PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off for Thanksgiving this Thursday and Friday but back to our normal schedule on Monday, Nov. 29. Please continue to follow Pro Transportation.
— Buttigieg addresses federal workforce vaccine mandate and its impact on the holiday travel season.
— DOT reveals how it will start spending $1B worth of RAISE grant money.
— Lawmakers want answers on Covid relief funding for airlines amid disrupted travel.
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HOUSE PASSES RECONCILIATION BILL (PART I): The House passed the second half of President Joe Biden’s sprawling domestic agenda Friday morning, teeing up the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act for the Senate to generate more “Dems in disarray” headlines as the caucus tussles over paid leaves, immigration and the SALT tax. Senators have a defense authorization bill and a raft of government appropriations bills to pass before tackling the climate and social spending bill, though they do hope to get it done before the end of the year. After the Senate finishes with the bill, it will need to go back to the House before it heads to the president’s desk. The bill’s transportation provisions have survived the House process; there’s no reason to think they’re in anyone’s crosshairs in the Senate, either.
Who else is still processing that eight-hour Kevin McCarthy speech from Thursday night? That was a doozy.
Tryptophan coma: Just a reminder not to expect any action this week: Lawmakers are in their districts for the Thanksgiving break. Enjoy this calm before the early-December storm.
DOT ANNOUNCES RECIPIENTS OF RAISE GRANTS: On Friday, the Transportation Department revealed how it’ll be spending $1 billion worth of RAISE grant money. Road projects will receive the bulk of the grant funding. DOT said the distribution of the money is reflective of the types of projects applicants asked for.
— $500 million, or 50 percent, for highways.
— $246 million, or 24.6 percent, for transit and rail.
— $180 million, or 18 percent, for bicycle and pedestrian.
— $77 million, or 7.7 percent, for maritime and ports.
The majority of the funding is not going to state DOTs but to local governments that do not often receive federal highway funding directly, our Julian E. J. Sorapuru writes.
GOOD NEWS TOUR: DOT leaders have been tearing around the country on a whirlwind tour to promote both RAISE grants and the infrastructure bill (and slipping in a good word for the reconciliation bill here and there). The tour allowed them to show the impact of $1 billion that’s already on its way out the door and forecast the hundreds of billions more they’ll be spreading around the country over the next few years. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg held three events in the Phoenix area, Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg went to Philadelphia and environs for two events, Undersecretary Carlos Monje held another in Oakland, and FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez hit San Diego, in addition to joining Buttigieg for some of his Phoenix stops.
Former transportation buffs nominated for new posts: Biden on Friday nominated Daniel Tangherlini and Derek Kan to serve as governors of the United States Postal Service. Tangherlini was previously the interim general manager of D.C.’s Metro and the first director of the D.C. DOT; Kan previously served as the undersecretary of Transportation for policy at DOT under the Trump administration, and was the general manager for Lyft and a member of Amtrak’s board of directors.
DOMESTIC TRAVEL & VACCINES: Though the idea of vaccination requirements for domestic air travel has continued to percolate — with the Biden administration noncommittal to ruling it in or out — Buttigieg on Sunday offered the most unyielding response to date on why the option doesn’t look likely.
Confident in the current process: “Look, between the masking and the other mitigations, we’re very confident in the safety of air travel and travel generally in this country,” the Transportation secretary said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What we’re doing right now is working to make air travel safe.”
Vax mandates for workforce: Is the administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers foiling the anticipated busy travel season? “I have seen no indication the vaccine requirements are going to impact travel in any way, certainly in terms of our ability as a federal administration to provide the services that are needed,” Buttigieg said, referring to TSA and DOT employees. Two top House Transportation Committee Republicans recently raised concerns the requirement could throw a wrench in travel, causing a deficit in screeners and airline employees as the holiday season approaches.
Speaking of holiday travel, the next few weeks will test just how airlines respond to hiccups that could arise at any time. But even if it’s smooth sailing, it won’t stop lawmakers from asking questions about recent travel blips and why airlines have been so unprepared for the inevitable upswing in passenger demand, Oriana reports.
Paired hearings: Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s representative in Congress, told Oriana she’s calling for hearings on the topic before the House Transportation Committee. Norton, and her colleagues in the Senate, are wondering how more than $50 billion in pandemic relief money over the last year and a half didn’t stop the swell of disrupted travel incidents that’s stranded thousands, and has angered flight crews, too. The Senate Commerce Committee is already preparing to grill airlines on the matter in early December.
“The airlines owe Americans better service,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the committee. “In my view, they’re failing to keep their side of the bargain.”
NOT SO FAST: The FAA and FCC may need more than 30 days to figure out how telecom’s 5G rollouts will affect airplanes in the sky. In a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of T&I, and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), chair of the aviation subcommittee, on Friday said the agency should not go through with any 5G deployments until the FAA conducts a risk assessment that proves no further “mitigations are necessary or that all necessary mitigations are in place.” Some 5G tech, originally scheduled to go live Dec. 5, has been halted for 30 days, punting the service activation into January. The legislators said that’s not enough, and want the FAA and FCC to triple-check that 5G services will not create cascading, treacherous effects for aircraft operations.
WORLD DAY OF REMEMBRANCE FOR ROAD TRAFFIC VICTIMS: Cities across the U.S. on Sunday marked the UN-endorsed memorial to acknowledge victims lost to traffic crashes and other road disasters. This year’s commemorations come as motor-vehicle-related accidents have increased nationally: An estimated 20,160 people died in motor-vehicle-related crashes in the first half of 2021, a projected 18.4 percent spike in road fatalities compared with the same period in 2020 and an 18.6 percent increase over the same period in 2019, according to a recent report from the NHTSA.
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— “Family unvisited, travel a no-go: The hard costs of high gas prices.” The New York Times.
— “The dream of high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest may be on the horizon.” Kitsap Sun.