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This Week in Washington - November 16

ASCE Testifies On Water Resources Legislation
Legislative Fly-In 2013: Apply Now!
GAO Releases Report On SAFETEA-LU
State Legislative Updates

ASCE Testifies On Water Resources Legislation

ASCE Board Member Stephen Curtis, P.E., D.PE, M.ASCE, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday. The Committee held a hearing to discuss a draft version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2012, which was made public late last week. The discussion draft from the Committee includes language creating a National Levee Safety Program, reauthorizing the National Dam Safety Program, restoring trust into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and developing a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. Mr. Curtis used his testimony to commend the Committee for moving forward on a WRDA bill and for including language on dams, levees, inland waterways, ports, and wastewater funding. Mr. Curtis also shared ways that the legislation could be stronger in regards to a National Levee Safety Program and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

During the hearing Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said she’s committed to passing a WRDA bill and Senate Republicans expressed their desire to work with Democrats to move forward on legislation. Members on both sides of the aisle expressed that the devastation from Sandy proves that water resources funding is critical to the nation.

Other witnesses were Terry Sullivan with The Nature Conservancy, Amy Larson with the National Waterways Conference, and Warren Dusty Williams with the National Association of Flood and Storm Management Agencies.

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Legislative Fly-In 2013: Apply Now!

It’s that time of year again! Mark your calendars for March 19-21, ASCE’s 2013 Legislative Fly-In in Washington, DC. Details, including schedule and application information, are now available on ASCE’s website and the application deadline is December 7th.

The Legislative Fly-In provides ASCE members with the opportunity to learn about public policy issues affecting the civil engineering profession, and to communicate the civil engineer’s perspective on those issues with elected officials on Capitol Hill. Fly-In attendees will be the first to introduce the new and highly anticipated 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure to their elected officials.

View pictures and information from the 2012 Legislative Fly-In.

Help us reach our 2013 goal of having all 50 states represented!

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GAO Releases Report On SAFETEA-LU

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report reviewing the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Program. The report is a result of language that was included in the 2005 surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU. The report found that local funding exceeded total federal funding contributions for the 25 New Starts projects between October 2004 and June 2012. These findings show that the FTA has been able to encourage local project sponsors to seek less than 60% of costs from the New Starts fund. However, federal funding did make up the bulk of funding for the 32 Small and Very Small Starts projects.

SAFETEA-LU authorized about $7.9 billion in commitment authority, through fiscal year 2009, for the FTA’s New Starts program, which is used to select fixed guide way transit projects, such as rail and trolley projects, and to award full funding grant agreements. The New Starts program serves as an important source of federal funding for the design and construction of transit projects throughout the country.

The full report can be found here.

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State Legislative Updates

Bullet-train planners face huge engineering challenge
The sheer scale and scope of the bullet train's push into Southern California, including traversing complex seismic hazards, would rival construction of the state's massive freeway system, water transport networks and its port complexes. It is likely to be viewed in future decades as an engineering marvel — or a costly folly. If nothing else, it is ambitious. The plan calls for bullet trains to shoot east from Bakersfield at 220 mph, climbing one of the steepest sustained high-speed rail inclines in the world. It would soar over canyons on viaducts as high as a 33-story skyscraper. The line would duck in and out of tunnels up to 500 feet below the rugged surface. It would cross more than half a dozen earthquake faults heading toward L.A.
Read More: LA Times 11/12

The Problem Is Clear: The Water Is Filthy
Seville, with a population of about 300, is one of dozens of predominantly Latino unincorporated communities in the Central Valley plagued for decades by contaminated drinking water. It is the grim result of more than half a century in which chemical fertilizers, animal wastes, pesticides and other substances have infiltrated aquifers, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into the tap. An estimated 20 percent of small public water systems in Tulare County are unable to meet safe nitrate levels, according to a United Nations representative.
Read More: NY Times 11/13

Mass transit back in the picture with start of new Indiana General Assembly session
Indy Connect Now, a group of business, government and community leaders, will launch its campaign for next year’s legislative session at 1 p.m. today at the Indianapolis Artsgarden. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard will headline the event. Advocates are touting a 10-year $1.3 billion transit plan for Marion and Hamilton counties, about half of which would be federally funded. It would double the size of IndyGo and add rail service from Noblesville, through Fishers to Downtown. Other counties could choose to opt in and add their own services.
Read More: Indianapolis Star 11/14

EPA may take over enforcing water act in Iowa
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has gone too easy on livestock operations that pollute the state’s waterways with manure, often failing to follow even its own agriculture-friendly procedures, two analyses of the agency’s data have concluded.
The DNR’s efforts have been so lacking that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has informed the state it may step in and take over enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act unless the agency makes sweeping changes.
Read More: Des Moines Register 11/12

Kansas announces $1.1B in highway projects
The state will invest nearly $50 million in Shawnee County roads during the next two years, according to a list of Kansas Department of Transportation projects released Wednesday. The projects will be paid for through the state’s T-WORKS program. The Legislature approved the program in 2010, setting aside $8 billion for the next 10 years for transportation projects. The funding comes from several sources, including the state’s motor fuels tax and federal funds.
Read More: Topeka Capital Journal 11/14

State transportation official talks financing
Maintaining and expanding the state’s transportation network requires action to provide a permanent funding solution, says state Transportation Secretary Richard Davey. Davey spoke about the topic at a meeting of the Tri Town Chamber of Commerce this morning. He said that despite reforms, the current system of financing the state’s bridges and mass transit systems and their maintenance is unsustainable. He said a plan due to be filed in January proposes a permanent answer.
Read More: Sun Chronicle 11/8

Landmark water pact with Mexico could boost Lake Mead
After years of negotiations, the United States and Mexico have struck a deal that could keep more water in Lake Mead and help improve water efficiency and the environment south of the border.
The landmark five-year agreement would allow Mexico to store some of its annual Colorado River allotment in Lake Mead for future use. It also clears the way for the U.S. government and several municipal water agencies, including the Southern Nevada Water Authority, to invest in infrastructure improvements in Mexico in return for a share of the water such projects would save.
Read More: Las Vegas Review Journal 11/8

New Mexico
Court rules in favor of state water powers
State Senator Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, waved a copy of a recent New Mexico Supreme Court water decision and told the state engineer’s chief counsel he had every reason to smile. “For eight years, you’ve been telling us you were right. This is a complete validation of what you’ve been saying,” Wirth told D.L. Sanders during an interim Senate Water and Natural Resources Committee hearing Friday at the Roundhouse. The Supreme Court decided Nov. 1 that the State Engineer’s Office had not violated the state Constitution with its 2004 regulation for managing water during drought. It also held that the state Legislature had given the state engineer the authority to craft the disputed regulation.
Read More: Santa Fe New Mexican 11/10

One of the Nation's Smallest States is Investing Big in Passenger Rail
Vermont is one of the smallest states in America; however, it is located in of one of the most populated regions in the country. Brian Searles, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, tells AASHTO's Transportation TV that his department is investing more than $60 million to make the improvements necessary to keep up with growing demand for passenger rail service in Vermont.
Passenger rail service is just one of the three key issues addressed by Searles in a new Transportation TV Two Minute State DOT Update. Searles also talks about a comprehensive study underway in Vermont to find new sources of funding for transportation. He also discusses an ongoing assessment of the permanent fixes that remain following last year's devastating Tropical Storm Irene.
Read More: AASHTO News Release 11/14

Since 1986, state funding for transit agencies has been doled out based on a single factor — operating cost — no matter the size, type or efficiency of the system. Under the formula, Virginia allocates $140 million annually to 62 transit systems across the state. Due to its size and operating budget, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority gets $104 million, and the remaining systems share $36 million, according to Thelma Drake, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. But that may change if a DRPT proposal, based on more than a year's worth of research and conversations with transit agencies, becomes law in the upcoming General Assembly session. The department wants to reform the system by introducing a performance-based component, applied within peer groups of similar systems, that is based on standard transit industry performance measures.
Read More: Daily Press 11/9

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