Category Archives: Transportation

Feds join court fight to restart $5.6 billion P3 Purple Line light rail

Source: Jim Watts, Bond Buyer, July 17, 2017
 
The Federal Transit Administration has joined Maryland in a court battle seeking to overturn a federal judge’s order that halted work on the $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail project being financed as a public-private partnership. The FTA filed documents on Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to join the state’s case as it fights District Judge Richard Leon’s decision in August 2016 to vacate the project’s federal environmental clearance.  Maryland was only five days away from signing an acceptance agreement with the FTA for a $900 million New Starts grant when Leon’s order cut off funding for the Purple Line until a final decision in a lawsuit over environmental issues that was filed in 2014. …

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Maryland seeks fast track for Purple Line appeal
Source: Jim Watts, Bond Buyer, July 5, 2017
 
Maryland is urging a federal appeals court to speed up the state’s effort to overturn a lower court order that has halted work for almost a year on its proposed $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail system being financed as a public-private partnership. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a motion July 3 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia asking the court to expedite the hearing schedule by ordering briefings to begin by July 20 and end no later than Aug. 24. At that point, the court likely would hear oral arguments before issuing a decision. …

Opinion: The Purple Line is fading to black
Source: Washington Post, April 5, 2017
 
After a quarter-century of planning, several hundred million dollars in public money, scores of public hearings and endless studies, the Purple Line, one of the Washington area’s most important transit projects, may be facing extinction. If that happens, it would be a testament to dysfunction, inertia and judicial negligence.  Having come within five days of receiving $900 million in federal funding, the 16-mile light-rail line was dealt an unwarranted setback last summer by a federal judge, whose ongoing foot-dragging, combined with the Trump administration’s hostility to new transit ventures, imperils an east-west link that would be a lifeline for tens of thousands of residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and would revitalize an arc of close-in suburban communities. With every passing day, the Purple Line’s prospects are dimming. The federal funding agreement frozen in August by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon was the project’s linchpin; without it, a multibillion-dollar public-private partnership cannot go forward, and investors who were ready to start building are stuck. Without a green light now from Mr. Leon, it may be all but impossible to revive the federal funding agreement for the foreseeable future. That’s because the Trump administration has proposed halting all cash for transit projects that lack signed funding agreements, starting almost immediately and lasting for the remainder of the fiscal year. …

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Warning: Trump Administration Wants To Privatize National Park Campsites

Source: James Jimenez, KRWG, July 8, 2017

… U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently announced that he wants to privatize our national park campsites. There are a lot of problems with this—primarily that prices will very likely be raised. Also, there is generally much less accountability when private companies run government programs. It becomes not only more difficult to determine just how our tax dollars are being spent, but there is also more room for subtle forms of discrimination to take place. By definition privatization means an economic focus on the use of public lands rather than a conservation and equity focus. Sec. Zinke’s desire to privatize public campgrounds is just one small symptom of a bigger illness that has this presidential administration in its grip—the illness of commodifying everything and anything that can, in any way, be made to profit someone. …

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As Trump moves to privatize America’s national parks, visitor costs may rise 
Source: Mary Catherine O’Connor, The Guardian, June 25, 2017 

America’s national parks need a staggering $11.5bn worth of overdue road and infrastructure repairs. But with the proposed National Park Service budget slashed by almost $400m, the Trump administration says it will turn to privatizing public park services to address those deferred maintenance costs. … But some public lands advocates are concerned that privatization would drive up costs for visitors and put the egalitarian nature of visiting a park out of reach for some. … If you’ve visited a national park, especially a busy one, such as Yosemite or Grand Canyon, there is a good chance you’ve patronized a private operator. Concessionaires operate a range of services including lodging, restaurants and transportation – ferries to Alcatraz and Liberty islands, for example. All told, the NPS has issued private concession contracts at 100 places within the park system. In recent years, disagreements over park contracts have led to costly lawsuits for the park service. … It would take a tremendous increase in such contracts to generate enough revenue to help the park system. … But despite his bullishness on infrastructure spending, Trump has proposed cutting the NPS budget by nearly $400m, which will force job cuts. …

Privatization Is Changing America’s Relationship With Its Physical Stuff

Source: Brian Alexander, The Atlantic, July 12, 2017
 
… As vague as Trump’s pronouncements have been on the matter, it is clear that the general thrust behind the promised building-and-repair push involves using federal dollars as up-front investment to entice private enterprises to provide most of the financing. While Democrats announced their opposition, the general idea of increased privatization of infrastructure has had a bipartisan cast. President Obama supported a plan to create an “infrastructure bank” that would help finance so-called public-private partnerships (known, for their alliteration, as P3s), but that idea fizzled under the glare of Republican opposition. He also floated the idea of selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority. …

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Selling Back To The Public What It Already Owned: ‘Public-Private Partnership’ Shark Bait
Source: Mercedes Schneider, Huffington Post, June 12, 2017
 
Today, I read two articles centered on this idea, both of which concerned Vice President Mike Pence – and one that concerned Pence’s role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  One article also included a sprinkling of US secretary of [privatized] education, Betsy DeVos.  A major goal of corporate education reform is to deliver public education to private entities (corporations, or even nonprofits, but don’t think that an entity termed “nonprofit” cannot be a handsome money dispenser for those running the nonprofit and doling out contracts). However, the extreme-right-Republican aim does not end with public education but with delivering the operation of the entire American infrastructure to private entities.  In the end, what this entails is having private corporations front money to state and local governments in order to lease back to the public what the public already owns.

How President Trump Might Carry The Torch Of Privatization
Source: Here & Now, WBUR, May 8, 2017

… Now President Trump is poised to continue privatization and private contracting in all kinds of industries, from education to incarceration. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson looks at the history and politics of privatization with Donald Cohen and Shahrzad Habibi of the group In The Public Interest. …

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Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Isn’t Much of a Plan

Source: Michael Granof and Martin Luby, Fortune, July 12, 2017

President Donald Trump hasn’t fully outlined his prescription for making American infrastructure great again, but he has called for a major dose of public-private partnerships—also known as P3s. These P3s, he promises, provide “better procurement methods, market discipline and a long-term focus on maintaining assets .” That’s true enough in some cases, but P3s are no cure-all for every public project. Despite the hype, the public-private approach does not provide new funding sources to communities, nor does it work for many types of public projects. …

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World Offers Cautionary Tale for Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Source:Peter S. Goodman, New York Times, June 16, 2017
 
The rest of the planet bears a warning for President Trump’s plan to lean heavily on private business in conjuring a trillion dollars’ worth  of American infrastructure: Handing profit-making companies responsibility for public works can produce trouble.  In India, politically connected firms have captured contracts on the strength of relationships with officialdom, yielding defective engineering at bloated prices. When Britain handed control to private companies to upgrade London’s subway system more than a decade ago, the result was substandard, budget-busting work, prompting the government to step back in. Canada has suffered a string of excessive costs on public projects funneled through the private sector, like a landmark bridge in Vancouver and hospitals in Ontario. …

Editorial: Public Works, Private Benefit
Source: New York Times, June 9, 2017
 
President Trump’s infrastructure plan is turning out to be a mirage. He had talked about a $1 trillion, 10-year effort. But the White House now proposes allocating only $200 billion, which would come from cutting aid to states and localities and giving it to Wall Street investors as tax credits, which it hopes will attract $800 billion in investment for big projects that would turn a profit through tolls and user fees. … But most of the nation’s unmet infrastructure needs involve smaller projects to operate, maintain and upgrade — not only highways, but also water, sewer and other systems that are of no interest to private investors.

Donald Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Faces an Urban-Rural Divide in Congress
Source: Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2017
 
President Donald Trump’s plan to tap the private sector to rebuild $1 trillion worth of roads, bridges and rails has encountered an early problem: geography.  The administration says it will rely on private investors to supply the vast majority of cash to support a decadelong infrastructure rebuilding effort. But members of Congress from rural areas are wary.  That is because private investors are looking for infrastructure projects that throw off steady streams of revenue, from which they derive their profits, and those tend to be found near population centers. … Support from Republicans, many who represent rural areas, will be crucial in getting a large infrastructure package through the GOP-led Congress, since many Democrats have said they would oppose efforts to rely on tolls, rather than federal aid, to pay for building projects.

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Authorization To Fix The Crumbling BQE Faster Stalls In Albany

Source: Emma Whitford, Gothamist, July 12, 2017
 
Legislation that the Department of Transportation predicted could shave years and millions of dollars off of critical Brooklyn Queens Expressway repairs floundered in Albany this session, to the frustration of local politicians, policy groups, labor unions, pro-business groups, and residents who live alongside the decaying BQE triple cantilever in Brooklyn Heights. … There is a basic resistance in Albany, and upstate generally, to what is considered privatization of the state contracting process,” she added. “The main opposition comes from public service unions that are concerned about their jobs somehow disappearing or being diminished.” (“We wanted to ensure that men and women in the state workforce, who are perfectly trained and qualified to do the work, didn’t lose their jobs because of design build outsourcing,” stated Emily Cote, director of communications for the Civil Service Employees Association.) …

Trump’s air traffic overhaul faces bumpy skies

Source: Brianna Gurciullo and Lauren Gardner, Politico, July 9, 2017
 
A month after Trump offered his public support in a White House speech, the proposal to split up the Federal Aviation Administration still faces opposition from rural interests, small-plane owners and key Republicans in Congress, where the to-do list for returning lawmakers is piled high with big tasks like repealing Obamacare and rewriting the tax code.

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AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders on FAA Privatization Bill
Source: AFSCME Press Release, June 23, 2017
 
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement on the FAA privatization bill released Thursday: “AFSCME is strongly opposed to inefficient and risky efforts to privatize the nation’s air traffic control operations. Air traffic safety must be our chief concern and that requires responsible governmental control and continued strong oversight. AFSCME cannot support the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation now pending in the House of Representatives. “The bill, as introduced, has the potential to threaten safe and efficient air travel for many Americans, to significantly weaken the economy, and to harm the committed federal workforce that is dedicated to the safe and efficient aviation all Americans deserve and expect. Congress must reject this risky plan.”

House unveils latest bill to privatize air-traffic control
Source: Bart Jansen, USA Today, June 21, 2017
 
A House chairman unveiled his latest proposal Wednesday to move air-traffic control out of the Federal Aviation Administration and to a non-profit corporation governed by industry stakeholders, setting off a contentious debate that will play out through the fall.  Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the change would allow faster, more efficient modernization of the system from ground-based radar to satellite-based GPS. Strong support from President Trump and airlines, along with changes to the corporation’s board and for general-aviation, improved the bill’s chances from a similar proposal last year, he said.

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Oregon hired a company to paint the Ross Island Bridge without knowing its safety record. Then a worker fell.

Source: Gordon R. Friedman, The Oregonian, July 6, 2017
 
The Oregon Department of Transportation’s method for vetting contractors leaves the state open to hiring companies with troubling safety records, a review by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found. That’s exactly what happened when the department hired Abhe & Svoboda Inc. to repaint the Ross Island Bridge this year. Officials at the agency said when they chose the firm, they knew nothing of its safety history. The company’s track record includes accidents that killed and injured workers who were not wearing fall protection gear. Also on its record are repeated failures, as recently as 2011, to outfit bridge painters with adequate safety harnesses, safety records show. … Before awarding contracts, department officials don’t check publicly available online Occupational Safety & Health Administration records showing safety violations, workplace injuries and deaths from every state. Running such a check on Abhe & Svoboda takes minutes and shows violations from around the country spanning decades. …

Michigan university following Ohio State’s lead with parking privatization

Source: Tom Knox, Columbus Business First, June 29, 2017

A public university in Michigan is considering privatizing its parking system – and using Ohio State University as an example. Eastern Michigan University regents on Tuesday authorized President James Smith to pursue an arrangement to lease out its parking apparatus in exchange for upfront money. … It’s a significant decision because it is one of the first universities to follow Ohio State’s lead after the school signed a first-of-its-kind arrangement in 2012. Ohio State leased its parking operations to Australian pension fund QIC Infrastructure in a 50-year, $483 million deal, framing it as raising money for academics. …

Mayor Barry looks at privatizing Nashville airport to generate transit funds 

Source: Joey Garrison & Nate Rau, The Tennessean, June 26, 2017 

Mayor Megan Barry’s administration is exploring the privatization of the city-operated Nashville International Airport to an outside management company to generate funding for mass transit in Middle Tennessee. The mayor’s office confirmed hearing a presentation in May from representatives of Oaktee Capital Management, a California-based hedge fund that has also made bids to run city-operated airports in other cities. …

For Sale: Puerto Rico

Source: Heather Gillers, Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2017 

Puerto Rico has no cash and can’t borrow money anymore. So it is looking to sell itself off in parts. The troubled U.S. territory is preparing to seek bids in coming months from private companies willing to operate or improve seaports, regional airports, water meters, student housing, traffic-fine collections, parking spaces and a passenger ferry, according to a government presentation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

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The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, June 8, 2017
 
Puerto Rico’s economic crisis has now washed the burden of its colonial legacy onto Washington’s doorstep. Congress has been trying to contain the island’s ballooning debt under the hardline austerity program of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). But since the program is governed by a control board run by the same financiers responsible for driving the debt crisis in the first place, the island continues to sink into poverty while its creditors feast on the spoils.  To underscore how Puerto Rico’s revolving door of big finance and politics is underwriting the debt crisis, a report by the AFL-CIO and the community-labor coalition Committee for Better Banks (CBB) traces the career of the head of PROMESA, Carlos M. García, from his role as a head banker of Santander to his current political post overseeing the privatization and pillage of Puerto Rico’s anemic public assets.

Puerto Rico strikes second restructuring deal with bondholders
Source: Hazel Bradford, Pensions & Investments, May 15, 2017
 
Puerto Rico reached a restructuring agreement with bondholders invested in the commonwealth’s Government Development Bank, officials announced Monday in San Juan. … Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration said in that statement that GDB creditors “have agreed to substantial discounts to the principal,” but did not provide further details on the agreement, which calls for bondholders to exchange claims for one of three tranches of bonds issued by a new municipal entity. The new bonds will have varying principal amounts, interest rates, collateral priority, and other payment terms.  It is the second agreement reached with bondholders and Gov. Ricardo Rosello, following one announced April 6 with holders of bonds issued by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The PREPA agreement restructures $9 billion in debt by offering them 85 cents on the dollar, and giving PREPA more time to begin making payments. …

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