U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood

Transportation Nation

Object Lesson: How Sequestration Could Affect Small Airports

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chocks Away- business jet traffic at Kissimmee Gateway Airport could suffer if the control tower closes (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Budget cuts brought about by sequestration could force the closure of more than 100 air traffic control facilities  -- including control towers at smaller airports across the US.

Kissimmee Gateway Airport, which is just outside of Orlando, is on the list of towers which could be shut down April 7th. City leaders say that would put the brakes on one of the main economic drivers in the area.

“It’s an economic engine, not only necessarily because of what happens on the field, but also what happens adjacent to it," says Mayor Jim Swan. He says the economic impact of the airport is estimated around $100 million a year. Swan says losing the tower will make it  tough to market a $3.2 million dollar business airpark  which is being built with state and local funds.

A large part of the airport’s traffic includes business jets bringing people to functions at nearby Disney World and conventions on Orlando's International Drive.

Last year the airport saw 129,000 departures and landings from a mix of business jets, and propeller planes. Aviation director Terry Lloyd says losing the control tower- which is operated under a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration- could decrease flights to under 100,000 a year.

"I think it's something that we have a lot of dread [about], and there are a lot of unknowns," he says.

He says having a tower to help manage traffic makes Kissimmee a more attractive destination for business jets.

"The corporate traffic- that's kind of on the top of their checklist, if there's an airport with a tower, that's where they go," he says. "And then if there's not a tower they make a decision- is it important enough for us to go in there, and a lot of it's driven by the aircraft insurance companies."

Aircraft operators also have fuel agreements at airports - like Kissimmee- that guarantee the price of aviation fuel if they land there.  Lloyd says those agreements could also be jeopardized by the loss of the tower.

Other airport users say they're concerned about safety. John Calla, vice president of operations for Italico Aviation--  a company that plans to import and assemble light sport aircraft at Kissimmee -- says he's worried about the mix of traffic if there's no tower. "You see the jets that take off here and the speed they operate," says Calla. "You get a smaller aircraft that's used to flying about 60 miles per hour, integrating with something of that size, and you could get some conflicts.

Calla says the tower is important to separate and sequence the arrival and departure of planes. "They know the speed of the aircraft and they know how much to sequence it so traffic flow is not impaired. It also improves the safety as well."

Florida Congressman Alan Grayson has written to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the FAA urging them to consider the impact of closing the tower.




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Transportation Nation

Outgoing MWAA Board Member: Virginia's Funding of Silver Line "A Disgrace"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dennis Martire (photo courtesy of LiUNA)

Dennis Martire and the agency he worked for would be paid little attention – if not for the responsibility running one of the largest public transportation projects in the country: the Silver Line Metro rail to Dulles International Airport.

Wednesday morning Martire officially resigned from his position as a member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) after months of criticism directed from high places at both his professional behavior and the conduct of the airports authority itself.

In his first interview since settling a costly legal dispute with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's administration and agreeing to resign, Martire -- a high-ranking official with the labor union LiUNA -- defended the agency’s record and denied any wrongdoing.

‘We have a policy that allows us to go to airport conferences.  It’s not like we pull out a globe, spin it, and say 'we’re going here today,'” Martire said.

A Washington Post editorial in May accused Martire of spending more than “$38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011,” including a nine-day trip to attend a 36-hour conference in Sardinia.

“It was a three-day trip [the editorial board] made into a nine-day trip.  The conference was only three days.  I flew from there to somewhere else on my dime, not on MWAA’s dime,” he said.

In August, the federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent MWAA a letter expressing outrage at “ongoing reports describing questionable dealings including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members.” MWAA (pronounced "em-wah") has publicized reforms of its spending, travel, and contracting practices, but Martire believes the board of directors and the agency’s leadership allowed their opponents to turn such issues into a distraction from MWAA’s stewardship of the Silver Line.

“The airports authority has handled this project remarkably well,” said Martire, who said a project labor agreement (PLA) -- a pro-union provision voluntarily undertaken by the prime contractor in the Silver Line’s Phase 1 construction -- kept the project on-time, on-budget, and with a strong record of worker safety.

“Compared to other major infrastructure projects in northern Virginia like the Springfield interchange or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, it’s a model project. Those projects were all hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.  The taxpayer is the one who has to eat that money,” he said.

Martire said “it’s a disgrace” that the state of Virginia has provided only $150 million dollars for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which has an estimated price tag of $3 billion, and he urged the federal government to provide additional funding to bring down the projected toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road.  Under the current financing arrangement, those tolls will cover 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs.  A full, round-trip toll would rise to $9 in 2015 under current MWAA projections.

“You’re going to have rail to Dulles and beyond, but the tolls are still my major concern. This could be a boondoggle if it’s built out there with $10 tolls,” Martire said.

Martire also shrugged off criticism for supporting the use of a non-voluntary PLA in planning process for Phase 2, accusing its critics of opposing organized labor.

“I do work for a labor union,” Martire said. “There’s no doubt that the governor of Virginia and Congressman [Frank] Wolf, both Republicans, do not like labor.  They don’t like what labor stands for.”

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Transportation Nation

Feds Hand Out $25 Million for Transit Planning

Monday, March 12, 2012

The U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, is making a pair of speeches today on transit -- one at the American Public Transportation Association, one at the National League of Cities. To coincide with that he's announcing $25 million to plan future transit.

Here's the release:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the availability of approximately $25 million in competitive funding grants to help communities take their first steps in planning future transit options to better connect people to where they live, work and play.

“President Obama challenged us to build an economy that works for everyone, and the tremendous demand for more transit service across America shows how much communities want alternative ways to get to work, school, medical appointments and elsewhere,” said Secretary LaHood. “We have critical transportation work that needs to be done and Americans who are ready to do the work.”

The funds are available through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Alternatives Analysis grant program, which is the first key step that local decision makers must take as they pursue federal funds for key transit construction projects. The analysis begins with a solid understanding of the local transportation problems at hand, followed by a period of study that engages the public, local officials, and potential funding partners in evaluating the costs and benefits of various transit solutions—and ways to pay for them. The Alternatives Analysis process helps to ensure that communities think through the best and most feasible choices available to them, before committing local resources and competing for federal funds from the FTA.

“To achieve the President’s vision of an America that’s built to last, we’ll continue to support local decision making about the best ways to bring more transit to communities nationwide,” said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. “With gas prices rising, the need for transit alternatives is greater than ever.”

Last year, FTA awarded $25.4 million for 34 Alternatives Analysis studies throughout the U.S. The agency reviewed 71 applications from 29 states seeking a total of $60.8 million. Among the transit corridors now under consideration that build on last year’s grants are a 24-mile north-south corridor along Chicago’s lakefront, the five-mile South Central Corridor in Phoenix, and a 22-mile corridor between the City of Charleston and Town of Summerville in South Carolina.

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Transportation Nation

Federal Government Gets Child-Sized Crash Dummies

Friday, February 24, 2012

Child crash test dummies (DOT photo)

It's kind of amazing that they didn't have them before -- but the National Highway Safety Administration now has child-sized crash dummies approximating the dimensions of an 8-12 year old.

In his blog,  DOT Chief Ray LaHood describes the dummies, known as the HIII-10c as "weighing 77.6 pounds and having a sitting height of 28 inches."



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Transportation Nation

LaHood To Congress: Tear Down This Tower!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Old air traffic control tower at LaGuardia Airport (photo by joevare / Flickr creative commons).

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATED Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to LaGuardia Airport today to put pressure on Congress to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, now in its 10th day.

LaHood stood with Administrator of the FAA Randy Babbitt in an American Airlines hangar with a view of the airport's old traffic control tower. A $6.3 million contract with a Brooklyn-based company to demolish the tower has been placed on hold while Congress is stalled over competing versions of a temporary extension for the agency.

The stalemate came after the Senate refused to pass a House version of the extension, which cut subsidies to several rural airports. The Democratic Senate is accusing the House of making the cut to force the Senate to change labor laws, which it says it will not do.

In an email to reporters today, Senator Jay Rockefeller's staffers say the West Virginia Democrat has come up with a version of a bill that matches Republican cuts, and say "that plan could move forward as early as today." No word from Congressional Republicans on whether they'd agree to the plan.

LaHood unleashed a blistering critique of the Congressional stalemate, which he says has caused the furlough of 4,000 FAA employees and lay-offs for 70,000 construction workers as $2.5 billion in airport projects languish around the country.

“Don’t take your vacation, Congress, until you pass an FAA bill so FAA employees can go back to work, so construction projects can continue here at LaGuardia, building the new tower,” he said.

Work has also stopped at the airport on a $10 million dollar installation of security bollards. Air traffic controllers are still on the job, but many of their support staff are not.

While the agency has been shut down, an FAA spokeswoman said today some 40 airport inspectors whose jobs are considered "critical to life and property" are being required to work, but can't be paid until the agency's funding is restored.

Construction projects at airports across the U.S. will remain suspended for the summer if Congress doesn't re-authorize the FAA before adjourning on Friday.

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Transportation Nation

LaHood Said to Reject Federal Loan To Dulles Metrorail Project

Thursday, June 02, 2011

(Washington D.C. - WAMU) US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met yesterday with the partners behind the faltering Dulles Metrorail project, a nearly $6 billion venture to build a new subway line out to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia. And according to several sources involved in the meeting, LaHood told them that a federal loan they were hoping for isn't likely.

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Transportation Nation

Northeast Rail Reaps Nearly $800 Million Windfall From Fed Funds Returned by Florida -- But Will Trains Be High Speed?

Monday, May 09, 2011

(Photo by StevenM_61 / Flickr - creative commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Penn Station to announce he was giving $795 million to improve rail service in the Northeast. LaHood's largesse is part of a $2 billion award going to rail projects in 15 states-- money that became available after Florida governor Rick Scott canceled rail plans there in February.

But that doesn't mean riders can expect a bullet train to Boston any time soon.

LaHood said northeast corridor train speeds will increase from 135 to 160 miles per hour--but only along open stretches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where Amtrak already moves swiftly. Bottlenecks like hundred year-old bridges and tunnels will continue to slow trains in other parts of the corridor.

The $795 million will fix some, but not all, of those problems. Officials couldn't say how much time might be shaved from popular routes. One transportation expert thought saving 15 minutes between New York City and Washington, DC, was probably the best that could be hoped for from the upcoming round of upgrades. Supporters say Amtrak should greatly increase its reliability, which in itself will save thousands of rider hours.

Petra Todorovich, spokeswoman for the Regional Plan Association, said it would take a $100 billion investment to bring European-style high speed rail to the northeast. She said today's DOT grant will bring long-awaited improvements to the region's rail infrastructure, lifting it to something approaching a state of good repair.

Todorovich said it was about time the federal government spent money on the most heavily trafficked rail corridor in the country, with 250 million passengers per year.

"We were disappointed that the previous grants ignored the northeast corridor," she said. "The previous funding all went to areas that don’t have a market yet. We feel very gratified that that the federal government is directing funding where people rely on rail the most. Even if it doesn’t result in a bullet train overnight, it will result in increased speed and reliability where people use rail the most."

The Brookings Institution's Robert Puentes added: "Concentrating the relocated funding in the Northeast Corridor, California, and parts of the Midwest is a happy byproduct of a difficult process but it is probably where the high speed rail funding should have been concentrated in the first place."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also praised the grant. In a statement, he recalled it's not the first time the state has benefited from Republican governors turning down rail money. "In 2010, Wisconsin and Ohio returned their federal funding," Cuomo said. "Of that money, New York received $7.3 million."

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Transportation Nation

Schumer Caught on Tape: Xanadu Mall Money Should Have Gone to ARC

Monday, May 09, 2011

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (left) and Senators Charles Schumer and Frank Lautenberg (far right) (Photo: Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

WNYC's Jim O'Grady caught this exchange on tape this morning as pols were gathering at Ray LaHood's high speed rail presser at New York's Penn Station -- (Transportation Nation)

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, NYC MTA Chair Jay Walder, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chief Chris Ward, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler.

Schumer: Hey, good to see you!  Mr. Walder, Mr. Secretary, how are you? Chris!

Ward: Senator!

Schumer: How we doing on the, um, Xanadu? I'm very interested in seeing (inaudible) teasing her, and I said the money should have gone to the ARC.

[Schumer was referring to NJ Governor Chris Christie's decision last week to put hundreds of million of dollars of public funding behind a private mall project -- after killing a $9 billion transit tunnel under the Hudson last fall.]

Lautenberg: Yeah well, there wasn't --

Schumer: Didn't they put state money into Xanadu?

Lautenberg:  No. (Inaudible) We're doing good and we're on a mic, so I, uh -- do not feel free to express yourself.  Our Governor is not here, I take it.

Schumer: No.

[The funding is, strictly speaking, Tax Increment Financing,  or TIF meaning sales tax revenue goes straight to finance the project. So it's accurate to say its not state funding -- on the other hand, sales tax would ordinarily go to funding all of a state's needs, just not necessarily building a private mall.]

Lautenberg: He was not invited. (Inaudible) That's why I shut the microphone down.

Lautenberg: [To LaHood, a former Republican Congress member from Peoria] You -- you're the best thing that happened. First of all -- when they said it was going to be a Republican taking this job, I thought we had a Democrat who later on thought he was a Republican.

Schumer: No, he gets along with everybody. You know who pushed for him? Rahm Emanuel.

LaHood: He did. Are we ready?

[Schumer was also recently caught chatting with aides before a conference call -- the New York Times story on that is here.]

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