Posts Tagged ‘Elaine Chao’

Acting Secretary of Transportation Named

January 14, 2021

Steven G. Bradbury has been named acting secretary of transportation following the Jan. 11 resignation of Elaine Chao as secretary.

DOT officials said the appointment was made in accordance with the department’s established order of succession.

His term as acting secretary is expected to be brief. President-elect Joseph Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has nominated former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as the next secretary of transportation.

Bradbury has served as general counsel of USDOT since Nov. 27, 2017. In that role he has had authority to resolve all legal questions regarding the agency’s policies and programs.

He has also overseen DOT’s 55,000 employees and  $87 billion budget since Sept. 10, 2019, as a member of the Office of Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Chao, who was an original member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, announced her resignation on Jan. 7, the day after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Both Chao and Bradbury had pledged to work toward a smooth transition to the next leadership team of the agency.

Chao, Congress Continue to Spar Over Tunnel

March 6, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration has released an environmental assessment of a plan to replace the Sawtooth Bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

But U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao told Congress this week that her agency won’t release an environmental impact statement about a proposed new tunnel under the Hudson River until that project qualifies for federal funding.

The Sawtooth bridges are located between Newark Penn Station and Secaucus Junction and replacing it is one of several infrastructure improvements Amtrak wants to make to the Northeast Corridor.

Thus far the Federal Transit Administration has given the Hudson River tunnel project a “medium-low” rating which means it does not qualify for federal funding.

Chao said until that rating improves DOT won’t release a record of decision regarding the tunnel project.

That prompted supporters of the Gateway project to note that Chao has admitted for the first time that DOT is trying the environmental impact statement to the project’s FTA rating.

Build Gateway Now Campaign Manager Brian Fritsch said DOT’s actions “directly contradict[s] the usual process for rail projects.”

Fritsch said the lack of an environmental impact statement means that such things as land acquisition cannot proceed.

He said this creates a dilemma because land acquisition could ultimately improve a project’s financial rating.

The environmental impacts statement has been due to be released by March 30, 2018.

In the meantime, the FRA is accepting public comments on the environmental statement for the Sawtooth bridge project through April 4.

More information is available at https://cms8.fra.dot.gov/environment/environmental-reviews/amtrak-sawtooth-bridges-replacement-project

Hudson River Tunnel Repair Plans in the Works

March 3, 2020

Even as the political fighting in Washington over the Gateway project continues, Amtrak is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation on a plan to repair the existing tunnel.

The repair plan is expected to result in delays and disruptions to Amtrak passenger and New York City commuters.

Amtrak senior vice president Stephen Gardner said the carrier is “trying to balance what we can do now with the impact of doing it now.”

Gardner acknowledged that doing work over the next five years would affect rush hour rail traffic between New York and New Jersey.

Secretary of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently said during a congressional hearing that repairing the existing tunnel is more cost effective than building a new tunnel.

She noted that repairs could begin immediately whereas the new tunnel would not open for seven to 10 years and would cost between $11 billion and $13 billion.

“Given the time, the cost and the complexity of building an entirely new tunnel, the department is working with Amtrak to design and validate a faster and more cost-effective method to improve safety and functionality of this tunnel as the first order of business,” Chao said.

The Hudson River tunnel is nearly 110 years old and was damaged by the 2012 Superstorm Sandy.

U.S. DOT has delayed awarding of federal funding to the Gateway project, which has drawn sharp criticism from members of Congress representing states along the Northeast Corridor.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-New York), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the repair plan “a nonstarter” unless DOT also approves the plan to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River.

Lowey said rebuilding the tunnel will not increase rail capacity whereas a new tunnel would create four tracks leading into New York City compared with the current two.

“Without a new tunnel and two new tracks  . . . the bottlenecks will continue to limit Amtrak and commuter rail, which limits economic growth throughout the Northeast,” Lowey said.

Chao countered that DOT is not necessarily saying a new tunnel is unneeded, but that starting repairs now would allow further preparations for the new tunnel to move ahead.

The new Hudson River tunnel received last month a “medium-low” rating by the Federal Transit Administration, which means it doesn’t qualify for federal funding.

The tunnel project has received a project-justification rating of “high,” but has been given a “low” rating for financial commitment.

DOT has been calling for New York and New Jersey to increase their financial commitment to the Gateway project, which also includes replacement of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River near Newark.

That component of the Gateway project received a higher score in the most recent FTA ratings and therefore qualifies for a federal capital grant.

In a statement responding to Chao’s congressional testimony, Amtrak said it has been talking with DOT about repairing the existing tunnel.

“A new Hudson Tunnel remains critical to the Northeast Corridor and the nation and we look forward to our continued work with U.S. DOT to advance this project,” the carrier said.

The repairs Amtrak is eyeing include patching the concrete benchwall and fixing issues with lighting and drainage. Power lines also need to be replaced.

The passenger carrier has not said when the work would begin, how long it will take or how much it would cost.

Amtrak has said it wants to get started on the project soon.

DOT’s Chao Calls for Rebuilding of Hudson River Tunnel Rather than Waiting on Replacement

March 2, 2020

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a congressional hearing last week that Amtrak should fix the Hudson River tunnel rather than build a new one.

Appearing before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Chao said repairing the tunnel would be a faster remedy and more cost effective than building a new tunnel.

Chao said the tunnel project has scored poorly under Federal Transit Administration review metrics and suggested Amtrak begin immediate repairs on the century-old facility that was damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

However, she later said, “I did not say that we don’t need a second tunnel.”

A new tunnel linking New Jersey and New York City has been proposed as part of the Gateway initiative.

The twin-bore new tunnel would be built adjacent to the existing tunnel.

In her testimony, Chao did not elaborate on the technical details of her proposal but did say “new and innovative methods for repairing the North River Tunnel while still in operation, could allow Amtrak to commence repairs in this tunnel as much as 10 years ahead of schedule,”

She made her comments as part of a contentious exchange with some committee members who represent states along the Northeast Corridor.

Critics have accused DOT of slow walking federal funding for the tunnel replacement project and reneging on an agreement made years earlier in regards to the federal funding share of the project.

DOT officials have suggested the tunnel is a local project that needs more state and local funding rather than relying on federal funding for much of its cost.

The hearing was part of a review of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 transportation budget request.

Amtrak has said repairing the Hudson tunnel would require single-tracking operations that would reduce its capacity by 75 percent.

Aside from Amtrak, the tunnel is also used by New Jersey Transit trains.

N.J. Senators Wants Answers from DOT Head Chao

November 12, 2019

Two New Jersey senators are demanding that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao explain why her agency continues to slow walk its review of the Hudson River Tunnels project.

Cory Booker and Bob Menendez noted that Chao inspected the existing tunnels in April 2018 and would have seen first-hand evidence of deterioration in the tunnels, which link Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor with New York City and New Jersey.

Furthermore, the senators are upset that Chao toured the tunnels without letting them know about it.

“We would have welcomed the opportunity to join you on the tour to discuss how we could partner to advance the Gateway Project, but please know the invitations we have previously extended still stand,” the senators said in a statement.

Booker and Menendez want Chao to explain why the environmental impact statement for the Hudson River tunnel project has not yet been approved by DOT, even though a draft EIS prepared by the Federal Railroad Administration and New Jersey Transit was published in June 2017.

DOT gave the tunnel project a medium-low rating earlier this year.

The senators also noted that the Portal North Bridge project has continued to languish without DOT’s approval.

In earlier statements, DOT has called for New Jersey and New York to spend more money on the projects, calling them local projects.

FRA Holds 1st of 6 PTC Seminars

February 9, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration this week held its first “collaborative sessions” involving the 41 railroads responsible for implementing positive train control under federal law.

It was the first of six such planned session and focused on the steps that railroads must take by the end of 2020 in order to achieve a fully interoperable system.

FRA personnel also described the agency’s approach to certifying  PTC systems and provided an update on best practices and lessons learned from the various systems being tested or already in place.

They also took questions from railroad representatives on technical and regulatory matters.

Also speaking at the session was U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

“The sooner you get there [PTC implementation], the sooner our country will be able to realize all of the safety benefits of PTC,” she said. “I encourage you to head into these next two years with that goal — to obtain certification and achieve interoperability with your tenant railroads as soon as possible.”

Chao said DOT understands the PTC implementation challenges facing railroads and will do whatever it can to help them succeed, including funding through grant and loan programs.

“In addition, the FRA has taken steps to ensure it has the necessary human resources to respond to your needs and turn critical documents around in a timely fashion,” she said. “And the FRA will continue to collaborate with you in forums like these, and on an individual basis.”

Batory Sworn in as FRA Head

March 1, 2018

Ronald L. Batory was sworn in on Wednesday as the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The ceremony was officiated by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. Batory is the first FRA head to have railroad operating experience since Joe Szabo, who stepped down in 2014.

During remarks at the ceremony, Batory said that safety will be the FRA’s primary focus.

Senate, Chao Talk About Infrastructure Plan

January 10, 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.

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 Proposes Regulation

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.