Friday, April 21, 2017

This Week in Transportation: April 21, 2017

A viaduct under construction in Fresno County, Calif.
Photo courtesy of the LA Times.

This week in transportation, the Trump administration began staffing up for its infrastructure push, New York and New Jersey officials urged federal support for Amtrak's Gateway project, and California sold more bonds to fund its high-speed rail project. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

Transportation Department plans new top-level spots to oversee Trump priorities
The Hill reports, "The Department of Transportation plans to create new top-level roles and reshuffle other positions in order to put more muscle behind two of President Trump’s priorities: infrastructure investment and modernizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)... Secretary Elaine Chao intends to appoint DOT chief of staff Michael Britt to be senior adviser for FAA modernization... On transportation, Chao intends to appoint James Ray to be a senior adviser on infrastructure."

New study identifies nine of the worst highway projects across the country, $10 billion in taxpayer dollars wasted
The United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group has released the third in a series of reports about wasteful spending on highway expansion projects. U.S. PIRG writes that this installment "identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $10 billion. This third iteration of the highway boondoggles report details how despite America’s mounting repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, federal, state and local governments across the country continue to spend billions each year on expanding highways. The report disputes the claims used to justify these investments and argues that the projects are outright boondoggles."

California sells $1.2 billion of bonds to finance construction of bullet train in the Central Valley
The LA Times reports, "The California treasurer sold $1.2 billion in bonds Thursday to help finance construction of high-speed rail in the Central Valley, a significant development after years of delays in tapping the bonds that taxpayers approved in 2008... The bond funds are critical to current construction efforts in the Central Valley. They would help finance about 118 miles of construction from Madera to Shafter, not including electrical power systems, signals or trains. Any spending from the bonds, which are taxable for investors, must be matched with money from other sources. So far, the project has $3.5 billion in federal grants and $1.2 billion in state greenhouse gas fees."

NY, NJ senators invite transportation secretary to view decaying train tunnels
Reuters reports, "To preserve federal funding for critical rail projects, New Jersey and New York senators on Wednesday asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to examine firsthand the decaying train tunnels that threaten to cripple regional travel if they fail. In a letter to Chao, four Democratic senators, two each from New York and New Jersey, asked Chao to visit before Republican President Donald Trump's administration finalizes any federal infrastructure package. They also urged Chao to support Amtrak's Gateway Program, which includes building a passenger rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River in partnership with NJ Transit, the two states, and their bi-state port authority."

Portland wants to open its streets to self-driving cars
The Seattle Times reports that the City of Portland wants to be among the first to issue permits for driverless vehicles. Mayor Ted Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman are "directing the Portland Bureau of Transportation to create a policy to open up the city’s streets to self-driving cars. As part of a new initiative, the agency would have 60 days to develop a set of rules for pilot programs to deploy and test autonomous vehicles. It’s looking at issues such as the cost of a permit and methods of reporting when and where the cars would be on the road."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!