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Friday, January 28, 2011

Railroad Retirement Board: Retirement, Survivor, Disability, Unemployment, and Sickness Benefits


Alison M. Shelton
Analyst in Income Security

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers retirement, survivor, disability, unemployment, and sickness insurance for railroad workers and their families. This report describes Railroad Retirement Act (RRA) and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) eligibility requirements, benefit types and compensation amounts, and program financing. This report also covers railroad unemployment provisions in the 2009 stimulus package (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, P.L. 111-5) and follow-on legislation concerning temporary extended unemployment benefits for railroad workers.


Date of Report: January 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS22350
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Revised Federal Standards for Traffic Signs: Frequently Asked Questions


David Randall Peterman
Analyst in Transportation Policy

Since 2007, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation has updated certain national standards for signs on streets and highways. Recent press reports on this subject have prompted congressional interest. This report addresses some of the questions that have been raised about these standards.


Date of Report: January 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 7
Order Number: R41601
Price: $19.95

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization: An Overview of Legislative Action in the 111th Congress


Bart Elias, Coordinator
Specialist in Aviation Policy

Reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs will likely be a issue of considerable interest during the first session of the 112th Congress. The previous FAA authorization, Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176, hereinafter referred to as “Vision 100”) expired at the end of FY2007. Attempts to enact a successor law failed in the 110th and 111th Congresses. Without passage of new multiyear legislation, aviation trust fund revenue collections and aviation program authority have been continued through a series of short-term extensions. The latest of these, the Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2010, Part IV (P.L. 111-329), was enacted on December 22, 2010, extending FAA programs and aviation trust fund revenue collections through March 31, 2011.

Both the House and the Senate also passed versions of longer-term FAA reauthorization, H.R. 1586, in late March 2010. However, a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill did not meet, and the bill was never enacted. The bill number was subsequently used for purposes unrelated to FAA reauthorization. Nonetheless, the FAA reauthorization language from H.R. 1586 may be used as the basis for debate over FAA reauthorization in the new Congress.

Although the 111
th Congress did not pass multiyear FAA reauthorization legislation, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-216), was enacted in August 2010. The act addresses a number of airline safety issues related to pilot training and records keeping and airline safety management systems.

This report examines the key issues that arose during the 111
th Congress and outlines the major differences between the House-passed and Senate-passed reauthorization bills. Among the more controversial differences were 
  • labor provisions in the House-passed bill that would bring non-aviation employees of express carriers, like FedEx, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) instead of the Railway Labor Act (RLA); 
  • a provision in the House-passed bill that would raise the cap on airport passenger facility charges (PFCs); 
  • provisions in the House-passed bill requiring the FAA to inspect foreign repair stations that work on U.S. air carrier aircraft or components installed on such aircraft at least two times annually and impose drug and alcohol testing programs at these foreign facilities that would not specifically give status to existing international agreements regarding these matters; and 
  • proposals for increasing the number of slots at Washington Reagan National Airport.

Date of Report: January 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 97
Order Number: R40410
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Can Marine Highways Deliver?

John Frittelli
Specialist in Transportation Policy

Policymakers have been discussing the potential for shifting some freight traffic from roads to river and coastal waterways as a means of mitigating highway congestion. While waterways carry substantial amounts of bulk commodities (e.g., grain and coal), seldom are they used to transport containerized cargo (typically finished goods and manufactured parts) between points within the contiguous United States. Trucks, which carry most of this cargo, and railroads, which carry some of it in combination with trucks, offer much faster transit. Yet, at a time when many urban highways are congested, a parallel river or coastal waterway may be little used.

With passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140) and the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2010 (P.L. 111-84), Congress moved this idea forward by requiring the Department of Transportation (DOT) to identify waterways that could potentially serve as “marine highways” and providing grant funding for their development. DOT has selected several marine highways for grant funding totaling about $80 million. To be eligible, a marine highway must be an alternative to a congested highway or railroad and be financially viable in a reasonable time frame.

The prevailing perception is that coastal and river navigation is too slow to attract shippers that utilize trucks and that the additional cargo handling costs at ports negate any potential savings from using waterborne transport. While there are other significant obstacles as well, under highly specific circumstances, marine highways might attract truck freight. Freight corridors characterized by an imbalance in the directional flow of container equipment; shippers with low value, heavy cargoes, and waterside production facilities; and connections with coastal hub ports over medium distances may be suitable for container-on-barge (COB) or coastal shipping services. It also appears that marine highways are more suitable to international rather than domestic shippers because the former have lower service expectations.

A review of the successes and failures of the few marine highway services currently operating in the contiguous United States, as well as those that have failed in the past, indicates that the potential market is limited. In many instances, marine highways have succeeded in capturing only a negligible share of container shipments along a given route. One can question, therefore, whether marine highways will divert enough trucks to provide public benefits commensurate with their costs. Congress may also consider repealing a port use charge, the harbor maintenance tax, for containerized domestic shipments as a means of spurring marine highway development. Repealing the tax raises equity issues because waterway users already benefit from reduced federal user charges compared to trucks, and their other competitor, the railroads, are largely selffinanced. The Jones Act is arguably another potential statutory hindrance to marine highway development, particularly coastal highways. This act requires that all domestic shipping be carried in U.S. built ships. Critics claim the act raises the cost of domestic shipping to such a degree that it cannot compete with truck and rail.



Date of Report: January 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: R41590
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: Past and Present


Robert Jay Dilger
Senior Specialist in American National Government

American federalism, which shapes the roles, responsibilities, and interactions among and between the federal government, the states, and local governments, is continuously evolving, adapting to changes in American society and American political institutions. The nature of federalism relationships in surface transportation policy has also evolved over time, with the federal government’s role becoming increasingly influential, especially since the Federal-Aid to Highway Act of 1956 which authorized the interstate highway system. In recent years, state and local government officials, through their public interest groups (especially the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) have lobbied for increased federal assistance for surface transportation grants and increased flexibility in the use of those funds. They contend that they are better able to identify surface transportation needs in their states than federal officials and are capable of administering federal grant funds with relatively minimal federal oversight. They also argue that states have a long history of learning from one another. In their view, providing states flexibility in the use of federal funds results in better surface transportation policy because it enables states to experiment with innovative solutions to surface transportation problems and then share their experiences with other states. Others argue that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that federal funds are used in the most efficient and effective manner possible to promote the national interest in expanding national economic growth and protecting the environment. In their view, providing states increased flexibility in the use of federal funds diminishes the federal government’s ability to ensure that national needs are met. Still others have argued for a fundamental restructuring of federal and state government responsibilities in surface transportation policy, with some responsibilities devolved to states and others remaining with the federal government.

Congressional attention to federalism issues in surface transportation policy tends to increase during reauthorizations of the federal highway and mass transit program. The current highway and mass transit program, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA, P.L. 109-59), after being extended several times, is set to expire on March 4, 2011. Its reauthorization generated considerable legislative activity during the 111
th Congress. Issues addressed by Congress include SAFETEA’s funding level and financing, especially proposals addressing the Highway Trust Fund’s fiscal sustainability, state funding guarantees, and congressional earmarks.

This report provides an historical perspective on contemporary federalism issues in surface transportation policy that are likely to be addressed by Congress during the 112
th Congress, including possible devolution of programmatic responsibility to states and proposals to change state maintenance-of-effort requirements and state cost matching requirements.


Date of Report: January 5, 2011
Number of Pages: 39
Order Number: R40431
Price: $29.95

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