Category Archives: Transportation

Messenger: Cost to start down runway of airport privatization in St. Louis? More than $800,000 per month.

Source: Tony Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 2018

There’s a new payday loan outfit in town, and it’s taking up residence in St. Louis City Hall. It’s called the Bank of Rex. Borrowers beware: The costs of taking a loan from this bank are significant. They are outlined in a series of documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch in a Sunshine Law request that show how much consultants who are working under the control of a nonprofit called Grow Missouri will be paid as they advise the city on whether to privatize operations at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The costs are steep, up to $800,000 per month or more for the one to two years it might take to make a recommendation on the airport’s future. If that happens, those monthly costs will be paid by city taxpayers out of the proceeds of what is effectively a risky auction of the city’s top asset. …

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St. Louis aldermen call for transparency as city considers privatization of Lambert
Source: Celeste Bott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 19, 2018

A committee tasked with picking a team of consultants to advise the city on whether to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport has met several times but has yet to choose advisers to lead the process. There were 11 submissions for consulting services, Deputy Mayor for Development Linda Martinez told the Post-Dispatch. Only three covered all services sought in the city’s request for proposals, she said, and the others only covered part of the services. The identity of the winning bidder won’t be revealed until a contract is agreed upon. … No vote was taken when the committee met Wednesday. Instead, much of the session was devoted to providing information to several city aldermen, amid growing concern from members of the board that the process, which was greenlighted by the Federal Aviation Administration in April, hasn’t been transparent. … Critics have questioned the need for privatizing Lambert, citing its recent growth, including a 10 percent spike in passengers in 2016, and a strong credit rating. … The effort to explore the benefits and risks of privatization has been a slow one. …

Lambert director has mixed feelings on privatization, pushes Congress on higher fees
Source: Adam Aton, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 23, 2017

The director of St. Louis Lambert International Airport said Thursday she’s keeping an open mind about a proposal to privatize its management. Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge also said she has reservations about the shift’s potential to steer more money from the airport to the city. Mayor Francis Slay traveled to Washington this week to ask for St. Louis’ inclusion in a Federal Aviation Administration pilot program to study leasing airport operations to a private business. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Lyda Krewson, the Democratic nominee for mayor, have said the idea deserves examination, and political mega-donor Rex Sinquefield has made a six-figure commitment to help pay for the application. The FAA could decide this month whether to include Lambert in the program, starting a decision-making process that could take at least a year. If the change were made, the city still would own the airport and land while a private company leases it. … The city draws about $6 million annually from the airport, and a public-private partnership could bring an “immediate” infusion of more funds, according to the city. … Congress is considering how infrastructure projects might fit into the FAA’s reauthorization legislation. …

State launches investigation, assesses $800,000 in damages against SunPass contractor

Source: Hannah Denham, Times Staff Writer, August 14, 2018

After months of inaction, Florida Department of Transportation officials announced today that they are assessing nearly $800,000 in damages against the SunPass contractor responsible for the state’s tolling chaos. At Gov. Rick Scott’s direction, the department also has requested an investigation by the Office of the Chief Inspector General into the contractor, Conduent State and Local Solutions. Last month, the state suspended payments on its $343 million contract with Conduent to update the tolling system, which is now in its third month of dysfunction. The original contract included a clause that if Conduent didn’t provide the system within the timeline that was agreed upon, then the state had the right to collect “liquidated damages” from the company — in the form of $5,000 for each calendar day past the deadline that the system wasn’t ready. …

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SunPass Problems: State awarded contractor millions more while unprocessed tolls mounted
Source: Noah Pransky, WSTP, July 5, 2018

As problems continued to mount for the Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s SunPass system and a backlog of toll transactions grew to more than 100 million, the state didn’t hit its troubled contractor with penalties; instead, it kept awarding contractor Conduent more money, according to new documents obtained by 10Investigates. More than a dozen change orders have increased a $287 million electronic tolling contract to $343 million, including what appears to be more than $20 million for extensions and delays in getting the new, consolidated customer service system (CCSS) functional. Starting on June 12, the state also spent more than $1 million for Conduent to add customer service representatives. A frequent complaint of customers during SunPass’ month-long system outage has been about poor customer service from the Conduent-operated call centers. 10Investigates has reported how Conduent – and its former parent company, Xerox – have had major problems with its electronic tolling systems in at least five states. Yet Florida awarded the lucrative contract to the firm in 2015 anyway. The state has steadily increased the value of the deal since then. …

The $1.4 Billion Transit Fund the U.S. Government Won’t Release

Source: Laura Bliss, CityLab, August 15, 2018 

Like a nasty pothole, Trump’s unkept promises on road-and-rail dollars have given transportation fans a mild case of whiplash. But there may be worse harm in another infrastructure lapse on the part of this administration, this one more basic: $1.4 billion promised to transit projects across the U.S., still unallocated by the Federal Transit Administration for no clear reason. From New York to Los Angeles, El Paso to Minneapolis, 17 rail and rapid bus projects are awaiting grants promised by the federal appropriations bill signed into law by Trump in March 2018. But the funds have still not been delivered nearly five months later. Make that 144 days, 20 hours, and 15 minutes later, as of this writing, according to a splashy countdown clock built by Transportation For America, a progressive transportation policy organization. …

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Shovels Down: White House Drives Dagger Into Infrastructure Bill
Source: John T. Bennett, Roll Call, May 25, 2018
 
The White House formally drove a dagger into the passage this year of the kind of massive infrastructure package called for by President Donald Trump. What is on the White House’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year includes another tax package, a farm bill, more federal judiciary nominations — and possibly immigration legislation. White House legislative affairs chief Marc Short told reporters Friday that infrastructure will slide into 2019. He blamed election-year politics, saying Democrats have signaled in recent conversations they are uninterested in handing Trump a victory ahead of the midterm elections. …

Opinion: Rebuilding Schools, Bridges—and Lives
Source: Richard Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2018

As unions, businesses, engineers and policy makers celebrate Infrastructure Week from May 14-21, we’re reflecting on the investments that add value to America. For every dollar a country spends on public infrastructure, it gets back nearly $3, according to a 2014 study from the International Monetary Fund. Keep this in mind when you hear that the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, has called for $2 trillion to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems. On top of that, another $2 trillion could make America the global leader in the infrastructure technologies of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities. … When you see that the ASCE’s infrastructure report card gives the nation overall a D+, don’t hang your head. The U.S. can get that grade up. But it won’t happen with a plan like President Trump’s , which would cut Washington’s contribution to infrastructure projects from 80% to 20%, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states. The true way forward is to do the opposite: Put the federal government back in the business of building America’s future. …

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Metro shuttle bus operator in trouble for distracted driving

Source: Nick Iannelli, WTOP, July 27, 2018

Metro has ordered a private contractor to pull a bus driver off a work zone shuttle route after he was caught on camera talking on a cellphone behind the wheel. In a video posted online by Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the driver can clearly be seen talking on the phone while operating a bus at the Fort Totten station Thursday morning. … In a statement, Metro called the video an “obvious and egregious safety violation” and ordered the contractor, Coach USA, to permanently bar the driver from providing service to Metro. …

Latimer: Airport privatization in the legislature’s hands

Source: Matt Coyne, Rockland/Westchester Journal News, August 13, 2018
 
The county announced a slew of new initiatives at the airport today, but the status of privatization is unclear.  County Executive George Latimer said Westchester would, among other steps, improve the noise complaint system, but would only say there is a dialogue going on with the Board of Legislators as to whether the county-owned airport would be leased to a private operator long-term. He would not say if the $1.1 billion offer from Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. is still on offer. … Latimer, a Democrat, campaigned against former Republican County Executive Rob Astorino’s controversial plan to lease Westchester County Airport for 40 years, first in a $140 million deal with Oaktree Capital Management in fall 2016, then last fall in a $1.1 billion deal with Macquarie. …

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Rob Astorino Westchester privatization deals under review by George Latimer
Source: David McKay Wilson, Lohud, March 29, 2018
 
Rob Astorino’s Westchester privatization legacy hangs in limbo. Three months into County Executive George Latimer’s tenure, a list of Astorino’s ambitious privatization plans is teetering on collapse. Proposals for Westchester County Airport, Playland amusement park and the county’s deteriorating WestHELP affordable housing complex are all under reconsideration. Astorino’s airport privatization deal stands as Latimer’s biggest challenge in this arena. Latimer has huge revenue needs, such as the long overdue Civil Service Employee Association contract, which could cost as much as $60 million to settle. There’s the temptation to pursue Astorino’s 40-year lease proposal with Macquarie Infrastructure Corp., which Astorino announced the day after Latimer vanquished him in the November election. … The Playland privatization deal, one of Astorino’s major legislative victories in 2016, remains in flux, two years after the county and Standard Amusements agreed on a 30-year deal. … Legislators also wants committees to review the 2016 contract to determine if extensions granted by Astorino were valid. … At WestHELP in Greenburgh, Latimer’s pledge to promote affordable housing in stands its first test at the deteriorating 108-unit complex. He’s up against the town of Greenburgh, and Supervisor Paul Feiner, who has failed to rent out the apartments since the town took over management of the complex for 20 years in 2011. The Latimer administration wants to expand the plan proposed by Astorino in late October 2017, which would give Marathon Development Group a 65-year lease….

More about Westchester airport privatization.

More about Playland privatization.

Amid push for privatization, Metro outsources portion of bus operations

Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, August 11, 2018
 
Metro will pay a private company $89 million over the next five years to operate and maintain buses for nine bus lines in Northern Virginia, in an agreement that could pave the way for increased privatization at the transit agency.  According to the agreement, the French transportation company Transdev will be responsible for driving and repairing the buses that will be housed at the soon-to-be-opened Cinder Bed Road bus facility in Lorton.  Transdev will be responsible for about 5 percent of the bus service that Metro provides, with routes that primarily serve areas around Alexandria, Pentagon station, Franconia-Springfield station, Burke Centre and Fort Belvoir. …

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With two weeks of private bus shuttles, Metro dips a toe into outsourcing
Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, December 9, 2017
 
Metro riders inconvenienced by a two-week partial shutdown on the Red Line probably didn’t give much thought to the branding of the bus shuttles carrying them on their plodding ride between the Silver Spring and Fort Totten stations.  But those buses — private coaches with drivers hailing from out-of-state — could be a sign of things to come at Metro: more privatization, with a focus on outsourcing bus service.  It’s a shift that’s been forecast by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, and cheered by politicians and Metro board members who see it as an opportunity to save on costs.  The transit agency recently announced that it is seeking proposals from outside contractors interested in handling bus operations and maintenance at Metro’s new Cinder Bed Road bus garage in Newington, Va. The contract would hand over the operation of 17 bus routes to a private company, and that company would be responsible for providing an estimated 129,599 hours of service to passengers each year. …

Metro workers protest privatization of bus routes
Source: John Gonzalez, WJLA, December 7, 2017

WMATA has a proposal on the table to use private contractors to manage and operate nine existing Metrobus routes. The buses would eventually come out of a new facility in Lorton – but not everyone was pleased with the new proposal. On Thursday, angry Metrobus drivers showed up at the site of the new facility to protest. The workers, with the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689, blocked the facility’s entrance and attempted to disrupt a meeting that the transit agency was holding with contractors. “Paul Weidefeld is gonna destroy this transit system. We want transit to not be privatized. We want it to be ungovernable. To be able to have a say-so in what our public transportation looks like,” said union representative Anthony Garland. …

How Elon Musk’s O’Hare Express Got The Fast Track In Chicago

Source: Becky Vevea, WBEZ, August 9, 2018

Underneath the popular Block 37 shopping complex in downtown Chicago is a partially finished, unused train station. There are no turnstyles or escalators, just an elevator and a few rectangular openings in the ground. Aldermen approved the “super station” with little discussion in 2005, but it was mothballed before completion. Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley wanted it to be the base for express train service to both Chicago airports. Thirteen years later, with taxpayers still paying off the loan that financed the $218 million station, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has found somebody to fulfill those high-speed dreams: entrepreneur Elon Musk. … Musk said his plan, known as the O’Hare Express, is to build a speedy pod that will shoot through an underground tunnel to get riders between Downtown and O’Hare International Airport in just 12 minutes. Officials said Emanuel and Musk hope to start digging as soon as this fall. But can they fulfill these promises? … Here’s a look at how Chicago’s mayor fast-tracked the express transit to the airport and why that matters to taxpayers, Musk, and the future of express transit elsewhere. …

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Elon Musk and Rahm Emanuel’s New Transportation Scheme Is a Privatization Bonanza
Source: Emma Tai and Stephanie Farmer, In These Times, July 27, 2018
 
In June, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration selected Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to build a non-stop express train from downtown to O’Hare Airport. The development is yet another example of Emanuel’s plan to transform Chicago into a city for the wealthy few.  Emanuel has stated that Musk’s express train will be fully financed by private investors. But the city’s 2009 parking meter fiasco has taught us that working Chicagoans end up on the losing side of fast-tracked privatization schemes. Morgan Stanley Investment Partners (MSIP) paid the city over $1 billion to lease the city’s parking meter system. But in an information memorandum released in 2010, MSIP estimated that, by the end of the lease in 2084, the firm would rake in over $11 billion from parking meter users by charging higher fares. …

Ruling unlikely to end Puerto Rico Oversight Board struggle with local government

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, July 24, 2018 (Subscription Required)

Puerto Rico bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain’s anticipated ruling on the relative powers of the Oversight Board and the local government is unlikely to end the battle for authority over the debt-burdened U.S. territory. Swain will hear oral arguments Wednesday on an adversary complaint filed earlier this month in the Title II bankruptcy case by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in which he argued the local government can’t be forced to follow parts of the board’s fiscal plan that deal with policy. Governance issues are likely to remain whatever her ruling, observers said. … Other Puerto Rico government sectors have followed the government in filing adversary complaints challenging the board’s power. On July 9 Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Puerto Rico House President Carlos Méndez Núñez filed a complaint similar to the governor’s. On Tuesday the biggest minority party in Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party, said it planned to submit an adversary complaint on different grounds on the same day. …

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Puerto Rico governor names new utility head after board members quit
Source: Reuters, July 18, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday named a new executive director of the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), following the resignation of its former head and four of the utility’s seven-member board last week.  Jose Ortiz will replace Rafael Diaz-Granados, who quit a day after being named executive director, leaving the utility with no leadership amid a massive restructuring effort following devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last September.  Diaz-Granados and the four other board members resigned after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello blasted them for agreeing to pay Diaz-Granados an annual salary of $750,000. The PREPA board unanimously elected Ortiz, an engineer, to the post on Wednesday, Rosello’s office said in a tweet. Ortiz, the fifth PREPA executive director named since the hurricane devastated the island and its electric grid last September, is due to take office on July 23. …

Puerto Rico Bondholders Win Ruling Against U.S.
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018
 
A federal judge has refused to absolve the U.S. government of liability for investors’ losses on Puerto Rico bonds, a potential blow to efforts to write down the U.S. territory’s $73 billion debt load.  The ruling issued Friday by Judge Susan G. Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is an incremental victory for hedge funds fighting to get repaid on the $3 billion in Puerto Rico pension bonds These creditors have targeted the U.S. directly, saying the federal government should make them whole for enacting a 2016 law that set them up for losses.  The lawsuit strikes at the heart of the rescue law, known as Promesa, designed to tackle the U.S. territory’s fiscal crisis. Promesa was designed to avoid a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico, creating a court-supervised process for wringing debt reductions from creditors instead. …

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Audit at Texas Health and Human Services Commission finds latest in long line of problems

Source: Robert T. Garrett, Dallas News, July 18, 2018

Texas’ sprawling bureaucracy for regulating health care and providing social services is vulnerable to a “perception of impropriety” because it routinely lets individual contracting personnel open bids on their own, without any witnesses, a new internal audit says. The Health and Human Services system also unwisely allows program managers and division leaders who control billions of dollars of spending to ask for the same contracting specialist every time, the audit said. That potentially creates a coziness that could harm taxpayers’ interests, it said. Problems highlighted in the audit, which was released to state GOP leaders last week, are the latest in a long line of problems at the Health and Human Services Commission. Six officials have stepped down since early April, when Gov. Greg Abbott called revelations of sloppiness and mistakes in scoring of bids “unacceptable.” …

Another audit released Tuesday by an independent arm of the Legislature looked at nearly 70 percent of the $6.7 billion worth of contracts that the commission awarded in a recent 27-month period. There were problems with every single one of the 28 separate calls for bids or grant proposals that the State Auditor’s Office examined. … Both the commission’s internal audit and the State Auditor’s Office review sharply criticized sloppy handling and scoring of bids for billions of dollars worth of work for the Medicaid program for the poor and other health and social services programs. …

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Pain & Profit series from the Dallas Morning News, published June 2018

  • The preventable tragedy of D’ashon Morris
    Doctors described him as “happy and playful” and told his foster mother he would be healthy by the time he went to kindergarten. That was before a giant health care company made a decision that saved it as much as $500 a day — and cost D’ashon everything.
  • As patients suffer, companies profit
    Imagine being trapped in a bed for more than a year because you can’t get the medical equipment you need. Years of poor oversight by the state have allowed health care companies to skimp on essential care for sick kids and disabled adults.
  • Texas pays companies billions for ‘sham networks’ of doctors
    The state tells foster parents that hundreds of psychiatrists will see their kids. We found only 34. Managed-care companies overstate the number of physicians available to treat the state’s sickest patients.
  • ‘Glossover of the horror’
    A whistleblower says taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth and sick people are not getting the care they need. Texas fails to act when health care companies put patients in peril.
  • Parents vs. the Austin machine
    “You can tell that he’s crying or screaming, but nothing comes out.” Texas families take fight for medically fragile children to the Legislature.

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State, federal lawsuits pin defective DC Metro concrete on contractor

Source: Kim Slowey, Construction Dive, July 13, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Commonwealth of Virginia have filed suit against Universal Concrete Products Corp., the manufacturer of concrete panels for the Washington, D.C., Metro’s $5.8 billion Silver Line project, alleging violations of the False Claims Act and Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, as well as unjust enrichment and payment by mistake, according to court documents. Universal was working on the project under a $6 million purchase order contract with design-builder Capital Rail Constructors (Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure South). In the July 9 action against Universal and co-defendants Donald Faust Jr., company president and co-owner, and Andrew Nolan, former quality control manager, the Justice Department and Virginia authorities claim that Universal knowingly provided panels that did not have the required air content for use on the Silver Line project and falsified documents so that it would appear the panels met the project specifications. …

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Contractor botches Silver Line concrete
Source: Associated Press, April 25, 2018

Concrete panels installed in the $2.6 billion project extending the D.C. region’s Metrorail Silver Line to Dulles International Airport are not as durable as they should be. Thousands of areas along the extension will need to be dealt with. And some of the concrete will need to be completely thrown out, despite being already installed. Charles Stark, director of the Silver Line project, said the concrete is supposed to last 100 years but was not mixed properly by a subcontractor. …