U.S. awards nearly $1 billion in infrastructure grants

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Department said Friday it was awarding nearly $1 billion in infrastructure grants as the Biden administration prepares to dramatically boost funding on the nation’s roads, bridges, rail, transit and other projects.

The grants under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program are going to 90 projects in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Guam, to rebuild roads and add rail lines — but also create new green space, new trails, bike lanes and safer streets for pedestrians.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the department had received a “a ten-to-one ratio of requests to available dollars” for the grants.

Seattle will receive $20 million to reconstruct a 1.1-mile road segment and will also add a bike lane. Washington County, Oregon will receive $12.2 million for a 15-mile trail.

Charlotte, North Carolina will receive $15 million to construct a new multimodal transit center and New Orleans is getting $18.5 million to improve transit fare collection. Manchester, New Hampshire will receive $25 million to reconnect the city’s South Millyard district to surrounding neighborhoods and downtown.

Atlanta will receive a $900,000 planning grant to advance a project to “cap” the I-75/I-85 Downtown Connector highway, which would create 14 acres of green space and reconnect neighborhoods separated from downtown by the highway.

Republican Representative Garret Graves said the Biden administration was funding green space rather than focusing on eliminating congestion. “This is supposed to be a transportation program. We sit in traffic and they get ‘green space.'”

Under the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden, the Transportation Department will receive $660 billion over five years, including $210.5 billion to be awarded in competitive grants. Of that $71 billion is for new grant programs.

Department officials are crossing the country to tout infrastructure spending. Buttigieg is in Phoenix to discuss the bill’s impact on transit and airport funding, while Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg is Pennsylvania and other department officials are in California.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kim Coghill)

U.S. airline passenger volume rises but down 21% from pre-pandemic levels

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. airlines carried 66.4 million passengers in June, three times the June 2020 volume but still down 21% from pre-pandemic levels, the U.S. Transportation Department said Tuesday.

The largest 21 U.S. airlines that handle more than 90% of all U.S. traffic carried 9.2 million more passengers in June than the 57.2 million passengers transported in May. The department said June domestic passengers were down 17% while international passengers were down 45%.

The Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday that for the seven days ending Monday airline passengers screened were down 22% over the same period in 2019.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group, says U.S. airlines are operating 17% fewer domestic flights over 2019 levels and 35% fewer international flights. As a result, the group says current average domestic load factors — 89% — are identical to pre-pandemic levels.

The Biden administration has not lifted travel restrictions that bar much of the world from entering the United States, including most non-U.S citizens who have been in China, India, Iran, South Africa, Brazil, the United Kingdom and much of Europe within the last 14 days.

Last week, Southwest Airlines warned that the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 had hit bookings and increased cancellations, hurting its chances at profitability this quarter.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Porter)

U.S. opens $3 billion aviation manufacturing wage subsidy program

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Department said Tuesday it had launched a $3 billion aviation manufacturing payroll subsidy program that will cover up to half of eligible companies’ compensation costs for as long as six months.

The program, funded by Congress, requires companies to commit to not conducting furloughs without employee consent or laying off employees covered by subsidies during the six-month period. Applications must be filed by July 13.

Companies eligible include aircraft, engine, propeller or component manufacturers and companies that repair or overhaul airplanes and parts.

The subsidy program cannot cover more than 25% of an employer’s total U.S. workforce as of April 2020 and can only cover employees with total annual compensation of $200,000 or less.

To qualify, a company must have involuntarily furloughed or laid off at least 10% of its total workforce, or have experienced at least a 15% decline in 2020 total operating revenues.

More than 100,000 jobs have been lost in the aerospace industry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Transportation Department. Before then, the U.S. aerospace industry was estimated to employ approximately 2.2 million workers, including 1.2 million who worked in various parts of the supply chain nationwide.

Boeing Co, which has had extensive job cuts, Raytheon Technologies and Spirit Aerosystems did not immediately respond to questions about whether they are considering applying. General Electric’s aviation unit said it would not seek assistance from the program.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had strongly urged Congress to fund the program.

Congress has provided assistance to other aviation industry firms, including giving U.S. airlines $54 billion for payroll since March 2020 and that funding will continue to pay much of airline workers’ salaries through Sept. 30.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. passenger airline traffic rising, but still down sharply over 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. passenger airline traffic continues to rebound over historic lows after the coronavirus pandemic, but is still down sharply over 2019 levels.

The U.S. Transportation Department said Tuesday airlines carried 21.4 million passengers in July, up from 16.5 million in June, but still down 73% over July 2019 levels. On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened 968,673 people at airport checkpoints, the highest daily number since March 16 but still down more than 60% over 2019 levels.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul)

U.S. proposes requiring vehicles to ‘talk’ to each other to avoid crashes

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Department on Tuesday proposed requiring all new cars and trucks to be able to “talk” to one another using short-range wireless technology to potentially avoid tens of thousands of crashes annually.

Regulators, which first announced plans to pursue requiring the technology in early 2014, are proposing to give automakers at least four years to comply from the time it is finalized and would require automakers to ensure all vehicles “speak the same language through a standard technology.”

The administration of President-elect Donald Trump will decide whether to finalize the proposal, which does not apply to larger vehicles like buses and tractor trailers.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that talking vehicles could eliminate or reduce the severity of up to 80 percent of crashes where alcohol is not a factor, especially crashes at intersections or while changing lanes.

Last year, there were 6.3 million U.S. vehicle crashes. In October, NHTSA said U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.4 percent in the first six months of 2016. The jump follows a spike in 2015, when road deaths rose 7.2 percent to 35,092, the highest full-year increase since 1966.

Talking cars and trucks would use dedicated short range communications to transmit data up to 300 meters, such as location, direction and speed, to nearby vehicles. That data would be updated and broadcast up to 10 times per second to nearby vehicles, which can identify risks and provide warnings to drivers to avoid imminent crashes.

“From a safety perspective, this is a no brainer,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said vehicles would protect privacy by only exchanging safety information and would ensure hackers can’t intercept signals.

The rule would not require vehicles currently on U.S. roads to be retrofitted with the technology. Foxx said owners couldn’t turn off the technology but could turn off warnings.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Volkswagen AG  and other major automakers, noted the system is already being tested. The group said it would study the proposal. Automakers are pushing to ensure that a portion of the spectrum reserved for connected vehicles is not used by other companies for other wireless device use. The U.S. Federal Communication Commission has begun testing potential sharing options.

Separately, the Federal Highway Administration plans to issue guidance for vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, which will help planners allow vehicles to “talk” to roadway infrastructure such as traffic lights.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)