Five transportation issues to watch under Trump

Five transportation issues to watch under Trump
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President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE has long talked about the need to repair the nation’s crumbling bridges, roads and airports. 

Next year, the real estate mogul will have plenty of opportunities to address those issues.

The incoming administration and new Congress will be facing a number of key transportation decisions, from setting federal aviation policy to determining local transit funding.


Here are five transportation issues to watch in 2017.

FAA reauthorization

The only “must-pass” piece of major transportation legislation next year is a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA.) The agency’s legal authority expires Sept. 30.

Lawmakers overseeing the nation’s transportation programs fell short this year when they tried to advance a long-term reauthorization.

The main sticking point was a provision pushed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) that would have transferred air traffic control operations from the FAA to a not-for-profit corporation.  

Shuster muscled his proposal through committee — the farthest it has ever gone — but was unable to get a House floor vote amid opposition from GOP tax writers and appropriators.

The plan’s fate may hinge on whether Shuster has Trump’s support and whether any Republican critics in Congress warm up to the idea of spinning off air traffic control. 


"In the coming months… Congress must pass an FAA reauthorization bill that modernizes our aging air traffic control system and significantly improves the efficiency of our aviation system,” Shuster said in a statement last month. “I look forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump and my Senate and House colleagues to develop a transportation agenda that will benefit all Americans and ensure that our infrastructure is second to none.” 

Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan 

All eyes in the transportation world will be on when and how Trump puts forward his promised $1 trillion infrastructure package. 

Trump initially said he would submit a proposal to Congress within his first 100 days in office.

But there have been signs in recent weeks that the plan may take a backseat to other GOP priorities. Trump told The New York Times it would not be a “core” part of his agenda, while incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told Hugh Hewitt that ObamaCare repeal and tax bills will come before infrastructure.

One thing to look for is whether the proposal solely relies on private financing, which would greatly diminish the chances for a bipartisan bill. Democrats have called for any infrastructure package to also include direct federal spending.

Conservative support, meanwhile, will hinge on how the plan is paid for.  Trump has proposed offering tax credits to private investors, which he claims would pay for themselves thanks to new revenues brought in from job wages and contractor profits. 

But if the proposal is not actually revenue-neutral and Trump does not come up with a palatable funding offset, then the plan will likely be dead on arrival in Congress. 

“I’ve had several turns at this question of how do you raise money for infrastructure,” Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxHillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE, outgoing Transportation Secretary, said during a pen-and-pad with reporters. “It’s frustrating, because there are only so many ways you can do it, and then within the range of ways you can do it, there are only so many ways that are politically acceptable.” 

DC Metro funding 

Congress will have to decide whether to continue full funding levels for Washington’s beleaguered Metrorail system, which has seen a string of safety mishaps in recent years.

Metro’s general manager Paul Wiedefeld implemented a massive repair project this summer and has aggressively tried to overhaul the safety culture. But derailments, red signal violations and falsified inspection reports have continued on his watch. 

The transit agency is authorized to get up to $150 million in federal funding for its capital budget each year. Metro’s congressional allies have found themselves fighting to maintain full funding levels. 

Congress is allowed to pull funding if Metro, which is facing a nearly $300 million budget shortfall next year, shifts around part of its capital budget to cover its operating budget.


The incoming Transportation Secretary could also withhold Metro funding if the local jurisdictions don’t meet a February deadline to establish a permanent a safety oversight body. 

“I don’t think it’s in the interests of the local jurisdictions to pass that along,” Foxx said. “We’ll continue to use every point of leverage we have to get the local jurisdictions to move on legislation.” 

Cuba flights 

Trump has threatened to reverse President Obama’s efforts to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, but it's unclear whether he would halt commercial flights to the island nation. 

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump tweeted after Fidel Castro’s death last month. 

Cuba hard-liners in Congress expect Trump to ground flights to Cuba and roll back other regulatory changes.  Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates and an outspoken Cuba critic, was added to Trump’s transition team. 

Some experts, however, say it won't be easy for Trump to undo some of the changes to Cuba policy that have garnered popular and corporate support at home.


Major U.S. airlines, which invested significant time and resources competing for a limited number of routes, have already started flying to Cuba. Any effort to suspend or reduce flights may even face legal repercussions.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested that Trump could find it difficult to unwind the growing ties between the two nations. 

“It’s just not as simple as one tweet might make it seem,” Earnest told reporters last month. “There are significant diplomatic, economic [and] cultural costs that will have to be accounted for if this policy is rolled back.”

Driverless car regs 

Trump’s team will be tasked with how to handle pending draft rules and guidance on driverless cars that have been pushed out — but not finalized — by the Obama administration. 

The Department of Transportation (DOT) released voluntary guidelines this summer, with the intent of eventually taking the 15-point safety assessment through the formal rulemaking process. The department also recently issued a proposal requiring all new cars to have communication technology that allows them to “talk” to each other.

The autonomous vehicle industry, which pleaded with federal regulators for a more flexible approach that doesn’t hamper innovation, has generally supported the guidelines.


But the flexible approach and absence of final rules also means it would be easier for the next administration to change course. 

There are some expectations that Trump’s pick for Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, may go hands-off when it comes to regulations. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn’t issue any major safety regulations when Chao was at the helm. 

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), co-chair of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, acknowledged that Chao is going to be facing “a big choice” on the self-driving car guidelines. 

“Are they going to continue with that, or say we’re going to scrap this and come up with something new?” he said.