to reclaim the economic security that so many Americans have lost over the past decade.

And I believe with every fiber of my being that a strong economy comes not from the top down but from a strong middle class.  That means having a good job that pays a good wage; a home to call your own; health care, retirement savings that are there when you need them; a good education for your kids so that they can do even better than you did.

And that’s why -- for months -- I’ve been calling on Congress to pass several common-sense ideas that will have an immediate impact on the economic security of American families.  I’m pleased that they’ve finally acted.  And the bill I’m about to sign will accomplish two ideas that are very important for the American people.

First of all, this bill will keep thousands of construction workers on the job rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.  Second, this bill will keep interest rates on federal student loans from doubling this year -- which would have hit nearly 7.5 million students with an average of a thousand dollars more on their loan payments.

These steps will make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans -- some of whom are standing with us here today.  But make no mistake -- we’ve got a lot more to do.  The construction industry, for example, was hit brutally hard when the housing bubble burst.  So it’s not enough just to keep construction workers on the job doing projects that were already underway.  We've got Mayor Villaraigosa and Governor O'Malley here as representatives of organizations of mayors and governors who know how desperate we need to do some of this work.

And for months, I’ve been calling on Congress to take half the money we’re no longer spending on war and use it to do some nation-building here at home.  There’s work to be done building roads and bridges and wireless networks.  There are hundreds of thousands of construction workers that are ready to do it.

The same thing is true for our students.  The bill I’m about to sign is vital for millions of students and their families.  But it’s not enough just to keep interest rates from doubling.

I've asked Congress to reform and expand the financial aid that’s offered to students.  And I’ve been asking them to help us give 2 million Americans the opportunity to learn the skills that businesses in their areas are looking for right now through partnerships between community colleges and employers.

In today’s economy, a higher education is the surest path to finding a good job and earning a good salary, and making it into the middle class.  So it can't be a luxury reserved for just a privileged few.  It’s an economic necessity that every American family should be able to afford.

So this is an outstanding piece of business.  And I'm very appreciative of the hard work that Congress has done on it.  My hope is, is that this bipartisan spirit spills over into the next phase, that we can start putting more construction workers back to work -- not just those that were already on existing projects who were threatened to be laid off, but also getting some new projects done that are vitally important to communities all across the nation and that will improve our economy, as well as making sure that now that we've prevented a doubling of student loan rates, we actually start doing more to reduce the debt burden that our young people are experiencing.

I want to thank all the Americans -- the young or the young at heart -- who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an email or make a phone call or send a tweet, hoping that your voice would be heard on these issues.  I promise you, your voices have been heard.  Any of you who believed your voice could make a difference -- I want to reaffirm your belief.  You made this happen.

So I’m very pleased that Congress got this done.  I’m grateful to members of both parties who came together and put the interests of the American people first.  And my message to Congress is what I've been saying for months now -- let's keep going.  Let's keep moving forward.  Let's keep finding ways to work together to grow the economy and to help put more folks back to work.  There is no excuse for inaction when there are so many Americans still trying to get back on their feet.

With that, let me sign this bill.  And let's make sure that we are keeping folks on the job and we're keeping our students in school.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)


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Transportation Nation

Sen. Boxer Shines Sun on Transportation Bill Talks

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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

(Washington, D.C.) Striking a decidedly feel-good tone on transportation legislation Wednesday, Democrats' chief negotiator painted herself optimistic about the chances of a House - Senate agreement before July 4th.

"I'm feeling good," Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Boxer praised talks with Republicans--and even the Republicans themselves--for steady progress. She's leading final House-Senate conference negotiations over surface transportation legislation that expires June 30th.

"I welcome a change of heart on behalf of Republicans that I feel we have now," Boxer said. She was referring to the basics of a 2-year, $109 billion Senate bill that passed with 74 bipartisan votes in March.

Boxer said both she and chief GOP negotiator Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) agree on the desirability of a bill of even longer duration than the Senate bill. But therein lies the difficulty.While Boxer says that 80% of her EPW bill is already agreed to, that bill does not include some of the most contentious issues.

"I don't have any sicking points to share with you today," Boxer said. Even if the senator isn't sharing, that doesn't mean that sticking points aren't present.

How to pay for spending in the bill is a key issue with House conservatives, and one that aides say is not yet solved. So are the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a GOP demand to roll back EPA coal ash regulations, spending on bike lanes, parks and other so-called transportation "enhancements," and other issues.

Boxer said she spoke to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by phone Tuesday about the conference and that she was encouraged by the chat. Boehner released a statement saying he was “hopeful that the negotiators can complete work on a conference agreement that includes Keystone and other energy measures to address high gas prices and create jobs."

The statement went on to say Boehner expects "meaningful infrastructure reforms that ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently on roads and bridges across this country.”

"I there's a lot more than three or four or two hard issues," Boxer said. Last week House Republicans voted to demand the conference return and approve the Keystone pipeline. Boxer dismissed the importance of the vote as routine but added that discussions had begun on contentious areas like Keystone.


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Transportation Nation

Historian David McCullough on What the Brooklyn Bridge Says About Politics Today

Monday, May 21, 2012

Photo: Anna Sale/WNYC

(New York, NY -- Anna Sale, It's a Free Country.Org) “Don’t you think this is a wonderful thing to walk across this bridge!”

Historian David McCullough has had a lot of honors in his career – two Pulitzers, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and just this week a gold medal for biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters – but he still gets that thrill crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

(To hear David McCullough speak on the bridge, click here.)

On a bustling, bright morning this week, the 78 year-old and I started walking over from Manhattan. He is re-releasing a 40th anniversary edition of his 600-page history, The Great Bridge: the Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Every few minutes, he pauses to command “Look at this!” with a sweeping gesture of his hand.

“I can never get over it,” he said. “How did they do it? I still ask myself, how did they do it?”

Work began on the bridge in 1869, four years after the end of the Civil War, “in a day when every piece of steel, every stone had to be brought to the site by horse and wagon,” McCullough notes. When the bridge opened years later, in 1883. The towers were then the highest structures in New York City. It was the world’s longest suspension bridge, and the first time steel cables were used.

Also new were the underwater caissons – wooden boxes filled with air – that allowed workers to anchor the stone towers deep into the uneven riverbed.

“All new technology, innovating, improvising as they went along.” The sense of awe hasn’t faded. “Who are those guys, in other words, they’re really good!”

McCullough’s book, tells the history of these really good guys. There were the legions of workers from all over the world who built it.

Designer John Roebling, “the suspension bridge genius,” had proven a bridge could hang on steel cables by building a smaller version in Cincinnati. “He wanted this to be two great gateways to two great cities,” McCullough exclaimed at the foot of the first tower.

Roebling died unexpectedly before construction started, leaving his son, Washington Roebling, to take over. But he had a debilitating injury, so his wife Emily supervised day-to-day operations.

The federal government didn’t decide to build the bridge. New York City and Brooklyn did. Manhattan was bursting, and needed to grow across the river. Lining up in support were businesspeople, the press, and politicians — including Boss Tweed, the political boss who was at all the height of his power.

“I’m sure there were doubters, I’m sure there were cheapskates – but no, it was a chance to do it, and the benefits, the profit was so enormous. And it would’ve been sheer ignorance not to have done it.”

When McCullough’s book came out in 1972, just as Nixon’s New Federalism was scaling back the ambitious federal infrastructure programs of the Johnson era.

Forty years ago, McCullough said he viewed the book as history, without any particular  resonance to the politics of the day. Now, it’s different.

“The gilded age is about as rotten and greedy and corrupt as conscience-less as one can imagine – does that sound familiar?"

McCullough admits that today, he’d like to go to Washington and “knock their heads together” and tell them to stop being “selfish and stupid.”

Putting off regular infrastructure maintenance particularly sticks in his craw. The massive Transportation Bill which pays for bridges, road and transit, expired three years ago. The Senate and House haven't been able to agree, and instead, have passed short-term extensions nine times.

“It’s a form of indebtedness and we have to stop it because it’s dangerous as can be, he said, adding with an incredulous laugh. “And it’s how we get around. It’s how we function. It’s not theoretical!”

But McCullough stressed, neither novel nor really what endures. Studying history, he said, creates an cynic in the short-term and an optimist in the long-term.

"Even in the most dark or rotten of eras, great things can be done by exceptional people of integrity. That's really the story of this bridge." McCullough said as we reached the the other side in Brooklyn. "What we build, will very often stand down the ages as testimony to who we were, far more clearly and far more powerfully, than the politicians that come and go.”


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Transportation Nation

For Montanans, Federal Highway Bill Hits Home

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Senator Max Baucus (in orange helmet) at an oil well drill site near Culbertson, MT earlier in 2012

For Senator Max Baucus, the transportation bill's benefits to his home state boil down to this: jobs.

The bipartisan conference committee charged with finding a federal transportation bill compromise between the Senate and the House versions held its first official meeting yesterday.

“Construction season has started,” Baucus says. “14,000 Montana jobs and 1.6 million jobs across America depend on this highway bill.”

He says the Senate reauthorization bill doesn’t add to the federal deficit, keeps the Highway Trust Fund Solvent, and institutes reforms.

Baucus also chairs the Senate Environment and Public Work’s (EPW) Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is the ranking Republican on EPW. He says as one of the most conservative members of Congress he’s a supporter of investing in infrastructure.

“On issues like national security and infrastructure I’m a big spender,” he says. “That’s what I think we’re supposed to be doing here.”

Inhofe says simply passing extensions of the current legislation throws away money that would otherwise pay for infrastructure projects.

The Republican controlled U-S House passed the most recent extension. One of the sticking points has been over the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would transport oil from Canada’s tar sand fields to refineries along the U-S Gulf coast. It would also transport oil from the Bakken Oil fields in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.

Senator John Hoven, R-ND, says support for the Keystone XL has been bipartisan. He adds without the pipeline, oil producers are relying instead on 500 semis a day to transport Bakken crude.

“And we want to send 100,000 barrels of oil to market,” he says. He says those 500 trucks a day are destroying roads, “and creating a real safety issue for our people.”

“My hope is the House Republicans will not hold the entire country’s transportation infrastructure hostage over these extraneous provisions,” Waxman says. “Let’s not jeopardize this opportunity to create jobs with ill conceived, anti-environmental amendments.”

There are 47 members on the bipartisan Surface Transportation Conference Committee. Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, is the chair. U-S Representative John Mica, R-FL, is the vice chair.

The current extension expires June 30, 2012.


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Transportation Nation

Ray LaHood: 50 Years Ago, JFK Talked Transit

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Really interesting post from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today on his fast lane blog, which we're reprinting here, in it's entirety.

LaHood is using the post to push Congress to pass an actual transportation bill, but still, history buffs, have a look.

(Text and photos from US DOT)

Here you go:

A lot changes in 50 years.  In 1962, the U.S. population was 186.5 million, compared to today's 311.6 million, and a gallon of milk cost only 49 cents.

One thing that has not changed, however, is our country's need for good transportation.


In fact, on this day 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy wrote a Special Message to Congress on Transportation, and his message is as relevant today as it was in 1962:  "An efficient and dynamic transportation system is vital to our domestic economic growth. Affecting the cost of every commodity we consume or export, it is equally vital to our ability to compete abroad."

1960s congestionIn 1962, a mix of inconsistent and obsolete policy threatened the transportation system of the day.  As President Kennedy said, "This patchwork does not fully reflect either the dramatic changes in technology of the past half-century or the parallel changes in the structure of competition."

In the half-century that has passed since that moment, another patchwork has emerged in the form of transportation extensions rather than a long-term solution.

President Kennedy understood that passing a national transportation plan would be no simple matter for Congress, even in 1962, but he urged legislators to persevere: "If direct and decisive action is not taken in the near future, the undesirable developments, inefficiencies, inequities, and other undesirable conditions that confront us now will cause permanent loss of essential services or require even more difficult and costly solutions in the not-too-distant future."

One of the most interesting aspects of President Kennedy's 1962 letter is its special emphasis on public transit: “The program I have proposed is aimed at the widely varying transit problems of our Nation's cities, ranging from the clogged arteries of our most populous metropolitan areas to those smaller cities which have only recently known the frustrations of congested streets.”1960s transit

And for the first time, President Kennedy offered the basis for long-term public transit funding: "Only a program that offers substantial support and continuity of Federal participation can induce our urban regions to organize appropriate administrative arrangements and to meet their share of the costs of fully balanced transportation systems.”

It took 20 years, but in 1982 President Ronald Reagan signed into law a transportation plan--passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress--that added a dedicated transit account to our gasoline tax. This wasn't without an effort on President Reagan's part; to shepherd the bill through Congress, he had to end a Senate filibuster from his own party.

President Reagan signs Surface Transportation Act of 1982

President Reagan's words upon signing this plan also remain relevant 30 years later: "Because of the prompt and bipartisan action of Congress, we can now ensure for our children a special part of their heritage -- a network of highways and mass transit that has enabled our commerce to thrive, our country to grow, and our people to roam freely and easily to every corner of our land."

American transportation--from roadways to runways and transit to tugboats--has benefited from a long history of bipartisanship. Unfortunately, today's Congress can no longer find its way to keep our national quilt stitched together.

And we find our infrastructure in a position that President Reagan understood was unacceptable: "Common sense tells us that it will cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it disintegrate and have to start over from scratch. Clearly this program is an investment in tomorrow that we must make today."

We've got work that needs to be done; we've got workers ready to do it. If we want to keep this country moving forward, it's time to put aside partisanship on transportation.


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Transportation Nation

LaHood: America is "One Big Pothole"

Monday, March 19, 2012

L to R at Hoboken Station: US Transpo Secty Ray LaHood, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, Hoboken Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason (Photo: Jim O'Grady / WNYC)

(Hoboken, NJ -- WNYC) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Hoboken Train Station to make a full-throated cry for Congress to pass the Senate's version of the federal surface transportation bill.

LaHood said the House version of the bill is inferior to the one just passed with 72 votes by the U.S. Senate, which he claimed would provide an annual $1 billion investment in roads and transit, fully restore the transit tax benefit and employ 54,000 workers in New Jersey.

LaHood called on Congressional Republican leaders to act quickly. "Speaker [John] Boehner, take the Senate bill," LaHood said himself a former Republican congressman, adding that the bill would pay for crucial road repairs.

"America is one big pothole," LaHood said. "We need this."

Flanking the secretary were Democratic elected officials from New Jersey. One of them, Senator Frank Lautenberg, challenged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to convince his fellow Republicans to back the Senate bill.

"Governor Christie, don't be afraid," Lautenberg said. "Tell House Republicans to back away from the extreme Tea Party ideology and pass the Senate transportation bill."

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The Takeaway

Transportation Bill Fight Reflects Party Divide

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Senate voted yesterday to overhaul transportation programs and keep aid flowing to thousands of construction projects while strengthening highway and auto safety. Todd Zwillich gives the nuts and bolts of the transportation bill and explains the politics behind its delay.  


Transportation Nation

Senate Passes Transportation Bill, 74-22

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Senators James Inhofe and Barbara Boxer (photo by EPWChairBoxer viaFlickr)

UPDATED Years late, and much smaller than once envisioned, the Senate has passed its version of a two-year $109 billion transportation bill by a wide, bi-partisan majority.

The move puts pressure on the House to approve a bill with only weeks to go before highway authorization runs out.

Lawmakers passed the two-year, $109 billion bill in a 74-22 bipartisan vote. All lawmakers who voted against the bill were Republicans, while 22 other GOP members voted 'yes'.

Passage came after weeks of wrangling on the Senate floor, largely over unrelated, and in many cases, politically-charged issues. But progress accelerated earlier this week when party leaders reached agreement on amendments to the bill. That cleared the way for Wednesday's bipartisan vote.

The vote increases pressure on House Republicans, who have been unable to rally support for their own version of the bill. A larger, 5-year, $260 billion package faltered last month when it became clear Republicans could not muster the votes to pass it. That's sent Republicans  back into negotiations to find an alternative. Current highway authorization, including the collection of the 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax, expires March 31.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that he would put the Senate bill, or one similar to it, up for a House vote if Republicans there did not soon reach agreement on how to pass their preferred 5-year version.

"We are all working together toward coalescing around a longer-term approach with needed reforms," Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steele, said Wednesday. "If we can’t get there, we may have to take up something like the Senate bill – but we’d prefer to take the responsible approach on this and get a longer term bill through the House.”

On Wednesday that agreement seemed no closer to being reached. And that raises a question of whether Republican leaders can find 218 votes to pass their own version of a highway bill, especially after a broad bipartisan Senate vote and a ticking legislative clock.

"They could get to 218 with our bill, and they should do it," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee and one of the bill's main sponsors. "You can't say it's too contentious because we've proven that it's not," she said.

Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the senior Republican sponsor of the bill, said the bill should appeal to GOP lawmakers because it streamlines several government programs and speeds environmental reviews of federally funded road projects.

"A conservative, in my opinion, should be a big spender in two areas: National defense and infrastructure," Inhofe told reporters.

The White House also praised the bill on Wednesday and put pressure on House Republicans to take up the bill when the body returns from a recess next week. "We are hopeful that the House will move swiftly and in similarly bipartisan," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Secretary Ray LaHood, an outspoken critic of the House bill, also spoke highly of the bill:  “Today's passage of the Senate transportation bill shows what Congress is capable of when they work together in a bipartisan manner.  Thanks to the leadership of Senators Boxer and Inhofe, working with their colleagues from the Banking, Commerce and Finance Committees, states are one step closer to putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, transit systems and railways.

"Like President Obama's transportation proposal, this bill would relieve congestion on our roads, expand our transit and rails systems, and provide Americans with safe, affordable ways to reach their destinations when gas prices are high.  I hope that the House will follow their lead in passing a bipartisan transportation bill.”

The bill also received praise from transportation advocates who have been pushing for transit, biking, walking, and denser development.

Among other provisions, the bill restores a tax benefit for transit commuters to $240 a month, pre-tax.  That benefit had been slashed to $125 a month as of January after a failure to act to extend the bill.

“The Senate today has done the nation a great service in overcoming partisan gridlock to help Americans avoid literal gridlock," said Transportation for America Director James Corless.  "The bill that makes important policy strides even as it maintains funding levels necessary to preserve and expand our transportation infrastructure."

The bill extends the commuter benefit for transit users, makes feeral funds available for bike and pedestrian projects, and include emergency provisions to allow transit agencies to avoid service cuts and fare hikes.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich




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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Boehner Says GOP Panning 18-Month Transpo Bill

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

UPDATED WITH BOEHNER COMMENTS House Republican leaders have arrived at an 18-month highway bill they hope can replace a much broader five-year bill that faltered earlier this month, according to lawmakers and aides.

But speaking Thursday morning, House Speaker John Boehner says the 18-month option was falling flat with members of congress.  ""Apparently our members don't think too highly of it," Boehner said of attempts to sell the shorter bill to the House majority. ""I would only think of it as a fall-back measure."

Boehner said leadership is still trying to work on a 5-year bill.

The 18-month bill would reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund into mid-2013, and also reconnects federal transit funding to the trust fund. Disconnecting the two proved contentious in the 5-year bill and caused several Republicans in transit-heavy districts to revolt.

The shorter bill would  also glean about $40 billion from new cuts to federal worker pensions, a move guaranteed to enrage Democrats, especially since the figure appears to be much larger than a $10 billion estimated gap in the bill for the Highway Trust Fund.

The rest of the bill's policies remain largely the same to the 5-year bill that was scuttled when conservatives also rejected it because of its $260 billion price tag. Republicans do not yet have a total cost figure for the 18-month bill, an aide said.

Republican members were polled for their support while on the House floor Wednesday evening, according to Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), a moderate and GOP point person on transportation. "They're going to try to jam it," he said. "They went backward because that's what the conservatives said they wanted," LaTourette told Transportation Nation.

A Republican leadership aide confirmed the details of the new bill and said it could be on the House floor as early as next week.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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Transportation Nation

New Fears Over Revamped Transportation Bill

Friday, February 24, 2012

(photo by Flickr user: IceNineJon)

A federal transportation bill that threatened to cut billions from mass transit budgets around the country has been scrapped.  But as lawmakers return from a congressional recess, new fears are emerging about what will replace that bill.

Republican leaders say they are revamping  the $260-billion dollar bill after an outcry from colleagues.  The bill included a provision that would have funded public transit with a one time grant, instead of through the federal gasoline tax.

Robert Healy with the American Public Transportation Association spoke with staff members on Capital Hill about the bill on Friday.  He said the Transportation Committee is retooling the bill.  “They are considering continuing the current structure of the Highway Trust Fund as it refers to mass transit, and that’s great, but they’re also considering a shorter term bill,” said Healy.  He worried that the new bill would reduce mass transit funding on an annual basis.  Healy said that could upend many mass transit systems around the nation struggling to maintain service and keep up with repairs.

In New York, the initial legislation would have cut $1- billion dollars from New York's mass transit budget.  Several GOP Congressman, including Bob Turner (NY-09) split with party leadership over the bill, and would not support it.  “There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future of the transportation bill. However, I will not support any bill that does not sufficiently address the unique transportation needs of New York,” said Turner.

Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-08) has been an outspoken opponent of the  Transportation bill.  He said he’s encouraged by reports that House Republicans have backed off their initial version of the legislation.  But he's still not satisfied that the revamped bill will protect mass transit.  “Even with the proposed fix to transit, I remain concerned about many other aspects of this bill,” said Nadler.

The bill had also called for widely deregulating domestic oil drilling and cut funds for biking and pedestrian infrastructure.  House leaders are expected to formally unveil their new plan after the House returns from a week-long recess.


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Transportation Nation

Transit Officials Offer New Reason to Oppose HR7: Bond Ratings

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user quinn.anya)

Public transit officials are using the congressional recess to regroup in their battle against a Republican-backed House transportation bill. And the new voices joining the choir of transit-focused opposition to HR7 are bringing new lines of argument against the legislation.

On Wednesday, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), rallied seven public transit officials from across the country, including heads of transit agencies in New York City, Washington D.C., Seattle, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio and Philadelphia.

The most vocal opposition to the bill has been in defense of transit funding. As written HR7 would stop funding mass transit through a federal gasoline tax for the first time in about three decades. Instead it would provide mass transit with a one time grant that would need to be approved by Congress each year to be extended.

The transit agency heads pointed out, that wasn't the only funding problem the bill would cause. The bill would also make it more difficult to obtain future bond issues for planned projects.

SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey told reporters on the conference call that HR7 would make it harder for Philadelphia to secure bonds for future projects.  The city's transit system uses the federal funds to finance major construction projects, like issuing bonds to purchase rail cars, something San Francisco is now considering with a price tag in the billions of dollars.

Of Philadelphia's project, Casey said, "I've already been told by the bonding agency that the rating on those bonds will be reduced from A1 to a BBB."  Casey said two point reduction would dramatically increase the cost to carry the current bonds, as well as to issue new bonds for future projects.

Opponents of the House transportation bill also fear the it would introduce great uncertainty into the public transit system funding process, because there would be no automatic annual appropriation.

The bill's author, Representative John Mica (R-Fla), maintains that opposition to the bill is based on the fact that there fewer earmarks for pet projects than there were in past transportation funding bills. He added that dedicating all of the gas tax to highways and roads is a preferable way to ensure their maintenance, while states can still choose to fund transit as they wish.  Proponents said that the highway tax should not pay the bill for mass transit.

Congress is expected to take up the bill some time next week, after it returns from recess.

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Transportation Nation

AUDIO: Mica's Constituents in the Dark About HR7

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida


(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

TN MOVING STORIES: Ray LaHood Talks Transpo on The Takeaway, Made in America's Unintended Consequences

Friday, February 17, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Adele Has It All: 6 Grammys…And a Great Bike (link)
Study: Teen Driving Deaths Up After 8 Years of Decline (link)
House Transpo Bill Stalled In a Frenzy of Fingerpointing (link)
Houston Loop Project Moves to Next Phase (link)
Feds Pitch First-Ever Distracted Driving Guidelines For Automakers (link)
Boehner: ‘Fundamental Change’ Means This Bill Stays in GOP Territory (link)

San Francisco bus (photo by jonathanpercy via flickr)

U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood talked about the deadlocked transportation bill on The Takeaway.

Enforcer buses: by early next year San Francisco's entire fleet of 819 buses will be equipped with forward-facing cameras that take pictures of cars traveling or parked in the bus and transit-only lanes. (Atlantic Cities)

Opinion: the transpo bill is a backlash against the Obama Administration's "cluelessness about the difference between national transportation policy and urban transport policy." (Politico)

The unintended consequences of "Made in America:" Boeing -- a U.S. airplane manufacturer -- is selling its planes to foreign airlines, which are then taking over routes previously pioneered by U.S. carriers. (Washington Post)

Nevada --where Google test-drives its robotic cars -- is becoming the first state to create a licensing system for self-driving cars. (NPR)

Any consumer savings from the payroll tax cut will probably be erased by higher gas prices. (Marketplace)

A routine repair project on a California highway went awry -- and has turned into a full-fledged scandal. (Los Angeles Times)

High-speed taxiways  -- designed to get jets off runways faster -- are coming to Newark airport. (Asbury Park Press)

Bike share is coming to Austin's SXSW. (Bike World News)

Want one of the wooden benches NYC is phasing out of the subway system? It can be yours for a mere $650. (New York Daily News)

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The Takeaway

Ray Lahood on Deadlocked Transportation Bill

Friday, February 17, 2012

Transportation bills usually get a free ride through Congress — they create jobs and maintain the country's infrastructure. But the recent House five-year, $260 transportation bill would be funded by new drilling projects, and reigniting partisan divides between the two parties. What is the future of a comprehensive approach on transportation? President Obama's secretary of transportation joins us for a discussion.


Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: White House Threatens Transpo Bill Veto, NY Seeks Tappan Zee Loan

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top stories on TN:
NY City Council Summons Police on Traffic Crime Investigations (Link)
Transpo Bills Set Off on A Long, Bumpy Road (Link)
NY MTA Chief Apologizes for Rat Comments (Link)
DOT Head Ray LaHood Takes Another Whack At House Transpo Bill: It “Takes Us Back to the Horse and Buggy Era” (Link)
Brooklyn Bike Lane Lawsuit Rolls into 2012 (Link)
New York Senate Votes to Restore a Tax Break for Transit Riders (Link)
USDOT: On Time Airline Arrival Highest in 17 Years (Link)
Regulators Soon To Release Reports On Yellowstone River Pipeline Break And Oil Spill (Link)

An aerial view of the George Washington Bridge (photo courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

New York has asked the federal government for a $2 billion loan to help finance the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement. (Bloomberg)

The White House is threatening to veto the House transportation bill. (Politico, The Hill)

And now transportation sits firmly atop the political agenda. (AP via Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

The Port Authority will spend half a billion dollars to renovate the George Washington Bridge. (

Nine New York city cyclist deaths that raise questions. (MetroFocus)

A New York law cracking down on distracted driving has generated nearly 119,000 tickets statewide to motorists using their cell phones or texting while driving since July. (New York Daily News)

The green paint used in Los Angeles' bike lanes is not digitally erasable -- causing some film crews to have to relocate to bike lane-free streets. (Los Angeles Times)

Chicago's transit agency wants customers to know that its survey about "hypothetical fare scenarios" doesn't mean that it's hiking fares. (Chicago Tribune)

A group of bus companies is suing New York after the city's Department of Transportation gave Megabus a free spot outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal. (DNA Info)

Australia pours money into its car industry while slapping huge tariffs on used cars...but some are arguing for the New Zealand model, where second-hand cars are much cheaper.  (The Global Mail)

DC's Capital Bikeshare has hit 1.5 million trips -- in less than a year and a half of operation. (TBD)

New York is phasing in new benches in its subway system. Goodbye, wood; hello stainless! (New York Daily News)


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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Fuel Economy Up, Bipartisan Hatred of House Transpo Bill, and NY MTA Head: No Subway Food Ban

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top stories on TN:
LaHood Heaps More Criticism on “Lousy” House Transpo Bill (Link)
President’s Budget: High Speed Rail, Fixing Roads & Bridges, Complete Streets, TIGER Grants (Link)
Biodiesel Producers Push to Raise Federal Production Limits (Link)
Two More Ex-Governors Say Port Authority Has Long History of Problems (Link)

(photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr)

The current head of the MTA won't support a ban on eating in the subway. (New York Times)

Meanwhile, Lee Sander -- a former MTA head -- grilled Eric Cantor about the House transportation bill. (Capital New York)

The fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the U.S. last month hit a record high. (Detroit Free Press)

Chicago politicians discover bipartisanship when it comes to opposing the House transportation bill. “When we look at transportation infrastructure, this is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s an American issue,’’ said one Republican. (Chicago Tribune)

New York State says it erred when it invited community members to a briefing about the Tappan Zee Bridge; transit advocates say disinviting them is par for the course. "All the decisions have already been made behind closed doors," said one. (The Times Herald Record)

Color wars: officials in Minneapolis-St. Paul can't agree on the color scheme for its new bus rapid transit system. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

NJ Transit has released its latest customer satisfaction survey, and the results remain consistent: riders feel that the level of service is just barely acceptable. (Times of Trenton)

And Happy Valentine's Day, TN readers! Two links of love:
Why are so many romantic comedies set in cities? "Love can happen anywhere, anytime...(but) the odds are much higher in nature or in a walkable city neighborhood (or both at the same time!) than in sprawl, or while driving in traffic." (Atlantic Cities)
And a special treat for New Yorkers: did your eyes lock -- just as the C train was pulling out of the station? Did a tall, handsome stranger help you navigate the weekend subway work? Find your 'Missed Connection' tonight at the New York Transit Museum.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill, Tappan Zee, and Cracked Metro Rails

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Top stories on TN:
US Chamber of Commerce: House transit cuts could pass (link)
Crossing Delancey Street will soon get safer (link)
LaHood says high-speed rail in California is all about jobs (link)
FTA head Peter Rogoff joins list of officials who hate the transportation bill (link)
Photo: the ugliest rat (link)

DC Metro Station (photo by Jill Robidoux)

TN's Andrea Bernstein talks about the House's transit cuts on this morning's Brian Lehrer Show. (WNYC)

A New York Times editorial provides a "brief and by no means exhaustive list of the (transportation) bill's many defects"; calls it "uniquely terrible." (New York Times)

And: NYT critic: move Madison Square Garden to far west side to fix Penn Station. (New York Times)

A TSA program that pre-clears passengers --and lets them keep their shoes on while being screened by airport security -- is being expanded to more airports. (Star-Ledger, The Hill)

California labor groups are running ads that hammer home U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood's message that high-speed rail=jobs. (Sacramento Bee)

Pennsylvania's governor didn't budget for transportation because its problems are too overwhelming. "This is not a budget item. It is too large for that. Transportation must be confronted as its own distinct and separate topic." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

A German carpooling website plans to enter the U.S. market. “We think all trips by car could be shared,” says the founder. “Whenever you want to go with your car, you could take people with you, and therefore reduce carbon emissions and your costs.” Everybody say Mitfahrgelegenheit! (The World)

The four consortiums picked to bid on New York's Tappan Zee Bridge rebuild include some of the world's most successful construction companies -- and some with histories of delays and millions of dollars in cost overruns. (Journal News)

Why is there an uptick of cracked rails on the DC Metro? (Washington Post)

A pair of lawmakers from New York and New Jersey are pushing legislation to roll back last summer's Port Authority toll and fare hikes. (Star-Ledger)

Manhattan's Hudson Square neighborhood sees bike boom, installs more racks. (DNA Info)

Megabus is moving its Manhattan pickup site -- and doesn't have to pay rent. (DNA Info)

A map that replaces London Underground station names with anagrams is getting second life. You can get from Arcadian Noodle to Satan Dew, and you don't even have to transfer at Mind Eel!

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Transportation Nation

Rogoff Slams House Transportation Bill

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff issued a sharply-worded statement today against the House version of the transportation bill, calling it "a huge step backward" and a "misguided bill."

Coupled with Secretary Ray LaHood's comments, where he called the bill "the most partisan ever," the statement represents one of the Obama Administration's most pugilistic stances to date. Here's the full statement:

“The House Majority’s approach eliminates a guaranteed funding source for mass transit that has been in place since the Reagan Administration and represents a huge step backward from a balanced transportation policy. The bill takes away billions of dollars that have already been collected solely for mass transit, impacting every American that rides a bus, or a train, or uses a paratransit van to get to work, school, or medical appointments each day.

“The House Majority proposal subjects all future Federal transit funding to partisan, controversial and unworkable funding schemes.  Meanwhile, the Senate has found a way to fund the needs of transit and highways in a bipartisan, non-controversial way.  There are no Democratic or Republican buses or rail systems. We can only hope that the House will follow the Senate’s bipartisan lead and fix this misguided bill.”

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill a "Legislative Train Wreck," California Restores School Bus Funds, NJ Pols Want To Rein In Port Authority

Friday, February 03, 2012

Top stories on TN: New York's MTA announced the winners of its app contest. The MTA and the transit workers union formally resumed contract talks -- but not without some controversy. Efforts to preserve the surface transportation bill's  dedicated bike/pedestrian funding failed yesterday. U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood hates the bill. Senator Harry Reid says next week will be a big one for transportation. And: an expert in infrastructure financing has been tapped to head the California High Speed Rail Authority.

(photo by Patricia Towne via flickr)

Yesterday's markup of the five year, $260 billion surface transportation bill lasted 18 hours. Congresswoman Corrine Brown: "This has been the worst day of my life...This is the worst bill I have ever seen." (Politico)'

And: the bill's truck weight increase was killed. (The Hill)

Los Angeles Times on transpo bill: It's a "legislative train wreck."

And: the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled today to debate and vote on ending the 30-year policy of devoting 2.86 cents of the 18.4- cent gasoline tax paid by U.S. motorists to public transportation. "The money would instead go toward keeping a U.S. account for road and bridge construction solvent." (Bloomberg)

Meanwhile, after four years of wrangling and one shutdown, the FAA will soon get a bill of its own (NPR). Tweet from  the AP's Joan Lowy: "What will aviation lobbyists do now?"

In other news...when will New York State release the names of the bidders for the Tappan Zee Bridge project? (Wall Street Journal)

NJ lawmakers -- still fuming over last year's toll hike -- released four bills from committee intended to rein in and open up the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (Star-Ledger)

California's legislature restored $248 million for school bus transportation that was particularly crucial for small and rural school districts. (Los Angeles Times)

Madison's buses set a ridership record in 2011. (Wisconsin State Journal)

Is there a NYC ticket blitz? (NY Times)

Carjackings in Newark rose for the third straight year in 2011. (Star-Ledger)

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