Posts Tagged ‘Elaine Chao’

Acting FRA Head Resigns Post

February 13, 2018

The acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration has resigned following allegations that he was moonlighting as a public relations consultant.

Heath Hall stepped down on Sunday from his position, which did not require Senate confirmation.

Hall was appointed acting FRA head after the Trump admistration’s pick for the permanent FRA chief post was held up in the Senate.

Trump has nominated  former Conrail executive Ron Batory, but Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Corey Booker of New Jersey have placed a hold on the nomination in an effort to use it to pressure the administration into releasing federal funding for the proposed Gateway rail tunnel project between New York and New Jersey.

Hall had been reported to have taken a leave of absence from the FRA, citing unidentified family issues, but reports have surfaced saying that twice Hall appeared in Mississippi as a spokesman for the Madison County sheriff.

Hall had said on a federal ethics form that his public relations work would remain dormant while he worked at DOT.

However, information has surfaced that Hall received compensation for public relations efforts between July and December last year.

“We were unaware of the information that is being reported but those allegations, if they are true, are troubling,” DOT spokeswoman Marianne McInerney said in a statement. “Heath Hall has resigned his position at the Department effective immediately.”

Railway Age reported that Batory has been working as an aide to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and is to offer his advice when when the FRA’s new interim acting administrator, General Counsel Juan D. Reyes III, testifies on positive train control implementation on Feb. 15 before the House Rail Subcommittee.

The magazine said that Trump could name Batory as deputy administrator, a post that does not need Senate confirmation but carries less prestige and offers less money

However, Batory would be able to oversee the FRA while awaiting Senate confirmation.

The Senate could also invoke cloture, which would override the hold that Schumer and Booker have on the nomination.

However, that usually requires 60 votes and Republicans cannot muster that within their own membership ranks. Under certain circumstances, cloture can be invoked with 51 votes.

A third option would be for Trump to name Batory as FRA head as a recess appointment in late February when Congress is away on break. That would make Batory head of the FRA through the end of 2019.

Advertisements

Senate, Chao Talk About Infrastructure Plan

January 11, 2018

Talks between members of the U.S. Senate and the Trump administration about the latter’s proposed infrastructure package were held this week on Capitol Hill, although few details of those discussions have been released.

Speaking for the administration was Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was joined by other administration officials.

Although news media reports have said the infrastructure plan is expected to be $1 trillion, some recent reports have put the size of the package at a lower figure, perhaps no more than $200 million.

There has been speculation that the package will be rolled out in the coming weeks, probably after the state of the union address on Jan. 30.

Senator John Barrasso, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a statement that the meeting featured “a direct back-and-forth with administration leadership on their priorities.”

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking minority party member of the committee, said in a statement that, “While there is no shortage of issues on which the president and I disagree, the kind of large scale trillion-dollar infrastructure investment that then-candidate Trump talked about is something that has the potential to elicit bipartisan support here in Congress.”

More than 150 national trade organizations, including some in the railroad and railroad supply industries, have urged Congress to approve an infrastructure investment package.

Chao Prods Railroads to Finish PTC Work

January 4, 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation is leaning on railroads to finish installation and implementation of positive train control by the end of the year.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao wrote to the chiefs of Class Is, intercity passenger railroads and state and local transit agencies to prod them into meeting the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline set by federal law.

Chao expressed concern that many railroads are behind schedule in implementing PTC.

She said the Federal Railroad Administration will work with railroads “to help create an increased level of urgency to underscore the imperative of meeting existing timeline expectations for rolling out this critical rail safety technology.”

In 2008 Congress adopted legislation requiring PTC with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. That deadline later was moved to the end of 2018 although in certain circumstances the deadline could be the end of 2020.

Trump Meets to Talk Infrastructure Plan

December 13, 2017

News reports said that President Donald Trump met this week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster to discuss the administration’s infrastructure proposal.

The administration has proposed using $200 billion in federal funds to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Trump had indicated last month that once a tax bill had passed Congress that his administration would be ready to focus on the infrastructure plan.

DOT Seeking Environmental Review Changes

September 29, 2017

Regulatory changes being proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation are being touted as designed to streamline the environmental review process for multimodal projects.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said the proposed changes will bring the Federal Railroad Administration’s  environmental review process into harmony with procedures used by the Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration.

A DOT news release said that the proposal, which has been sent to the Federal Register for publication, is being made so that multimodal projects are required to follow only one process rather than multiple agency processes.

Under the proposed rules, most concrete and steel bridges built after 1945 would be exempt from historic sites review.

In her AASHTO speech, Chao said that DOT is seeking to identify ways to eliminate unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy that will save states time and money, and reduce burdensome compliance costs.

“Important new regulatory and policy changes are underway at the Department to help deliver infrastructure projects faster, and in a more cost effective manner,” she said.

Chao said DOT has issued an updated guidance policy for the application of categorical exclusions for multimodal projects. The new rules allow one USDOT agency to use the categorical exclusions of another USDOT agency for certain multimodal projects.

Administration to Talk Infrastructure with DOTs

August 29, 2017

The Trump administration will meet this week with officials from state departments of transportation to discuss the administration’s ideas for infrastructure investment.

The invitation to participate said the event’s purpose “will be to underscore the need for a different approach, outline our draft guiding principles, and allow you all to brainstorm actions to help carry this conversation on the need for change and the opportunity to empower state and local leaders back to your states and communities.”

Attending the meeting will be Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and members of the President’s National Economic Council, and special assistant to the president for infrastructure D.J. Gribbin.

President Trump has proposed $200 billion of direct federal infrastructure spending over 10 years, with the goal of using it to leverage an additional $800 billion in state, local and private investment. However, the administration has yet to release a formal plan.

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 18, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration’s proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation budget for fiscal year 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was unmoved during a hearing held last week.

Trump has proposed slashing the DOT budget by $2.4 million. If Congress adopts the administration’s budget proposal, the DOT budget would fall from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion with major cuts made from the hide of Amtrak and various transportation grant programs.

The budget proposal received a hearing from the Senate Appropriations Committee where some members spoke out in favor of keeping Amtrak as it is now.

“With regard to Amtrak, I am concerned about the impact that elimination of long-distance service would have on shared infrastructure with state-supported routes, such as the Downeaster in Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation.

“Long distance routes contribute in part to the capital expenditures for the Northeast Corridor,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the subcommittee. “That’s something of concern to many of us on the committee”

In response to a question asked by Reed as to whether DOT would be able to focus additional resources on the capital infrastructure needs of the Northeast Corridor, Chao said the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak route able to sustain itself and that DOT is working closely with Amtrak and local and state authorities in that region.

However, Chao said there is no money available for the Northeast Corridor except what’s in the president’s budget.

In response to a question asked by another senator, Chao suggested that finding more funding for Northeast Corridor repairs is Amtrak’s problem, not DOT’s

“These are repairs which have been delayed and the maintenance requirements are immense,” she said. “There has to be some way of looking at all these repairs, strategically figuring out [how] best to prioritize these repairs, have a program, and then execute [it].

“Amtrak has a new president, and I am very hopeful the president and the board will be able to address some of these issues.”

The Trump administration has proposed diverting money used to pay for Amtrak’s long-distance routes into funding NEC infrastructure work.

Some funding for Northeast Corridor capital projects would come from transit and commuter rail projects under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program.

Amtrak is relying on a Capital Investment Program grant to finance some costs of building a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

At the same time, the administration has proposed ending the TIGER grant program, which is used to help fund rail capital projects nationwide, including those that benefit intercity passenger rail.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., expressed concern that cuts in funding for Amtrak intercity service would increase congestion on the highways.

As Chao sees it, though, ending funding of long-distance passenger trains would enable Amtrak to focus its resources on what she termed its most vibrant component.

Heath Hall Named to FRA Post

June 28, 2017

Heath Hall has been named deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administrator.

Hall, whose position does not need Senate confirmation, was named by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who has known him since his days working in the deputy DOT secretary’s office and in the Peace Corps.

Now a vice president in the marketing and external affairs department of non-profit Innovate Mississippi, Hall also manages Pointe Innovation magazine.

He has served as senior vice president of external affairs at the Mississippi Economic Council, the State Chamber of Commerce, and as executive director of Mississippians for Civil Justice Reform/STOP Lawsuit Abuse in Mississippi.

Hall also served as Gov. Kirk Fordice’s director of public affairs, deputy press secretary, and deputy director of communications for Fordice’s re-election campaign.

In federal government service, Hall served as an FRA intern in the public relations office before moving into the USDOT deputy secretary’s office.

During the administration of George H.W. Bush, Hall served as an intern in the White House Office of Political Affairs.

The FRA is still without a permanent administrator. Patrick T. Warren, the FRA’s executive director, is serving as acting administrator.

Railway Age magazine reported that an administrator is unlikely to be appointed before August and that the agency is without an official mandate from the Trump Administration.

DOT Council Will Assist Infrastructure Projects

June 10, 2017

A council will be appointed by the Trump administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation to help project managers address rules and regulations.

In remarks made at the USDOT headquarters in Washington, President Donald Trump said the purpose of the council would be to give contractors a single point of contact to get decisions from the federal government “and to deliver that decision, whether it’s a road, a bridge, a dam.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said DOT had published a Federal Register notice “soliciting solutions and suggestions on ways to improve government permitting. If you have ideas, we want to hear from you.”

Trump Infrastructure Plan Included in Budget

May 25, 2017

It turns out that the Trump administration’s much-ballyhooed transportation infrastructure plan was tucked away inside the fiscal year 2018 budget announced on Tuesday although you can be forgiven for having missed it.

It was contained in a six page fact sheet as part of the budget proposal.

As hinted at by various administration officials, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the plan proposes spending $200 billion over 10 years with the expectation that the money will attract and support $1 trillion in private/public infrastructure investment.

The budget document described the plan as a combination of new federal funding, incentives for private sector investment, and expedited projects.

“The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered and maintained,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a news conference.

She said more details will be forthcoming, including a legislative package later this year, but Chao described the plan outlined on Tuesday as “the main key principles.”

The plan calls for making changes in regulations so as to speed up the environmental review and permit process and shifting more service to the private sectors.

One example of the latter mentioned in the budget document would be to transfer the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration to a nonprofit or nongovernmental entity in 2021.

Another change would be to expand the ability of states to impose tolls on interstate highways by reducing existing restrictions on that practice.

Related to that the plan is a proposal to allow private investors to construct and maintain rest stops along highways.

A report by The Hill, said that the infrastructure plan relies on leveraging private sector investment, ensuring federal dollars are targeted toward transformative projects, shifting more services and underused capital assets to the private sector and giving states and localities more flexibility.

Pilot programs will be proposed to explore new environmental reviews, designate a single entity to guide a project through the approval process; put some permitting into the hands of states and localities, and ensure that agencies don’t need to worry about making a permit approval process litigation proof.

Funding of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program will be boosted to $1 billion every year.

The proposal to allow states to impose tolls on interstate highways won the approval of Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, although with some qualifications.

“Congress should give states access to one more tool in the toolbox by allowing them to toll their interstate highways specifically to rebuild them,” he said. “This wouldn’t be a mandate. No state would be required to toll their interstates. This would simply give states an option, the flexibility to choose tolling if it makes sense to them.”

President Donald Trump had spoken often during his 2016 campaign about the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

He mentioned it again during an election night speech and during a Feb. 28 address to Congress, saying it would create millions of jobs.

In response, Democrats noted the Trump’s budget would provide just $5 billion in FY 2018 and did not provide any detail about where the money would go or how it would be paid for.

But Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said the plan “recognizes important needs in our country and takes a long-term view on meeting those needs.”

Chao expects Congress to begin working on the infrastructure package in the third quarter of this year.