Posts Tagged ‘infrastructure’

Permit sought for Alaska Railroad expansion into Canada

Alaska Railroad could get an extension into Canada, pending the approval of a permit from President Donald Trump, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

In the proposed project by the Alberta to Alaska Railway Development Corporation (A2A), 1,700 miles of track would be built in a plan to make it easier for goods to travel to and from Asia by linking the Canadian rail network to Alaska’s Port MacKenzie. If approved, A2A plans to raise the money needed for the $17 billion project and does not intend to seek any state funding.

The plan’s proponents say that the route would cut two days of transport time for goods to Asia and relieve congestion at ports on the U.S.’s West Coast, the Daily News reported.

A presidential permit is required for all cross-border infrastructure.

Click here to read more from the Anchorage Daily News.

N.Y. Reps. Suozzi and King address SMART TD

On Monday, July 10, 2017, U.S. Congressmen from the State of New York, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D) and Rep. Peter King (R), addressed SMART TD members and officers at the Eastern Regional Meeting in New York City, Suozzi at the morning opening session and King at the lunch reception.

Although new to Congress, Suozzi served for many years as mayor of his hometown and later as a county representative, with a long-time focus on working families and labor issues.

Rep. Suozzi addresses SMART members attending the N.Y. Regional meeting during Monday’s opening session.

“The transportation industry, your industry, built America. The American dream is slipping away and too many working families have been left behind, but there is hope,” Suozzi said.

“How can we rebuild a strong, vibrant middle class? The hope is reflected in this room, in the power of strength in numbers, organizing and working together to move our infrastructure forward, create new jobs and maintain a strong union base, that is how,” Suozzi said.

At the lunch reception, Republican Congressman Peter King, who represents the Long Island, N.Y. region, vowed that his longtime advocacy of transit and rail labor issues, including his staunch support of minimum two-person crew mandates, will not wavier.

“I am proud to stand with you. I will do everything in my power to work with labor to get the job done, to protect your jobs and to protect your interests,” King said.

He added that transportation, including bus, rail and air, remains at the heart of the economy, and the hope for the future of working men and women.

“I will continue to work with SMART TD, with labor leaders and with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, to move America’s infrastructure upgrades forward, and to work together to protect and grow our nation’s transportation jobs. SMART TD is stronger than ever, and together, we will make sure that our jobs are protected,” King said.

SMART TD honors Representative King with Brass Lantern Award

SMART TD President Previsich (left) presents Rep. King with a commemorative brass lantern.

At the closing of the lunch reception, John Previsich, SMART TD president, presented Rep. King with the coveted Brass Lantern Award, on behalf of SMART TD.

“The Brass Lantern is not awarded often, and is presented to those rare individuals who have never waivered in their commitment to the issues and concerns of our membership. We are pleased to recognize Congressman Peter King as a recipient of the Brass Lantern Award, that recognizes his efforts, and we look forward to our continued partnership,” Previsich said.

 

Pictured from left: General Secretary-Treasurer Rich McClees, SMART TD Vice President John Lesniewski, SMART General President Joe Sellers, SMART TD President John Previsich, Rep. Suozzi, SMART TD Alternate Vice President Anthony Simon, National Legislative Director John Risch and N.Y. State Legislative Director Sam Nasca.

 

Pictured from left: General Secretary-Treasurer Rich McClees, SMART General President Joe Sellers, SMART TD President John Previsich, SMART TD Alternate Vice President Anthony Simon, Rep. King, SMART TD Vice President John Lesniewski, N.Y. State Legislative Director Sam Nasca and National Legislative Director John Risch.

Amtrak invests $2.4 billion for high-speed rail and infrastructure upgrades

Amtrak high speed rail_Philadelphia-background

New trainsets to enter service in 2021; Station upgrades and improvements for track capacity and ride quality among infrastructure upgrades

amtrak_w_shadow_150pxWASHINGTON – Amtrak is contracting with Alstom to produce 28 next-generation high-speed trainsets that will replace the equipment used to provide Amtrak’s premium Acela Express service. The contract is part of $2.45 billion that will be invested on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor (NEC) as part of a multifaceted modernization program to renew and expand the Acela Express service.

“Amtrak is taking the necessary actions to keep our customers, the Northeast region and the American economy moving forward,” said Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman. “These trainsets and the modernization and improvement of infrastructure will provide our customers with the mobility and experience of the future.”

The new trainsets will have one-third more passenger seats, while preserving the spacious, high-end comfort of current Acela Express service. Each trainset will have modern amenities that can be upgraded as customer preferences evolve such as improved Wi-Fi access, personal outlets, USB ports and adjustable reading lights at every seat, enhanced food service and a smoother, more reliable ride.

This procurement comes as demand for Acela Express service is as popular as ever, with many trains selling out during peak travel periods. The new trainsets will allow for increased service including half-hourly Acela Express service between Washington D.C. and New York City during peak hours, and hourly service between New York City and Boston.

“As more people rely on Amtrak, we need modernized equipment and infrastructure to keep the region moving,” said Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors Anthony Coscia. “These trainsets will build on the popularity and demand of the current Acela Express and move this company into the future as a leader in providing world-class transportation.”

The new trainsets will operate along the Washington – New York – Boston Northeast Corridor initially at speeds up to 160 mph and will be capable of speeds up to 186 mph and thus will be able to take advantage of future NEC infrastructure improvements.

Additionally, the trainsets use the base design of one of the safest high-speed trainsets. Concentrated power cars, located at each end of the trainset, provide an extra buffer of protection. The trainsets will also meet the latest Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) guidelines including a Crash Energy Management system.

“The next generation of Acela service will mean safer, faster and modern trains for customers throughout the Northeast,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “This investment will pay immediate dividends for businesses and travelers from Washington D.C. to Boston, and the fact that these new trains will be built in Upstate New York makes this project a win-win. These New York-made Acela trains will soon be zipping along the Northeast Corridor and – as a regular customer – I can’t wait for my first ride.”

“The Northeast Corridor is a national economic engine that carries a workforce contributing $50 billion annually to the national GDP,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “Amtrak’s continued investment in modernizing its fleet will only serve to enhance this vital rail link between Boston and Washington D.C. while allowing for safer and faster travel at a time when passenger demand is expected to rise. Strengthening our nation’s infrastructure is essential to the economic growth of our region and the nation and this investment by Amtrak will help ensure the reliable service travelers expect.”

Amtrak is funding the trainsets and infrastructure improvements through the FRA’s Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program that will be repaid through growth in NEC revenues.

“Amtrak is grateful for all of the support we have received from Congress, especially from Sen. Schumer and Rep. Reed who represents Hornell, New York – home of the Alstom facility,” said Boardman. “We would also like to thank Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson and House Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio for their leadership on the FAST Act. Additionally, we appreciate the efforts of Senators Booker and Wicker for their support on the inclusion of the rail title, the first time Amtrak reauthorization has been included in surface transportation legislation.”

In addition to the trainsets, Amtrak is also investing in infrastructure needed to improve the on-board and station customer experience that will accommodate the increased high-speed rail service levels.  Amtrak will invest in significant station improvements at Washington Union Station, Moynihan Station New York, as well as track capacity and ride quality improvements to the NEC that will benefit both Acela Express riders and other Amtrak and commuter passengers.  Amtrak will also modify fleet maintenance facilities to accommodate the new trains.

The trainsets will be manufactured at Alstom’s Hornell and Rochester, N.Y., facilities, creating 400 local jobs.  Additionally, parts for the new trainsets will come from more than 350 suppliers in more than 30 states, generating an additional 1,000 jobs across the country.

The first prototype of the new trainsets will be ready in 2019, with the first trainset entering revenue service in 2021. All of the trainsets are expected to be in service, and the current fleet retired, by the end of 2022.

High-resolution photos, a video, fact sheet and other materials are available here.

Reform rail/bus equipment purchases, boost jobs

TTD_Fotor$5.4 billion — that’s how much public transit agencies collectively spend on buses and trains each year.

U.S. public transportation authorities are using taxpayers’ dollars to employ Americans. Well, sort of — there’s a lot of room for improvement. Thanks to weak laws and procurement rules, taxpayer dollars all too often reward low-road companies that pay poor wages and routinely game our domestic content rules to manufacture just the minimum here in America.

That’s why transportation unions have long supported policies that raise domestic content standards for transit and rail purchases made with federal funds — the same kind of laws found in the recently passed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. In addition to being the first long-term, bipartisan surface transportation bill in a decade, the FAST Act raises Buy America standards for transit vehicles from a 60 percent minimum to a 70 percent minimum domestic content.

This is a great next step in our effort to beef up transportation manufacturing jobs, but we aren’t stopping now: the goal must be 100% domestic content for publicly funded transit and rail equipment orders. Unfortunately, changes to procurement laws alone aren’t enough to get us there. In fact, a new report by economist Robert Pollin and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) shows more can and needs to be done to ensure that investments in our nation’s transportation infrastructure help sustain domestic manufacturing and the millions of jobs the sector supports. The report, titled Strengthening U.S. Manufacturing Through Public Procurement Policies, focuses on railcar procurements, but its lessons can be applied to the broader Buy America program.

The report finds that:

  • 60 is the new 40. Under law, 60 percent of component production and 100 percent of final assembly of railcar manufacturing are supposed to happen in the U.S. However, as the authors show, for a variety of reasons, these standards amount to an overall requirement of only 40 percent domestic production.
  • Monitoring and enforcement standards are a weak link. Because few local transit agencies have adequate capacity to conduct audits in-house and public interest groups face major obstacles in obtaining relevant compliance information, the monitoring and enforcement of domestic content requirements leave much to be desired.
  • Too many waivers are still granted. Available evidence suggests that a significant number of domestic content waivers are being granted to contractors bidding on transportation procurement projects covered under Buy America. The good news? Under the Obama Administration, the wavier process has improved significantly. But there’s more work that needs to be done. The Department of Transportation needs to keep systematic records on waiver applications and decisions and to establish consistently high thresholds for granting waivers.

As the authors of the study point out, we must pair stronger laws with straightforward, effective measures that encourage public transportation agencies to consider the impact of their purchases here at home. Some of the plans outlined in the report — including changes to Request for Proposal (RFP) procedures — are the same kind of forward-thinking measures being pushed by the Jobs to Move America Coalition, of which TTD has been a member since 2013. They include incentivizing companies that bid on publicly-funded transportation equipment orders to describe the number and quality of jobs that would be created from a contract, and encouraging local transit authorities to select bids based on best value instead of just the lowest price. This new approach rewards employers that train their workers and make a genuine effort to hire people from disadvantaged populations including, for example, veterans and single mothers.

These kinds of smart procurement strategies act as a win-win for all parties involved: public transportation dollars help create good transportation manufacturing jobs here at home; transit agencies purchase high-quality, American-made components; and high-road manufacturers are rewarded for lifting labor standards and keeping buses and trains made in the USA.

Read the full report here.

SMART TD praises passage of FAST Act

Previsich

Previsich

On December 3, 2015, Congress passed H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST ACT) by overwhelming bipartisan votes of 83 to 16 and 359 to 65 in the Senate and House respectively. The legislation is the first long-term surface transportation reauthorization in a decade and provides funding and policy changes for our nation’s highways, mass transit and rail systems. This landmark legislation includes a number of SMART TD policy priorities, many of which are outlined below.

“I’m very pleased with the legislation overall compared to some of the original proposals. The legislation was modified in both houses and in the conference committee to correct many of the harmful issues facing our membership,” SMART TD President John Previsich said.

“Our National Legislative Director John Risch and his team, working with other unions and allies did a stellar job on a very complex 1300-page piece of legislation that was passed through a very complicated legislative process.

John_risch_thumbnail_web

Risch

“In difficult economic and political times, an effective legislative department makes all the difference and we have one of the best in the business.”

“Considering the makeup of the Congress, overall we are pleased with the policy provisions in this legislation, and that the law covers five years of authorization,” said Risch. “However, we are disappointed that much of the funding came from non-user fees. Freight railroads alone fund their own track and infrastructure. Using general funding for highways puts railroads at a competitive disadvantage because trucks are not paying their fair share of costs for highway construction and maintenance.”

Provisions to protect transit members from assault
  • Section 3022. Improved Public Transportation Safety Measures
  • This much-needed section will better protect our transit members by requiring the Federal Transit Administration to promulgate regulations to protect public transportation operators from assault.
  • The rulemaking will be required to consider the safety needs of drivers in different modes, including bus and light rail.
  • This provision was a direct result of a joint lobbying effort by SMART TD, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).
ECP brake mandate is maintained
  • The legislation largely protects the May 2015 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) rule that requires the use of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on certain high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs), which SMART TD strongly supports.
  • While the legislation does require another study on ECP brakes, it also includes language supported by SMART TD that will ensure testing is done independently and objectively, and not by the railroads or other entities affected by the rule.
  • Additionally, the legislation neither prohibits DOT from moving forward with the May 2015 rule while the study is in progress, nor does it require DOT to issue a new rule dependent on the study’s findings.
  • The original Senate Commerce Committee language would have repealed the ECP rule and replaced it with a railroad-dominated study.
Inward-facing cameras cannot be used to retaliate against employees.
  • Working with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn.), SMART TD secured a provision stating that any in-cab audio or image recording obtained by a railroad carrier under this section may not be used to retaliate against an employee. Rail Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R – Calif.) reinforced this provision by specifically mentioning it in a House floor speech.
  • We are pleased the final bill removed a requirement for efficiency testing.
Removed harmful privatization language for transit projects
  • Working with TTD and other transit unions (TWU and ATU), SMART TD helped strip a harmful privatization provision from the legislation. The provision would have been an unprecedented giveaway to the private sector by allowing certain public-private partnerships to move to the front of the line for grant awards simply because the project included private money, with no minimum threshold.
  • This provision – if not changed – could have resulted in lost jobs, lower wages and diminished passenger rail and transit service.
Biased hair testing methods rejected
  • SMART TD has strongly opposed the unfair and biased use of hair testing for drug tests.
  • SMART TD strongly opposed previous versions of this legislation that would have allowed companies to immediately begin testing an employee’s hair for drugs.
  • The final legislation would only allow companies to do so after experts at the Department of Health and Human Services have set guidelines for such testing.
Tank car safety standards
  • The legislation makes substantial improvements in tank car standards by requiring that all new tank cars are equipped with one-half inch thermal blankets.
  • All existing DOT-111 tank cars transporting flammable liquids are required to be upgraded to retrofit standards regardless of product shipped.
Alerters
  • The legislation requires DOT to promulgate a rule requiring working alerters in the controlling locomotive of each commuter and intercity passenger train.
Signal Protection
  • The legislation requires DOT to initiate a rulemaking for redundant signal protection for Maintenance of Way (MOW) workers.
PTC Grants
  • The legislation provides $199 million to finance a competitive grant program for PTC implementation on commuter railroads.
Funding: Amtrak and Transit
  • Transit programs will receive a 9 percent funding increase in Fiscal year 2016 over FY 2015 levels and 2 percent increases each year through 2020.
  • Amtrak is funded through the appropriations process; however, this legislation increases authorized FY 2016 funding levels for Amtrak by $60 million.

 

AFL-CIO's TTD urges support for bi-partisan FAST Act

Washington — Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issued this statement in response to a House-Senate deal on a long overdue surface transportation reauthorization bill:

Wytkind

Wytkind

“The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is a bipartisan, long-term funding bill for our nation’s transit systems, highways, bridges and passenger rail networks that we are proud to support. The deal reached by House and Senate negotiators breaks the cycle of flat-line funding and short-term extensions that has strangled our economy and stunted job creation.  We applaud Congressional leaders for their work on this important legislation and particularly want to thank Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer for their pursuit of a long-term bill.

“TTD and its member unions have never relented in our multi-year campaign to convince lawmakers to forge a bipartisan compromise on a long-term highway-transit bill that prioritizes funding growth and job creation. We applaud lawmakers for crafting a bill that makes great strides in reversing many years of neglect.

“The FAST Act strikes the right balance on many of the important policy issues that were considered in this legislation. The bill includes measures to address bus driver assaults, handles transit public-private partnerships in a more responsible manner, improves Buy America rules and makes improvements to rail safety and the transport of hazardous materials. Conferees wisely chose not to use this bill to attack the bargaining rights of port workers, adopted provisions that preserve the role of sound science in determining the appropriateness of hair specimen drug testing and rejected an attempt to force contracting out of public-sector engineering work.

“We are pleased that the FAST Act contains a multi-year Amtrak reauthorization that will help sustain America’s national passenger railroad, protect thousands of middle-class jobs and allow Amtrak and its employees to meet the soaring demand for rail transportation. Finally, the bill includes the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which will help American manufacturers and their employees compete with foreign companies and support good middle-class jobs in this country.

“We urge both chambers to pass the FAST Act and send it to the President’s Desk for his signature.”

Hillary Clinton unveils infrastructure investment plan

railroad_tracks414Evoking the investment in American infrastructure by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton on Monday unveiled the most sprawling — and costliest — government program of her campaign to date.

Mrs. Clinton said her five-year, $275-billion federal infrastructure program was aimed at creating middle-class jobs while investing heavily in improving the country’s highways, airports and ports. Bridging the “infrastructure gap” between the United States and developing nations like China would also eliminate red tape and fuel overall economic growth, she said.

“Workers can’t get to work, congestion keeps parents stuck in traffic, floods threaten our cities, and airports leave travelers stranded for hours or even days at a time,” the campaign wrote in a fact sheet about the proposal.

Read more from The New York Times.

FRA releases options for investment in NEC

Seeks input from public, stakeholders before Jan. 30, 2016 for final vision

FRA_logo_wordsWASHINGTON – The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today released a Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for NEC FUTURE, FRA’s long-term investment framework for the Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Washington, DC and Boston, Mass.

“Over the next 30 years, an additional six million people will live along this corridor. To keep everyone to move safely, quickly and efficiently, we need smart planning and significant investment in the Northeast Corridor,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We are seeking input as we work toward developing a long-term vision that will prioritize rail investments to ensure a vibrant and safe future for the northeast region and the nation.”

The Tier 1 Draft EIS includes alternative visions for investment in the NEC. The visions range from maintaining the current level of investment and service to significant investment that would dramatically increase rail’s role in transportation for the Northeast. FRA will hold 11 public hearings to gather input and feedback from stakeholders that will inform FRA’s decision on a preferred investment program.

The NEC is the nation’s busiest rail corridor, with more than 700,000 passengers traveling each weekday through eight states and the District of Columbia. The NEC contributes more than $100 million every day to the Northeast’s economy, but it currently operates on outdated infrastructure, much of it built more than 100 years ago, with capacity constraints that cannot accommodate future growth. Choke points and aging infrastructure often disrupt the system’s reliability and performance.

“Trains that connect our nation’s university hub to its financial center to its capital ride over bridges built before 1910 and through tunnels built after the Civil War,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “NEC FUTURE will guide the region in developing a long-term framework to build a stronger Northeast Corridor that supports economic growth and creates jobs.”

The Tier 1 Draft EIS, which outlines the various visions, is now available for download and review by the public at www.necfuture.com. Print copies are also available at libraries throughout the region.

FRA considered a broad range of alternatives for the NEC, beginning in 2012 with a public scoping process and analysis of travel markets. In 2013, the FRA consolidated nearly 100 initial concepts into 15 visions (Preliminary Alternatives) that varied by level of investment, service, and route. In 2014, the FRA evaluated the Preliminary Alternatives and identified three distinct Action Alternatives; these have been refined and analyzed in the Tier 1 Draft EIS. Each Action Alternative represents a different long-term vision for improving passenger rail service that will enhance mobility options, improve performance, and better serve existing and future passengers in the study area.

Public Hearings

The hearings provide an opportunity for public input on the Tier 1 Draft EIS. No decision has been made on which alternative best meets the region’s needs, and the FRA will consider all comments received during the comment period in making its decision.

FRA will hold public hearings in each of the eight states along the NEC and the District of Columbia. Hearings will be held from 4:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. on the following dates and locations:

  • 12/9, Boston, MA – Back Bay Events Center, 180 Berkeley Street
  • 12/14, New Haven, CT – Gateway Community College, 20 Church Street
  • 12/15, New York, NY – CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue (at 34th Street)
  • 12/16, Washington, DC – Hall of States, 444 North Capitol Street, NW
  • 12/17, Providence, RI – Rhode Island Department of Administration, One Capitol Hill
  • 1/11, Philadelphia, PA – SEPTA, 1234 Market Street, Mezzanine Level
  • 1/12, Mineola, NY – Nassau County Municipal Building, 1550 Franklin Avenue
  • 1/13, Hartford, CT – The Lyceum, 227 Lawrence Street
  • 1/14, Baltimore, MD – University of Baltimore, 21 W. Mt. Royal Avenue, 5th Floor
  • 1/19, Newark, NJ – NJ Transit, 1 Raymond Plaza East, 9th floor
  • 1/20, Wilmington, DE – Delaware Technical Community College, 333 Shipley Street

Each hearing will include brief presentations at 4:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. There will be an opportunity to speak following each presentation. Individuals planning to speak should sign up when they arrive. A stenographer will also be available for private testimony.

In the event of inclement weather, hearings may be canceled or rescheduled. Please check the website at www.necfuture.com. Persons requiring special assistance to attend a hearing should contact the NEC FUTURE team at comment@necfuture.com.

Email links icon at least five days prior to the hearing they wish to attend.
 
Public Comment Period
 
The public comment period for the Tier 1 Draft EIS is open until January 30, 2016. Comments may be submitted orally or in writing at the public hearings listed above, online at www.necfuture.com, by email to comment@necfuture.com.
 
Email links icon, or sent to: Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, USDOT Federal Railroad Administration, One Bowling Green, Suite 429, New York, NY 10004. Comments must be received by January 30, 2016, to ensure that they are considered and added to the public record.
 
More information is available at www.necfuture.com.

AAR opposed to heavy truck amendment in U.S. House

triple_trailerWASHINGTON –  A congressional proposal that would see much heavier trucks on the nation’s highways will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in damaged roads and bridges while further straining already depleted federal coffers, one of the nation’s top transportation representatives said Wednesday.

The proposal, offered as an amendment to a bill that funds the nation’s highways, would increase the current weight limit for a tractor-trailer from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds – adding the equivalent of two large SUVs to every truck.

Many trucking companies, business trade groups, highway safety organizations, citizens’ groups, as well as the Truckload Carriers Association, oppose the measure.

“The added truck weight will further destroy precious national infrastructure and cost taxpayers dearly,” said Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “Allowing trucks to be 14 percent heavier would be a fundamental change to national policy. Lawmakers should strike this amendment before sending a final highway bill to the White House for the President’s signature.”

A June 2015 study from the U.S. Department of Transportation found that the added stress of bigger trucks would require engineering and repair work – or even a complete replacement – of nearly 5,000 bridges. The DOT analyzed only 20 percent of the nation’s bridges for its report, so the true cost of allowing larger trucks would be in the billions of dollars.

In addition to damaging infrastructure, bigger trucks with bigger loads will increase fuel consumption by millions of gallons a year, generate increased greenhouse gas emissions and divert more freight to the country’s already gridlocked highways.

The issue underscores important differences between freight trains and trucks. Not only are railroads four-times more fuel efficient than trucks and more environmentally friendly, but, freight rail and its vast coast-to-coast network is funded by private funds. Taxpayers must foot the bill to maintain and upgrade highways and highway bridges. 

“At a time when federal spending on infrastructure is essential, this proposal would create a massive additional cost borne by the U.S. taxpayer, a cost that is entirely avoidable,” Hamberger said.

Obama reveals plan to hasten infrastructure projects

The White House Office of Management and Budget, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Transportation join federal agencies in commitment to expediting permitting and environmental review for federal infrastructure projects

whitehouselogoWashington – The White House Office of Management and Budget, Council on Environmental Quality, and U.S. Department of Transportation announced new actions by the Obama Administration to accelerate the Nation’s critical infrastructure projects, including an enhanced Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard, new guidance to Federal agencies establishing metrics for the permitting and environmental review of infrastructure projects, and the first update in nearly 30 years to the Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects handbook (known as the Red Book) – an interagency effort spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

President Obama has been committed to building a 21st century infrastructure that will strengthen our Nation’s economy, create jobs, and improve U.S. competitiveness in the global market, while also improving environmental and community outcomes. From taking executive action through the 2011 Presidential Memorandum and 2012 Executive Order to speed infrastructure development and improve and expand permitting reform government-wide, proposing a six-year surface transportation reauthorization, the GROW AMERICA Act, which increases investment and includes a series of legislative proposals to further expand on efforts to increase the efficiency of project delivery, to releasing the 2014 comprehensive plan to modernize infrastructure permitting, the President has worked to ensure America has a first-class infrastructure.

DOT_Logo_150pxAs part of these efforts,  Federal agencies previously expedited the review and permitting of over 50 major infrastructure projects, including bridges, transit, railways, waterways, roads, and renewable energy projects, employing common sense practices like running different reviews concurrently rather than sequentially, and using the Administration’s online Dashboard to promote accountability for a shared schedule. Over half of those projects have completed the permitting process, yielding notable successes like the permitting of the Tappan Zee Bridge in just a year and a half. The Administration’s 2014 comprehensive plan offered recommendations to expand on those initial projects, and today’s actions fulfill several key recommendations from that plan.

Traditionally, the federal permitting and environmental review process can take months and, sometimes years to complete, layered with complex requirements and costing millions of taxpayer dollars. Today’s announcement takes major steps to turn best practices into common practices, building on a series of successful efforts over the past several years to modernize the infrastructure permitting process, and increase investment in U.S. infrastructure.

“To deliver infrastructure projects that achieve real impacts for the American people, we need to act with urgency and recognize that every day counts,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today’s actions help us get there. We are pushing ourselves to improve efficiency, coordination, and collaboration, so that federal permitting becomes a sprint rather than a relay race.”

“Our Nation’s economy thrives when the foundation of America’s communities – from roads and bridges to ports and waterways – are built to meet the needs and requirements of the 21st Century,” said White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan. “Today’s actions reflect this Administration’s continued commitment to meet those needs by further improving the efficiency of the Federal permitting process in an environmentally sound way and accelerating U.S. economic growth and competiveness.”

“This Administration has worked hard to improve the efficiency of the environmental review processes to ensure Federal permitting decisions and environmental reviews are timely and responsive,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss. “Today’s announcements reflect the Administration’s commitment to conducting the hard work necessary to harmonize economic growth, infrastructure development, and environmental protections.”

“The Army Corps of Engineers is proud of partnering with other federal agencies to update the ‘Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects’, also known as the Red Book,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy. “The Red Book supports more timely permit decisions, allowing a diverse set of infrastructure projects to advance through the permitting process in a more transparent and efficient manner. Infrastructure projects will be evaluated and permitted faster.” 

Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard

In 2011, the Administration launched the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard to highlight and track 52 high-priority projects, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge, as they progressed through the required federal permits and reviews. Most of those projects have now completed the review process, many well ahead of schedule. New guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality will significantly expand use of the Dashboard by requiring its use for major projects meeting a defined set of criteria. The guidance will drive better coordination across agencies by designating specific permitting and review schedules and milestones for each project to report. The Dashboard website has also recently been redesigned to accommodate this expansion and the Administration will continue to add features and functionality over the coming months.

Beginning in October 2015, under the new guidance, the eleven Federal agencies that play a significant role in the permitting, review, funding and development of infrastructure projects will begin identifying new infrastructure projects for which standardized milestones and coordinated schedules will be posted within 90 days. The posted projects are those expected to experience complex and potentially lengthy Federal environmental permit and review processes. Such projects would include major transit projects, airport capital improvements, ports and dams, electricity transmission and broadband internet networks, renewable energy generation facilities, and others.

The Dashboard update and guidance to agencies will benefit both businesses and the environment, as the efforts will facilitate faster decisions, save money, and increase agency coordination to achieve improved environmental and community outcomes.

The Red Book

To further strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of the environmental review process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led a process with a number of Federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard, to update the “how-to” handbook (also known as the Red Book), Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects.

Last updated in 1988, the newly revised Red Book provides practical, real-world techniques, models, and assistance to agencies to coordinate and better synchronize environmental reviews, permits, and other Federal decisions needed to site and build infrastructure projects across the nation. The new interagency guidance specifically encourages agencies to utilize the practices described in this guide.

Together, today’s actions were identified as key deliverables in the Administration’s 2014 plan to reduce the total time it takes to conduct reviews and make permitting decisions, while producing better outcomes for the environment and communities.

TTD applauds movement on Hudson River rail tunnel

Washington — Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issued the following statement on the progress to build a new Hudson River rail tunnel:

Wytkind

Wytkind

“We are pleased that Governors Chris Christie (N.J.) and Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.) have advanced a joint plan — in a letter to President Obama — to build a desperately needed Hudson River tunnel that serves Amtrak and commuter rail traffic between New Jersey and New York, and links to the entire Northeast Corridor. We applaud the governors for coming together to offer a path forward and thank Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for their leadership on this important issue.

“While we will want to review the details of this proposed funding partnership between New York, New Jersey and the federal government, today’s news gives us hope that this looming mobility and economic crisis may be resolved.

“We have long called for investment in a new Hudson River rail tunnel, especially since Superstorm Sandy devastated the region’s infrastructure including these tunnel crossings. Soon, Amtrak will be forced to initiate rolling shut downs of tunnels for major repairs and upgrades. The chaos and economic damage a shutdown of any of Amtrak’s tunnels would cause are immeasurable as commuters and businesses alike would face many years of severe disruptions.

“We want to thank Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for his persistence. The Secretary’s aggressive effort to bring the parties together kick-started New Jersey-New York negotiations and led to today’s progress.

“We urge the Obama Administration and Governors Christie and Cuomo to reach an agreement quickly on a full funding plan for a Hudson River rail tunnel. This project will put thousands to work, give Amtrak and commuter railroads the infrastructure they need to meet projected growth in traffic and serve as a much needed shot in the arm for our economy.”

House GOP pressured to get moving on roads bill

Transportation advocates are pushing the House to get moving on passing a new long-term highway funding bill as a deadline for the expiration of the spending looms next month. 

Federal infrastructure funding is currently scheduled to expire Oct. 29, although the transportation has said recently that it has enough money to cover expenses until next June as long as Congress passes a reauthorization of its ability to cut checks. 

Read more from The Hill.