Search Penny Hill Press

Friday, June 28, 2013

Highway Bridge Conditions: Issues for Congress

Robert S. Kirk
Specialist in Transportation Policy

William J. Mallett
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The sudden catastrophic failure of the I-5 Interstate System bridge in Washington State on May 23, 2013, has raised policy concerns in Congress regarding the condition of the nation’s transportation infrastructure in general, and in particular the federal role in funding, building, maintaining, and ensuring the safety of roads and especially bridges in the United States.

Of the 607,000 public road bridges, about 67,000 (11%) were classified as structurally deficient in 2012, and another 85,000 (14%) were classified as functionally obsolete. This is less than half the number classified as structurally deficient in 1990 and 16% less than were classified as functionally obsolete. Structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges are not necessarily unsafe. Nonetheless, public concern about bridge safety in the wake of the I-5 bridge collapse raises the policy question of how quickly these bridges should be replaced or improved. At current annual spending levels, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that the bridge investment backlog (in dollar terms) would be reduced by 11% by 2028. Reducing the backlog to near zero during the same period is estimated to require an annual spending rate roughly 60% higher than recent levels.

The most recent highway bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21
st Century Act (MAP-21; P.L. 112-141), eliminated the former Highway Bridge Program, which distributed federal money specifically for bridge improvements. States may use funds received under two major FHWA programs, the National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Program, for bridge repairs or construction, but the decision about how much of its funding to devote to bridges rather than roadway needs is up to each state. FHWA enforces certain planning requirements and performance standards established in MAP-21, but it does not make the determination as to which bridges should benefit from federal funding.

Congressional issues regarding the nation’s highway bridge infrastructure include the following:

  • Given the steady decline in the number of structurally deficient bridges during recent decades, should Congress take action to accelerate the improvement of the remaining deficient bridges? 
  • If Congress wishes to accelerate the reduction in the number of deficient bridges under MAP-21, what can it do to encourage the states to spend more of their federal funds on their deficient bridges? 
  • Given the context of large projected shortfalls in highway trust fund revenues relative to spending, should Congress encourage increased spending on highway bridges through increased use of tolling and public private partnerships (PPPs)? 
  • Should Congress consider legislation to redirect spending away from off-system bridges to more heavily used bridges on the designated federal-aid highways? 
  • Congressional oversight of bridge conditions could be complicated by the absence of a freestanding program. How quickly can FHWA develop the MAP- 21 performance measures to report to Congress on progress on bridge conditions?

Date of Report: June 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R43103
Price: $29.95

To Order:

R43103.pdf   to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a relatively inexpensive Navy surface combatant equipped with modular “plug-and-fight” mission packages for countering mines, small boats, and dieselelectric submarines, particularly in littoral (i.e., near-shore) waters. Navy plans call for fielding a total force of 52 LCSs. Twelve LCSs were funded from FY2005 through FY2012. Another four (LCSs 13 through 16) were funded in FY2013, although funding for those four ships has been reduced by the March 1, 2013, sequester on FY2013 funding. The Navy’s proposed FY2014 budget requests $1,793.0 million for four more LCSs (LCSs 17 through 20).

Two very different LCS designs are being built. One was developed by an industry team led by Lockheed; the other was developed by an industry team that was led by General Dynamics. The Lockheed design is built at the Marinette Marine shipyard at Marinette, WI; the General Dynamics design is built at the Austal USA shipyard at Mobile, AL. LCSs 1, 3, 5, and so on are Marinette Marine-built ships; LCSs 2, 4, 6, and so on are Austal-built ships.

The 20 LCSs procured or scheduled for procurement in FY2010-FY2015 (LCSs 5 through 24) are being procured under a pair of 10-ship, fixed-price incentive (FPI) block buy contracts that the Navy awarded to Lockheed and Austal USA on December 29, 2010.

The LCS program has become controversial due to cost growth, design and construction issues with the lead ships built to each design, concerns over the ships’ ability to withstand battle damage, and concerns over whether the ships are sufficiently armed and will be able to perform their stated missions effectively. Some observers, citing one or more of these issues, have proposed truncating the LCS program to either 24 ships (i.e., stopping procurement after procuring all the ships covered under the two block buy contracts) or to some other number well short of 52. Other observers have proposed down selecting to a single LCS design (i.e., continuing production of only one of the two designs) after the 24
th ship.

In response to criticisms of the LCS program, the Navy has acknowledged certain problems and stated that it was taking action to correct them, disputed other arguments made against the program, and maintained its support for continuing the program. Reported comments from some Navy officials suggest that the Navy might be open to changing the design of one or both LCS variants after the 24
th ship or perhaps down selecting to a single LCS design after the 24th ship.

Issues for Congress concerning the LCS program include the following:

  • the impact on the LCS program of the March 1, 2013, sequester on FY2013 funding and unobligated prior-year funding for the program; 
  • the potential impact on the LCS program of a possible sequester later this year or early next year on FY2014 funding and unobligated prior-year funding for the program; 
  • whether to truncate the LCS program to 24 ships or some other number well short of 52; 
  • whether to down select to a single LCS design after the 24th ship; 
  • technical risk in the LCS program; and
  • what defense-acquisition policy lessons, if any, the LCS program may offer to policymakers.

Date of Report: May 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 72
Order Number: RL33741
Price: $29.95

To Order:

RL33741.pdf   to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Airline Passenger Rights: The Federal Role in Aviation Consumer Protection

Rachel Tang
Analyst in Transportation and Industry

The 1978 deregulation of the airline industry in the United States eliminated federal control over many airline business practices, including pricing and domestic route selection. However, the federal government continues to legislate and enforce certain consumer protections for airline passengers. Congress largely determines the degree to which the rights of airline passengers are codified in law or developed through regulatory rulemaking.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation are the primary congressional committees of jurisdiction over airline passenger rights. Congress can authorize or require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to enact rules on certain issues, and it can enact requirements for airlines through direct legislation. In specific cases, DOT may take enforcement actions against air carriers that violate consumer protection rules.

Most of DOT’s consumer rules are based on 49 U.S.C. Section 41712, which directs it to “protect consumers from unfair or deceptive practices.” Some are based on DOT’s authority to require air carriers in interstate transportation to provide “safe and adequate service” (49 U.S.C. §41702). The interpretation of the phrase “unfair and deceptive trade” can significantly affect the scope of DOT’s enforcement authority.

In December 2009, DOT issued a comprehensive final rule, “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections,” that expanded regulatory protections to aviation consumers. The rule established procedures related to extended ground delays involving aircraft with passengers aboard, required air carriers to address chronically delayed flights, and mandated more information disclosure to consumers. In April 2011, DOT completed a further rulemaking that strengthened the rights of air travelers in the event of oversales, flight cancellations, and delays. The rule also required consumer access to accurate and adequate information when selecting flights, and improvements in agency responsiveness to customer complaints. A key provision of the 2011 rules, requiring airlines to prominently disclose to the consumer the total cost of a flight, including all government and airline taxes and fees, was recently upheld in the federal courts.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-95), signed into law by the President on February 14, 2012, included a number of provisions regarding the rights of airline passengers and created a firmer statutory basis for the rules adopted by DOT in 2009 and 2011. Nonetheless, a number of consumer-related subjects, including disclosure of code sharing arrangements on domestic flights, compensation of passengers “bumped” from oversold flights, and disclosure of ancillary fees, remain controversial.

Date of Report: May 20, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R43078
Price: $29.95

To Order:

R43078.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.