TOPIC: Dept. of Transportation

Chicago mass transit’s crazy camera binge

The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch reports that the Chicago Transit Authority is making major, major increases in the number and sophistication of its surveillance cameras thanks to a $16 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant. Most CTA train stations have only one camera now — but the plan is that they will each have 10-30. Moreover, the cameras installed are “high-resolution digital video cameras capable of recording even faint facial features from a distance.”

Why in the world is this a priority? A DHS grant usually is intended for emergency prevention and response like counterterrorism, but CTA wants to use the cameras to catch pickpocketers. Meanwhile, the CTA itself is in disrepair, with the whole system needing to be modernized and entire parts of the city not served by rail. CTA needs money from the Dept. of Transportation, not DHS.

Can anyone on board privatize this airport?

Midway airport

Not if a bill proposed by Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin becomes law, reports Paul Merrion of Crain’s Chicago Business. The legislation, “would make make privatization of Midway Airport and other major transportation assets such as Amtrak far more difficult, if not impossible, by requiring the federal government to be reimbursed for its investment in that infrastructure before a deal could go through.” The legislation appears to be the nail in the coffin for a plan to privatize Midway. But Durbin’s bill could signal a broader push back against the privatization of what are essentially public utilities. (more…)

Mark Kirk: Not, perhaps, a great senator, but not Roland Burris

Sen. Mark Kirk

Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune has a pretty lengthy piece on the early record of Mark Kirk, who was elected from Illinois to the U.S. Senate in November. Kirk is far and away the most prominent Republican in a largely Democratic state and so he spends much of his time raising money for the state GOP. Kirk’s also strangely preoccupied with passing federal legislation that would prevent the Obama administration from bailing out state governments, even though, (a) the chances of this happening are next to impossible, and (b) a bailout would actually be a lifesaver for deficit-wracked Illinois.

Kirk, however, is a more legit representative of Illinois than erstwhile temp Senator Roland Burris.  For example, he has helped get money for the state, including funds from the Dept. of Transportation for the delayed O’Hare Airport expansion.

No clear way forward for Chicago transit

Chicago’s new mass transit director Forrest Claypool says that the Chicago Transit Authority is in trouble, “thanks to the perverse economics” that guides public transportation funding in Chicago and other public cities. What he’s referring to, reports the Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch, is that the city must rely on state lawmakers three hours away in Springfield for transit money. But the federal government also has not helped: the U.S. Dept. of Transportation could be a source of capital for mass transit projects initiated by members of Congress who represent Chicago. But Congress is two years late in writing a new bill that would funded modernization projects for CTA and other mass transit systems.

Dangerous charters: Even if you’re on the bus, you’re not really on the bus

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, has shut down the Michigan-based Haines Company motor coach, because it held passengers in the cargo department. An inspection last month by the Ohio State Highway Patrol found six passengers riding in the luggage compartment with unsecured luggage. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that DOT has started to crack down on some of the nation’s sketchier charter bus companies.

EPA scolds State Department on oil pipeline

It’s one thing for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be mad at an oil company, but, in the case of a proposed oil pipeline that will start in Alberta, Canada and snake through the Midwest, EPA is directing their ire at the State Department. The State Department must approve a pipeline built by TransCanada that will start in Alberta, because it crosses the American border. Elizabeth McGowan at Solve Climate reports that the State Dept. seems unconcerned about the numerous environmental problems — for greenhouse gas emissions, for migratory birds, for wetlands — that such an enormous pipeline might cause. (more…)

U.S.-Canadian oil pipeline shut down

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (part of the Dept. of Transportation) announced that is temporarily shutting down an oil pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada into Montana and then the Great Plains and Midwest. Matthew Daley of the Associated Press reports that federal inspectors want to check safety on the pipeline run by the TransCanada company after a recent leak of 400 oil barrels in North Dakota.

The news comes as TransCanada wants a 2nd pipeline — one that would run from Alberta down into Texas. This pipeline needs approval not just from the Transportation Dept. but the State Department, since it crosses national borders.

Clout city, baby!

U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood attended Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration as Chicago mayor yesterday — and LaHood sounds eager to work with the new mayor. Tim Jones and John McCormick of Business Week report:

Soon after his swearing-in, [Emanuel’s] transportation advisers will go to Washington to discuss high-speed rail and other projects with LaHood’s staff, the transportation secretary said. “Rahm is going to have some very, very strong and significant partners in this administration because he wants to get things done,” LaHood said.

Why does LaHood want to help Emanuel? (more…)

Nationwide approach to infrastructure is stalled on the tracks

Ray LaHood

Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood announced this week which states won a total of $2 billion in U.S. Dept. of Transportation grant money for train lines. Larry Sandler of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Wisconsin received none of the $150 million it wanted in upgrades to the Amtrak line between Chicago and Milwaukee. The reason Wisconsin didn’t get any money partly lies in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s past opposition to federal transit cash. The bigger issue here, though, is with the Obama administration.

Walker applied for the grant months after he rejected $810 million in federal money to build a rail line between Milwaukee and Madison. (more…)

Plain language about managers at California’s high-speed rail system

More uncertainty is emerging about California’s planned $43 billion bullet train system, after a state report recommended a serious shakeup in the management and spending on the joint federal and state project.

As Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times reports, California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office released a 28-page report raising serious doubts about both the decisions being made and the decision-makers themselves. The report urges that management of the entire project be stripped from its appointed board — the California High Speed Rail Authority — and turned over to the state Department of Transportation, more commonly known as Caltrans. (more…)