1. Your study, “Increasing Mobility in Southeast Florida A New Approach Based on Pricing and Bus Rapid Transit” claims the economic benefits to Southeast Florida from reduced congestion under your plan would be $4.85 billion per year. Where does that number come from?
Direct savings to drivers-of time and fuel-account for $1.35 billion per year, based on a 13% reduction in congestion by 2035 (compared with the current long-range plan). The other $3.5 billion per year comes from the increase in regional economic productivity due to increased mobility (0.5% of regional GDP) that makes our urbanized area work better.
2. Congestion seems to have peaked in the last few years, yet your study claims it will be much worse by 2035. How can that be?
The cost of traffic congestion has increased 14-fold since 1982. The slight dip in 2007 was due to what many have called the Great Recession, which reduced driving somewhat. If the current official long-range transportation plan is implemented, the travel time index (currently at 1.23) will increase to 1.54 by 2035-and that is significantly worse than Los Angeles today (at 1.38). Note: the travel time index is the ratio of trip time during peak periods versus trip time at other times. That is not Reason’s projection: that number is derived from the official three-county long-range transportation plan.
3. Your report says that toll revenues will pay for about 80% of the cost of a $16.4 billion managed lanes system. Yet FDOT says the relatively inexpensive managed lanes on I-95 will lose money over the next decade. How can both statements be true?
FDOT’s 10-year projection of revenues and expenses includes items not normally counted when state DOTs estimate whether a managed lane is paying for itself. On a normal basis, including state capital costs and all operating and maintenance expenses from FY2012-3 through FY2021-22 the express lanes will generate $196 million in revenue versus costs of $129 million. FDOT includes an additional $40 million as a reserve fund, and also uses between $4 million and $5 million per year to support transit in the corridor-expenses not normally included. Also, those projections are for a single 24-mile corridor, not a 302-mile network. Our figure is based on toll revenues from the entire network in 2035, when congestion on the regular lanes will be much worse than it is today.
4. You call for building underpasses on major arterials like Kendall Drive and SR 7. How can you build underpasses in South Florida, given the water table?
Southeast Florida already has two functioning underpasses that work just fine. The first is the Kinney Tunnel, which conveys U.S. 1 under the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The second, which opened in 2006, conveys Okeechobee Road (U.S. 27) beneath the FEC railroad tracks in Hialeah, next to the Miami River canal. Such underpasses are built with an impermeable barrier to prevent water from seeping into the concrete, and are equipped with pumps for use in the event of rain or flooding. Both existing underpasses operate without problems.
5. Wouldn’t it be illegal to charge tolls on overpasses or underpasses on arterials, because that would be tolling existing roadways?
Under our proposal, only vehicles choosing to bypass the signalized intersection by using the underpass would pay a Sunpass toll. Since the underpass (or overpass) would be new capacity, charging for its use does not violate FDOT policy against charging tolls to use existing capacity. All motorists would still have the choice of using the underpass or continuing to use the signalized intersection-for through traffic, left turns, right turns, or U-turns.
6. Your plan appears to be more of the same “build highways everywhere” approach. Shouldn’t we be giving people alternatives to driving?
The official three-county 2035 long-range transportation plan devotes 62% of all transportation investment monies between 2015 and 2035 to transit and other non-highway modes. Yet by 2035, the fraction of all trips made via transit would decline to 2.6% (from 2.9% in the 2005 base year). Peak commuting trips on transit would increase a little, from 3.7% now to 4.7%. But 92% of all commuting trips would still be made by car-and traffic congestion would be worse than what is experienced today in Los Angeles. Our proposal offers serious congestion relief and a more effective transit plan, based on bus rapid transit operating on managed lanes and managed arterials.
7. Your overall plan would cost about $20 billion. Even if you are correct that 80% of that could be paid for out of new toll revenue, where would the other $4 billion come from?
That $4 billion would come out of the $58 billion in available transportation funding (over 20 years) already in the long-range transportation plan (from federal and state fuel taxes and various local transportation tax revenues). By using 9% of that $58 billion to assist development of $20 billion worth of managed lanes and managed arterials, this shift in priorities would bring about both large-scale congestion relief and region-wide express bus service like that already setting new records on the I-95 Express Lanes.
8. Your plan opposes creating dedicated bus lanes on major arterials like SR 7. But if buses have to use regular lanes, they will get stuck in traffic just like cars. Isn’t this self-defeating?
The problem with dedicated bus lanes on congested arterials is that they would make congestion much worse. If one existing lane each way were converted to bus-only, all the existing traffic would be squeezed into the two remaining lanes (each way) and onto nearby parallel alternatives. Yet even with a bus every three minutes (20 per hour), the vast majority of the space in the bus-only lane would be unused. Alternatively, if the very expensive alternative of adding a 4th lane each way were chosen, that new lane would still be mostly unused. By contrast, our proposed “managed arterial” treatment (adding underpasses to congested arterials) would add a large amount of capacity and permit higher speeds for buses using the underpasses for express trips.
9. You call for adding premium toll lanes to the Turnpike and other toll roads in Southeast Florida. Isn’t this calling for two classes of toll-road customers?
Both the Turnpike and Miami-Dade Expressway Authority have studied premium express lanes for their most-congested toll roads (such as HEFT and the Dolphin). Why? Because many of their customers would gladly pay more at rush hour for an uncongested trip. But adding premium lanes to those corridors would be very costly. It’s only fair that those who wish to use such lanes be the ones to pay the higher tolls needed to build them.
10. Won’t adding more lanes to South Florida expressways make the greenhouse gas problem even worse?
Adding priced lanes that remain uncongested during peak periods would reduce CO2 emissions, which are much higher in stop-and-go traffic than they are with traffic moving steadily at 55 mph. In addition, by 2035 when the network is completed, the average passenger vehicle will be producing 31% less CO2, thanks to much more stringent fuel-economy requirements.
11. Many people don’t want to ride buses. Why doesn’t your plan expand rail transit instead?
Rail transit is extremely costly, which is why the official existing 2035 long-range transportation plan includes very little new rail transit and focuses most of its transit investment on bus rapid transit, which we support. Moreover, the overwhelming success of the new express bus routes using the I-95 Express Lanes demonstrates that many middle-class people will use bus rapid transit if it provides fast, reliable trips from near their homes to near their workplaces.
12. In two cases your plan would compete directly with existing rail transit: I-95 express lanes would compete with Tri-Rail and your proposed US 1 elevated express lanes would compete with Metrorail. Why isn’t that a bad idea?
The 95 Express bus routes already carry nearly 40% as many daily passengers between Broward County and downtown Miami as ride the entire three-county length of Tri-Rail. And that is with only the first 7 miles of I-95 Express Lanes in operation. This kind of premium bus rapid transit operating on uncongested lanes is a better alternative for a much larger number of people than Tri-Rail apparently offers. If and when Tri-Rail is shifted to the FEC rail corridor closer to high-density coastal land uses, its market share might well increase-and the expanded I-95 Express Lanes would be in less-direct competition with it. As for U.S. 1 and Metrorail, that transit line has probably attracted all the commuters for which it is a good option during its nearly three decades of service. Elevated express lanes linked to the revamped Busway would offer two new options: fast, uncongested trips for those drivers willing to pay for them and fast and reliable premium BRT service all the way to downtown Miami.
Robert Poole is director of transportation at Reason Foundation.