I'm in the process of leaving WSDOT, so the blog will be on hiatus for awhile. Please contact Willy Leiste at LeisteW@wsdot.wa.gov if you have questions. 

I've had a blast providing you with short, plain-English stories about federal transportation policy and funding, answering your questions, and helping you navigate the mysteries of the federal government. I will continue to be involved in transportation issues, and writing about it. 

Thank you for your feedback which was always positive and encouraging. Contact me at Larry.ehl@frontier.com if you'd like to stay in touch.

Posted On 4/04/2011 12:26:00 PM by Larry Ehl |

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Congress is in recess this week, with most members meeting with constituents across their district or state.  Legislative activity resumes on March 28. 

Appropriations: Last week Congress passed a bill extending FY 2011 funding through April 8th.  It included spending reductions of about $6B.  No transportation cuts were included this time.  Most of the reductions are the last of the “low hanging fruit” that both chambers, both parties, and the White House could agree on.   

Reaching agreement on the final FY 2011 will be much more difficult.  The Senate and House are deeply divided about the next round of spending reductions; at the same time, more and more members oppose any further short term bills.  Leadership in both chambers and in both parties opposed a government shutdown, but that’s still a possibility. 

The spending cuts in the current 2011 funding bill are focused in agriculture, commerce, justice, state and interior programs.  

SAFETEA-LU is extended through September 30th, 2011.

Other news:
Senators introduce The Build Act to create an infrastructure bank to fund transportation, water,  energy and communications projects.  The WA Post covers it, and the NYT editorializes in favor.

AASHTO offered five recommendations to USDOT for streamlining project delivery.  USDOT held the meeting in response to an executive order requiring federal agencies to ensure regulations protect the nation's safety, public health, and environment while promoting economic growth. It also orders a review of existing rules to remove outdated or ineffective regulations that stifle job creation and make America's economy less competitive.

The House Transportation Committee approved its Fiscal Year 2012 budget views and estimates which recommends funding reductions and increased efficiencies for many programs.  The 30-page document does not provide recommended funding levels, but does provide a number of policy objectives. 

An example:  "The Committee is supportive of eliminating surface transportation programs that are no longer in the Federal interest and consolidating programs that overlap or are duplicative. ..." (p. 17)” is perceived by some as an attempt to restructure or end the Enhancements program.  Bike/ped projects might – might – continue, but transportation museums and beautification projects will almost certainly not be funded if the majority has its way.  "Views and Estimates of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for Fiscal Year 2012," is available at bit.ly/HTIC-VE12.

The Aviation authorization will probably be extended once more, through the end of May.

Posted On 3/21/2011 10:49:00 AM by Larry Ehl |

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This comment from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin probably explains it best: "[B]oth our options are extremely partisan and unrealistic. And neither one will pass. The first is a Democratic proposal that doesn't go nearly far enough. This proposal, which calls for $6.5 billion in new cuts, utterly ignores our fiscal reality ... Or, we could choose a second, even more flawed measure: a GOP proposal that blindly hacks the budget with no sense of our priorities or of our values as a country."

"Freshman Democrat Joe Manchin: Obama has 'failed to lead' on budget," Politico

Posted On 3/08/2011 07:54:00 AM by Larry Ehl |

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Last week the President signed into law a bill (H.R. 662) to extend SAFETEA-LU through September 30, 2011. The House vote was 421-4, and the Senate passed the bill by a voice vote.

The President also signed into law a bill (HJR.44, PL 112-4) that continues funding for federal agencies through March 18. Congress enacted this two-week funding bill to provide more time to negotiate the wide differences between the Senate and House bills. The bill cuts nearly $1 billion in transportation programs and earmarks.

The House continues to press for a bill that would cut FFY 2011 spending by $61 billion. The Senate has revised its bill to reduce spending by $10.5 billion. The Senate will take a couple of test votes this week, which will show there's insufficient support for either of the current proposals.

Negotiations will continue, but it's very possible another short-term spending bill will be needed. If no compromise is then reached, both sides may be willing to suffer through a government shut down to help determine once and for all what the public will support.

Transportation hearings scheduled for this week:

House Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment: the President's FFY 2012 budget request for federal water infrastructure programs, 11am (Pacific).

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation, full committee hearing: USDOT's FFY 2012 budget request, 11:30am (Pacific).

House Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development: FFY 2012 Army Corps of Engineers civil works budget request, 11am (Pacific)

Senate Environment and Public Works, full committee hearing: USDOT's FY 2012 budget request for the Federal Highway Administration, 11:15am (Pacific).

Senate Appropriations, Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing: USDOT's FFY 2012 budget request, 6:30am (Pacific)

House Transportation and Infrastructure -- Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials: increasing private sector participation in passenger rail service, 7am (Pacific).

Posted On 3/07/2011 03:09:00 PM by Larry Ehl |

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The Senate and House return to DC after a week-long recess for an in-district/state work period.

One issue will dominate the week, a proposal to continue 2011 spending for two weeks and avoid a government shutdown. The situation is very fluid, but at this point it appears the House and Senate have agreed on a two-week continuation of 2011 funding that will avoid a government shutdown. the harder negotiation will be determining the spending level for the remainder of the fiscal year. See Will USDOT Shut Down This Friday? for more details.

One other issue this week is of high interest to transportation stakeholders: a likely vote to extend SAFETEA-LU through September 30th, 2011. The bill would continue current funding levels, and includes no policy changes. The current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires at midnight this Friday (March 4).

Congressional transportation committee leaders continue to gather input and draft a multi-year authorization bill. Meanwhile, the President released a broad and general proposal for a six-year $551 billion plan to replace SAFETEA-LU. The proposal does not include a funding mechanism, and it is unclear if and when more details might be released. The President’s plan is focused on “fix-it-first” instead of adding capacity, and would consolidate over 55 highway programs into five programs and merge five transit programs into two programs to expedite project planning and delivery. The House Transportation Committee held field hearings and listening sessions across the country last week, including Vancouver.

The House’s proposed 2011 spending bill contains a number of cuts to transportation programs. Most of the spending reductions come from eliminating 2010 funding for passenger rail, TIGER, and transit New Starts programs that has not been contractually obligated, and eliminating proposed 2011 funding for those programs. Proposed 2011 transportation earmarks were also eliminated, including approximately $221 million designated for 57 projects in WA State.

Status Reports on legislation:

Posted On 2/27/2011 10:14:00 PM by Larry Ehl | 0 comments

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Probably not. It appears House Republicans and Senate Democrats are mostly agreed on details of a two-week spending bill for FY 2011 , avoiding a government shutdown. This buys more time for negotiating the final 2011 spending bill - a negotiation that will be much more difficult. The "easy" cuts will be in the two-week bill.

The House proposal reduces spending by about $60 billion compared to 2010, and by about $100 billion compared to the President’s proposal. Senate Democrats oppose such steep cuts, and will propose a bill that reduces spending more moderately. The differences are significant, both sides are dug in, and many Members are predicting negotiations will break down. That would result in federal agencies and programs shutting down until a final spending bill is approved.

The situation is very fluid, but we should know by Wednesday afternoon if the two-week spending bill is going to pass or get hung up.

A report to be issued Monday by Moody Analytics frames the challenge facing Congress.   The House proposal would cut an estimated 700,000 jobs through 2012. But the report also notes that reducing deficits down to sustainable levels will require cutting about $400 billion a year through the rest of this decade, even when assuming an economy recovery.

Posted On 2/27/2011 09:22:00 PM by Larry Ehl | 0 comments

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