Rounding up Hill chatter on infrastructure, gas tax
MORE OF THE SAME: At an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on surface transportation infrastructure, Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said he’d like to stick to existing formula programs to distribute infrastructure dollars — an idea incoming House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) also endorses. But James Corless, executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, said the federally funded mass transit systems that are aging and “about to fall apart” cannot be fixed “with just simple FTA formula funds — we need some sort of infusion.”
Talking points for VMT hurdles: There appeared to be consensus among senators and witnesses at the hearing that the gas tax should cede to a miles-traveled fee over the next decade or so. But Corless insisted that it would have to be combined with variable pricing since a mile driven on an urban interstate at rush hour is a far bigger burden on the transportation system than a mile driven on a rural byway. Utah DOT Director and AASHTO President Carlos Braceras agreed — and noted that another attractive part of variable pricing is the ability to not charge on private roads. Put together, these could be two arguments to convince rural-district lawmakers that a mileage fee wouldn’t be bad news for their long-driving constituents. Privacy concerns related to GPS tracking, however, are still very much alive.
Gas tax chatter: In the short term, raising the gas tax could very well still be on the table. Soon-to-be Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker told your host that if President Donald Trump goes public with what he has said privately and endorses an increase, the Mississippi Republican could come on board. "I would listen to the president and consider his point of view."
Something to watch: Corless noted that “broadband and high-speed communications are seen as a form of transportation for our rural communities” and pushed for it to be eligible for federal transportation funding. Broadband is a major priority for rural lawmakers.
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BREXIT BREAKTHROUGH: The United States and United Kingdom wrapped up negotiations Wednesday on a deal to handle air service between the two nations after the U.K. separates from the European Union, according to a State Department official. The U.K. government said the new Open Skies agreement will ensure that aircraft “flying from the U.K. will continue to enjoy the same access they currently have with the U.S.” U.S. airline and airport groups have praised the announcement for creating “certainty.” And Erik Hansen, vice president of government relations at the U.S. Travel Association, also said that the deal will safeguard “free market competition in the transatlantic market, where we’ve seen a lot of consolidation.”
MAILBAG: More consumer advocacy groups are adding to the chorus of opposition to two of DOT’s picks for a reconstituted aviation consumer protection committee. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday, organizations including the National Consumers League and Consumer Reports said they believe the current makeup of the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee is not “fairly balanced” as required by law. Specifically, they take issue with the appointments of Competitive Enterprise Institute Fellow Frances Smith and Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. Smith, they said, has never worked on consumer protection related to airline travel, and Rahn’s spot, designated for a representative of state or local government, has historically been filled by a state attorney general, whose offices have jurisdiction over consumer protection unlike state departments of transportation.
FORMER T-HUD CHAIR PASSES AWAY: Former Arizona Rep. Ed Pastor died Wednesday at the age of 75. Pastor, who served in Congress from 1991-2015, chaired the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the '90s and served as the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee for transportation spending. The Arizona Republic wrote that his “low-key style obscured his behind-the-scenes effectiveness in directing federal money to local projects.” In particular, he fought for federal funding for Maricopa County’s light-rail system and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
FUNDS RELEASED: FTA announced Wednesday that it was advancing $281 million for five transit projects in four states, including $100 million for the Los Angeles Westside Purple Line Section 3 project. The administration has been criticized for holding up transit funding, and DeFazio has said one of his top priorities as House Transportation chairman will be pushing DOT to release more. Our Tanya Snyder reports that, seemingly in response to congressional dissatisfaction, the FTA noted in its funding announcement that it will have executed more Capital Investment Grant funding agreements by Dec. 31 compared with the Obama administration in the corresponding time period.
Change of heart: Don’t forget that in its fiscal 2019 budget proposal, FTA said that it was not requesting or recommending funding for outstanding CIG projects. “As a reminder, these are projects that, as of February this year (and the year before that), the Trump Administration claimed it didn't want to fund,” Yonah Freemark, a Ph.D. candidate in city planning at MIT, noted on Twitter. “November's election had a major impact on the dedication of federal funding for transit.”
A GATEWAY NEWS DAY: Trump and Chao lunched with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the White House on Wednesday to talk Gateway, and Cuomo afterward hailed what he called the president's newfound interest — but he left the meeting without any sort of agreement in hand. POLITICO New York's Dana Rubinstein reports: "Cuomo's proposed next steps, which the president did not necessarily agree to, include: restructuring the entity tasked with building the so-called Gateway tunnel to include a federal representative, even though the federal government withdrew from that very entity at the start of the Trump administration; and bidding out the project to try to get a lower price, even though the project's developers say they can't bid it out until the Trump administration signs off on its environmental review — a sign-off they were hoping for since March."
BONJOUR FROM MONTREAL: Our Stephanie Beasley is on the ground at the ICAO high-level conference on aviation security, which kicks off in Montreal today. The event will feature panels focused on strengthening global airport security standards. Expected speakers include: ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu; Canadian Deputy Minister of Transport Michael Keenan; and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Counterterrorism Vladimir Voronkov. We hear that TSA Administrator David Pekoske and U.S. State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Nathan Sales also will be in attendance. Stay tuned as Stephanie brings you more details in the coming days.
** A message from Delta Air Lines: Delta Air Lines is committed to creating a pipeline of next-generation pilots and technicians through partnerships with more than 55 academic institutions nationwide. Delta plans to hire 25,000 employees by 2024. Visit DeltaTakingAction.com to learn how Delta is generating jobs and making a positive impact in your state. **
CRITICISM OF TSA’S AIR CARGO PROGRAM: GAO released a reportWednesday recommending TSA differentiate its assessments of foreign air cargo security from passenger security programs. It said the agency was taking too broad of an approach to examining security for U.S.-bound cargo and lacked specific outcome-based performance measures for monitoring cargo security programs at foreign airports and its inspections of air carrier cargo. TSA also should develop a way to gauge the success of its program for recognizing commensurate national cargo security programs of the European Union and 12 other countries, so that it can “better determine whether the resources invested are yielding the intended results,” per the report. TSA concurred with the recommendations.
TRUCKING INDUSTRY WANTS BORDER CROSSINGS OPEN: Trump’s threats to permanently close the southern border have been met with consternation from the American Trucking Associations. Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist and senior vice president of international trade policy and cross-border operations, told POLITICO that the “smooth and free movement of goods across our borders is essential for our economy” and that 82 percent of all surface-transported goods by value between the U.S. and Mexico are transported by truck. Trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada supports more than 47,000 U.S. trucking jobs, Costello noted.
Rick Dearborn, a nominee for the Amtrak Board of Directors, is joining the Bipartisan Policy Center as a senior fellow. Dearborn was previously a deputy chief of staff at the White House and currently is a partner at Cypress Group. (h/t POLITICO Influence)
— “Without a Trump infrastructure plan, an aging Ohio bridge is in limbo.” New York Times.
— “Car market collapse outruns GM moves to keep up.” Reuters.
— “Ford reworks plants to build more SUVs with same headcount.” Bloomberg.
— “End of the road for the highway king Shusters.” Roll Call.
— “Europeans say 'don't touch my car.’” POLITICO Europe.
— “Kentucky spent $1.3 billion on a highway no one wants.” StreetsBlog USA.
DOT appropriations run out in 9 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,766 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 672 days.
** A message from Delta Air Lines: Delta Air Lines is committed to creating a pipeline of next-generation pilots and technicians through partnerships with more than 55 academic institutions nationwide. In addition to educating future aviation professionals, Delta plans to hire 25,000 new employees over the next five years. Visit DeltaTakingAction.com to see more ways Delta is generating jobs and making a positive impact in your state. **