GAO Report on Highway Trust Fund Discusses Options for Improving Sustainability and Mechanisms to Manage Solvency

June 25, 2009 at 5:46 pm

(Source: GAO)

The Highway Account within the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is the principal means for funding federal highway programs. Administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT), it channels about $33 billion in highway user excise taxes annually to states for highway and related spending.

Estimated outlays from the Highway Account under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) exceeded estimated receipts throughout the authorization period—fiscal years 2005 through 2009. Furthermore, actual account receipts were lower than had been estimated and the account balance dropped more rapidly than anticipated, approaching zero in August, 2008. Congress subsequently approved legislation in September 2008 to appropriate $8 billion from the General Fund of the Treasury to replenish the account. Agency officials anticipate the account will reach a critical stage again before the end of fiscal year 2009, and estimate that about $15 billion will be needed to ensure account solvency through the end of fiscal year 2010.

This report summarizes GAO’s past work on:

  • The collection and distribution process for the Highway Account of the HTF,
  • Options for improving long-term sustainability of the HTF, and
  • Mechanisms to help manage Highway Account solvency.

Image Courtesy: GAO

The collection and distribution of funds through the Highway Account is a complex process. Collection involves Treasury receiving excise taxes from business entities, estimating how much should be allocated to the Highway Account, and adjusting the estimated allocation several months later after actual tax receipts are certified. Distribution begins with a multi-year authorization act that provides contract authority and establishes annual funding levels.

DOT apportions the contract authority to the states and divides the funding level among federal highway programs and states. DOT then obligates funds for projects and reimburses states as projects are completed. Improving long-term sustainability is one of GAO’s key principles for restructuring existing transportation programs, and GAO has reported on options for improving sustainability:

  • Improve the efficiency of current facilities,
  • Alter existing sources of revenue,
  • Ensure users are paying fully for benefits, and
  • Supplement existing revenue sources, such as through enhanced private-sector participation.

Each of these options has different merits and challenges, and will likely involve trade-offs among different policy goals. Improving existing mechanisms intended to help maintain Highway Account solvency could help DOT better manage the account balance. For example, statutory mechanisms designed to make annual adjustments to the Highway Account have been so modified over time–particularly through changes in SAFETEA-LU–that they either are no longer relevant or are limited in effectiveness. Furthermore, monitoring indicators that could signal sudden changes in revenues could help DOT better anticipate changes in the account balance and communicate with stakeholders on the account’s status.

DOT is acting on recommendations GAO made in February, 2009 to help improve solvency mechanisms and communication with stakeholders.

Click here to download the entire report.

Bernie’s Transportation Communications Newsletter (TCN) – June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Thursday, June 25, 2009 – ISSN 1529-1057

Register Now for IBTTA’s Workshop — Incident Management, Safety and Security, July 19-21, 2009, Denver, CO

Join the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association in Denver, CO to learn about best practices from around the world in Incident Management and Emergency Response. Gain valuable knowledge on the most effective tools and communication methods available to promote toll facility safety and security, maintain operations in the face of disruption, and effectively communicate with customers during all phases of an incident – from prevention to recovery. Meeting highlights include a technical tour of E-470 Public Highway’s Tools and Technology followed by Northwest Parkway’s 5.9GHz DSRC Multi-Application Demonstration, a networking event at INVESCO Field at Mile High, and a fundraising golf tournament to support the IBTTA Foundation. Hotel cut-off extended until July 1st. To register or view the preliminary agenda, visit IBTTA’s website today!


1) Truck Driver Who Crossed Active Logan Airport Runway Unaware It was Open

National Transportation Safety Board investigating communications with construction crews.

Link to story in The Boston Globe:

Link to preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board:

2) Delta Brings Back Red Coats to Help with Customer Service

Link to story in USA Today:

3) Better Data Sought on Web Sites for Flights

Senator Charles Schumer wants ID of airline fully clear.

Link to story in The Buffalo News:


4) Suit Claims Washington State Drivers Charged Excessive Traffic Camera Fines

Link to story on KING-TV:


5) Dallas North Tollway Wrong-Way Crashes Prompt Look at Deterrents

Link to story in The Dallas Morning News:


6) Boston Mayor to Ban City Workers from Texting

Also planning ad campaign with Safe Roads Alliance to warn of dangers of texting and driving.

Link to story in the Boston Herald:

7) New York MTA: Lockheed Martin Screwed Up on Subway Security

Transit agency says company bungled program to link 2,000 cameras capable of ‘intelligent video’ to huge surveillance command centers.

Link to story in the New York Post:

8) Texting While Driving: How Dangerous is It?

Link to story in Car and Driver:


9) DC Metro Reviewing All Train Signaling Circuits in Wake of Accident

Link to story in The Washington Post:

10) One Emerging Angle: Was the Fire Department Properly Notified of Metro Crash?

Link to story in the Washington City Paper:

11) Philadelphia, NJ Transit Officials Try to Reduce Chances of Train Crashes

Link to AP story:

12) Wisdom-Dispensing London Tube Drivers Take Riders on a Journey from A to B, via E Equals MC2

Subway drivers have been given a book of profound sayings, which they are being encouraged to dispense over the intercom.

Link to AP story:,0,4568289.story


13) Florida DOT Launches New Bilingual 511 System

Link to story on WALA-TV:


14) ‘Smart’ Airbags Too Often Fooled

Link to story from MotorMatters:

News Releases

1) Nationwide Network of Green Flight Paths a World First

2) Travelers Marketing Announces a New Safety/Service Patrol Sponsorship Program

3) Launch of the Trilingual Vocabulary of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)

Upcoming Events

European Parking Association Congress – September 23-25 – Vienna

Today in Transportation History

1954 **55th anniversary** – The US began Project Orbiter with the goal of placing a satellite in orbit.


The Transportation Communications Newsletter is published electronically Monday through Friday.

To subscribe send an e-mail to:

To unsubscribe send an e-mail to:

TCN archives:

Questions, comments about the TCN?  Please write the editor, Bernie Wagenblast at

© 2009 Bernie Wagenblast

London Metro Waxes Philosophical – We apologise for this delay to your service, but to live is to dream..

June 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm

(Sources:, London Evening Standard & AFP via Google)

London commuters are being offered the words of great thinkers including Shakespeare, Gandhi and Einstein to enliven their sometimes dull journeys on the city’s Tube.

Image Courtesy: Apture - Passengers on Piccadilly Line Train

Instead of simply apologising for delays while the service is regularised, operators can now draw on the wisdom of Greek philosophers and political thinkers and the bon mots of Shakespeare to add variety to the day.

Subway drivers have been given a book of profound sayings, which they are being encouraged to dispense over the intercom, subway operator Transport for London said Thursday.  All have been compiled by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in a passport-sized book which has been distributed to all the drivers and staff on the Piccadilly line. The title of booklet is taken from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “What is the City but the People?”    Jeremy Deller said he was motivated by annoyance at the recorded announcements that bombard Tube passengers, such as “Mind the gap” and “Stand clear of the closing doors.”

His original idea _ a day with no announcements _ was rejected by Tube bosses, “so I came up with the idea to give staff a collection of quotes and the idea grew from there.”

“I often wish announcements were more personal and reflected the realities and absurdities of living and working in a big city,” Deller said. “I think the traveling public enjoys some humor and unexpected insight during their journey.”

The sayings include proverbs from around the world _ including Swedish maxim “The afternoon knows what the morning never expected” _ and phrases by the likes of William Shakespeare, W.B. Yeats and Victor Hugo.

Some of the sayings may soothe frustrated riders, like Mahatma Gandhi’s “There is more to life than increasing at speed.” Others may hit too close to home _ how many rush-hour commuters need to be reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre’s opinion that “Hell is other people”?

Driver Susy Wells told the BBC that the sayings helped liven up a job that “can be a little bit monotonous at times.”

“It’s brilliant, and the passengers love it,” she said.

It’s the latest in a series of projects to create art for the Tube’s 3.5 million daily riders. The “Art on the Underground” campaign has seen everything from posters and paintings to a sculptural bust of Jennifer Lopez placed in subway stations across the city.

The art initiative follows “Poems on the Underground,” in which verses are printed on advertising boards inside subway trains. The project has been running since 1986, has spawned a series of books and has been imitated in other cities around the world.

Transport for London said there was no end date for the project but it has asked passengers who hear the announcements to send in their reactions by e-mail.

Quit playing with your phone: Texting And Driving Worse Than Drinking and Driving

June 25, 2009 at 2:11 pm

(Source: Jalopnik & Oregon Live, Car and Driver & CNBC)

If you use a cell phone, chances are you’re aware of “text messaging”—brief messages limited to 160 characters that can be sent or received on all modern mobile phones.  Texting, also known as SMS (for short message service), is on the rise, up from 9.8 billion messages a month in December ’05 to 110.4 billion in December ’08. Undoubtedly, more than a few of those messages are being sent by people driving cars. Is texting while driving a dangerous idea?

Image Courtesy: Jalopnik

The boys fromCarandDriver spent time determining just how bad it really is versus, say, drunk driving. Turns out drunk driving‘s safer. Here’s why.  Drivers distracted by texting are four times slower to brake to avoid a collision than those driving under the influence.  (The results in a nutshell:  Unimpaired: .54 seconds to brake; Legally drunk: add 4 feet; Reading e-mail: add 36 feet; Sending a text: add 70 feet.  If are somene who has a lot of time to spare, continue reading the test details and the explanation of the test results conducted in different scenarios.)

The testers wired a Racelogic VBOX III data logger to the test vehicle (in this case a Honda Pilot) to record vehicle speed via the VBOX’s GPS antenna and brake-pedal position and steering angle via the Pilot’s OBD II port. The testers then wired a red light to the windshield to play the role of brake lights from an imaginary car ahead of the Pilot. When the red light lit up, the driver’s supposed to hit the brakes.    Each trial, one with a younger test candidate (Jordan Brown) and using an iPhone, the other with old man (Eddie Alterman) and a Samsung Alias, would have the driver respond five times to the light, and the slowest reaction time — the time between activation of the light and driver hitting the brakes — was dropped.

Image Courtesy: Car & Driver

The results from the first test scenario involving the younger driver are as follows:

  • The younger driver’s  baseline reaction time at 35 mph of 0.45 second worsened to 0.57 while reading a text, improved to 0.52 while writing a text, and returned almost to the baseline while impaired by alcohol, at 0.46. At 70 mph, his baseline reaction was 0.39 second, while the reading (0.50), texting (0.48), and drinking (0.50) numbers were similar. But the averages don’t tell the whole story.
  • Looking at the younger driver’s slowest reaction time at 35 mph, he traveled an extra 21 feet (more than a car length) before hitting the brakes while reading and went 16 feet longer while texting. At 70 mph, a vehicle travels 103 feet every second, and older driver’s worst reaction time while reading at that speed put him about 30 feet (31 while typing) farther down the road versus 15 feet while drunk.

The results from the 2nd test scenario involving the older driver are as follows:

  • While reading a text and driving at 35 mph, the older driver’s average baseline reaction time of 0.57 second nearly tripled, to 1.44 seconds. While texting, his response time was 1.36 seconds. These figures correspond to an extra 45 and 41 feet, respectively, before hitting the brakes. His reaction time after drinking averaged 0.64 second and, by comparison, added only seven feet.
  • The results at 70 mph were similar:  The older response time while reading a text was 0.35 second longer than his base performance of 0.56 second, and writing a text added 0.68 second to his reaction time. But his intoxicated number increased only 0.04 second over the base score, to a total of 0.60 second.

Well, do you know what’s happening in the real world?  According to one industry study, still, 20 percent of drivers regularly send texts or e-mails on the road.  Governments at all levels (State, Local and Federal) are combating the texting meance with a legal and PR campaigns.  As of now, 14 states have banned driving while using handheld cell phones and a bunch of them are expected to join the bandwagon. in teh near future (Oregon is reportedly on the verge of enacting a ban).  Click here to watch a video of this story that appeared in this morning’s Today’s show.

Smart Black Box – Coming Soon to a car next to you!

June 25, 2009 at 11:45 am

(Source: Wired)

Image Courtesy: Wired

A company that provides communications systems to law enforcement agencies around the world has developed a black box similar to those used in aircraft to record crash data in cars.

The Smart Black Box by KCI Communications sticks to your windshield and uses a built-in camera, GPS unit and G-force shock sensor to document accidents. The info could come in handy when trying to determine fault or explain to your insurance company just what happened when you crunched your car.  KCI says the GPS unit will record the time and location of an accident and document your speed and direction of travel. The company says that could be useful when trying to prove that red light you ran was actually yellow or in cases where you dispute the reading on a cop’s radar.

The Smart Black Box costs about $300 and constantly records video footage on a loop as you drive. Should the shock sensor detect an accident, the device saves the 15 seconds prior to impact and the 5 seconds afterward. The footage is saved to a SD Card, like that found in your digital camera, making it accessible on a home computer.

Click here to read the entire article.

Bernie’s Transportation Communications Newsletter (TCN) – June 24, 2009

June 24, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 – ISSN 1529-1057


1) Review: In Depth Look at AT&T Navigator Voice Navigation System on the iPhone 3S

Link to ZDNet review:


2) Port of Beaumont, Texas Trying Out Mobile Command Center

Link to story on KBMT-TV:

3) Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Wants More Focus Given to Maritime Technology to Fight Security Threats

Link to Bernama story:


4) Communicating the Value of Transportation Research

Link to reports from the Transportation Research Board: (contractors final report)


5) University of Maryland Transportation Technology Helped During Deadly Metro Collision

Link to story on WJLA-TV:

6) US Senators Push for Rail Safety Tech Grants

Link to story in The Journal of Commerce:

7) US Report Criticizes Nuclear Detectors

Link to story in The Washington Post:

8) A Scanner Sharply

License plate readers, shifting through roadways for criminals, will soon be able to track you everywhere you drive.

Link to story in the New Haven Advocate:

9) FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Postpones 800 MHz Rebanding Financial Reconciliation ‘True-Up’ Date to December 31

Link to order from the Federal Communications Commission:


10) Computer Failure May Have Caused DC Subway Crash

Link to story in USA Today:

11) New York MTA Sells Naming Rights to Subway Station

Link to story in The New York Times:

12) Utah Transit Authority Cancels Closed Meeting After Newspaper Protest

Link to story in The Salt Lake Tribune:

13) SEPTA Delays ‘Smart-Card’ System Again

Link to story in The Philadelphia Inquirer:


14) A Summary of DC Metro Alerts After the Crash

Link to column in The Washington Post:


15) ‘Black Box’ Technology Comes to Cars

Link to story in Wired:

News Releases

1) Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Launches Twitter Traffic Updates

2) Operation Lifesaver Launches New Public Awareness Campaign to Reduce Train-Related Pedestrian Deaths and Injuries

3) Iteris Receives Contract Award from Abu Dhabi Department of Transport

4) OmniAir, Brisa and Northwest Parkway to Demonstrate Integrated 5.9GHz DSRC Services

Upcoming Events

Advancing Traffic Signal Management Programs through Regional Collaboration – July 23

Today in Transportation History

1969 **40th anniversary** – The Soviet Union launched Cosmos 287, a photo reconnaissance satellite.


The Transportation Communications Newsletter is published electronically Monday through Friday.

To subscribe send an e-mail to:

To unsubscribe send an e-mail to:

TCN archives:

Questions, comments about the TCN?  Please write the editor, Bernie Wagenblast at

© 2009 Bernie Wagenblast

Google’s Tentacles Unlock the Potential for Big Brother’s Foray into Unchartered Terrorities

June 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm

(Source: Daily Mail, UK & The Internet

Candid Camera: Google Street View captures moment muggers prepared to pounce on teenage victim

Caught red-handed: This image taken by a Google Street View car shows the suspects following the boy down the street before he was attacked - Image Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Dutch police have arrested two brothers on suspicion of robbery after their alleged victim spotted a picture of them following him on Google’s Street View.

The boy, 14, was mugged last September after two men dragged him of his bike in Groningen, 110 miles north-east of Amsterdam.

His attackers got away with around £140 and his mobile phone. Police were at first unable to track down the suspects.

But the victim contacted them in March after seeing what he believed to be an image of himself and the two men on Street View.

Officers got in touch with Google for the original picture because the people’s faces were blurred.  The company complied, and a robbery squad detective immediately recognised one of the brothers.

Prosecutors will now decide whether to charge the suspects, whose identities were not released.  Click here to read the entire Daily Mail article.

While this story has a happy ending (except for the twins), it does cause one to wonder just how far we are moving towards a big brother state.

Take, for example, this photo caught by the Google Street View camera:

Burgler Caught on Google StreetView Camera - Image via The

Now, perhaps this is a cat burgler. Or perhaps it’s someone who locked themselves out of their house. Or someone just practicing their climbing skills.

If there are burglaries going on in the area, however, what do you think the odds are that this man is going to get hauled in for questioning?

That said, I think that the first big law suit – which could win – over invasion of privacy with respect to Google Earth, will be when a philandering spouse is caught by the other spouse because they happen to see a picture of the philanderer with their paramour on Google Earth, and a messy (and costly) divorce ensues. Or maybe when a wonderful birthday surprise is ruined because the intended giftee accidentally sees the person purchasing the gift during a moment of serendipitous Google Earth browsing.

Since it was launched in 2007, Street View has expanded to more than 100 cities worldwide.

But it has drawn complaints from individuals and institutions that have been photographed, including the Pentagon, which barred Google from photographing U.S. military bases for the application.

Mapping North Korean Railways Using Google Earth

An article that appeard on Wired about Google’s hallmark mapping software, Google Earth,  reiterates the above notion that such technologies can aid the big brother, not just on surface of the earth but also do that from miles above the earth.

For all the saber-rattling North Korea has been doing, precious little is known about daily life in the isolated nation. Even a railway map is close to classified information.

North Korean Subway Station - Image Courtesy: Wired

A doctoral student at George Mason University is using satellite images to get a closer look at a historically secretive country. North Korea is once again in the news because of its growing nuclear threat and the imprisoning of two American journalists. By closely examining Google Earth and corroborating physical evidence of infrastructure with reports from visitors and defectors, Curtis Melvin has assembled a workable map of North Korean railways — not to mention hidden palaces and outdoor food markets. The Google Earth overlays are available at his blog, North Korean Economy Watch.

“I am confident I’ve mapped over 90 percent of the system above ground,” Melvin told “There are probably still railway lines in low-resolution areas that I have not been able to find. Additionally, there are likely underground passages that I am unable to map, and the size of these I cannot guess.”

Since Kim Jong-Il is reportedly terrified of flying, Dear Leader travels on a luxurious private train that carries him between “on-the-spot-guidance opportunities.” That’s one thing for which we don’t blame him, considering the state of national airline Air Koryo. According to Melvin, there are special train tracks that carry VIPs to oases of luxury in the impoverished nation. “Several elite compounds have private train stations,” he said. “We can follow the railway lines through the security perimeters and into the elite compounds.”

Melvin has even managed to dig up some dirt on the inscrutable Pyongyang Metro — that’s the system’s Puhung station in the photo. Far from a Potemkin public transit system, the parts of the metro hidden from tourists seem to be less impressive but still functioning. “I have seen a couple of official pictures of other stations. They are much more spartan than the two shown to tourists,” Melvin said.

Click here to read the entire Wired Autopia article.

Transport for London liberates cyclists from silly clothes with the Bspoke range

June 24, 2009 at 3:17 pm

(Source: Times Online, UK)

At last, specialist cycle clothing that does not make me look like I am wearing fancy dress

Two types of bicycle clothing: (left) Bspoke Holborn men's cycling jacket and (right) the cycle suit tailored by Russell Howarth from Dashing Tweeds. Photograph: PR (Image via Times Online, UK)

Cyclists world over had the problem with finding comfortable clothes that don’t make you look like an alien of a figure hugging ballerina and now the good folks at Transport for London have finally decided to take matters into their own hands.  An article by Peter Robins, that appeard on the TIMES UK-Ethical Living blog discussed this new solution offered by the Brits.  Here I present you some key sections of this wonderful article:

“Boris Johnson has made me a jacket. Or possibly it was Ken Livingstone. Whichever it was, they also made me some trousers, and one of those half-zipped semi-cardigan whatsits – I have yet to actually try those. Truly, if you want to understand the politics, in several senses, of what to wear on a bicycle these days, there are few better starting points than the Bspoke clothing range.

The Bspoke range, supported and to some extent pushed into existence by Transport for London, is designed to look like normal clothing while behaving like specialist cycle clothing. That’s not a need you might normally expect to concern a branch of the government, but it is a real need.

Cycling is not kind to normal clothes. Chains and saddles can do very bad things to trousers – wheels, I’m told, can do even worse things to skirts – and pedals have a way of hammering soles. Although a standard-paced pootle is not nearly as strenuous as non-cyclists might think, a hot day or a dash to an appointment can quickly fill a shirt with sweat. While you may need rain protection, you also need peripheral vision, so anything with a hood becomes an encumbrance.

On the other hand, cycling clothes are not kind to normal humans. All that close fitting – even if you avoid Lycra – and all those violent high-visibility colours will make you look, at best, like a Star Trek version of a building contractor. The cuts, in many cases, only seem entirely natural when you are hunched and pumping. Pockets, where they occur at all, are in weird places and either constricted or sack-like. What’s more, conspicuous cycle clothes turn you into an unambiguous, single-purposed cyclist, impossible for a passer-by or an irritated lorry driver to picture in any more sympathetic context.

All that could be tolerable for sport or leisure biking somewhere quiet, but not so much on a city street, and not if you’re going into an office – in the case of some designs, not even if you’re walking through an office to find somewhere to change. Not, in other words, if you want to incorporate a bike into your life as a regular mode of transport. And that is the point at which it becomes clear why TfL should have become interested in making jackets.

TfL, of course, is not the only organisation trying to liberate cyclists from Lycra; it has become quite a fashionable exercise. Many of the best publicised efforts, however –Dashing Tweeds’ designs, the Tweed Run, Rapha’s bewildering £3,500 men’s bicycle suit – draw on cycling’s turn-of-last-century heritage to self-consciously spectacular effect. They reject a 1960s sci-fi costume for a steampunk one. Dressing up as an Edwardian ninja, or for that matter as a bicycle messenger, does not strike me as being profoundly different from dressing up as part of the peloton. True, the clothes are not so repulsively unflattering, but it still feels like fancy dress. I don’t want to be in fancy dress.

Click here to read the entire article.  Oh, and don’t forget to register your comments after reading.

TransportGooru Musings: My exploration into the TfL website for information on Bspoke found the following: “bspoke is a versatile clothing collection that performs within an urban environment and yet has a timeless fashion for day/work wear.  Supported by Transport for London’s bike to work programme the bspoke team has designed two separate year round collections for men and women. Clothes combine performance fabrics with innovative detailing to make sure your daily commute is a safe and comfortable one.  However it is the attention to contemporary styling and silhouettes’ that makes bspoke unique amongst other leisure or sporting specific clothing.”

Hmm..Though I am not sure whether our American parliamentarians (rather Congressmen – for those who don’t know what the term Parliament means) would give some money to the USDOT for designing some sleek clothing for bikers in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill,  I am positive that some of them avid bikers (like Rep. Oberstar & Rep. Bleumenauer) wouldn’t mind sporting such a sleek clothing line while biking around the US Capitol Building, sending a strong(but expensive) message promoting bicycling.  Now, that would be worth spending!

Webinar Alert: ITS America Announces Webinar Series on Climate Change and Transportation

June 24, 2009 at 11:36 am

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) is pleased to announce a series of Webinars focusing on how climate change can affect surface transportation.

  • “What Does Climate Change Legislation Mean for Surface Transportation?”  – Wednesday, July 8,  from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • “How is California Addressing Surface Transportation Issues?” – Wednesday, July 15, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • “What is Detroit Doing to Alleviate Environmental Concerns in Surface Transportation?” –  Wednesday, July 22 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The registration fee for members of ITS America is $45 per Webinar (or $105 for the series) and $90 per Webinar for nonmembers or ($240 for the series).

To register, download the registration form here.

Transportation Reauthorization (STAA) Updates: Media Round-up June 24, 2009

June 24, 2009 at 10:02 am

(Source:  Minnesota Public Radio, The Hill, The Trucker, Detroit Free Press, Transportation for America)

Image Courtesy:USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood's Blog - Fast Lane

Legislative Journey Begins:

Congressman Jim Oberstar’s transportation bill starts its legislative journey today with a draft session scheduled in a House of Representatives subcommittee.

It’s the one of the first steps toward a vote for the bill, which would nearly double current spending. The Obama administration has proposed postponing reform, but Oberstar says waiting dooms the country to years of delay on transportation projects.

Oberstar’s Surface Transportation Authorization Act would provide $337 billion in funding for highway construction, $100 billion for public transit and $50 billion to build a nationwide high-speed rail system–a grand total of nearly $500 billion over six years.

Funding for the bill remains sketchy, though Oberstar promises details as it progresses. There’s been no talk of increasing the federal gasoline tax which hasn’t been raised for 16 years.

Oberstar rails against the Obama administration position, saying an 18-month delay, given how Congress does its work, translates into a four-year wait for federal money from a new federal transportation bill. Oberstar’s timeline for finishing work on a new federal transportation bill is ambitious. He wants a vote no later than just after Labor Day.

LaHood told a Senate Appropriations transportation panel last week that he wants to work in the 18-month extension for the kinds of program changes that lawmakers seek.

“Our number one priority is to fix the Highway Trust Fund, to pay for it, to find money, and along the way here if we can have the discussions about these other things, I think we should,” LaHood said.

But Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said: “Conversations are great; passing legislation is hard.” She said she was “concerned about some of the lack of details … You’re offering a general framework for us, but we can’t wait very long for a proposal.”

Unlikely Ally – K Street:

Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) has a powerful ally in his battle with the White House over the highway bill: K Street.

Trade associations, unions and business coalitions are getting behind the House Transportation Committee chairman in his push to complete the $450 billion measure before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. The Obama administration has argued the transportation reauthorization bill is a bridge too far for an already jam-packed legislative agenda and wants to extend the current law at least 18 months before Capitol Hill can take on new reforms.

But lobbyists are arguing that the debate over how best to pay the increased transportation funding Oberstar is proposing — whether it is through raising the tax on gasoline or taxing vehicle mileage — cannot wait any longer.

But the administration has opposed lawmakers who wish to raise the gas tax to pay for the new transportation bill. LaHood and others argue the new tax hike would be overly burdensome on the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans during the recession.

Lobbyists believe the legislation, which will help fund repairs not only to highways but to transit systems and railroads, will provide a boost to the nation’s economy, much like the stimulus package was designed to do.

For his push to finish the bill before the end of the fiscal year, Oberstar can expect to find support among many of the trade associations that have been lobbying the transportation reauthorization this year. Like AAPA and LIUNA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Associated General Contractors of America are also supportive of the Minnesota Democrat’s desire to complete the bill in 2009, according to statements they released last week.

Many praised several reforms that were included in Oberstar’s blueprint released last week, including creating a Transportation Department Office of Intermodalism to better organize the nation’s transportation system and a national infrastructure bank to fund transportation projects.

Strong provisions for monitoring drug and alcohol abuse by truckers

The draft of the new highway reauthorization bill authored primarily by Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee contains strong language requiring the Secretary of Transportation to establish a clearinghouse for records relating to alcohol and controlled substances testing of commercial motor vehicle operators.

It’s a clearinghouse long desired by federal officials and trucking executives and would be designed to keep repeat substance abuse offenders from jumping from company to company.

The clearinghouse would be a repository of records relating to violations of the testing program by individuals submitted to the DOT.

The bill requires the clearinghouse to be in operation not later than one year after the enactment of the new highway bill.

Under the present system, a CDL holder can fail a drug test and be fired from his or her present employer, but is not required to tell a prospective new employer about the failed test.

D.C. Metro Crash Spurs Transit Funding Debate

Public transit advocates seized on Monday’s commuter rail crash in Washington to make the case for overhauling the country’s transportation system.  Authorities were still searching the wreckage Tuesday when Transportation for America, a coalition of interest groups and local officials, cited the deadliest crash in the Metro’s 33-year history to make the case for advancing a new transit authorization bill on Capitol Hill this year.

“In the big picture, what we can say is that we have underinvested in taking care of our infrastructure, roads, bridges and public transportation,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America.

Lawmakers from around the Washington area also spoke of the need to pay for rail projects in the wake of the crash, which killed nine people and injured 76, although some cautioned not to draw conclusions before investigators determine what led the two trains on the red line to collide.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called for a congressional hearing Tuesday to help determine how the crash occurred.

Norton, after meeting with officials of the National Transportation Safety Board, expressed outrage that the older car in the crash wasn’t retired, as those officials had recommended years ago. She noted that Congress once heard safety officials testify for more funding to maintain the Metrorail system, and that appropriators have failed to fully fund their request.

“Congress had the ultimate wake-up call yesterday,” she said. “The only appropriate response is to begin to eliminate the crash-unworthy cars with this year’s appropriations.”