Surface Transportation Newsletter #109

Florida toll lanes, managed lanes, transportation ballot measures

In this issue:

Premium Toll Lanes on Florida Toll Roads

The Florida DOT’s Florida Turnpike Enterprise will be the nation’s first toll road operator to provide premium-priced express toll lanes in addition to its regular toll lanes. The first ones will be on the Veterans Expressway in the Tampa area and the second on the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike (HEFT) in the Miami area. The latter project will be part of the emerging managed lanes network in Southeast Florida that already encompasses priced lanes on non-tolled I-95, I-595, I-75, and portions of the Palmetto Expressway (SR 826). Still debating the issue is the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which operates a number of urban toll roads in Miami-Dade County, several of which have serious congestion problems. The 2012 Reason Foundation mobility study recommended a three-county managed lanes network that included premium toll lanes on nearly all of the region’s expressways and toll roads. (http://reason.org/studies/show/mobility-in-southeast-florida)

The Tampa project was approved by local officials in September, with the planned addition of one variably priced lane each way, the first portion of which is expected to be in operation by 2016, according to Turnpike CEO Diane Gutierrez-Scacetti in Toll Roads News (www.tollroadsnewscom/node/6250). The Miami project was approved Oct. 25th by the Miami-Dade MPO, with only one dissenting vote. The first six miles of widened HEFT are expected to open in late 2017, with another five miles in operation by 2020. The premium toll lanes will then extend from US 1 in the south to MDX’s Dolphin Expressway (SR 836) in the north.

Two-tier pricing has been a challenge for toll agencies. When I first started discussing this concept with toll agencies and within the International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association several years ago, the initial reaction was that this would mean treating some or most of their customers as “second-class citizens.” But I suggested they review research by Kenneth Small (UC, Irvine) and Cliff Winston (Brookings) showing that there are huge differences among peak-period drivers in both value of time and value of reliability (of travel times). A one-price-fits-all approach will either over-charge or under-charge a large fraction of customers. For example, charging a price high enough to permit all lanes to operate at uncongested level of service (LOS) C on a heavily congested urban toll road would lead to very large diversion of those with lower values of time and/or reliability, with serious negative effects on parallel arterials. But charging only a modest peak-period differential would do little to reduce congestion—and would be leaving a large amount of revenue (from high-value-of-time customers) on the table.

A second reason for implementing premium-priced lanes on urban toll roads is to be consistent with plans for a region-wide managed lanes network. In the Miami area, for example, customers on the I-95 Express Lanes can count on LOS C conditions during peak periods, but when they transition to the conventionally priced Dolphin Expressway during peaks, they generally encounter gridlock. Only with premium lanes on the urban toll roads, operated in the same way as those on un-priced expressways, can a seamless network be created.

While Tampa and Miami will be the first to implement premium lanes on urban toll roads, Chicago may well be next. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning last month launched a campaign to build political and public support for the addition of such premium lanes on three congested toll roads: the Stevenson (I-55), Eisenhower (I-290), and Jane Adams (I-90). They also propose developing three new toll roads with all lanes variably-priced: the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass, the Highway 53 North extension, and the Highway 120 Bypass. The proposal has already received the editorial endorsement of the Chicago Tribune (see Quotable Quotes in this issue).

The Reason Foundation’s Chicago mobility study, released several months ago after more than three years of research, called for a 275-mile managed lanes network in metro Chicago (http://reason.org/new/show/chicago-mobility-reduce-congestion). Since many components of the region’s expressway system are toll roads, similar to the situation in Miami, the same logic applies there. You cannot create a seamless, high-performance managed lanes network without premium toll lanes on the existing toll roads. The same applies to other large metro areas where toll roads constitute an important part of the expressway network, such as Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston.

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Three Toll Concession Projects Open to Traffic

This autumn marks the debut of three investor-financed toll projects, with the opening to traffic of the Jordan Bridge in Virginia, the I-495 express lanes on the I-495 Beltway in northern Virginia, and the SH 130 toll road between Austin and San Antonio. Each in its own way is a milestone illustrating the creativity of the private sector, working in partnership with enlightened state and local governments.

The Jordan Bridge spans the Elizabeth River about four miles south of Norfolk, replacing an obsolete steel lift bridge that was shut down in 2008 for safety reasons. Unlike the previous lift bridge, the new one provides 145-ft. clearance for the shipping channel. The bridge structure is just over a mile long, and was built by assembling 800 precast segments; each of the 35 spans is composed of 20 to 25 segments. As I reported here several years ago, this project resulted from an unsolicited proposal made to the City of Chesapeake by a consortium of United Bridge Partners, Lane Construction, and Figg Engineering. They offered to pay 100% of the $140 million cost in exchange for a perpetual franchise to operate and maintain the bridge as an investor-owned utility. Based on traffic projections, the initial bridge is just two lanes, but if and when traffic justifies expansion, the company has the right to build a parallel span adding two more lanes. The bridge opening was preceded by a weekend “Bridge Bash” on October 27th, with traffic beginning on Oct 29th. Needless to say, the bridge uses all-electronic tolling (AET); customers may use either E-ZPass transponders or opt for Pay-by-Plate license plate tolling at a higher rate.

On November 17th, the I-495 Express Lanes open to traffic on northern Virginia’s chronically congested Capital Beltway. This project also resulted from an unsolicited proposal, originally by Fluor, to build express toll lanes for about a billion dollars instead of the unpopular and unaffordable Virginia DOT plan to spend $3 billion adding HOV lanes to the Beltway. Since the company’s innovative design required very few property takes compared with the HOV plan, and would be largely self-funding from toll revenue, Virginia DOT saw it as a better alternative. By the time details had been worked out over several years, the price tag climbed to $1.9 billion due to the addition of many new ramps and reconstruction of bridges over the wider Beltway, so VDOT agreed to put in about $400 million. Fluor teamed up with experienced toll road developer/operator Transurban and the team financed the project during the depths of the global capital crunch. Details about the project’s many innovative features are provided in the following story.

Getting national publicity on Oct. 24th was the opening of what is technically Segments 5 and 6 of the new SH 130 toll road, which runs parallel to congested I-35 between Austin and San Antonio. This $1.39 billion project is the first toll concession project in Texas, awarded to the Cintra/Zachry consortium in 2006 and financed in 2008, like the I-495 project, in the midst of the credit markets crunch. Segments 1 through 4 of SH 130 are part of TxDOT’s public-sector Central Texas Turnpike project in the Austin metro area. After getting that part of the project under way, TxDOT was unable to work out a financing plan for the 41-mile segment between the two metro areas. Cintra/Zachry came up with an aggressive toll finance plan to pay 100% of the cost and to share revenue with the state if traffic and revenue exceed certain pre-defined levels. The consortium holds a 50-year concession, and is responsible for all operating and maintenance costs, as well as debt service on its bonds. Most national news coverage has been on the toll road’s 85 mph speed limit, the highest in the nation (and for which the highway was designed). The Oct. 24th opening was without tolls, to get people to try the route and compare it with congested I-35. Tolling began on Nov. 11th.

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Managed Lanes Break New Ground in California and Virginia

November witnessed the opening of the first managed lanes in Los Angeles County and in northern Virginia. Priced operations begin on the converted HOV lanes on LA’s Harbor Freeway (I-110) the weekend of Nov. 17th, the same day that priced operations begin on the Capital Beltway (I-495) in Virginia. Both projects, though different in many respects, illustrate the evolution of priced managed lanes from simple corridors to more complex urban facilities.

Let’s start with the differences. The LA project is the conversion of existing HOV lanes in the median of the Harbor Freeway, whereas the Virginia project is all new construction. The LA project is being done by LA Metro and Caltrans, while the Virginia project is a long-term toll concession. The LA project allows HOV-2 vehicles at no charge, while free passage in Virginia is for HOV-3 or higher, which means the revenue potential (and congestion-management impact) will be much greater in Virginia. The LA project is a one-year demonstration project, while the Virginia project is based on a 75-year concession. And the LA project provides separation between Express Lanes and general purpose lanes via a double white line, whereas the beltway project uses plastic pylons (as on SR 91 in Orange County and I-95 in Miami).

As for similarities, both projects will introduce the use of switchable transponders as a new approach to enforcing the minimum occupancy requirements for free passage. Motorists will indicate the vehicle’s occupancy status for each trip, using a switch on the device. That information tells the tolling system the correct price to charge, but the information on those claiming to be qualified is to be made available to patrol officers who are to check for violators. I have my doubts about how effective this will be, but these two projects will provide the transportation community with our first empirical data on that question.

Both projects are also using dynamic pricing, with toll rates adjusted based on real-time traffic levels and the number of miles driven. Both projects also provide multiple entry and exit points along the priced corridor, especially the more-complex Beltway project, which has 12 entries and 11 exits and offers 75 possible origin-destination combinations. Because of the Beltway Express Lanes’ complexity, all nine of its intermediate interchanges provide direct access ramps, rather than allowing traffic to enter and exit via the adjacent general purpose lanes (as on the Harbor Freeway project).

Clearly, these two projects represent an advance in managed lanes, from simple “pipeline” corridors to more complex transportation facilities. In this sense, they are testing grounds for some of the issues that will be faced in going beyond them to complete managed lane networks.

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Transportation Ballot Measures a Mixed Bag

Several different sources have reported on the results of state and local transportation funding measures that were voted on earlier this month. Overall, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association reported that of 24 local ballot measures to provide funding for highways, bridges, and transit, 16 passed and eight failed, for an approval rate of 67%. When I analyzed ARTBA’s table of results based on whether the measures were for roads only or for transit/all transportation, the roads-only measures won in seven out of nine cases (78%), while the broader measures passed in nine of 15 cases (60%).

In major metro areas, the largest defeat occurred in Los Angeles, where the measure that would have extended the latest half-cent transportation sales tax for an additional 30 years (from 2039 to 2069) failed to get the required two-thirds vote. By contrast, voters in Austin approved a $143 million bond issue for all forms of surface transportation and Houston approved the continued use of 25% of the one-cent transportation sales tax for roads and bridges through 2025 (with the rest still going to transit).

Three out of four statewide transportation measures—in Alaska, Arkansas, and Maine—were passed by voters, with only Arizona voters rejecting a proposal to make the temporary one-cent sales tax increase permanent; only 10% of the proceeds go to transportation.

Several elections that did not directly affect funding had implications for transportation. Michigan voters solidly defeated a statewide measure that would have required voter approval of any new international bridge or tunnel to Canada. Voters in Virginia Beach, VA voted on an advisory measure in favor of extending a light rail system to their city. By contrast, voters in three suburban counties of Portland, OR voted against light rail extensions: in Washington County two cities will now require voter approval of light rail; voters in Clackamas County ousted two pro-rail commissioners, leading to a 3-2 anti-rail majority; and voters in Clark County, Washington rejected light rail by 56-44%. On the other hand, Honolulu voters defeated anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano, a former governor, electing pro-rail Kirk Caldwell as their new mayor.

What can we make of all this? Unfortunately, hardly any of these measures called for user-tax funding; nearly all were for either general obligation bonds (using general tax revenue) or sales taxes. The only user-tax (gas tax) increase proposal, in Memphis, failed. But it’s pretty clear that even in these difficult economic times, voters seem more willing than not to support local funding increases for local transportation infrastructure. That’s important to keep in mind as the likelihood of cutbacks in federal transportation funding increases over the next few years.

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Does America Need an Infrastructure Planning Council?

Shortly before election day, the liberal/left think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) released a new report rehashing what are by-now old ideas: “Creating a National Infrastructure Bank and Infrastructure Planning Council.” (www.americanprogress.org, September 2012) The report laments inadequate levels of investment in infrastructure, inefficiencies in deciding what projects to invest in, and the need for both centralized funding and central planning to “develop a comprehensive national infrastructure plan.” Just last week commentator Fareed Zakaria echoed these thoughts in a post-election piece for Time. And Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, following direction from Congress, convened the first meeting of DOT’s new Freight Policy Council on Sept. 13th.

I’ve written about the flaws in proposals for a national infrastructure bank before, so in this article I will concentrate on the merits (or not) of national infrastructure central planning. Proponents of this idea face a very high burden of proof, in view of the global failure of central planning of national economies over the past century. The CAP report laments that “despite the interdependence of America’s electricity, water, transport, and telecommunications networks, the vast majority of federal [infrastructure] funds are dispersed in sector-specific programs that do not take into consideration the impact of their initiatives on other infrastructure systems.” The authors argue that with more federal planning, “channel deepening at ports [could] be planned alongside the bridge replacements required to ensure new and larger freight vessels can accommodate harbors.” As if ports couldn’t figure this out on their own?

And needless to say, I suspect other agendas at work when CAP’s authors argue that projects should be ranked by “expected economic and social returns” and that a planning council should “prioritize projects that lead to economic growth and job creation”—i.e., favor labor-intensive projects that reduce, rather than increase productivity. They are even more explicit about the importance of “promoting models that protect wages and collective bargaining rights,” presumably by extending the reach of such costly federal regulations as those of the Davis-Bacon Act and the Jones Act.

Rather than increasing the productivity of capital investments in infrastructure, this kind of central planning would be far more likely to reduce it. Here are two current examples from the goods-movement field, natural fodder for the new Freight Policy Council. The barge industry is circulating scary stories about the deterioration of locks on the inland waterways system, and is even offering to increase the amount of the fuel tax its members pay into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, so as to increase federal investment in locks and dams on this system. They fail to point out that at present those user tax revenues cover only eight percent of the capital and operating cost of the locks and dams. The Waterway Council’s proposal would increase this to about 12%, with all the rest continuing to come out of the soon-to-be-non-existent federal general fund.

Another example is port dredging. Incoming cargo ships pay a Harbor Maintenance Tax, based on the value of their cargo, that goes into a federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Ports compete to get money from that fund for dredging, but they can only get it if (a) the Army Corps of Engineers does a benefit/cost study showing that the national benefits of the project exceed the costs and (b) if Congress earmarks funds for the project in a periodic water resources bill. Two inconvenient facts for this model are (1) that some of the largest ports—Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Norfolk—have naturally deep harbors and get no benefit from this Trust Fund, and (2) there are no national benefits to having one port rather than its competitor get a dredging grant.

In these two examples we see two egregious subsidies at work: a general-taxpayer subsidy for the barge lines, artificially lowering their cost versus their competitor railroads (who pay for 100% of their own infrastructure); and large cross-subsidies among ports. Both kinds of subsidies reduce the productivity of goods-movement infrastructure. Yet advocates of national freight planning never seem to mention these kinds of issues when touting central planning.

We do have examples of state and local institutions working out solutions to freight infrastructure problems. The Port of Miami is not waiting for a federal earmark of dredging funds. It is going ahead with a bond issue to finance the needed dredging to increase its channel depth to the 50 feet needed by the larger ships expected to use the expanded Panama Canal. It is also working cooperatively with the Florida East Coast Railway to provide improved rail connections to the port, aiming to compete with Savannah by getting incoming containers to the Southeast faster by rail than the latter can via much slower ocean steaming. And in Chicago, the railroads and state and local transportation agencies are making good progress on the CREATE program to streamline intermodal freight transfers by creating numerous grade separations and rail flyovers.

I suppose DOT’s Freight Policy Council might be a useful talking shop for identifying the occasional bottleneck in the system. But local knowledge and user funding look to me like far more appropriate tools for fixing most of these problems.

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How Much is 110 mph Worth?

News stories in the Midwest last month cited a “historic” 15-mile Amtrak trip between Dwight and Pontiac, IL run at 110 mph. Those are the first 15 miles of the Chicago-St. Louis route that have been fully upgraded for the increased top speed (compared with the usual top speed of 79 mph). Upgrading involves installing positive train control (required by law for passenger rail going faster than 79 mph), fencing, a four-gate system at grade crossings, and upgraded track with concrete ties. On board were DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin, and other dignitaries.

The overall federally aided project intends to upgrade the entire 284 miles of track between Chicago and St. Louis for higher-speed rail with 110 mph top speed and an average speed of 71 mph, enabling the trip time to be cut to four hours from the current five and a half hours. Thus far, $1.6 billion has been spent ($1.2 billion from you and me, as federal taxpayers and another $400 million from Illinois taxpayers.) The total price tag for the route upgrade is $6 billion—and that does not include double-tracking the mostly single-track line.

How many more passengers will the 1.5-hour shorter trip attract? Prof. Ray Mundy, Director of Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, told public radio’s “Marketplace” that “the amount of people that are going from downtown St. Louis to downtown Chicago that would be affected by improved rail service . . . probably wouldn’t be enough to fill up a 737 that Southwest flies.”

It’s not clear to me, even if Mundy is off by a factor of ten, that spending $6 billion of general taxpayers’ money to provide subsidized competition to tax-paying, self-supporting airlines and bus lines could possibly make sense.

And by the way, as transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch pointed out in an Oct. 19th Chicago Tribune story on this test run, in the days of steam locomotives passenger trains in the Midwest often exceeded 100 mph.

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Upcoming Conferences

Note: I don’t have space to list all the transportation conferences going on; below are those that I am (or a Reason colleague is) participating in.

AASHTO Annual Meeting, Nov. 15-19, Westin Convention Center, Pittsburgh, PA (Robert Poole speaking on Nov. 18). Details at: www.aashtoannualmeeting.com.

ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit, Nov. 28-30, Grand Hyatt, Washington, DC (Robert Poole speaking). Details at: www.alec.org/meetings/states-nation-policy-summit-2012.

Infrastructure Investor’s New York Summit 2012, Dec. 5-6, Flatotel, New York, NY (Shirley Ybarra speaking). Details at: www.peiedia.com/iiny12.

Transportation Research Board 92nd Annual Meeting, Jan. 13-16, Washington, DC (Adrian Moore speaking). Details at: www.trb.org/AnnualMeeting2013/annualmeeting 2013.aspx.

Moving Georgia Ahead: What’s Coming Down the Pike, Jan. 24, Georgian Club, Atlanta, GA (Robert Poole speaking). Details at: http://weblink.donorperfect.com/LeadershipBreakfastRegistration.

Advancing Transportation Infrastructure through Public Private Partnerships, Jan. 28, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL (Robert Poole speaking). Details at: www.transportation.northwestern.edu/lipinski/index.html.

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News Notes

Mixed Outlook for GARVEE Bonds, Says S&P. Standard & Poors says the reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program for two years brings stability to the program in the short term, enabling states that have issued GARVEE bonds (backed by their federal highway grant monies) to continue making payments. However, it said the outlook for this segment of the bond market is “mixed,” with a “negative” outlook for about 40% of those bonds and the other 60% with a “stable” outlook. The Highway Trust Fund remains at risk “because of its dependence on general fund transfers and the possibility of federal budget sequestration” which could limit or eliminate such transfers.

Airline Deregulation Comes to Japan—Finally. Low-cost airlines have finally appeared in Japan, some 34 years after airline deregulation came to the United States. Three such carriers have begun operations this year: Peach, Jetstar Japan, and AirAsia Japan. High air fares, in addition to high tolls on inter-city expressways, have helped generate market share for Japan’s famed high-speed rail services. Discount air fares will put new pressure on Japanese HSR.

Port of Miami Tunnel #2 Under Way. On Oct. 30th, tunneling began on the second of two deep-bore tunnels between the Port of Miami on Watson Island and MacArthur Causeway, which connects directly to I-95. The first tube was completed July 31st, after which the giant tunnel boring machine was disassembled and reassembled facing the other way to dig the second tube. The $1 billion project is being developed (and will be operated and maintained) by the privately financed consortium Miami Access Tunnel, under a 30-year concession agreement.

Performance Measurement for Congestion Pricing Projects. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has released a 181-page report on evaluating congestion-pricing projects, tracking their performance, and communicating the results to various stakeholders “Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects” is NCHRP Report 694 and is available on the TRB website. 

Central Texas Turnpike System Gets Bond Rating Increase. Standard & Poors has increased the rating on existing bonds that finance the Central Texas Turnpike System in the Austin area from BBB to A-. The increased rating was attributed to previously announced toll rate increases that will improve the system’s financial performance, in addition to positive demographic and traffic trends. Texas DOT announced the rating increase on Oct. 26th.

Fairfax County Endorses Highway-Based Energy Conservation. Because transportation accounts for 36% of the energy consumed in Fairfax County, VA, because 77.5% of all daily trips in 2040 are likely to be internal (rather than through trips), and because by 2040 only 7.5% of the population will live within a half mile of a rail station and most future transit expansion will be based on buses, the county’s Energy Task Force concluded that “Due to the need for transit to use highways and the need for most trips in the County to continue to use individual vehicles, a highway program to eliminate or at least reduce congestion provides the county with the largest opportunity for transportation energy reduction in the short and medium term.” The county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed the recommendation to convey these findings to Virginia DOT, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.

Florida’s Private-Sector Passenger Rail Project Moving Forward. All Aboard Florida, the project by the Florida East Coast Railway for privately funded higher-speed passenger service between Miami and Orlando, has announced its planned station locations in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando. It has also requested permission from Florida DOT to use right of way alongside the east-west BeachLine highway between Orlando and FEC’s north-south main line near the coast. By law, Florida DOT must advertise for competing proposals for use of the right of way, with the proviso from FDOT that it has no money available to assist with any such projects. Proposals must be submitted by Dec. 7th.

First NYC Toll Bridge Going Cashless. MTA Bridges & Tunnels (formerly Triborough Bridges & Tunnels Authority) converted its first toll bridge to all-electronic tolling (AET) on Nov. 10th. The conversion of the Henry Hudson Bridge to cashless tolling is described as a pilot program to test AET, before proceeding with it on the agency’s other toll facilities. The focus of the effort will be on the performance of video tolling via license plate imaging. As a first step toward AET, the gates on the E-ZPass Only lanes were removed in January 2011. The double-deck bridge opened in 1936 as part of the Hudson River Parkway parallel to the Hudson River in Westchester County.

Unfortunate Photo Caption. I was dismayed to see the photo accompanying the article “Facing Up to Climate Change” by Gina Campoli of the Vermont Agency for Transportation, in the July-August issue of TRB’s TR News (p. 13). The caption reads: “An Amtrak train pulls into the station in Windsor, Vermont. The state has set goals—such as quadrupling the number of passenger rail trips—to decrease the use of nonrenewable energy sources.” The photo shows a diesel-powered train.

Book Argues for Changing Course on Climate Policy. Dieter Helm of Oxford University criticizes most current CO2-reductions strategies as focusing on “the most expensive ways of mitigating climate change rather than the cheapest, imposing high costs for little gain,” according to the review in The Economist’s Oct. 20th issue. Instead of heavily subsidized solar and wind projects, Helm argues for a simple carbon tax, assuming one can be agreed to internationally. The Carbon Crunch: How We’re Getting Climate Change Wrong—and How to Fix It is just out from Yale University Press.

Reason’s New Headquarters Office. The Reason Foundation, located for two decades in an office building on Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles, has relocated to its own building. The new address is 5737 Mesmer Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90230. The headquarters phone number remains unchanged at 310-391-2245.

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Quotable Quotes

“Transportation planners have long been attracted to an alternative that would charge drivers for the privilege of bypassing heavy traffic. It’s called ‘congestion pricing,’ and it could be on the way here. The idea is being floated by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning as a way to pay for, and make the best use of, new lanes on six major Chicago-area roadways. . . . It’s heartening to see planners devise imaginative, economically sound ways to deal with the Chicago area’s notorious traffic delays—which the Reason Foundation says have gone from 18 hours a year per commuter in 1982 to 71 hours today. We could see if we can make that 100 hours. Or we could take a look at something different. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning deserves credit for doing the latter.”
—Editorial, “Traffic Decongestant: Letting Drivers Pay to Avoid Delays,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 29, 2012

“What explains Europe’s relatively small cities? Regulatory barriers to growth may be to blame. Tight zoning rules limit housing supply and raise prices by driving a wedge between construction costs and market prices. This ‘regulatory tax’ amounts to over 300% in the office markets in Frankfurt, Paris, and Milan . . . but is just 50% in Manhattan and, in effect, zero in fast-growing places like Houston. Taxes that add to transaction costs also help explain low European mobility.”
—Free Exchange column, “Concrete Gains,” The Economist, Oct. 13, 2012

“The use of less fuel in farming GM [genetically modified] crops results in less carbon dioxide emission. In addition, herbicide-tolerant GM crops can often be grown with little or no plowing in stubble fields that are sprayed with herbicides. The result is to allow more carbon to remain in the soil, since plowing releases carbon as microbial exhalation. Taken together . . . this means that the GM crops grown in 2010 had an effect on carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking 8.6 million cars off the road. There is a rich irony here. The rapidly growing use of shale gas in the U.S. has also driven down carbon dioxide emissions by replacing coal in the generation of electricity. U.S. carbon emissions are falling so fast they are now back to levels last seen in the 1990s. So the two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement—genetic modification and fracking—have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.”
—Matt Ridley, “The Perils of Always Ignoring the Bright Side,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 6, 2012

“Unlike commercial aviation, which does pay for its own infrastructure and operating costs, through taxes and user fees, high-speed rail doesn’t—and that doesn’t maintain a level playing field when both modes are competing for the same passenger.”
—Victoria Day, Airlines for America, quoted in Adam Allington, “Amtrak High-Speed Rail to Compete with Airlines,” Marketplace Morning Report, Oct. 19, 2012

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