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This Week in Washington - July 20

Obama Announces Major Port Projects to Be Expedited
House Panel Eliminates STEM Education Program
Visit With Your Representative In August
Foreign Relations Group Assesses US Transportation Policy
Debating Science and Engineering on the Campaign Trail
State Legislative News




Obama Announce Major Port Projects to be Expedited

The Obama Administration has announced that as part of its “We Can’t Wait” initiative, seven nationally and regionally significant infrastructure projects will be expedited to help modernize and expand five major ports in the United States, including the Port of Jacksonville, the Port of Miami, the Port of Savannah, the Port of New York and New Jersey, and the Port of Charleston.

"I am excited to hear the Administration is taking steps to speed up improvements of some of America’s most important infrastructure and our lifeline to international trade – our ports,” said ASCE President Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E.

In March, President Obama signed an Executive Order to charge the Office of Management and Budget with making the permitting and review process for infrastructure projects more efficient and effective. These are the first seven of the initial 43 projects that will be expedited by the Executive Order – additional expedited infrastructure projects will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Obama Administration also announced the establishment of a White House-led Task Force that will consist of senior officials from various White House offices, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, Homeland Security, and the Treasury. The Task Force will develop a Federal strategy and coordinated decision-making principles that focus on the economic return of investments into coastal ports and related infrastructure to support the movement of commerce throughout the Nation.

For more information on the port projects selected please visit the White House site.

To read President Herrmann’s full statement, visit ASCE’s website.
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House Panel Eliminates STEM Education Program

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies has completed work on its FY 2013 funding bill. As written, the bill would eliminate the Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnership (MPC) program. The program was funded at $150 million in FY 2012. MPS is a formula grant program for the states, with the size of individual state awards based on student population and poverty rates. No state receives less than one half of one percent of the total appropriation. With these funds, each state is responsible for administering a competitive grant competition, in which grants are made to partnerships to improve teacher knowledge in mathematics and science. It is also the only program within the U.S. Department of Education which is designed to support K-12 STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) education.

The Senate Subcommittee has also completed work on their version of the legislation, which includes full funding of $150 million for the program in FY 2013. Efforts were made in the Senate to cut the funding by one-third, but at the Subcommittee mark-up the effort was defeated.

ASCE supports the program and is working with the STEM Education Coalition to preserve funding in FY2013. ASCE is a founder and steering committee member of the STEM Education Coalition. Details on Coalition activities can be viewed here. ASCE urges you to contact your member of the House of Representatives and voice your support for this critical program.

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Visit With Your Representative in August

Members of Congress will spend a large part of August in their home districts and the time to plan for your August Back Home Visit with your lawmaker is now. View the 2012 Congressional Calendar for dates (subject to change).

ASCE's Key Contact Program is ready to provide you with guidance to make the most of your Back Home Visit or Town Hall Meeting attendance this August.

Visit ASCE's Back Home Visit briefing webpage to get tips on making an appointment or finding a Town Hall Meeting near you, which includes updated issue brief information.

If you have further questions regarding Back Home Visits, contact ASCE Government Relations at

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Foreign Relations Group Assesses US Transportation Policy

The Renewing America initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations recently released a report entitled “Road to Nowhere”, a bleak assessment of current federal transportation policy. The report looks at the current policy challenges the nation faces, what has been done recently to improve our transportation infrastructure, and what the public wants from our infrastructure. It includes data and conclusions from ASCE’s Failure to Act transportation report. As the report explains, while Americans believe the nation’s infrastructure should be a top priority, they remain unwilling to pay for it.

The full report and infographics can be found here.

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Debating Science and Engineering on the Campaign Trail

It would be hard to imagine the world without the advancements in science and technology that have shaped our lives. We rely on energy solutions to power our homes, vaccinations to keep us healthy and disease-free, and the broad spectrum of engineering to solve problems and advance our society. Over the past few months ASCE and partner organizations in the STEM fields have been working to further the conversation and spur the debate on the proper role of science in our society.

Science Debate is a non-profit organization dedicated to “elevating science and engineering policy issues in the national dialogue of the United State”. ASCE was one of several scientific and engineering organizations recruited to help Science Debate formulate questions posed to candidates aimed at raising the profile of science and engineering issues during campaigns.

To read the rest of this post, and others written by ASCE staff and members, visit our blog

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State Legislative News

Governor signs funding for high-speed rail
At a ceremony in Los Angeles, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday morning to allocate $7.9 billion to the California High-Speed Rail, committing the state to the project despite poor prospects for future funding. This initial round of funding was in doubt up until the Legislature’s final vote this month. Critics of the high-speed rail plan have blasted it for rising costs, for unrealistic ridership projections and for barreling through homes, businesses and prime Central Valley farmland. In the end, however, just enough legislative Democrats supported the plan, saying the state faced a greater risk if it didn’t move forward with construction, even though the state doesn’t know how it will pay for the entire project, which is now pegged at$68 billion. No Republicans in the Legislature supported the funding.
Read More: Orange County Register 7/18

Environmentalists see ulterior motive behind east-west highway; Vigue denies claims
Two environmental groups blasted Cianbro Corp.’s east-west highway proposal on Monday, charging that the likely route would affect conservation sites and hurt the state’s economy by damaging its “brand” as a wild and natural place — allegations the project’s chief sponsor vehemently denied. Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of Restore: The North Woods, and Jonathan Carter, director of Forest Ecology Network, both said Monday that there are too many questions about the plan and public comment is too scarce. Carter also suggested that the highway proposal actually was secondary to industry’s desire to have a potential resource and utilities corridor across the state with transmission lines carrying power and telecommunications and pipelines carrying tar sands gas, oil, water and other resources. Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp., strongly denied that on Monday.
Read More: Bangor Daily News 7/16

Governor Appoints Randy Peters to Lead Department of Roads
Governor Dave Heineman today announced that he has appointed Randy Peters of Lincoln to be the Director and State Engineer of the Nebraska Department of Roads. Peters, 57, a registered professional engineer, has served as the Deputy Director of Engineering since 2009. He will officially take over on August 4. “I’m pleased Randy will be the new Director of the Department of Roads,” Gov. Heineman said. “Randy has served as an excellent Deputy Director. He understands the various aspects of the Department. He works closely with federal officials and are other partners across the state. Randy has the knowledge, professionalism and experience to be a strong director.”
Read More: News Release 7/10

Attorney seeks new judge for Vegas water rights challenge
A new judge will be found to hear a legal challenge of a plan to pump groundwater from rural eastern Nevada and pipe it to the Las Vegas area, officials said Thursday. Attorney Simeon Herskovits said he exercised a right to transfer the case from former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Miriam Shearing to another judge. Herskovits represents a coalition appealing the top Nevada state water official's decision to let the Southern Nevada Water Authority draw millions of gallons a year from sparsely populated eastern Nevada valleys.
Read More: Deseret News 7/15

New Mexico
Legislation aims to help NM rural, tribal communities pay for approved water infrastructure
Some of New Mexico's rural and tribal communities would get help in meeting their future water needs through legislation introduced by the state's two U.S. senators. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow the Bureau of Reclamation to direct $80 million annually into high-priority rural water projects that have already been approved by Congress. The senators say these are funds that would otherwise be paid into the Reclamation Fund.
Read More: The Republic 7/18

North Carolina
Pending NC toll road projects less a sure thing
An unusual probe by North Carolina Republican legislators into edited state Department of Transportation letters on funding for two divisive toll projects raised howls among Democrats who believed it was designed to embarrass Governor Beverly Perdue. Republicans defended their investigation as neither about politics nor the merits of the Garden Parkway and Mid-Currituck Bridge projects — but rather ensuring that lawmakers get factual information from state officials. However, the investigation raised more questions about if or when shovels of dirt will be turned over for the bridge and parkway construction, which was mandated by the Legislature when it was in Democratic hands. A new crop of elected GOP lawmakers in the majority have questioned the efficacy of going through with the projects, giving hope to project opponents.
Read More: Daily Advance 6/15

Most in audience at public hearing pan Gov. John Kasich's plan to lease Ohio Turnpike
If the first public hearing on the issue of leasing the Ohio Turnpike is any indication of how people feel, Governor John Kasich won't like the outcome. Of the 77 people in attendance Tuesday, 75 raised their hands to say they are against the governor's idea of privatizing the 241-mile toll road that spans Ohio from Indiana to Pennsylvania -- and many made strong statements for keeping the status quo. The vast majority in attendance at the Lorain County Transportation and Community Center agreed with the analysis of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study that concluded the turnpike is an efficiently run, revenue-producing asset and, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Read More: Cleveland Plain Dealer 7/17

Transit meltdown: Port Authority cuts will hurt more than expected
Anyone who has experienced Pittsburgh on a stifling summer day knows the simple number on a thermometer doesn't tell the whole story. You've got to consider both the heat and the humidity to gauge the misery. The gap between the Port Authority's $60 million shortfall and the real cost of its impact on Allegheny County residents is like that. If the Port Authority goes ahead with the 35 percent service reduction necessary to balance its books, the actual cost to commuters will be $328 million to $405 million per year.
Read more: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 7/19

Rhode Island
Providence mayor proposes borrowing $40 million to fix streets
Mayor Angel Taveras, who was warning that the city was close to bankruptcy four months ago, now wants to borrow $40 million to repave 62 miles of streets and make other infrastructure improvements. That mileage represents about 15 percent of the city-maintained streets, according to Michael Raia, Taveras' director of communications. The proposal was introduced to the City Council Wednesday and held for study as a matter of routine.
Read More: Providence Journal 7/11

Port Authority must submit plan as state weighs bids
Virginia International Terminals Inc., the private company that has operated the Virginia Port Authority's facilities for three decades, is being challenged by the state's transportation chief to prove it can run the port better than any other potential operator. The state is preparing to evaluate proposals from APM Terminals Inc. and, possibly, other groups that want to operate Hampton Roads' container terminals. Virginia International Terminals has been asked to file a "proposal" that will be considered as well, Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton said Wednesday in an email to The Pilot.
Read More: Virginian Pilot 7/12

VDOT Announces Proposals to Enhance Transportation Operations Centers
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) today issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking private sector competition to operate, integrate and innovate the state's Transportation Operations Centers. VDOT operates centers in five geographic locations that monitor traffic conditions via cameras and other technology, providing traveler information on road conditions and coordinating congestion management and incident response. "We are seeking innovation. The commonwealth is a leader among state departments of transportation in providing real-time traffic information to motorists, and we want to build on that reputation," said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. "I believe the private sector will help us employ the latest technological tools and advancements to better manage traffic and respond to incidents."
Read More: VDOT News release 7/10 
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