Tag Archive for 'Department of Transportation'

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.

ASCE Reports America’s Infrastructure as D+

President Trump Announces “Massive Permit Reform” Push

Capping off his Administration’s ‘Infrastructure Week,’ President Trump held an event this morning on permitting reform at the U.S. Department of Transportation. President Trump, joined by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, met with heads of state departments of transportation and then addressed a group of transportation officials and stakeholders. President Trump reiterated his commitment to fixing the nation’s infrastructure and named the existing infrastructure project approval process as a major impediment to that goal, saying “one of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately-needed infrastructure…is the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process for getting permits and approvals to build.”

President Trump is not alone in this view. Secretary Chao has repeatedly said over the last several months that “money is not the problem” when it comes to improving the nation’s infrastructure and instead cutting red tape to speed up the approvals process is the most important thing for restoring the nation’s infrastructure systems. Last month the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the topic, where Chairman John Barrasso (R-MT) called for simplifying the government review process and making it more flexible to meet the different natures of rural and urban states. However, Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) pushed back on the Secreatary Chao’s comments, declaring lack of funding the biggest impediment to infrastructure improvements and calling for the full implementation of changes to permitting laws passed in recent legislation before Congress takes further action.

Almost everyone agrees the federal infrastructure approval process is a long way from perfect, but there are strongly contrasting ideas about how to improve it. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of an action and to involve the public in their decision-making process. The law is a frequent target of criticism from some sectors because it can add years to a project.

Congress has tried to fix the pain points in several recent pieces of legislation. The FAST Act included new procedural requirements aimed at ensuring early collaboration and efficient environmental reviews for complex infrastructure projects including: the use of a single NEPA document as much as possible with one agency serving as lead and ensuring the review meets the needs of the other agencies; requiring a schedule to be a part of a project coordination plan; and creating a publicly accessible dashboard to publish the status of NEPA and permitting for all projects requiring an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment. MAP-21 and the Water Resources Development Act also included permitting reforms, but these reforms have not been fully implemented yet.

A Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General report from March found that the streamlining provisions in the FAST Act have possibly delayed the improvements expected from the streamlining measures in MAP-21. This should give Congress pause as they contemplate more permitting reform, as the already approved reforms have not had the opportunity to be tested yet.

ASCE has called for mandating concurrent reviews by agencies; a single administrative permitting agency to shorten and improve the approval process and improve inter-agency collaboration; and time limits for decisions on infrastructure projects. To some extent these reforms have all been included in recent legislation (particularly the FAST Act), but their effect is not yet clear.

Today President Trump announced the creation of a new council to help project managers navigate the permitting process including the creation of a new online dashboard. He also announced the creation of a new office within the White House Council of Environmental Quality “to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal, state and local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in the way.”

While it is obviously too early to know the effect of the Administration’s new efforts to streamline the permitting process, it’s assertion that regulations, not funding, are the real problem in infrastructure ignores the true infrastructure challenges we face. A 2012 Congressional Research Service report questioned the degree to which the NEPA compliance process is a significant source of delay, noting “causes of delay that have been identified are more often tied to local/state and project-specific factors, primarily local/state agency priorities, project funding levels, local opposition to a project, project complexity, or late changes in project scope.” A 2016 report prepared for the U.S. Treasury on proposed major infrastructure projects stated, “A review of the 40 transportation and water infrastructure projects…suggests that they face four major challenges to completion: (a) limited public resources, (b) significantly increased capital costs, (c) extended program and project review and permitting processes, and (d) lack of consensus among multiple public and private sector entities. A lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering the completion of transportation and water infrastructure projects.”

ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card graded the nation’s infrastructure a D+ and estimates that $4.59 trillion in infrastructure investment will be necessary from federal, state, local, and private sources between 2016 and 2025 to reach a state of good repair and earn a grade of B. However, only just $2.5 trillion is likely to be invested, leaving a $2.0 trillion funding gap. The investment gap led ASCE to make the first key solution of the Report Card increased investment; no amount of streamlining and expediting alone will close the infrastructure investment gap and solve our infrastructure challenges. The Report Card also recommends streamlining the permitting and approval process, but the goals of such changes should to be provide greater clarity to regulatory requirements, bring priority projects to reality more quickly, and secure cost savings. Attempts to shorten the permitting and approval process should not come at the expense of public health, public safety, and the environment.

While we should continue to strive for an efficient and effective federal approval process, addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs requires investing real money in our communities.

http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/tag/infrastructure/

Reuters Reports: U.S. Senate approves Chao to lead Transportation Department & Chao Homecoming

Reuters Reports: U.S. Senate approves Chao to lead Transportation Department

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-transportation-idUSKBN15F29X                

By David Shepardson | WASHINGTON

Elaine Chao, a former top U.S. labor official, was sworn in on Tuesday to lead the U.S. Transportation Department, which overseas aviation, vehicle, train and pipeline safety.

Chao, a former U.S. labor secretary and deputy transportation secretary, took office hours after the U.S. Senate voted 93 to 6 to confirm her.

Chao, 63, will face key decisions on how to regulate the growing use of drones and automakers’ plans to offer self-driving cars.

She will also be a key player in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet if his administration pushes ahead with a major infrastructure spending program, as the businessman-turned-politician promised during last year’s presidential campaign.

“Your leadership and your experience will serve well as the secretary of transportation, overseeing what we anticipate will be historic investments in our nation’s roads, bridges, airports and above all in our future,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who administered the oath of office to Chao.

Chao tweeted: “It is an honor to rejoin the extraordinary people of @USDOT and begin working to rebuild America’s infrastructure.”

The Transportation Department has a $75 billion annual budget and about 60,000 employees. It includes the Federal Aviation Administration, which handles air traffic control.

Chao, the wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the first Asian-American woman to hold a Cabinet position, also will have to decide whether U.S. fuel efficiency standards should be revised, as some automakers have sought.

There are dozens of other pending regulatory issues facing the next administration, including railroad safety and staffing rules and whether to set rules requiring airlines to give more passengers with disabilities seats with extra leg room and whether to ban or restrict personal phone calls on U.S. flights.

At her confirmation hearing this month, Chao declined to take positions on a number of issues, including whether air traffic control jobs should be privatized, concerns over the safety of shipments of crude oil by rail, foreign airlines’ push to move into the U.S. market and regulation of developing technologies.

Posted by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao
The US Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) plays an important role in maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. This includes highways, bridges, tunnels, railways, airports, air traffic control, seaports, mass transit systems and pipelines. Our infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, making it possible to move people, goods, services and raw materials safely from our homes, factories, farms, and mines to and from destinations throughout our nation, and across the world.

America’s transportation infrastructure underpins our world-class economy and is a key factor in productivity growth, which has provided good jobs for millions of hard working Americans and a standard of living that is the envy of the world. And while our transportation infrastructure has given us unprecedented mobility for many years, it is increasingly in need of repair and refurbishment. Another challenge facing the transportation infrastructure is how to incorporate new technology and innovations, including drones and autonomous vehicles.

U.S. Department of Transportation Urges Drivers to Stay Alert While Driving Near Nation’s Highway Work Zones

UnknownThe U.S. Department of Transportation today kicked off National Work Zone Awareness Week as construction season approaches. Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau joined state and federal officials at the Washington Boulevard Bridge over Columbia Pike in Arlington, Va., to urge drivers to stay alert when driving near highway workers. They were joined by workers and families affected by work zone crashes.

This year’s theme, “Expect the Unexpected,” emphasizes the need for drivers to constantly be prepared for changes such as reduced speed limits; narrowed, shifted or closed lanes; and people who may be working on or near the road.  In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 579 fatalities in work zones, a small decrease from 617 fatalities the previous year.

“As the temperatures climb, thousands of highway workers nationwide are heading back to work to improve America’s roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “To keep them safe, we owe them our full attention when driving through work zones, so please avoid distractions like cellphones and obey posted speed limits.”

National Work Zone Awareness Week, sponsored by federal, state and local transportation officials at the beginning of construction season each spring, raises awareness of safety measures taken on roads all over the country. Typically, work zone crashes occur when drivers fail to obey posted speed limits, fail to adapt to changing road conditions, or use cellphones while driving.

FHWA works with state and local transportation officials to promote improvements in work zone planning and design, increased law enforcement near work zones, enhanced worker training and heightened awareness among drivers. Since 2005, FHWA has awarded nearly $33 million in grants to promote work zone safety training and the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse.

In 2013, speed was a factor in 23 percent of fatal work zone crashes. Two out of three victims in work zone crashes in 2013 were drivers and passengers of vehicles.

During the ceremony, Nadeau paid tribute to the 132 Virginia Department of Transportation employees who died in highway work zones since 1928.

“When driving through work zones, be respectful of highway workers and their workplace by slowing down,” said Deputy Administrator Nadeau. “Following the rules of the roadway makes it easier to expect the unexpected.”

Like the FHWA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) works with other USDOT agencies to reduce work zone crashes through grants to states and research on driver behavior. FMCSA has made work zone safety a national priority in its commercial vehicle safety plans, and partners with the International Association of Chiefs of Police in its “Drive to Save Lives” campaign to encourage all law enforcement to stop trucks and buses when they are seen operating unsafely.

“In 2013, large trucks and buses were involved in 186 work zone crashes that resulted in fatalities,” said FMCSA Chief Counsel Scott Darling. “Tragedies like these can be avoided by paying attention, slowing down, carefully obeying signs and the direction of flagmen, maintaining a safe distance between vehicles, avoiding distractions and always keeping safety the number one priority.”

For more information on this year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week, visit http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/outreach/wz_awareness.htm

President Obama Announces Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standard


Consumers will save $1.7 trillion at the pump, $8K per vehicle by 2025 

President Obama today announced a historic agreement with twelve major automakers to pursue the next phase in the Administration’s national vehicle program, increasing fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. The President was joined by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Volvo, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Jaguar – which together account for over 90% of all vehicles sold in the United States – as well as the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the State of California, who were integral to developing this agreement.

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “Many of these companies were part of an agreement we reached two years ago to raise the fuel efficiency of their cars over the next five years. By 2025, the average fuel economy of their vehicles will nearly double to almost 55 miles per gallon.”

Building on the Obama administration’s agreement for Model Years 2012-2016 vehicles, which will raise fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg and begin saving families money at the pump this year, the next round of standards will require performance equivalent to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

These programs combined with the model year 2011 light truck standard represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in three decades and span Model Years 2011 to 2025. Together, they will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars at the pump, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of over $8,000 per vehicle. Additionally, these programs will dramatically cut oil consumption, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by more than 4 million barrels of oil a day – more than America currently imports from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela, and Russia combined.

The standards also curb carbon pollution, cutting more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – equivalent to an entire year’s worth of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States. The oil savings, consumer, and environmental benefits of this comprehensive program are detailed in a new report, Driving Efficiency:  Cutting Costs for Families at the Pump and Slashing Dependence on Oil, which the Administration released today.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have worked closely with auto manufacturers, the state of California, environmental groups, and other stakeholders for several months to ensure these standards are achievable, cost-effective and preserve consumer choice.  The program would increase the stringency of standards for passenger cars by an average of five percent each year. The stringency of standards for pick-ups and other light-duty trucks would increase an average of 3.5 percent annually for the first five model years and an average of five percent annually for the last four model years of the program, to account for the unique challenges associated with this class of vehicles.

“This is another important step toward saving money for drivers, breaking our dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

“These standards will help spur economic growth and job creation, protect the environment, and strengthen our national security by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Working together, we are setting the stage for a new generation of clean vehicles.”

A national policy on fuel economy standards and greenhouse gas emissions provides regulatory certainty and flexibility that reduces the cost of compliance for auto manufacturers while addressing oil consumption and harmful air pollution. Consumers will continue to have access to a diverse fleet and can purchase the vehicle that best suits their needs.

EPA and NHTSA are developing a joint proposed rulemaking, which will include full details on the proposed program and supporting analyses, including the costs and benefits of the proposal and its effects on the economy, auto manufacturers, and consumers. After the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register, there will be an opportunity for public comment and public hearings. The agencies plan to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the end of September 2011. California plans on adopting its proposed rule in the same time frame as the federal proposal.