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This Week in Washington - June 29

 
House and Senate Pass Transportation Bill 
Transportation Appropriations Passes House 
ASCE Joins in Infrastructure “Jobs of the Future” Event at White House  
Dam Safety Bill Introduced In the Senate  
House Committee Cuts EPA Funding For 2013 
U.S. Appeals Court Upholds EPA Rules on Greenhouse Gases 
Last Chance for Issues Survey 
ASCE Needs Your Success Stories for the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure 
ASCE Attends Council of State Government Event 
State Legislative Update  

 

House and Senate Pass Transportation Bill

Update: The House of Representatives passed the transportation conference report by a vote of 373-52 Friday afternoon. The Senate passed it 74-19.

The House and Senate worked vigorously all week to come to a compromise surface transportation conference report on Wednesday night. The announcement of a deal came over 1,000 days after the last surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009. The conference deal, which runs through the end of September 2014, will keep transportation spending at current levels and extend the authority to collect gasoline taxes through September 2016. The deal will be voted on today, first by the Senate, with the House following shortly thereafter. The bill is expected to pass through both chambers and be signed by the President before the 9th extension to surface transportation programs expires on Saturday.

The House and Senate agreement on Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), will set highway spending at $39.7 billion in fiscal 2013 and $40.3 billion in fiscal 2014.  Mass transit formula grants would be set at $8.5 billion in fiscal 2013 and $8.6 billion in fiscal 2014. Additional revenues will mostly come from collecting revenues from changes to federal pensions and moving money from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank trust fund into the Highway Trust Fund.

The new bill makes significant programmatic reforms, many of which ASCE has been long supported. The deal consolidates federal programs in an attempt to make them more competitive and streamlines the environmental review process to speed project delivery. The bill also has a focus on performance standards for highway and bridge maintenance, and ties some funding to whether states meet performance goals laid out in the bill. 

The TIFIA grant program will see a substantial increase to $750 million in 2013 and $1 billion in 2014, a move which ASCE strongly advocated for over the past few months. The TIFIA program will also now operate on a first-come, first served basis, removing evaluation criteria.

Next, the Transportation Enhancements program will also see some changes. First, the program will now be called the Transportation Alternative program and each state will set-aside 2 percent of the amount apportioned for their enhancement activities. However, if these funds are not allocated within the state, the state may transfer up to 50% of those funds to other programs.

MAP-21 also includes the RESTORE Act language, which would establish the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The trust fund would contain 80% of all penalties paid from parties responsible for the gulf coast oil spill in order to pay for the extensive clean-up efforts. ASCE, through the Water Resources Coalition has been supportive of the inclusion of the RESTORE Act language.

Additionally, MAP-21 expands the ability of states to place tolls on any Federal-aid facility for any new capacity and removes the Bingaman amendment, which ASCE opposed, that would have reduced highway formula funds for states that sell or lease toll facilities to private companies.

Finally, turning to research, the bill provides $400 million for transportation research and authorizes 35 competitive grants to be provided annually for University Transportation Centers, a move which ASCE supported.

ASCE is happy to see that Congress came to a bipartisan agreement on surface transportation programs and worked to get a bill done by June 30th. However, it must be noted that this is just a critical first step to raising the grades for our nation’s surface transportation system. As ASCE has documented, we are not investing nearly enough to bring our roads, bridges, and transit systems to an acceptable condition that will serve our economy in the long-run. Therefore, ASCE will continue to work with Congress on a long-term, reliable funding source to meet these goals.

In the meantime, Key Contacts should CALL their Representative and Senators and urge them to vote YES on the surface transportation conference report http://capwiz.com/asce/callalert/index.tt?alertid=61516466&PROCESS=Call+Now 

For a summary of the bill look here  

For ASCE’s letter urging Members of Congress to vote YES look here

For ASCE’s press statement on reaching a conference report look here 

For past letters on a surface transportation reauthorization please check out our testimony and correspondence page.

View ASCE’s “Transportation In Action” Page here 

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Transportation Appropriations Passes House

The House debated amendments to the $51.6 billion Transportation appropriations bill (H.R. 5972) this week, and is expected to vote on the legislation today. Among the amendments adopted is a prohibition on the Department of Transportation to study or fund studies on using a vehicle miles traveled system to fund the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).

The bill provides the following funding for transportation:

  • Highways – Provides $39.1 billion from the HTF to be spent, which is the same level as last year and $2.7 billion below the President’s request.
  • Air – The FAA would receive $12.6 billion, $91 million above last year’s level. The bill also provides nearly $1 billion for NextGen and rejects the Administration’s proposal for new aviation fees.
  • Rail – The Federal Railroad Administration is funded with $2 billion, which is $384 million above last year’s level and $716 million below the President’s request. This funding includes $1.8 billion for Amtrak, to be primarily used for capital improvements.
  • Transit – The Federal Transit Administration would receive $2 billion, which is $181 million below last year’s level and $546 million below the President’s request. The bill would also provide $1.8 billion for the “New Starts” program.
  • Maritime – The bill includes $338 million for the Maritime Administration, a decline of $12 million from last year and $7 million below the President’s request.
  • Safety – The bill includes $776 million for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a decrease of $23.8 million from last year; $551 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a decrease of $2.6 million from last year; and $177 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration, an increase of $4 million from last year.

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ASCE Joins in Infrastructure "Jobs of the Future" Event at the White House

Several ASCE members and staff met with a group of key infrastructure stakeholders at the White House this week, including Latino small business leaders in engineering and construction, state and local government transit agency leaders, and senior Administration officials from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Together, they discussed strategies to create “Jobs of the Future” in the infrastructure and transportation sector.

Several ASCE members and staff met with a group of key infrastructure stakeholders at the White House this week, including Latino small business leaders in engineering and construction, state and local government transit agency leaders, and senior Administration officials from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Together, they discussed strategies to create “Jobs of the Future” in the infrastructure and transportation sector.

ASCE past-president Kathy Caldwell, P.E., F.ASCE moderated a stakeholder panel including Paul Yarossi, P.E., Chairman of ARTBA and CEO of HNTB, Lloyd Herrera, P.E. founder of HCL Engineering & Surveying, and Michelle Lopes Caldwell,  CAO of the Los Angeles County MTA.  During the panel, Caldwell was able to remind attendees of ASCE’s five key solutions for raising the infrastructure grades in America.  A common theme was the need to better communicate with the public about the value of infrastructure to people’s everyday lives. Several ASCE members attended the half-day event, including Kam Movassaghi, M.ASCE of Lafayette, LA, and Jorge Moreno, M.ASCE of Chicago, IL.

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Dam Safety Bill Introduced In The Senate

Senators Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) introduced the Dam Safety Act of 2012 today. The bill 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.

The fast moving action on the National Dam Safety Program and the fact that it is now attached to a larger FEMA reauthorization in the House is good news for the public safety based program. 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.

ASCE’s letter to the subcommittee can be found on our website 

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House Committee Cuts EPA Funding For 2013

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill this week that would provide $28 billion for the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service and related agencies for Fiscal Year 2013.  This is $1.2 billion less than the level enacted for the agencies in FY 2012.

The bill would inhibit the EPA’s ability to enact new environmental rules by cutting the agency’s budget to $7 billion--17 percent below FY 2012.  The appropriations bill would reduce the agency’s budget to levels below the FY 1998 appropriation not counting inflation.

The bill would significantly cut the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Appropriating $689 million for the Clean Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), down from $1.4 billion in FY12, and $829 million for the Safe Drinking Water Act SRF, down from $917 million in FY12.  In March, ASCE recommended $2 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively.

The bill would provide $967 million for the U.S. Geological Survey, a $101 million cut below last year’s level. The majority of the reductions are in climate change, ecosystems, and administrative accounts, while programs dealing with energy and minerals, mapping, and water are prioritized.  ASCE had recommended an appropriation of $1.1 billion for the USGS.

The overall funding levels for FY 2013 are based on the House Budget Resolution, not the higher but still reduced levels for FY 2013 agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011 passed in August of 2011.

The Interior Department would be funded at $10.3 billion, which is $57 million more than last year’s level.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which pays for public lands acquisitions, would be funded at $66 million, which represents an 80 percent reduction, (the lowest funding level since its creation in 1965) while climate change programs would be trimmed by $101 million, a 29 percent cut.

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U.S. Appeals Court Upholds EPA Rules On Greenhouse Gases

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has upheld the country’s first regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, which are blamed for climate change.

The three rules, which were challenged by industry groups and various states, will reduce emissions of six heat-trapping gases from large industrial facilities such as factories and power plants, as well as from automobile tailpipes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the Environmental Protection Agency was "unambiguously correct" in using the Clean Air Act to address climate change.

Industry groups, including chemical manufacturers, argued that the agency’s three rules were based solely on science.  The agency should have considered the potential consequences on the economy of mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases from power plants and motor vehicles, the industry challengers said.  The court dismissed this argument.

“At bottom [the Clean Air Act] requires EPA to answer only two questions: whether particular ‘air pollution’ . . . ‘may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,’ and whether motor-vehicle emissions ‘cause or contribute to’ that endangerment,” the court said. “These questions require a scientific judgment about the potential risks greenhouse gases pose to public health or welfare—not policy discussions.”

Calling the tactic a “semantic trick,” the court rejected out of hand the arguments of industry groups that EPA was required to conduct independent scientific studies rather than relying on scientific evidence produced by the National Research Council and other groups.  “It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence [in support of the rules] in large part consisted of ‘syntheses’ of individual studies and research,” the court explained.  “This is how science works.  EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

The court upheld the 2009 rule declaring that greenhouse gases endanger public health, the 2010 rule that establishes tailpipe emissions standards for pollutants that endanger public health, and another 2010 rule that gave industry time to tailor its production processes to accommodate the new federal pollution standards.

ASCE Policy Statement 488, Greenhouse Gases, calls for a multipronged effort by federal and state officials to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, including through “clear and reasonable targets and time frames for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”  The policy can be found here

The complete appeals court decision is here

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Last Chance For Issues Survey

Time is running out to register your thoughts on public policy issues in 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 acastelo@asce.org.

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ASCE Attends Council Of State Government Event

This week ASCE sponsored the CSG Transportation Policy Academy held in Washington, DC.  State legislators who serve in their respective states as leaders on transportation and infrastructure issues met to discuss of variety of infrastructure issues and funding challenges that face the states.  Brian Pallasch, ASCE’s Managing Director for Government Relations and Infrastructure Initiatives, spoke to legislators from eight states (Arkansas, Georgia, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin) about the condition of the nation’s infrastructure, and the economic benefits of infrastructure investment prior to their scheduled meetings with Members of Congress. Additionally, ASCE staff and the legislators in attendance participated in a tour of major transportation projects under construction in Virginia hosted by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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State Legislative Update

California 
Some senators want dramatic shift in bullet train plan 
Three months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown hit the reset button on the California bullet train, slashing $30 billion from its $98 billion budget and promising to reorder the controversial project’s priorities.  Now, some Democrats in the state Senate want to hit the reset button again.  They have proposed dramatically shifting the high-speed rail project’s focus by cutting back on planned construction in the Central Valley and instead spending billions on immediate rail improvements in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  It is not clear whether what lawmakers call “Plan B” – a proposal devised by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Transportation and Housing Committee  – has a real chance of being substituted for the governor’s proposal. The issue will be settled soon, as the Legislature is expected to vote this week or next on whether to issue $6 billion in bullet train construction bonds.
Read More:  California Watch 6/27

Democrats prepare to move water bond question off November ballot 
Democrats have gone out of their way to make passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative easier, and they are about to give the governor another boost.  First they tucked language into the state budget that moved constitutional amendments like the governor’s to the top of the ballot -- a move that political experts say could help the measure’s prospects for passage in November.  Now, they are preparing to remove an $11.1-billion water bond question from the November ballot altogether, another move aimed in part at boosting the tax proposal.
Read More:  LA Times 6/26 

Florida 
Southeast Florida’s seven counties join to draft 50-year plan for sustainable development 
About 500 urban planners, civic figures, public officials and activists gathered in a historic Delray Beach schoolhouse Wednesday to launch a dauntingly ambitious -- and unprecedented -- undertaking: Mapping out a 50-year-plan for the sustainable growth of the seven Southeast Florida counties that stretch along the Atlantic from the Keys to Indian River.  The two-year effort, dubbed Seven50, is designed to produce a coordinated but voluntary action plan to address common, critical issues or needs such as population growth, suburban sprawl, transportation, economic development and environmental protection. The overarching goal is to secure the region’s economic future while improving its quality of life, organizers said.  The plan is led by a consortium established jointly by the South Florida Regional Planning Council and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and is funded by a $4.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Read More:  Miami Herald 6/27

Georgia 
Transportation representative Don Grantham touts benefits of transportation tax up for vote 
Collections from a special 1 percent transportation tax that goes before voters July 31 could make up for budget shortfalls stalling road improvement projects, according to a state transportation representative.  Don Grantham, Georgia Department of Transportation District 10 representative, said the Augusta area needs to pass the transportation referendum if it expects much needed improvements. Grantham spoke on the tax vote at the monthly meeting of Pride and Progress of Augusta-Richmond County Tuesday night.  The tax referendum was created by the Transportation Investment Act of 2010. The state was divided into 12 regions where regional roundtables developed a list of projects. If passed, the tax will be in place for 10 years.
Read More:  Augusta Chronicle 6/26 

High-speed interstate rail feasible in Georgia 
Running high-speed, passenger rail lines is economically feasible between Atlanta and Jacksonville, Louisville and Birmingham, according to a consultant’s study presented last week to the State Transportation Board.  The Jacksonville line should be built in two phases, first to Savannah, and then to the Northeast Florida city, the study by HNTB recommended. Possible stations along the route would include Griffin, Macon, Savannah and Brunswick. The feasibility study was the first of many long steps in setting the final course of the train routes and securing funding.  The three routes were studied after an earlier study showed the feasibility of a route from Atlanta to Charlotte. That project now is in the stage of estimating the environmental impact of possible paths.  Construction of any of the lines is likely to be many years in the future. But the Obama administration has made high-speed passenger rail a priority and provided funds for exploring routes that could link up into a national network.
Read More:  Banner Herald 6/24
 
Louisiana 
Road bond plan still lacks list 
A list of roads in Louisiana scheduled to be upgraded through state borrowing still is incomplete.  However, state officials agreed Thursday to move forward with hiring the legal experts and underwriters needed to issue the bonds for $325 million in improvements.  Members of the State Bond Commission urged the Jindal administration to quickly finish the project list, especially with the cost of borrowing money expected to increase this winter.  The bond plan stems from House Bill 783, which Fannin sponsored this past legislative session.
Read More:  The Advocate 6/23 

Corps scraps $1B levee project in Barataria basin
The Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that it was scrapping its plans to build a $1 billion levee system to protect areas between the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche against hurricane flooding coming up the Barataria estuary southwest of New Orleans.  The corps said it was nixing its detailed $10 million feasibility study for the Donaldsonville-to-Gulf of Mexico project because it could not find a way to build the levee system at a cost that was worth it.  The project, approved by Congress in 1998, technically is still alive because it has not been de-authorized by Congress. But completing a feasibility study is a key step before a project of this scale can proceed. 
Read More:  WWL TV New Orleans 6/27

Michigan 
Bridge ballot proposal officials say 420K signatures collected 
Organizers of a ballot proposal that seeks to require voter approval for any future international crossings announced they have collected more than 420,000 signatures to put the initiative before Michigan voters in November.  Mickey Blashfield, director of "The People Should Decide" ballot committee, criticized Governor Rick Snyder's political bridge maneuverings during a news conference Thursday — almost a week after Snyder and Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper signed an agreement to build the $2.1 billion bridge across the Detroit River in southwest Detroit.  The group, which needs more than 322,609 valid signatures, must submit its collected petitions to the Secretary of State's office in Lansing by July 9 and the proper number of signatures must be validated to get the issue on the November general election ballot. The petition drive is to require voter approval for any future international crossings, including bridge, truck and passenger car tunnels, as well as train tunnels.
Read More:  Detroit News 6/22 

New York 
Faulting a Plan to Replace the Scorned Tappan Zee 
It was unloved from the start, built on the cheap, located improbably at the broadest stretch of the Hudson River, its improvised design derided by its own engineers as “one of the ugliest bridges in the East.”  Now, after more than a decade of delay and inaction, the state seems on the verge of building a new and significantly upgraded Tappan Zee, a project that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and other proponents said would produce tens of thousands of construction jobs, improve commutes for frustrated drivers and replace the George Costanza of New York bridges with a successor twice its size in one of the largest construction projects in state history.

Ohio 
Cleveland Foundation awards $400,000 to help Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District realize 'green' potential of its $3 billion water quality program
Drilling giant sewer pipes far underground may not sound like a sexy pathway to urban beautification and economic revitalization for Cleveland.  But thanks to a new program approved Friday by the Cleveland Foundation, the city has a far better chance to capitalize on the full potential of a $3 billion, federally mandated program to reduce the flow of untreated waste into Lake Erie.  The Cleveland Foundation announced today that it is launching a $400,000 program that will marry the engineering prowess of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District with the fine-grained skills of veteran neighborhood planners and urban designers.
Read More:  Plain Dealer 6/22 

Vermont 
Gridlocked 
You’re cruising along Interstate 89 on the way to work and suddenly, ahead of you, there’s a sea of brake lights.  Your brake lights go on, too. You join the slow crawl, moving exasperatingly slowly, like the world’s laziest snapping turtle, ensuring you and everyone around you is late for work.  Welcome to what is arguably Chittenden County’s biggest commuter aggravation: If one person screws up on the road somewhere in the region, or if there’s one construction project, the whole system, it seems, can gum up.  That’s because there’s few ways to get from here to there in Chittenden County, unless you take the equally slow option of zigzagging through residential neighborhoods, back roads and semi-secret shortcuts.
Read More:  Burlington Free Press 6/24