As Summer fades

By Greg Sitek

It’s hard to believe that Summer 2019 is fading into history. We are one step closer to a new transportation bill as theSenate’s America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA) Committee on July 30 unanimously approved the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA), legislation introduced July 29 by EPW Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md).  If enacted, the measure would significantly increase funds for highway and bridge improvements from FY 2021 through FY 2025.

According to reports from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, ARTBA, “The Senate proposal represents the first program reauthorization bill in nearly 15 years that would significantly increase federal investment in highway safety and mobility improvements.

“The committee’s early action is a critical first step in the lengthy legislative process.  It’s also a welcome departure from the series of extensions and years of delay that have plagued the last few surface transportation bills.

“We urge the Senate Commerce, Banking and Finance Committees to take timely action early this fall on their respective policy and financing components of the measure.  Final passage of a bill this year provides a meaningful opportunity for members of Congress and the Trump administration to deliver on the infrastructure investment promise they have been making since the 2016 elections.”

The current FAST Act highway and transit investment law expire Sept. 30, 2020.

There have been reports from Washington that Senate is anxious to have the ATIA passed this year. In some of the articles, I’ve read a target date as early as this September has been suggested. Hopefully, it will get through Congress faster than the FAST Act.

In addition to transportation infrastructure getting attention, the Trump administration recently  announced three regulatory measures with significant impact for highway and heavy construction:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration published a request for information asking the regulated community to help clarify various aspects of the crystalline silica rule.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released proposed changes to the federal Hours of Service (HOS) rules, which govern the amount of time truck drivers can spend on the road.
  • An overhaul of the Endangered Species Act includes new limits to where the government can block development by declaring land as “critical habitat.”

“These three developments highlight the administration’s continued focus on removing unnecessary regulatory burdens from the project delivery process,” said ARTBA Vice President of Regulatory & Legal Issues Nick Goldstein. “ARTBA will continue to work with federal agencies to keep advancing beneficial regulatory reforms.”

ARTBA also expects in the coming weeks to hear from the U.S. Department of Transportation about the potential repeal of a federal regulation that prohibits state and local governments from using patented or proprietary products on highway and bridge projects that receive federal funding unless those products qualify for limited exceptions. The rule was adopted in 1916 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which then managed the emerging federal-aid highway program.

To address the transportation problems on the local level, there will be higher taxes in some states: The fuel price news will be compounded in a handful of states where excise taxes where hiked just as folks were finalizing their July 4th travel plans.

Drivers in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and along one major highway in Virginia will pay more for fuel, primarily gasoline, due to tax increases that took effect on July 1, 2019the start of their fiscal years.

Some were already in the works as phased-in incremental fuel tax hikes. Others are new, large bumps in the fuels’ prices. And a few apply to vehicles that run on diesel instead of gasoline. (Dontmesswithtaxes.com)

This fall could prove to be “legislatively interesting.” You will want to keep informed.

A Little Road Work

A Little Road Work

By Greg Sitek

Greg Sitek

What’s going to happen on September 30, 2020? The FAST Act — Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act — is scheduled to expire?

Will it?

If it does will it make a difference?

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association is working overtime to develop information and materials that can be used to guide the committees and congressional overseeing the reauthorization program and has taken a leadership role in informing the  industry and public as well.

Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA reports,ARTBA’s “Project 2019 Reauthorization Task Force,” comprised of 26 volunteer leaders from all eight-membership divisions, developed the industry’s legislative blueprint for the next highway and transit bill. The ARTBA Board unanimously approved the thoughtful and comprehensive policy report in May.

Visit ARTBA at artba.org to view a digital copy of the 32-page report, “The Road to the Next Federal Highway & Public Transit Investment Bill.”

Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA says that ARTBA President and CEO Dave Bauer July 11 told members of the House Democratic Caucus to include a Highway Trust Fund revenue solution as part of any infrastructure legislation this year. Bauer reminded the members of Congress of the reliance states have on the federal transportation programs for highway construction spending.

The map above, created by ARTBA staff using Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data, was distributed to the members. It shows states, on average, depend on the federal government for 51 percent of their highway construction programs.

The closed-door session featured other business and labor executives who also emphasized the need to address the long-term solvency of the trust fund. Members of Congress who spoke touched on the need to get a robust infrastructure package completed, as well as the various options for funding and financing transportation investments. Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) organized the meeting.

A comprehensive infrastructure bill in the House of Representatives has yet to materialize, though discussions between the White House and the Congress are reportedly ongoing. The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee is pushing ahead on the reauthorization of a surface transportation bill, with a mark-up of a bill scheduled for Aug. 1.

Again, ARTBA’s Dean Franks adds,The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee traded priorities for an upcoming surface reauthorization bill during a July 10 hearing.  Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) was the first to reference those users of the system should be the ones to pay for the infrastructure investments and particularly mentioned the need for electric vehicle drivers to begin paying into the system. Ranking Democrat Tom Carper (D-Del.) said, “I have always believed that a long-term focus on national needs must include identifying new source of sustainable, user-fee base revenues to support investments in transportation.”

Barrasso also publicly announced for the first time that the legislation the committee is drafting would be a five-year bill. The two committee leaders said they want to pass a bipartisan bill out of committee before the Senate adjourns for the annual summer work period. An Aug. 1 target has been set for consideration in the committee.

This will be the first action on a surface transportation law since enactment of the FAST Act in December of 2015. That law, which expires in September 2020, required $70 billion in General Fund transfers and unrelated offsets to help pay for the bill.

The EPW committee has jurisdiction over the highway policy provisions of a surface transportation authorization process, while three other committees will need to weigh in on public transportation, trucking, rail and tax issues.

ARTBA will continue working with Barrasso, Carper and all committee members to get a bill with increased and growing investment levels approved out of committee as soon as possible.

In the “summer driving season” editorial by The Washington Post, it points out,‘States Are Doing It. So Why Hasn’t Congress Increased the Federal Gas Tax?’
On July 1, gas taxes went up in 13 states, not only blue ones such as California and Illinois, but also red ones such as Indiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Roads, the importance of roads and transportation goes back to The Appian Way or Via Appia Antica in Rome, one of the most famous ancient roads. It was built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius Caecus. … Roman roads and especially the Appian Way were extremely important to Rome. It allowed trade and access to the east, specifically Greece. The importance of roads hasn’t changed; it’s become paramount to our way of life.

Maintaining our transportation infrastructure isn’t an expense it’s an investment.

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Now here’s something you don’t hear too much about anymore: Ozone, you know – O3, the weird molecule that includes 3 oxygen atoms and was the primary focus of air pollution policy for, oh, I don’t know, 45 years?  (Not to be confused with Ozone Park, in Queens, where “Ozone” was used in the neighborhood’s name to refer “to a park-like area with cool ocean breezes, an archaic definition” ((Ohhh…Ya think?)).  Ozone is the primary component in urban smog, summertime haze that plagued America’s urban areas for decades, and still does in LA and some other cities.  Ozone is a major regulatory focus for US and state EPAs.  The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) and the MidAtlantic Northeast Visibility Union (MANE–VU) will hold their spring meeting on June 11, in Wilmington, DE.  The purpose of the OTC is to address ground-level ozone formation, transport, and control within the Ozone Transport Region, which includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, parts of Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Ozone policy is linked to every commercial and industrial activity in the modern world – from fuels to combustion to coatings to forest fires to transportation to manufacturing.  But still, not in the news too much anymore.
*  NOAA’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES) meets June 4 in Washington.  ACCRES was established in 2002, to advise the Secretary of Commerce “on matters relating to the U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry and on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s activities to carry out the responsibilities of the Department of Commerce set forth in the National and Commercial Space Programs Act of 2010.”  The agenda includes a report on regulatory affairs and a Nanoracks overview.  Nanoracks, of course, is the deployment system for launching CubeSats, miniaturized satellites used for space research which can be launched really by anyone who has the money – and the smarts, of course!
*  National Marine Fisheries announced the availability of the “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group Draft Restoration Plan 2 and Environmental Assessment: Fish, Sea Turtles, Marine Mammals, and Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities.”  The draft describes and proposes restoration project alternatives considered by the Open Ocean TIG (Trustee Implementation Group) to restore natural resources and ecological services injured or lost as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred, of course, 9 years ago on April 20, 2010, discharging millions of barrels of oil for a period of 87 days.  The Deepwater Trustees include nine state and federal agencies.  NMFS wants public comments on the plan; comments are due by July 1.
Tom Ewing

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513-379-5526 voice/text

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*   Recall The February 11, 2019, Executive Order on “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence (AI).”  The EO directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create a plan for Federal engagement in the development of technical standards and related tools in support of “reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies.” Last week the Department of Commerce published a notice requesting information to help NIST understand the “current state, plans, challenges, and opportunities” regarding the development and availability of AI technical standards and related tools, as well as priority areas for federal involvement in AI standards-related activities. NIST will consult with Federal agencies, the private sector, academia, non-governmental entities, and other stakeholders with interest in and expertise relating to AI. Comments due by May 31.
*  The Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued instructions to Federal agencies for meeting energy and environmental performance requirements “in a manner that increases efficiency, optimizes performance, eliminates unnecessary use of resources, and protects the environment.”  This is required under Executive Order 13834, ‘‘Efficient Federal Operations,’’ signed by President Trump on May 17, 2018. The purpose of the EO is to direct agencies on the management of Federal facilities, vehicles, and operations to achieve statutory requirements while prioritizing actions to reduce waste, cut costs, and enhance the resilience of Federal infrastructure and operations for the effective accomplishment of agency missions.   The Implementing Instructions are available at https://www.sustainability.gov/ resources.html.  About 23 agencies are listed as “Principal and Contributing Agencies.”
*   Here’s an optimistic study: The Federal Aviation Administration will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to assess the potential impacts of the “proposed LaGuardia Airport (LGA) Access Improvement Project and its enabling projects and connected actions (the proposed action).”  The project would provide for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) to construct an elevated automated people mover (APM) to provide direct access between LGA and two existing transit stations at Mets-Willets Point.  Right now, LGA is accessible only by road – really one big road, Grand Central Parkway. FAA writes that “passengers and employees face increasing and unreliable travel times and traffic congestion on off-Airport roadways.” The people-mover would provide air passengers and employees with a “time-certain option” for LGA access and permit the Port Authority to provide adequate employee parking for the geographically constrained airport.  You likely know this but some may find it surprising: FAA says there may be Native American tribes with a historical interest in the area.  Imagine trying to reshape those boundaries and spaces reflective of, what, maybe 1673…?  Comments due by June 17.
Tom Ewing

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513-379-5526 voice/text