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This Week in Washington - July 6

  
Transportation Bill Signed Into Law 
Dam Safety Bill Introduced In The Senate
House Bill Would Waive Federal License for Small Hydropower Facilities 
Derecho Leaves Millions without Power from DC To Chicago 
Last Chance for Issues Survey 
ASCE Needs Your Success Stories for the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure
State Legislative News  

Transportation Bill to be Signed Into Law Friday Afternoon 

President Obama will sign the surface transportation bill, MAP-21 (HR 4348), today at the White House. The President’s signature comes 1,010 days after the last surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired. The new $118 billion, 27 month piece of legislation will fund programs until September 2014.

ASCE President Andrew Herrmann, P.E., SECB, F.ASCE, will be in attendance for this afternoon’s signing ceremony.  Hundreds of ASCE Key Contacts assisted in this effort by responding to Key Alerts asking them to call, email or make visits with their elected officials to let them know how vital this legislation is to the nation’s infrastructure, and to the livelihoods of all Americans.  Thanks to all those who helped!

For more information on the legislation and to see how your Senators and Representative voted on the final surface transportation bill please visit our “Transportation in Action” page

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Dam Safety Bill Introduced in the Senate
 

Senators Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), John Boozman (R-AR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Dam Safety Act of 2012 last week. The bill, S. 3362, will reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program for Fiscal Years 2012 through 2016 at $13.9 million per year including:

•    $9.2 million per year split among the states, based on the relative number of dams per state, to make improvements in programs identified in the National Dam Safety Program Act;

•    $1.45 million per year in research funds to identify more effective techniques to assess, construct, and monitor dams;

•    $1 million per year for a nationwide public awareness and outreach program;

•    $750,000 per year in training assistance to state engineers; and

•    $500,000 per year for the National Inventory of Dams.

The House added the National Dam Safety Program to legislation reauthorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (H.R. 2903) which was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management on March 8th, 2012.

ASCE graded the nation’s dams a “D” in the 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure and estimated that $12.5 billion would be needed to repair all the nation’s 85,000 dams. Reauthorizing the National Dam Safety Program, which expired in September 2011, allows for state dam safety officials to receive federal funds to create more robust programs. Since the creation of the program in 1996, inspection numbers and emergency action plan numbers have gone up significantly.

Senator Akaka’s press statement, including quotes from ASCE can be found here

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House Bill Would Waive Federal License for Small Hydropower Facilities 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has approved a bill that would waive federal licensing requirements for small hydropower projects.

Under current requirements of the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues licenses and regulates hydroelectric facilities, regardless of size.

The bill, H.R. 5892, would amend current law to allow FERC to extend certain permits related to hydroelectric facilities and exempt small hydroelectric facilities with generating capacity of 10 megawatts or less from FERC’s licensing requirements.

In addition, the bill would direct the Secretary of Energy to study the feasibility of generating hydroelectric power using water flowing through conduits, or at facilities that store water.  Finally, the bill would authorize FERC to carry out pilot projects to demonstrate the potential of generating hydroelectric power at non-powered dams and water-storage facilities.

The Congressional Budget Office said the proposed changes to FERC’s permitting and licensing requirements would reduce the commission’s workload.

“We also estimate that FERC would spend about $1 million on pilot projects authorized under the bill, assuming appropriation of necessary amounts,” the CBO said.  “However, because FERC recovers 100 percent of its costs through user fees, any change in the agency’s costs (which are controlled through annual appropriation acts) would be offset by an equal change in fees that the commission charges, resulting in no net change in federal spending.”

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Derecho Leaves Millions Without Power From DC to Chicago 

A powerful “derecho” storm swept through the Washington, DC region, as well as Pennsylvania and Ohio, leaving millions without power. Reports estimate that as many as 5 million people lost power from Chicago to the East Coast, and at least 22 people were killed as a result of the storm. Unlike a tornado, derechos are fast-moving “straight-wind” storms that are uncommon to the region, typically occurring once every four years, and often triggered by high temperatures. Winds gusted up to 70 mph in the DC area, toppling trees and power lines, and after two days of sweltering heat, one in four people were still without power in the DC region. Many questioned whether our nation’s electricity infrastructure is in adequate condition to handle severe weather events. In addition to massive power outages, the heat has also caused roads to buckle across the East Coast.  

ASCE’s most recent Failure to Act report on the electric grid found that more than 70 percent of the nation’s electricity transmission lines and power transformers are more than 25 years old, and 60 percent of the nation’s circuit breakers are currently more than 30 years old. Without new investment, service interruptions and capacity bottlenecks will contribute to more frequent and unpredictable service interruptions that become direct costs to businesses and households. The study anticipates that failing to invest will cost households $6 billion in 2012, $71 billion in total by 2020, and $354 billion in total by 2040.

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Last Chance for Issue Survey 

Time is running out to help us prioritize public policy issues by taking ASCE’s 2013 legislative Issues Survey.

Complete the online survey  

The survey closes Friday, July 6, 2012.

Results from the survey will be used by the ASCE’s Public Policy Committee and the Board of Direction to determine the Society’s legislative Priority Issues Agenda for 2013.

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ASCE Needs Your Success Stories for the 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure

While the 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure showed that there is much work to be done to raise the grades, we know there are countless examples of projects and programs from across the country that demonstrate progress is being made. The 2013 Report Card will feature these “Success Stories” to demonstrate how public and private organizations have addressed specific infrastructure problems with some creativity and determination.  

As we develop the 2013 Report Card, we need your help to tell these stories!  We would like to identify a diverse set of Success Stories for each of the 16 categories that will be covered in the 2013 Report Card:  Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Public Parks and Recreation, Rail, Roads, Schools, Solid Waste, Transit, Wastewater, and the new category of Ports.  

Projects or programs cited as Success Stories should be those that in some way integrate at least one of ASCE’s Five Key Solutions:

  • Increased federal leadership
  • Promotion of sustainability and resilience
  • Develop federal, regional, and state infrastructure plans
  • Address life-cycle costs and ongoing maintenance
  • Increase and improve infrastructure investment from all stakeholders

Please use this online form to let us know about Success Stories that we should include in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Feel free to include photos or web links with your submission. If you have any questions, please contact Aaron Castelo at govwash@asce.org.

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State Legislative News  


California 
With new money pledged for Caltrain, state’s bullet train likely to pass Friday, officials say 
California lawmakers will finally vote Friday on the plan to start building the state's high-speed rail project, and in a surprise twist, money for the polarizing bullet train will be tied to a deal that would save the popular Caltrain commuter service.  Governor Jerry Brown's final bullet train funding proposal released Wednesday includes the last $705 million needed to electrify the existing train line between San Francisco and San Jose. The Caltrain money was supposed to be debated next year as a separate plan.
Read More:  Mercury News 7/5


Florida
Two political insiders to survey Florida's big landowners about toll road routes 
Two developers who played a role in dismantling growth management laws in Florida are getting paid by the Department of Transportation to consult on what could be the largest state road project in history.  The project is Future Corridors, a series of at least four toll roads that would crisscross the state's rural areas to spur economic growth, create jobs and birth another generation of suburban communities.
Read More:  Tampa Bay Times 7/5


Louisiana
 
Gateway Louisiana port could be dry by harvest time
The Port of Lake Providence, a gateway for many of Louisiana’s commodity crops to reach national and global markets, could be dry by harvest season.  Despite securing $1.2 million in federal disaster funding to dredge the port in East Carroll Parish, low Mississippi River levels are preventing navigation in and out of the harbor.  “The scenario is dire,” said W. Wyly Gilfoil Sr., executive director of port operations. “Farmers may have to dump their corn on the ground unless we can get more dredging or the river rises.”  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractor Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel left the shallow-draft port over the weekend after completing what turned out to be an insufficient dredge.  But Kent Parrish, program director for the corps’ Mississippi River and Tributaries project, said he hopes more dredging can be done before the harvest.
Read More:  The Town Talk 7/2


New York 
Bridge Improvement Projects Underway 
Several local bridge improvement projects are underway as part of the NY Works program.  The State DOT, along with several other local officials, announced details of the nearly $20 million effort on Monday.  Eleven bridges are having some kind of work done over the next year and many of those projects have already begun. None of those bridges have been deemed unsafe, but the work is being done before repairs are necessary.  Some of the projects included are the Dunn Memorial, Congress Street and the Patroon Island Bridges over the Hudson River, as well as the Twin Bridges on the Northway.  Officials say in addition to the repairs which improve safety, these projects are an important part of the economic recovery.  All of the eleven bridge projects will either be completed by the end of this construction season or next construction season.
Read More:  YNN-TV 7/2


North Carolina
 
Senate Committee refers DOT letters case to Ethics Commission 
The state Senate Rules Committee voted Thursday to ask the state Ethics Commission to review the results of an inquiry into altered Department of Transportation letters, saying the actions of several state employees deserve further scrutiny.  The committee’s chairman, Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, said the commission must review why lawmakers received letters this month that altered the position of a top DOT official on a roads funding issue.  The Ethics Commission probes ethical issues in state government and has the power to recommend various types of action, including dismissal, for such things as conflicts of interest or improper gift giving. But it is not clear what rules would apply to the letters matter.
Read more:  News Observer 6/28 


Oklahoma 
University of Oklahoma students work with state Department of Transportation to repair, replace bridges 
Students in the OU Bridge Squad work alongside Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers to repair, replace and improve bridges across the state.  The department hires sophomore engineering students as interns and puts them through an intensive training program, said Transportation Department engineering manager Annie Lombardo.  The students work up to 20 hours per week until they finish their bachelor's degree, she said. During summer and other breaks, the interns have the option of working full time.
Read more:  Oklahoman 7/3


Pennsylvania 
PA Oks “public-private” projects on roads and bridges 
Pennsylvania lawmakers on Saturday approved new ways to build roads or fix bridges - but did little to pay for them.  The "public-private partnership" measure sent to Governor Corbett would allow companies to propose new highway projects, and give state and local government more flexibility to use firms to design, build, finance, and manage roads.  But the measure did not make a dent in the state's $3.5 billion-a-year shortfall for transportation.  Pennsylvania has more structurally deficient bridges than any state in the nation, more than 5,000, and 26 percent of its state-owned roads - about 8,000 miles - are in very poor condition.
Read More:  Inquirer 7/4


Texas 
TxDOT Announces Over $1.5 Billion in Transportation Projects across the State 
The Texas Department of Transportation this afternoon announced that state officials have given final approval to $1.9 billion of transportation projects across the state. The approval came from the Texas Transportation Commission, in its revision of the 2012 Unified Transportation Program (UTP) to TxDOT.  Major projects across the state include the Interstate 35 expansion through Central Texas will benefit with a $9 million award to fund new construction and design of Loop 574, a connector to I-35 in Waco. Work will also commence on portions of Interstate 69 (NAFTA Super-Highway) in the Lufkin and Nacogdoches areas with $12 million dedicated to conducting the necessary environmental review and right of way identification for developing portions of I-69 in that area.  The additional funding sources originate from Texas Mobility Fund bond proceeds, anticipated federal funding and savings on construction projects currently under way make up the $1.9 billion in allocations.
Read More:  KYFO Radio 6/29 


Virginia 
Loudoun County OKs Metro Silver Line project
By 2018, Metro riders will be able to take the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport.  The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 Tuesday to extend the rail line through the airport and into the county after months of political wrangling and number crunching.  The county will have to pay at least $270 million toward the rail line's $2.7 billion second phase, which will extend the Silver Line from Reston into Loudoun.  The $2.9 billion first phase, which will pass through Tysons Corner and ends in Reston, is under construction and scheduled to carry passengers by early 2014.  If Loudoun had refused to join the project, construction and financing plans would have to be redrawn, delaying the rail line's completion by at least 18 months and adding millions of dollars to its price tag.
Read More:  Washington Examiner 7/3


Washington 
Commission Asks Public to Speak Out on Transportation 
The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) today launched the Voice of Washington State (VOWS) statewide public engagement program, which includes seven regional online discussion forums and an online survey panel. The WSTC is asking state residents to log on to www.voiceofwashingtonstate.org to sign up and share input on how to improve the state’s transportation system.  Individuals can join the VOWS Online Discussion Forums and publicly voice their opinions, post ideas and interact with other citizens in their community. They can also join the VOWS Survey Panel to participate in occasional online surveys. The Commission is using the new online forum technology to empower citizens to become thought-leaders on transportation.
Read More:  Washington State Transportation Commission 6/28