December 2, 2020

Amtrak

With help from Tanya Snyder

Editor’s Note: Weekly Transportation is a weekly version of POLITICO Pro’s daily Transportation policy newsletter, Morning Transportation. POLITICO Pro is a policy intelligence platform that combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

WE HAVE A WINNER: With Pennsylvania pushing him over the edge, former Vice President Joe Biden is now President-elect Joe Biden. The man with a railroad in his nickname can now start planning for a presidency that could be shaped — in more ways than one — by transportation and infrastructure.

First steps: Addressing the pandemic and economic downturn will be the overriding priority for the Biden administration. Come January, Biden is widely expected to implement a mask mandate for transportation including airlines and public transit, Stephanie reports, although how he’ll do it remains unclear: “Biden could issue an executive order on the matter, or CDC could be empowered to exercise its broad authority.”

Either way, the change would be a relief to companies and agencies that could take the burden off flight attendants and other frontline workers to enforce sometimes scattered policies. Biden says he wants to work with states on the mandate but will likely face opposition from some Republicans.

Infrastructure: Now that Biden’s supporters have had a few days to celebrate, they might want to sober up by reading our Tanya Snyder’s take on the challenges Biden will face around his grand infrastructure plans. It’s not just that Republicans might still hold the Senate — it’s that the same tricky problems about how to pay for infrastructure remain. Raising the gas tax is politically tricky, and deficit spending has many influential detractors.

Here’s the bottom line, summed up by Tanya: “Although no one denies Biden’s commitment to infrastructure investment, experts agree that there’s simply not enough money to pay for all the priorities that have been piling up for years under split congressional control.”

Rail: This is one area where Amtrak Joe could make a dent, but again, his ambitions of a “second great rail revolution” might have to be tamped down a little. As Sam reports, rail advocates are excited for a Biden presidency, in which he could make subtle but meaningful progress on improving passenger rail, likely centered around Amtrak (which itself is already pushing Biden for pandemic rescue money and long-term expansion). The most likely scenario is a “ steady, incremental, supportive type of atmosphere for Amtrak specifically and for passenger rail generally,” said Jim Mathews, head of the Rail Passengers Association.

The campaign has talked about connecting new city pairs via the rails, and allies in Congress have plans that would send big injections of federal money to Amtrak and rail in general.

Who’s in line for DOT? The name that’s been floating around for weeks is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, although our sources say that’s hardly a sure thing, in part because he’s been embroiled in

…...