With help from Stephanie Beasley, Alex Guillén and Rebecca Rainey
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— Lawmakers are lining up to make sure their priorities get considered for a spot in the massive infrastructure framework that landed in the House this week.
— What changes will Congress try to make in response to the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes, which have shaken the foundation of U.S. aviation safety?
— NJ Transit, one of the largest commuter rail systems in the U.S., is months behind on testing its positive train control system and could miss this year’s deadline.
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HERE COME THE ASKS: House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is already getting an earful from his fellow members after joining Nancy Pelosi to roll out House Democrats’ infrastructure plans. As our Tanya Snyder reports, he’s facing an onslaught of member asks on priorities as diverse as formula funds to U.S. territories, road repairs on Indian reservations and workforce development in disadvantaged communities. DeFazio is telling members the bill is “not set in concrete,” pun intended, and he’s open to their input.
Other members have introduced legislation they want to get into the eventual bill. A bipartisan group of four transportation heavy-hitters did so on Thursday, calling for the House infrastructure package to include the Bridge Investment Act, which would invest $20 billion into repairing structurally deficient bridges and streamline the bridge repair process with a competitive grant program. The language has already been passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as part of its own surface transportation bill.
RAISE THE GAS TAX ONE LAST TIME: Former congressmen Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), working with a Bipartisan Policy Center initiative, are calling on Congress to raise the gas tax a final time, as a bridge to implementing a vehicle miles traveled fee.
The solution isn’t popular in Congress, as Shuster would know from his time as House Transportation chairman when he advocated for an increase. But the two say it’s necessary to sustain the Highway Trust Fund in the short term. “As a former member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I know how hard a vote this can be for members,” said Crowley in a statement. “But importantly, done now and indexed for inflation, it could be the last time members are asked to vote on a gas tax.” Read their full report, which also calls for restoring earmarks.
WHAT WILL CONGRESS DO ON THE 737 MAX? Congress has been quiet on the Boeing 737 MAX recently, as impeachment dominates the Senate and infrastructure takes over the House. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers are done dealing with the fallout from the two deadly crashes involving the still-grounded plane. As our Brianna Gurciullo writes, there are a number of different approaches under consideration for changing certification rules at the FAA.
DeFazio has hinted he wants to target legislation toward making the agency beef up its scrutiny of “safety-critical” systems, rather than allowing manufacturers too much involvement in certifying these areas. He’s also mentioned instituting a cutoff point at which the FAA would have to look at a design as a new plane altogether. And he and other lawmakers have said the FAA should get a more robust workforce, with more safety inspectors.
A push for sweeping changes, though, might not be realistic, in part due to Republican opposition, including T&I ranking member Sam Graves. “What worries me more than anything else as a result of this is what we do to our certification system. We’ve worked very hard over the years to have a certification system that works,” Graves said at an industry event earlier this month. “I don’t want to destroy that process due to two crashes in two third-world countries.”
A guide to the investigations: Brianna also put together a useful primer on where all of the 12 investigations into the MAX crashes stand.
AVIATION RESPONSE TO EPIDEMIC ESCALATES: With the coronavirus outbreak officially designated a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, the effects on international air travel continue to ramp up. As Keegan Elmer reports in the South China Morning Post, “international air travelers and ticketing agents are in for a turbulent time in the weeks ahead as airlines around the world react to the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic by canceling or limiting flights to and from the Chinese mainland.”
American’s pilots want a full stop: The Allied Pilots Association, representing American Airlines pilots, filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to immediately halt the carrier’s U.S.-China flights, and directed its pilots to decline assignments if needed.
COMING THIS SUMMER: The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth said they’ll sue the EPA this summer if the agency has not yet regulated greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft. The agency in 2016 issued an endangerment finding obligating it to regulate such emissions, but despite movement on the international level and behind-the-scenes work inside the agency, the Trump administration has delayed acting. The groups can sue EPA after a 180-day waiting period mandated under the Clean Air Act.
DELTA ANNOUNCES NEW UNIFORMS AFTER WORKER, UNION COMPLAINTS: Following complaints that workers were experiencing chemical burns, rashes and hair loss from their flight attendant uniforms, Delta Air Lines announced Wednesday it would launch “a completely new uniform program.” The airline began implementing new uniforms designed by Lands’ End and Zac Posen in 2018. But after wearing the uniform, one Delta flight attendant, who requested anonymity, told POLITICO they began experiencing hives and an allergic reaction. “Never in my life have I had problems like this before,” said the flight attendant, who had worked in the industry for more than 10 years. Read more from our friends at Morning Shift.
NJ TRANSIT’S PTC TESTING LAGGING: One of the largest state-run commuter railroads in the country is months behind schedule in testing its positive train control system, POLITICO’s Ryan Hutchins reports from New Jersey. The disclosure that an NJ Transit vendor has not yet completed the required software creates new uncertainty over whether the agency can meet the end-of-year deadline to complete its PTC work, according to a new report from the state auditor.
Federal regulators and Congress will be watching closely, with railroads across the country already having gotten a major deadline extension for installing the life-saving technology. NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett insisted the agency can still meet the Dec. 31 deadline and said it plans to submit a new proposed timetable to the FRA soon.
COMINGS AND GOINGS: Customs and Border Protection released a trade and travel report for fiscal 2019 on Thursday. Notably, the agency said it enrolled more than 1.1 million new members in its Trusted Traveler programs and processed more than 21.5 million U.S.-bound travelers through Preclearance. CBP also touted its expansion of biometric processing. Facial recognition technology was used on more than 19 million travelers with a match rate of more than 97 percent, according to the report.
— “Fatal crashes involving drivers who tested positive for THC spiked after Washington legalized marijuana.” POLITICO Pro.
— “TSA powerless to stop human trafficking at Teterboro Airport, despite crackdown, say Feds.” NorthJersey.com.
— “Southwest flew millions on jets with unconfirmed maintenance records, government report says.” Wall Street Journal.
— “Hummer is making a comeback, but this time it’s electric.” Associated Press.
— “Titanic’s wreckage was hit by a submarine six months ago. The accident went unreported, court documents allege.” Washington Post.
DOT appropriations run out in 243 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,338 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 243 days.