President Obama and Vice President Biden have made several recent trips outside Washington to highlight the need for increased infrastructure spending. On November 8, President Obama appeared at the Port of New Orleans, calling for Congress to create a $50 billion National Infrastructure Bank for roads, bridges and ports that would utilize private-sector investment in the form of public-private partnerships. The President requested Congress fund $10 billion for the bank’s capital. This echoes a policy focus that the President spoke about in his most recent State of the Union address. Yesterday, Vice President Biden visited the Port of Houston and also stressed the need for an infrastructure bank, particularly for port investments in anticipation of the Panama Canal expansion. Vice President Biden has now arrived in Panama, where he will tour the expansion project.
ON THE HILL
The House has named its Water Resources Reform and Development Act (H.R. 3080) conferees. The 28 conferees were drawn from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as well as from the Natural Resources Committee. The full list is available here. The Senate has already named its conferees, and the conference will move forward to resolve discrepancies between the two bills.
On November 14, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has introduced S. 1716, the Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment (BRIDGE) Act, a bill that would create a $10 billion national infrastructure bank. The bill currently has nine co-sponsors: four Democrats and five Republicans. The bill creates a seven-member board that, by statue, will be split 4-3 on party lines, called the Infrastructure Financing Authority. The Authority would finance only up to 49 percent of any given project, and for most projects to qualify, they must be of “national or regional significance” and cost at least $50 million. The bill would reserve 5 percent of the bank’s funding for rural projects costing at least $10 million. S. 1716 is similar to H.R. 2084, the Partnership to Build America Act introduced by Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), which would create a $50 billion fund. Rep. Delaney’s bipartisan bill has 49 co-sponsors.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) have introduced a bill named the Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA) which would require staggered reductions in the federal gasoline tax and federal surface transportation spending over five years while shifting almost all authority of the federal highway and transit program to the states, allowing states to supplement their own respective transportation systems through their own means. The federal gasoline tax would be lowered from 18.4¢ per gallon to 3.7¢ per gallon over the five-year period.
On November 14, the House passed a technical change on H.R. 3363, the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013. The bill, which was passed by unanimous consent in the House on October 4, was modified slightly by the Senate before the Senate passed it by unanimous consent. The bill now awaits the President’s signature.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report titled “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014 to 2023,” examining methods to balance the budget, including several infrastructure-related ones. The report suggests raising the federal gasoline tax by 35¢ and indexing it to inflation, which the CBO estimates would raise $207 billion over the next five years and $452 billion over the next 10. The report also includes suggestions to eliminate Airport Improvement Grants to smaller airports, saving $8 billion over 10 years, ending transit capital investment grants, saving $14 billion over 10 years, restricting Highway Trust Fund spending to its available balance, saving $65 billion over 10 years, and eliminating substantial Amtrak funding, saving $15 billion over 10 years.
On November 21, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to consider the nominations of Paul Jaenichen, Sr. to Administrator of the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and Debra Miller to the Surface Transportation Board. The hearing will be available to be streamed here.
Also on November 21, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce will hold a hearing titled “Wrong Way: The Impact of FMCSA's Hours of Service Regulation on Small Businesses.” Anne Ferro, the Administrator of the FMCSA, will testify. Following her testimony and questions from the subcommittee, a second panel will testify. The following comprise the second panel of witnesses: Tilden Curl Jr., Tecco Trucking, representing Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association; Brian Evans, President and Owner, L&L Freight Services Inc., representing Transportation Intermediaries Association; Paul P. Jovanis, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Director, Transportation Operations Program, Larson Transportation Institute, Pennsylvania State University; and Duane Long, Chairman for Logistics, Research Triangle Park, representing the American Trucking Association. Hearing testimony and streaming will be available here.
Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has announced that he will not seek re-election. While fellow committee members Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) are not retiring, but running for Senate and Governor respectively, the three of them will be leaving the House at the end of the term.
AT THE AGENCIES
On November 13, the Department of Justice settled their antitrust suit against the US Airways-American Airlines merger. Under the terms of the settlement, the new airline will relinquish 52 slots at Regan National Airport, 17 slots at LaGuardia Airpo16 sixteen slots at Reagan National and Southwest Airlines will receive 10 slots at LaGuardia.
The Federal Aviation Administration has released the “Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap.” The roadmap outlines the FAA’s intentions for sharing the commercial national airspace system with manned and unmanned aerial vehicles alike by 2015. The document states that the FAA will choose six test sites for integration of UAS for the FAA to study as pilot programs.
On November 13, the Department of Transportation announced that 183 tribes will receive $8.6 million for 195 projects from the Federal Highway Administration’s Tribal Transportation Program Safety Fund. This is the first instance that funds have been awarded since the program was created by the Moving Ahead For Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
IN THE STATES
California: The California High-Speed Rail Authority has only acquired one parcel of the 370 needed to complete the first 30 miles of construction. The High-Speed Rail Authority has stated that of the remaining 369 parcels, which can be acquired either through sale or seizure by eminent domain, 38 are expected to be acquired within the next month. The High-Speed Rail Authority has been delaying the deadlines for residents to move out for months.
New York: On November 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced five storm mitigation and resiliency projects for LaGuardia Airport totaling $37.5 million. Of the total cost, $28.1 million will be funded by federal grants funded by Superstorm Sandy relief funds allocated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The five projects include the installation of flood barrier berms around the West Field Lighting Vault, construction of a concrete floodwall around the West End Substation, construction of gravity drains to supplement the airport’s existing drainage network, replacement of existing generators with larger, more efficient emergency back-up generators, and rehabilitation of the airport’s monitoring and control system for LGA power distribution grid to enable the airport to more quickly monitor and address issues with its electrical distribution system.
Washington: Despite the state legislature meeting in a special session to pass tax incentives for the manufacture of the upcoming 777X plane, the Boeing deal has fallen apart in Washington as the International Association of Machinists voted down its labor contract that had major concessions in exchange for long-term job security. The contract would have ended the traditional pension plan in 2016, freezing it for current employees and ending it for future ones in lieu of a company-funded defined contribution retirement-savings account. The proposal also included a $10,000 signing bonus before Christmas, increase of wages by 1 percent yearly in addition to a yearly cost-of-living adjustment, and increased employee health care premiums and copays. After the union vote, in which 67 percent of members rejected the contract, Boeing is reportedly looking to build the plane in another state.