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Round 2 of infrastructure talks go bust as Trump walks out of meeting

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Round 2 of infrastructure talks go bust as trump walks out of meeting
 President Donald Trump delivers a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House shortly after abruptly walking out of a meeting with Democrats to discuss an infrastructure bill. (Associated Press: EVAN VUCCI)

WASHINGTON — The curtains in the Cabinet Room were drawn. The Democrats were waiting. President Donald Trump came and went in all of three minutes.

Round 2 of the president’s consultations with congressional Democrats on infrastructure went bust in a flash.

Prospects for passing a large infrastructure bill evaporated Wednesday as Trump announced that he won’t work with Democratic lawmakers on policy while they continue to investigate him.

Trump took umbrage at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accusation earlier in the day of him being “engaged in a cover up.”

He met briefly with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats before exiting to address reporters in the Rose Garden.

His message: Only after the Democrats’ investigations end will he work with them on infrastructure, lowering drug prices and other matters.

Speaking at the Capitol, Pelosi and Schumer suggested that Trump was looking for excuses not to take up infrastructure.

“He just took a pass,” Pelosi said. “And it just makes me wonder why he did that. In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”

The meeting was supposed to be a follow-up from three weeks ago, when Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed to work together on a $2 trillion infrastructure package to invest in roads, bridges and broadband.

Schumer said that congressional committees had been undertaking investigations during that first meeting as well.

“And he still met with us. But now that he was forced to actually say how he was going to pay for it, he had to run away,” Schumer said.

Earlier in the week, POLITICO reported the administration had been reassuring conservative leaders that it has no plans to hike the gas and diesel tax to help fund the massive infrastructure package that President Donald Trump hopes to negotiate with Congress.

Then Tuesday night, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced legislation that would raise the fuels tax by five cents a year over five years, indexes it to inflation, and establishes Congress’ intention to replace it with a more equitable, stable source of funding within 10 years.

Wednesday, Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, criticized Trump’s action.

“We have an infrastructure crisis in this country that will only be resolved when President Trump agrees to put partisan politics aside and get serious about investing in our Nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, harbors, airports, wastewater systems, and more,” DeFazio said. “After our initial meeting at the White House several weeks back, I was hopeful we were seeing the first signs of political courage that is so badly needed to make progress and turn a campaign trail talking point into real action. It’s disappointing that today the President and his team walked back from both the $2 trillion proposal and from showing leadership on how to pay for the package.”

DeFazio said despite the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting, he remains committed to working in a bipartisan manner to move the U.S. infrastructure into the 21st Century, because the cost of inaction is too great.

“Even if a transformative deal with the White House remains elusive in the near term, I will continue to use my position as Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to work with Republicans to move individual pieces of legislation that will make a difference, I will continue to work on a surface transportation reauthorization bill, and I will continue putting in the legwork to make the improvements to our nation’s infrastructure that Americans expect and deserve,” DeFazio said.

There were obvious signs of trouble going into the meeting, with both sides being guarded about how they would pay for such an investment. The White House released a letter Tuesday night that Trump wrote Pelosi and Schumer letting them know his preference for Congress taking up the proposed U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada first.

“Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package,” Trump said.

Congressional committees have begun holding hearings on the nation’s infrastructure needs. It’s one of the few issues that lawmakers from both parties have said they would like to address.

Business and trade groups have been meeting with White House officials to emphasize the importance of shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road improvements and transit systems. Federal fuel taxes supply most of the money that goes into the trust fund, but the purchasing power of the gas tax has declined as vehicles have become more fuel efficient.

Some 30 states have enacted fuel tax increases to raise money for local roads and bridges over the past six years, but Congress has not approved a fuel tax increase since 1993. It now stands at 18.3 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.3 cents a gallon for diesel.

The advocacy groups are trying to make the case that state politicians supportive of gas tax increases have not been punished at the ballot box.

But Republican leaders in Congress have shown little enthusiasm for the price tag of the infrastructure plan, and even less for the idea of raising the federal fuel tax to help pay for upgrading the nation’s infrastructure. Trump himself has suggested that Democrats are somehow setting a trap to get him to go along with a tax increase.

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The Nation

Moving America forward: Sammy Brewster is dedicated to safety

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Sammy Brewster
Sammy Brewster, Georgia (Courtesy: Trucking Moves America Forward)

To celebrate the modern-day achievements of African Americans in the trucking industry, Trucking Moves America Forward (TMAF) has selected four drivers who exemplify excellence in trucking. They were selected because of their professionalism and dedication to their jobs, commitment to safety and continuous efforts to move America forward every day.

The drivers are being featured on TMAF’s blog and social media pages throughout the month of February as well as on The Trucker.com. The stories highlight the drivers’ accomplishments and safety records and share the personal story of each driver. This is the fourth of four features in the series.

Moving America forward: Sammy Brewster is dedicated to safety

Sammy Brewster, a professional truck driver for ABF Freight for the past 12 years, has been a truck driver for 29 years. He resides in Powder Springs, Georgia.

Brewster, is a second-generation truck driver. During an interview with TMAF, Sammy said, “I got my start at an early age by driving for my father. He also ran a small family logging business.”

When asked what Brewster loves most about trucking, he told TMAF that he loves the free feeling of being out on the open road and the opportunity to travel and see different parts of the country. Most importantly, Brewster said, it has been a great support system to raise his family.

Brewster’s son, who just got his trucking license last year, is continuing in his father and grandfather’s footsteps as a third-generation truck driver.

Prior to joining the trucking industry, Brewster served in the U.S. Army. Brewster said that dedication to safety is one of the lessons instilled in him during his service. He carries that lesson into his job as a truck driver.

Prioritizing and promoting safety are essential for Brewster while on and off the road. Because of his strong safety record, Brewster has received many safe driving awards, including the 11-year safe driving certificate and the 10-year Safety Performance Award from ABF Freight.

Brewster was appointed as a member of ATA’s 2019–2020 America’s Road Team. He also serves as member of ATA’s Share the Road highway safety program, helping to educate motorists about road safety during heavy traffic weekends, such as Memorial Day.

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The Nation

Backlogs expected as weekly closure of eastbound Tuscarora Tunnel begins Sunday

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Backlogs expected as weekly closure of eastbound tuscarora tunnel begins sunday
All drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are advised to expect delays while the eastbound Tuscarora Tunnel is closed for improvements and modernization. The tunnel will be closed every Sunday night and reopen at noon Friday each week through late June.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission advises motorists traveling in both directions on Interstate 76 to be prepared for an ongoing closure of the eastbound tube of the Tuscarora Tunnel starting at 9 p.m. Sun., Feb. 23, and ending at noon Friday, Feb. 28.

The weekly tunnel closure, which will impact traffic in both directions in Franklin County, will continue until June 26; some schedule modifications may occur due to weather conditions or during holiday periods.

Eastbound traffic will be directed into one lane and then cross over to continue through one lane of the westbound tunnel. Motorists in both directions should be alert for a continuous single-lane traffic pattern approaching the tunnel and bidirectional traffic within the tunnel.

Additionally, no overwidth commercial vehicles will be allowed in the tunnel during bidirectional traffic patterns.

Motorists should be prepared for slow moving or stopped traffic approaching the Tuscarora Tunnel in both directions. Backlogs are expected daily in both directions beginning around mid-day and lasting into the evening hours. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has installed a smart work zone as part of this project which monitors current traffic conditions and displays travel times and slow or stopped traffic messages on Portable Changeable Message signs placed in advance of the tunnel in both directions.

Impacted motorists should visit www.511pa.com/tuscarora to view travel alerts and current travel times for the project and to find suggested detour routes.

Drivers are advised to turn on headlights, slow to the posted work-zone speed limit of 40 mph and keep an adequate distance from the vehicle ahead. Never pass inside the tunnel. Drivers who experience car trouble and cannot safely exit the tunnel should stay in the vehicle, put on the hazard lights, dial *11 from a mobile phone and wait for assistance. Tunnel personnel will monitor closed-circuit cameras and send help for disabled vehicles.

The Tuscarora Tunnel is located on I-76 between mileposts 186 and 187, between the Fort Littleton Interchange (Exit 180) and the Willow Hill Interchange (Exit 189) at the Huntingdon and Franklin county lines.

The tunnel crossovers are necessary as part of a four-year $110 million project to improve and modernize the Tuscarora Tunnel. The major tasks to be completed include the removal of ceiling slabs, a new ventilation system, new membrane waterproofing and the replacement of walkways, concrete barriers and the drainage system in the tunnels. Some enhancements have already been completed in the westbound tunnel, such as additional lighting, in-pavement lights and overhead lane-control signs.

The Tuscarora Tunnel eastbound tube opened in 1940 and the westbound tube opened in 1968. The two tunnels were last renovated in the 1980s. For more information about the Tuscarora Tunnel Rehabilitation Project visit www.PATurnpiketunnels.com.

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The Nation

Connecticut governor drops proposal for highway tolls for trucks

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Connecticut flag

HARTFORD, Conn.  — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Wednesday, Feb. 19, that he is dropping his plan for highway tolls for trucks, expressing frustration with legislative leaders who have delayed a vote on the issue.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly had planned to vote Thursday on the tolls, which were under consideration to fund a wide-ranging transportation improvement plan. But Lamont, also a Democrat, said the Senate informed him that it needed more time, once again.

“I’ve got a Legislature that doesn’t want to make a choice,” Lamont said at a news conference. “I think it’s time to take a pause.”

Tolls on trucks had been projected to raise an estimate $200 million annually. Lamont said he plans for now to generate that money instead through state borrowing to help finance his roughly $19 billion 2030 transportation improvement plan.

“I hate to do it this way. It’s bonding in place of other things that are priorities,” he said. “But right now, there’s no other option on the table.”

As Lamont was talking to reporters, the Senate Democrats issued a statement saying the caucus was “still confident” it will have the necessary number of votes to pass a transportation plan with 12 toll gantries on 18-wheeler trucks only. In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said they had only asked for five more days because the senators needed that time to prepare for an anticipated two-day, 30-hour debate over tolls.

“We are prepared to hold a session next week to vote on a bill to make the necessary transportation improvements for Connecticut’s economic development, residents and businesses,” they said.

Minority Republican leaders were doubtful the issue of tolls, which has hounded Lamont and his administration since the former businessman first took office in January 2019, will be resurrected for a vote during this legislative session, which ends in May. But they didn’t rule out the issue returning next year.

“Nothing’s dead in this building,” said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven. “Back up again this session? I might be a little bit surprised. Back up again in 2021, I think you could probably bank on it.”

Some House Democrats expressed disappointment about Lamont’s announcement he’s not going to push ahead with tolls.

“This is crazy — let’s vote on the plan,” tweeted Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport. “Continuing to kick the can down the road and borrowing even more money 100% on the backs of CT taxpayers is what got us in this mess to start with.”

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