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State Senate to probe Bay Bridge claims

State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, will hold a public hearing at the State Capitol next Tuesday to take testimony from Caltrans officials on the agency’s quality assurance practices for bridge construction inspection.

The hearing follows up on the Sacramento Bee’s investigative report on falsified inspections of the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, now under construction. The Bee reported that a Caltrans inspector falsified reports and, “did not follow a Caltrans requirement to check that his testing gauge was working correctly to ensure its accuracy before testing portions of the bridge’s tower foundation.”

“These are serious allegations, and the Committee will be asking Caltrans about its inspection policies and safeguards,” said DeSaulnier. “We need to know that inspections are reliable and that our bridges are safe.”

The Bee’s new report is especially worrisome in light of an ANG Newspapers investigative series and resultant FBI probe in 2005 based on more than a dozen bridge workers’ claims that a hurried schedule had led to defective and inadequate welds.

The committee’s hearing will convene at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22 in Room 112 at the State Capitol.

Posted on Thursday, November 17th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 1 Comment »

Four Cabinet members in Bay Area this week

Wow, it’s Cabinet week in the Bay Area.

I just covered U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (accompanied by Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt) talking about FAA, surface transportation and job creation bills out at the Oakland International Airport control tower construction site.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will be in the Bay Area for two days this week meeting with local businesses and organizations to highlight job creation and green technology. On Wednesday afternoon, she’ll be touring Recycle Central, Recology’s recycling station at San Francisco’s Pier 96.

On Friday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will join Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Mike Honda, D-San Jose, to break ground at the new Defenders Lodge, a facility for veterans seeking treatment at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System that will have 53 beds in a two-story, 28,000-square-foot building.

And also Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be keynoting Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Women and the Economy Summit at the Westin St. Francis hotel on San Francisco’s Union Square, speaking about how “Some Leaders Are Born Women.” I’ll be covering that one.

UPDATE @ 11:30 A.M. WEDNESDAY: AND… U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will be speaking at 9 a.m. next Monday, Sept. 19 at the Commonwealth Club of California, on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco; tickets cost $20 but are free for club members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online. Salazar “will share his views on fresh water, fishing and farming, along with other resource concerns in California and the American West,” the club says. “With projected changes in the Sierra snowpack and precipitation patterns, as well as an ever-increasing population, California’s water system remains in crisis, and the state’s ability to hydrate its citizens and its economy faces an uncertain future. Salazar will discuss how the federal government plans to help California secure future water supplies by aiding ambitious projects, including the restorations of the California Bay Delta and the San Joaquin River, while maintaining a balance between human needs and healthy ecosystems.”

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. WEDNESDAY: After his Monday morning address at the Commonwealth Club, Salazar will join Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor at the Contra Costa Water District’s fish screen project dedication ceremony at the Rock Slough project site, about four miles southeast of Oakley. Completed through a partnership between Reclamation and the Contra Costa Water District, the project – funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – advances the Interim Federal Action Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by helping to keep Delta fish from entering the Contra Costa Canal through the Rock Slough intake.

Posted on Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Under: Anna Eshoo, Environment, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Transportation, U.S. House, veterans | No Comments »

LaHood, in Oakland, says FAA needs long-term bill

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood anticipates the Senate will pass and the President will sign a Federal Aviation Administration extension bill – which the House passed today – by week’s end, avoiding another worker furlough and construction freeze.

But this is the 22nd such extension in the past five years, LaHood said at a news conference next to the new control tower being built at Oakland International Airport. “These short-term extensions are not good for the best aviation system in the world.”

LaHood said this extension, which runs through January, should be enough time for Congress and the President to finish negotiating a long-term reauthorization, despite a few “big differences” remaining. One of those differences, he acknowledged while standing amid several dozen union members, is Republican insistence on a provision changing union election rules to make it harder for transportation workers to organize.

“There are always different issues with bills like this,” LaHood said today, adding he sees a growing feeling in Congress that a long-term reauthorization is necessary. “I’m optimistic that this can be resolved.”

Congress must move toward a long-term surface transportation bill as well, he said, and must take up President Obama’s American Jobs Act proposal in order to “put America back to work building America’s infrastructure.”

“There are no Republican or Democratic bridges, there are no Republican or Democratic roads,” he said. “We need to get back to that.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt also was at the Oakland news conference and recalled having attended the groundbreaking for the new control tower, one of many projects across the nation that were shut down for nearly two weeks this summer as Republicans refused to pass a clean FAA funding extension.

“It’s wonderful to see how much has been done,” Babbitt said. “We need to make certain that this job gets finished.”

The two-week shutdown led to the furloughs of thousands of FAA workers, the temporary layoffs of 70,000 construction workers and millions of dollars wasted nationwide, he said; in Oakland, workers on the tower were idled while scaffolding costing $6,000 a day remained unused. “We’re the model of the world, and this is not the way to do our business.”

Asked about high-speed rail, LaHood reiterated his support for such projects.

“I see a lot of support for high-speed rail in California,” he said, adding the state could be a model for the rest of the nation. “We are not going to be dissuaded by a little background noise of criticism. Whenever you do big things, a few people are going to be against it.”

And asked about Congress’ many stalemates on transportation and other issues, LaHood – who served 14 years as an Illinois congressman – said politics has eclipsed policy this year but he believes constituents’ frustrations voiced in recent weeks will spur lawmakers to cooperation and action. “I don’t think ‘no’ is enough anymore.”

Also at today’s news conference were Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin.

“I don’t know about you but I’m pretty tired of this backdrop,” Quan quipped, noting today’s was the third FAA-funding news conference at the site in recent months. Hopefully, she said, “the third time is the charm.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Under: Transportation, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »

Brown vetoes bill to beef up hands-free law

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill to beef up the law against handling cell phones while driving.

SB 28 by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would’ve increased fines for motorists who use cell phones without a hands-free device or who text while driving; subsequent violations would’ve been made punishable by addition of a “point” on motorists’ driving records.

Simitian issued a news release calling Brown’s veto “a lost opportunity to save more lives,” and said he would “review the Governor’s veto message to see if there is any room for compromise in the coming year.”

“I’m disappointed,” he said, “but the Governor gets the last word. I understand and accept that. My job now is to figure out where do we go from here.”

The Assembly had approved SB 28 on a 51-21 vote; the state Senate had approved it 23-13. The governor’s office has not yet made a veto message available.

Simitian said California Highway Patrol data from the first year of the hands-free law’s implementation shows a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in California compared to the annual average over the previous three to five years. That translates into at least 700 fewer fatalities and 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions each year. The CHP data also show an immediate drop of 40-50 percent in the number of distracted driving accidents attributed to cell phones after the law went into effect.

And research by the AAA Automobile Club of Southern California and the State’s Office of Traffic Safety suggests a 60 to 70 percent compliance rate with California’s hands-free driving law, Simitian said, implying a more significant deterrent could improve compliance and enhance public safety.

Simitian authored SB 1613 of 2006, which made it illegal for California drivers to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving, effective July 2008; SB 33 of 2007, which prohibited drivers under the age of 18 from texting, talking on a cell phone or using any “mobile service” technology while driving, even with a hands-free device , also effective July 2008; and SB 28 of 2008, which made it illegal for all drivers in California to send, read, or write text messages while driving, effective January 2009.

UPDATE @ 9:42 A.M.: Even as I posted this, the governor’s veto message arrived. “I certainly support discouraging cell phone use while driving a car, but not ratcheting up the penalties as described by this bill,” the governor wrote. “For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Jerry Brown, Joe Simitian, Public safety, Transportation | 1 Comment »

State Auditor to probe MTC’s proposed move to SF

The Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee today approved state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s request for an audit of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s proposal to move its headquarters from downtown Oakland to San Francisco at toll-payers’ expense.

“Bay Area motorists travel some of the busiest bridges in the nation. They pay tolls with the expectation that those moneys are used for transportation and congestion related purposes,” DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said in a news release. “I have serious concerns about using these revenues for real estate deals. When the Legislature created MTC, I do not believe it ever intended MTC to use toll moneys for these kinds of real property investments. This audit will provide some clarity on what the law allows toll moneys to be used for.”

The audit was approved by a unanimous bipartisan vote. The Bureau of State Audits, under the direction of State Auditor Elaine Howle, will conduct the audit.

The MTC unanimously voted last week to rescind its earlier vote approving the move, and decided to have a six-member committee comprised of former commission chairmen, the current chair and vice chair look into the questions and concerns raised by public officials and others opposed to the move. The committee will report back within 60 days.

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 15 Comments »

Brown’s new jobs czar will sit on HSR board, too

Michael Rossi, whom Gov. Jerry Brown named as a jobs czar last week, was named by the governor today to also serve on the board of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Rossi, 67, of Pebble Beach, is a former officer or senior member at financial institutions including Cerberus Capital Management LP, Aozora Bank, GMAC Residential Capital LLC and BankAmerica Corp. This board position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem; Rossi is a Democrat.

Brown also last week had named former BART director Dan Richard of Piedmont to serve on the HSR authority’s board. The board is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. tomorrow in Sacramento City Hall.

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, Transportation | 2 Comments »

Ex-BART director returns to California post

Dan Richard

Former BART director Dan Richard of Piedmont has been appointed to the California High Speed Rail Authority.

I covered Richard while he sat on the BART board and he is a good choice for the rail authority. He knows transportation and trains. He is smart and politically savvy. Whether he is sufficiently talented to overcome the project’s major hurdles is an unanswered question.

Gov. Jerry Brown made the announcement a few minutes ago:

Dan Richard, 60, of Piedmont, has been appointed to the Board of the High Speed Rail Authority.

Richard has been a principal of Dan Richard Advisors since 2010. He was managing partner and co-founder of Heritage Oak Capital Partners, an infrastructure finance firm, from 2007 to 2009 and was senior vice president of public policy and governmental relations at Pacific Gas and Electric Company from 1997 to 2006. Richard was an elected member of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District from 1992 to 2004, where he served twice as president of the Board.

At the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Richard led efforts to secure $4 billion in capital for system rehabilitation projects, the transit system’s expansion to the San Francisco Airport and seismic retrofit programs. Richard was a principal at Morse, Richard, Weisenmiller & Associates from 1986 to 1996, a firm serving the independent power industry and project finance lending community.

He was vice president of Independent Power Corporation from 1983 to 1986. Richard served as Governor Brown’s deputy legal affairs secretary from 1982 to 1983 and deputy assistant for science and technology from 1978 to 1979. He was adviser to the chairman of the California Energy Commission from 1978 to 1982.

Richard began his career at National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he was assistant to the deputy associate administrator from 1972 to 1978. Richard received his Juris Doctor degree from McGeorge School of Law. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Richard is a Democrat.

 

 

Posted on Friday, August 19th, 2011
Under: Transportation | No Comments »

Congress’ inaction halts Oakland control tower

Contractors building the new air traffic control tower at Oakland International Airport have been told to stop work today on the $31 million project because Congress missed its Friday-night deadline to reauthorize routine funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

artist's rendering of new Oakland control towerThe Oakland tower, for which ground was broken last October, is just one of dozens of stop-work orders issued all over the nation, worth a total of about $148.5 million.

“Construction workers across America will lose their jobs and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on. Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release issued this morning. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the longer Congress waits, the more work will grind to a halt. “Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification. The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning.”

As the Washington Post reported, the funding extension would have been the 21st since the FAA’s long-term funding authorization expired in 2007, but House Republicans added provisions to their extension bill that the Senate would not accept.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said he included the provision to which Democrats objected due to his frustration over the pace of negotiations to reach agreement on long-term FAA funding plans passed by the House and Senate this year. It cut about $16.5 million in federal subsidies for air service to several small airports in rural areas.

The Senate refused this because these stop-gap extensions normally are bare-bones legislation to simply extend funding at current levels while Congress irons out differences over a longer term.

Construction workers, engineers and planners were told to stay home today after the FAA lost its Congressional authorization to pay a variety of airport construction, rehabilitation and modernization projects. Nearly 4,000 FAA personnel, many needed to oversee various aspects of these projects, were furloughed on Saturday. The delays could significantly increase the projects’ final costs, officials say.

Other major projects halted today are at Las Vegas’ MccCarran International Airport; Palm Springs International Airport; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) International Airport; Battle Creek (Mich.) International Airport; Gulfport-Biloxi (Miss.) International Airport; and New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. The FAA also halted $370 million in contracts with Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, which is under contract to do all the architectural, design, engineering and planning services for existing and future air traffic facilities.

The FAA had been prepared to contracts for new air traffic control towers in Cleveland and in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but now is no longer authorized to access the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Besides building major aviation facilities such as control towers, the FAA is a main funding source for other airport projects through the Airport Improvement Program, which can’t run without congressional reauthorization; that leaves the agency unable to get roughly $2.5 billion out the door for airport projects in all 50 states, meaning delayed or lost jobs.

Nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have been furloughed and forced to go without pay; California is among the eight-hardest hit states. This includes engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists, and community planners. Public safety is not being affected, the agency insists.

Posted on Monday, July 25th, 2011
Under: Transportation, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Officials crow over State Route 4 Bypass

A flock of federal, state and local officials took a victory lap out in Brentwood this morning at the site of the State Route 4 Bypass project, which they said will create hundreds of jobs, reduce traffic congestion and improve driver safety.

The project recently received $25 million in funding from the California Transportation Commission, which will be spent on converting a 2-lane, 2-way expressway to a 4-lane freeway from north of Laurel Road to south of San Jose Avenue, as well as the construction of an interchange at the intersection of the SR 4 Bypass and Sand Creek Road.

The SR 4 Bypass is an approximately 12.5 mile long transportation corridor in Eastern Contra Costa County starting at the SR 4 Bypass/SR 160 interchange in Antioch, passing along the western edges of the cities of Oakley and Brentwood, then rejoining SR 4 in unincorporated Contra Costa County east of Brentwood. Its purpose is to remove the existing SR 4 from the historic downtown areas of Oakley and Brentwood.

Officials toured the area and then proclaimed victory.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, called the project “critical to the future of East Contra Costa County. The construction of the latest phase of the bypass project will create hundreds of jobs and the completion of the overall project will help spur economic development throughout the region, decrease traffic and make our roads safer to drive. I was glad to be a part of the effort to secure $25 million in funding for the State Route 4 Bypass project.”

Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor said “never in my wildest dreams did I think this project was going to happen, but it’s “a great day to be mayor.”

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who chairs the state Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said the project “will help Contra Costa commuters spend less time in traffic. The $25 million award recognizes that this project reduces congestion on a highly travelled corridor and improves traffic safety. I am pleased that the California Transportation Commission and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority were able to make this happen.”

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, praised “effective management and leadership demonstrated by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority” that has led to taxpayers saving about $32 million from the Highway 4 widening and Caldecott Tunnel projects combined. “I will continue to work with the California Transportation Commission to ensure these savings are reinvested back into the community.”

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, said it has been “an honor to support the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, under the leadership of Randy Iwasaki, and the many local leaders who have worked hard to secure this funding.”

And Oakley Mayor Jim Frazier, who chairs the State Route 4 Bypass Authority, said it’s been “pleasure working with the Building Trades on this. They were instrumental in getting the funding for this project.”

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Contra Costa County, Jerry McNerney, Joan Buchanan, Mark DeSaulnier, Susan Bonilla, Transportation, U.S. House | No Comments »

Two great transporation forums coming up

We’ve got two great opportunities coming up for all you public-transportation buffs.

For a local view, the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club will host a community forum luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, June 17, on public transportation featuring AC Transit Directors at Large Chris Peeples and Joel Young as well as Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District 4 Director Robert Raburn.

They’ll be sharing information and insight on how Alameda County public agencies are addressing the growing need for infrastructure development in local and regional transportation, the growing importance of public transportation in urban planning, fiscal austerity in state and local budgets, and environmental justice.

The event is at Everett & Jones Barbecue, 126 Broadway between Second Street and the Embarcadero near Oakland’s Jack London Square. It includes a buffet lunch and tickets cost $25; space is limited, so attendees are encouraged to sign up online, or RSVP to club treasurer Guy Bryant at 510-836-7563 or treasurer@demlaywers.org.

For a broader view, the Commonwealth Club of California will host a free public forum from 9 to 10:30 a.m. next Friday, June 24, in its offices on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco on “From Point A to Point B: Fixing America’s Transportation Problems.” Taking part in a panel discussion will be Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger; American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials Executive Director John Horsley; American Public Transportation Association President Bill Millar; and Mineta Transportation Institute National Transportation Finance Center Director Asha Weinstein Agrawal. Mortimer Downey, chair of the MTI board of trustees and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation, will moderate.

Immediately following the panel discussion at 10:30 a.m. will be a keynote address from Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation; this is free and open to the public as well.

“If you have ever been stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge, late to meetings, or have had a ruined weekend because you couldn’t comfortably and efficiently make it to a destination in time, you know that California suffers from a major transportation infrastructure problem,” the Commonwealth Club’s news release says. “From pot holes jarring people’s necks and backs, to bridges collapsing nationwide, thousands of commuters are being affected every day by America’s inadequate and faltering transportation infrastructure system. At the upcoming FREE Commonwealth Club transportation infrastructure summit, experts will examine what can and must be done to ameliorate this dire situation.”

Posted on Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Under: Transportation | No Comments »