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October 21, 2019 2:45 PM, EDT

Infrastructure Advocacy Caucus Gives Voice to the Future

Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia “The fact is that we need more equity, access and sustainability in transportation policy, and we intend to promote those principles with this caucus," says Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.(IllinoisChannelTV via YouTube)

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Chuy Garcia sat near the front-left corner of a hearing room on the second floor of the Rayburn House Office Building on Oct. 17. In his hands he held several sheets of paper.

While members of the public and the media awaited the official launch of the Future of Transportation Caucus, the congressman seemed to be readying his remarks while staffers occasionally interrupted him. Garcia (D-Ill.) is co-chairman of the caucus (with Reps. Mark Takano of California and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts).

Eugene Mulero

Mulero

Its launch occurred a few minutes after a 9:15 a.m. start time. After brief introductory remarks from longtime infrastructure advocate Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Garcia confidently described the caucus’ mission.

“The fact is that we need more equity, access and sustainability in transportation policy, and we intend to promote those principles with this caucus. For too long, transportation policy debates have centered almost on funding first and policy second. We have to reverse that. We’re launching our caucus because we have an immense opportunity with a new infrastructure package and surface transportation reauthorization,” he said, emphasizing for the audience of about four dozen individuals that crippling congestion, a climate crisis and constant disrepairs nationwide had persuaded his colleagues to push for this new group.

“It doesn’t take a genius to say, something isn’t right. Some say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, it’s broken. And I think all of us in this room know that a fix in the gas tax isn’t enough to solve our systemic problems.”

It’s almost impossible to find bills, even marker bills, that actually reflect wholesale foundational reform.

Brookings Institution fellow Adie Tomer

His fellow Democrats in the room reinforced Garcia’s sentiment. And they’re not alone. For years, transportation leaders on Capitol Hill have spoken openly at hearings, on the floor of the chambers, and at town halls of a desire to reflect technological advancements in infrastructure measures. Artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, fuel-efficiency improvements, wireless communication and high-speed concepts are being embraced throughout various sectors in commerce and government. Yet, a portion of the debate in Congress remains fixated on funding. A growing number of stakeholders suggest shifting that focus to policy reforms.

In a conversation with Transport Topics this month, Adie Tomer, fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, suggested Congress engage in meaningful conversations about infrastructure reforms. Simply tweaking the highway laws from five years ago, or the ’90s, or even the Eisenhower model won’t suffice. He is convinced reauthorizing legislation needs to reflect the realities of the existing landscape.

“It’s almost impossible to find bills, even marker bills, that actually reflect wholesale foundational reform,” Tomer told Transport Topics on Oct. 10. “What I mean by wholesale foundational reform is the willingness to start from scratch.”

He went on, “For whatever reason, we don’t really see proposals that do that.”

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

Spotlight Hearing

Oct. 22, 9:30 a.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board meets to review the accident report about a pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami. As reported in Transport Topics, the pedestrian bridge near Florida International University collapsed March 15, 2018, days after it had been installed using accelerated bridge construction methodology. Six people were killed.

Oct. 21, 1 p.m.: The House Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship Subcommittee hosts a field hearing titled, “Harvesting the Digital Age: Connecting our Communities for a Better Future.” Witnesses include Brandon W. Carson, director of the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission’s Planning & Community Development Division.

Oct. 22, 9 a.m.: The Brookings Institution hosts a panel discussion titled, “How Millennials Think Differently About Climate Change and National Debt: Lessons for Policymakers.” Participants include Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.); Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO of the Frameworks Institute; Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center; Layla Zaidane, chief operating officer of the Millennial Action Project; Steven Olikara, founder and president of the Millennial Action Project; Molly Reynolds, senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings; and Stuart Butler, senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings.

Oct. 22, 10 a.m.: The House Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled, “An Assessment of Federal Recovery Efforts From Recent Disasters.”

Oct. 22, 2 p.m.: The House Select Climate Crisis Committee meets for a hearing titled, “Solving the Climate Crisis: Natural Solutions to Cutting Pollution and Building Resilience.”

Oct. 22, 2 p.m.: The House Government Operations Subcommittee hosts a hearing titled, “Metro: Report Card for America’s Subway.”

Oct. 22, 4 p.m.: The Atlantic Council hosts a discussion titled, “Fixing a Faltering Economy.” Participants include Sudanese Minister of Finance Ibrahim Elbadawi; Julian Reilly, special envoy for the Red Sea and Horn of Africa in the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Norwegian Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Endre Stainsen; and Cameron Hudson, senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

Ted Cruz

Cruz

Oct. 23, 8 a.m.: The Hill hosts a panel discussion titled, “Innovation Runway: The Cutting Edge of Aviation.” Participants include Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.); Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas); Deputy Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Daniel Elwell; Heather Wingate, senior vice president for government affairs at Delta Air Lines; and Marlene Colucci, executive director of the Business Council.

Oct. 23, 9 a.m.: The Air Traffic Control Association hosts its annual conference. Participants include Natesh Manikoth, chief data officer at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Oct. 23, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hosts a hearing on water resources infrastructure.

Oct. 23, 10 a.m.: The House Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hosts a hearing titled, “Examining the Oil Industry’s Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change.”

Oct. 23, 10:30 a.m.: The House Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee hosts a hearing titled, “Building a 100 Percent Clean Economy: Solutions for Planes, Trains and Everything Beyond Automobiles.”

Oct. 23, 2 p.m.: The Environmental and Energy Study Institute hosts a panel discussion titled, “Improving Coastal Resilience in the Northeast.” Participants include Kate Boicourt, resilience director at the Waterfront Alliance; and Sara Burns, water resource scientist at the Nature Conservancy.

Oct. 24, 9 a.m.: The Atlantic hosts a discussion titled, “Building for a New Age.” Participants Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Oct. 24, 11:30 a.m.: Government Executive Media Group hosts a panel discussion titled, “Accelerated Artificial Intelligence (AI): The Road to Federal AI Implementation.” Participants include La’Naia Jones, deputy chief information officer in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Freda Bredy, senior IT specialist in the Health and Human Services Department; Elham Tabassi, acting chief of staff in the NIST Information Technology Laboratory.

Mood Swings

House Democrats’ agenda is dominated by investigations of the Trump White House, leaving a small window for legislating on infrastructure policy this year. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cited the country’s framers during these investigations. The framers also expounded the benefits of commercial connectivity. In Federalist 42, James Madison wrote a fitting insight: “The power of establishing post roads must, in every view, be a harmless power and may, perhaps, by judicious management become productive of great public conveniency. Nothing which tends to facilitate the intercourse between the States can be deemed unworthy of the public care.”

 

In Case You Missed it

Investigative journalists at ProPublica examine the company seeking to expedite the freight delivery process.

Who’s New

Jim Mullen of FMCSA

Mullen

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Chief Counsel Jim Mullen will move into the deputy administrator role at the agency Oct. 28 and become acting administrator, replacing Ray Martinez. He joined FMCSA in 2018. His expertise includes more than a decade as executive vice president and general counsel at Werner Enterprises, according to background listed on FMCSA’s website. Omaha, Neb.-based Werner Enterprises ranks No. 15 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced staff updates Oct. 10. A notice from the department said it was “glad to have a deep bench of talented team members committed to public service, and to continuing to deliver on the administration’s priorities.”

Buzz

At T&I, Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is leading an investigation of Boeing. On Oct. 18, he issued this statement: “Today we received documents from Boeing, which apparently they have had in their possession for several months, including the outrageous instant message chain between two Boeing employees indicating Boeing withheld damning information from the FAA. This exchange is shocking, but disturbingly consistent with what we’ve seen so far in our ongoing investigation of the 737 MAX, especially with regard to production pressures and a lack of candor with regulators and customers.”

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Real talk.

The Last Word 

We’ve been dealing with oversight from the Democrats since they took office. In fact, it’s all we’ve been dealing with, the Democrats, since they took office because we certainly haven’t been doing much legislating since they’ve been here.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Oct. 17

Mick Mulvaney

We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

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