Surface Transportation News: Alabama Tolling, Trucking Bottlenecks, and No-Fare Transit
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Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation News: Alabama Tolling, Trucking Bottlenecks, and No-Fare Transit

Plus: support grows for putting elevated freeway replacements underground, vehicle technology, and more.

In this issue:

Good News and Bad News on Alabama Tolling

Last fall, responding to populist anti-toll pressure, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey pulled the plug on a planned $2.1 billion toll-financed public-private partnership to replace the aging and inadequate I-10 bridge and Bayway causeway across the Mobile River. The proposed $6 one-way toll was viewed by many as intolerable for a route that is used by daily commuters as well as long-distance trucks and other out-of-state travelers.

The bad news is that anti-toll advocacy is still very much alive there. Three bills have been filed in the current Alabama legislative session. One would simply require an economic impact study before any tolled facility could go forward, but the other two are slightly different versions of constitutional amendments that would require voter approval in the county or counties to be served by a toll facility.

The good news is that cooler heads in the Mobile area seem to be coalescing around a less-costly $1.2 billion proposal that would rebuild the bridge but leave the existing non-tolled Wallace Tunnel and Bayway as alternatives for those unwilling to pay a bridge toll. The Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), whose removal of the bridge replacement from its transportation plan last fall triggered the governor’s action to kill the project, voted 3-1 last month in favor of the scaled-back $1.2 billion project, which would rebuild the bridge but not the Bayway. It would also add elevated express toll lanes to the Bayway, while leaving the existing two lanes each way as is and not tolled. On the other side of the river, the Mobile MPO would also have to agree on a revised plan, in order for the project to go forward. In January, the Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition said Mobile county officials have been working to build support for an alternative to the original $2.1 billion plan.

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) had moved forward on the original project last year, having won federal approval for $420 million in tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs), an $800 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA )loan, and a $125 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant, conditional on the project being done as a long-term public-private partnership (P3). ALDOT had also begun the P3 procurement process, resulting in a shortlist of three highly qualified teams, led by Cintra/Meridiam, ACS/Macquarie, and InfraRed/Astaldi. If the revised project moves forward as a public-private partnership (P3) with a revised scope and toll projections, the procurement process would likely have to be re-started, and applications filed again for PABs and TIFIA financing.

Elevated express toll lanes, as proposed for the Bayway, were pioneered more than a decade ago in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority added three reversible express toll lanes to the median of its Selmon Expressway, at a cost of just $420 million for the 26-mile project. (An illustration of the project appears on p. 263 of my book, Rethinking America’s Highways.)

In other Alabama news, last month, developer Tim James, Sr. gave a presentation on his proposal for a privately-financed 1,600-foot toll bridge over Lay Lake on the Coosa River system, connecting Shelby and Talladega counties. The project includes roadway improvements that would enable the bridge to connect I-65 to U.S. 280. It received unanimous support from Talladega County in January and is currently seeking approval from Shelby County. James’ company developed the Foley Beach Express toll road in Baldwin County, which opened in 2000.

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Is No-Fare Transit a Good Idea?

By Baruch Feigenbaum

One of the current transit trends is fare-free service. Earlier this month, Washington D.C. council member Charles Allen introduced a plan to provide residents $100 in Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) SmarTrip credits per month. Last year Kansas City, MO, became the largest city to implement fare-free transit, charging zero for all customers.

While it might seem like a new concept, fare-free transit has been around since the 1960s. Today, more than 40 small agencies offer some type of fare-free transit. But there are real costs to fare-free transit.

The best analysis of fare-free transit is a 2012 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report. It found that while many mass transit systems offer fare-free zones, discounted service to selected groups, and/or circulator services, very few agencies offer fare-free service to everyone in the service area.

Fare-free services are typically found in three places: small-urban/large-rural areas with low ridership, resort communities, and university-dominated towns. Fare-free service makes the most sense where the farebox recovery rate is low, specifically when the collection costs are higher than the actual revenue. But most systems have farebox recovery rates of 20-to-40 percent, which provides a chunk of change for the systems.  The only large US metro area to implement fare-free transit, Austin, TX, discontinued it after a year, due to disruptive riders and increased costs, although that experiment was 30 years ago (1989-1990).

The NAS study found offering fare-free service has several consequences. Ridership can increase by 20-to-60 percent. But as a result of the subsidies, system costs can increase. The increase in passengers can overwhelm the transit system, and, vagrants have been a problem on certain systems. Additional maintenance and capital equipment may be necessary. Mass transit systems that experience a deterioration in the quality of service may see losses, not gains, in ridership. Finally, most of the new trips result from additional transit travel, not mode change. The modes most likely to switch to transit are walking and cycling. So while these new trips may increase economic activity, they do not reduce traffic congestion or greenhouse gas emissions.

Fare-free transit has a political element as well. The entities studying free transit in large metro areas tend to be central-city governments, not transit agencies. These cities pay the transit agency to build, operate and maintain the service. In the case of Kansas City, the money the city pays does not cover the service costs. As a result, cities are pushing some of the costs onto the transit agencies. The transit agency, unwilling to anger its largest funder, typically accepts the costs. City leaders can then claim a win by giving the public something “free.: But the transit agency that is responsible for the service would likely never propose such an idea and must shoulder the higher costs.

The biggest challenge of fare-free transit is the cost. The Washington, DC, plan would offer residents $100 in SmarTrip (WMATA’s payment system) credits per month and allow an unlimited number of trips. More than 700,000 people live in DC, but many of them do not use transit. Further, several groups are ineligible for the funds: the 60,000 DC residents who receive federal employee transportation benefits and the 46,000 students covered by the Kids Ride Free (KRF) Program. Therefore, city councilman Allen estimates that 118,000 people would use the program and that the cost will be $54 million per year.

Yet the $54 million figure relies on a number of assumptions. Allen believes that the city will get a discount in SmarTrip cards because it is buying them in bulk and that most residents will use less than $100 in monthly benefits. Yet, there is no precedent for WMATA offering such a large discount. A resident commuting from Northwest DC to Union Station during peak periods would pay more than $113 per month using the cheapest Metro pass available.

Further, Allen assumes no growth in demand or population. Basic economics guarantees that reducing the price of something increases the demand for it. And Washington, DC’s population is growing rapidly — increasing by more than 14 percent over the past eight years. By my math, there should be some concern that the program’s cost could likely be closer be $142 million (118,000 residents times $100 per month times 12 months) — far more than double Allen’s $54 million estimate.

Another challenge would be service quality. What happens during the next economic recession, when the city cannot afford the costs? Will service quality decrease? WMATA’s operations suffered over the past 10 years because of train breakdowns. WMATA ended its late-night weekend service to spend more time on maintenance. DC businesses have claimed that they suffered economically as a result. If the system adds more riders with less funding, it will likely generate more service problems.

There are other problems with the plan as well. The proposal provides the benefit to everyone regardless of income. Allen says that he does not want to “other” the Metro (defining it as a service for the poor). Yet Washington, DC, is home to some of the wealthiest folks in the region, some of whom do ride Metro. Low-income residents in Anacostia should not be subsidizing the travel of wealthy residents in Northwest Washington.

Under the proposal, the residents of the core central city (DC) are the only ones with access to free transit. As a result, commuters living in different municipalities in the same metro area would face very different costs while using the same system. This exacerbates regional tensions and harms low-income residents in the suburbs, who have to bear the financial burden the most. This is another reason the transit agency, not the city, should be making the decision on fares.

The economic benefits of the plan are also suspect. Similar to highways and stadiums, the economic benefits of transit are often overstated. Kansas City fare-free proponents claim that it adds $13 million in regional gross domestic product. History suggests that number is likely 30 percent too high, but even if it is accurate, the city’s cost to provide the service is $12 million per year so the economic development benefits are a wash, at best.

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Truck Bottlenecks: Why You Should Care

The American Transportation Research Institute has released this year’s list of America’s top 100 truck bottlenecks. As usual, nearly all of them are at the interchange between an urban Interstate and another major highway (often another Interstate). Even if you are not connected to the trucking industry, you should be concerned about this large and growing problem. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Nearly all major truck bottlenecks are also passenger-car and commuter bottlenecks.
  • They contribute significantly to urban freeway congestion.
  • Air pollution is worse in congested areas and trucks pollute more per vehicle mile than passenger vehicles (and shifting trucks away from fossil fuels will take longer than for cars).
  • These bottlenecks are mostly not getting fixed, which is one reason congestion continues to get worse.
  • Arguments that adding highway capacity is futile, because “people will just drive more” do not apply to trucks, which drive in response to increasing demand for their services.

I reviewed the ATRI list with some interest. The states with the most bottleneck interchanges for trucks are as follows:

Texas: 11 bottlenecks, mostly in Houston but also 3 in Dallas/Ft. Worth and 1 in Austin;
New York: 9 bottlenecks, all in the overall New York City metro area;
California: 7 bottlenecks, 5 in the Los Angeles metro area and 2 in Oakland;
Georgia: 7 bottlenecks, all in the Atlanta metro area;
Pennsylvania: 6 bottlenecks, mostly in the Philadelphia metro area;
Tennessee: 6 bottlenecks, with 4 in Nashville and 2 in Chattanooga; and,
Washington State: 6 bottlenecks, all but one in the Seattle metro area.

 

And in terms of which Interstates turn up most often in the top 100, the “winner” is I-95 with 10 bottlenecks, followed by I-10, I-35, and I-75 with six apiece.

Over the past decade or so, only a handful of obsolete urban interchanges have been redesigned and rebuilt: the Marquette and Zoo interchanges in Milwaukee, the Springfield interchange in northern Virginia, and the SR 836/SR 826 interchange in Miami are examples. Several more are under construction, including I-285 at Georgia 400 in Atlanta ($803 million) and I-95/I-395/SR 836 in Miami ($802 million). But the very large cost of such projects makes it difficult for state DOTs to come up with the funding, given limited transportation revenues.

Mega-projects like these are obvious candidates for long-term financing, in which the billion dollars is raised up-front from investors and paid back over time out of user-fee revenues paid by those who benefit from the improved interchange and its smoother traffic flow. In states where all-electronic tolling is becoming widespread, toll-financing major interchange replacement is quite feasible, analogous to replacing a deficient bridge with a toll-financed bridge. Tolling opponents, including the trucking industry, should reflect on the fact that more than two decades of lobbying for large increases in federal gasoline and diesel tax rate increases have not succeeded—and nearly all those obsolete, congested, pollution-generating interchanges are still serving as bottlenecks to commuting and commerce.

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Transportation and CO2 Emissions

The day before Christmas, I was startled by a Wall Street Journal news article headline, “Transportation Is the Next Eco Villain.” Reporter Jon Sindreu cited data from the European Union and the US Environmental Protection Agency showing that transportation—aviation, railroads, highway travel by cars and trucks, ocean shipping, etc.—is the sector that produces the largest fraction of CO2 emissions, at 24 percent worldwide and 34 percent in the United States. He also points out that in the US almost half the transportation emissions come from freight.

Those figures are not in dispute, but some perspective on the overall CO2 picture comes from a recent report from the International Energy Agency. As Reason.com Science Correspondent Ron Bailey summarized the IEA findings: “Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sectors [which includes transportation] for both the world and the United States have flattened and may have peaked.”

This has occurred because emissions from the EU, Japan, and the US in 2018-2019 dropped sharply thanks to large decreases in the use of coal, and increased nuclear energy production in Japan.

Bailey also reports that in mid-February, the US Energy Information Administration projected that US energy-related CO2 emissions will decrease through the early 2030s and may not again reach 2020 levels until after 2050. That agency breaks down 2018 energy-related emissions into four components, as follows:

Residential 1,017 million metric tons 19.3%
Commercial    891     “          “        “ 16.9%
Industrial 1,445     “          “        “ 27.4%
Transportation 1,916     “          “       “ 36.4%

 

The implicit assumption in most policy discussions about CO2 reduction is that every sector must achieve the same degree of reduction over time, to meet an overall target. But that ignores questions of feasibility and cost. For commercial aircraft carrying passengers and cargo, there is no feasible alternative to petroleum-based fuels in the foreseeable future. For ocean shipping and U.S. freight railroads, the outlook is similar, though efficiency improvements are possible (as is also true in aviation). And while electric or hybrid propulsion is possible for trucks, this is still a work in progress, especially for heavy, long-haul trucks.

Transportation produces huge benefits to the US and world economy, so it makes sense to question the premise that every sector must make the same percentage reductions in CO2 per year or per decade. What counts is both the total accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and the annual addition from all sources. If reducing some categories of emissions cost $10/ton and others (if feasible at all) cost $500/ton, it makes no sense to invest limited resources in the $500/ton reductions. The transportation community needs to speak up for benefit/cost analysis in CO2 reduction policy.

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Support Grows for Putting Elevated Freeway Replacements Underground

In the 1960s, dozens of urban freeways (mostly Interstates) were built as elevated structures, dividing neighborhoods and inundating them with noise and emissions. As these elevated roadways age and need replacing, there’s a growing movement to put the replacements underground, creating new urban parks and re-uniting neighborhoods. High-profile recent examples include the Big Dig below downtown Boston and the Alaskan Way tunnel beneath downtown Seattle. But as I discuss in Chapter 10 of Rethinking America’s Highways, there are also many examples of decking over freeways that were already below grade: the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas above the Woodall Rogers Freeway, the Hance Park over I-10 in Phoenix, the new park over I-70 in downtown St. Louis, and the under-construction park on the deck being built over a section of I-70 in Denver, to name a few.

The latest development is taking place in Brooklyn, NY, and concerns replacing the aging and decrepit (1941) Gowanus Expressway, which is an elevated freeway (I-278) near the waterfront, from the Verrazano Bridge to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. In 2017 a group of residents proposed replacing the elevated section with a six-mile bored tunnel, and decking over a portion that is below-grade, allowing the bisected neighborhoods to be reconnected. The tunnel idea was first proposed by the Regional Plan Association in the 1990s. Last year, the city comptroller proposed an alternative: a trucks-only highway with a park on top of it. This approach would handle the 14,000 trucks per day that use the Gowanus, but ignores the 144,000 passenger cars per day—which are blithely assumed to just fade away.

Fortunately, the City Council has now revived a full-fledged replacement. Based on a study the council commissioned from consulting firm Arup, which analyzed seven possible solutions, the council suggests the two best alternatives:

  1. An at-grade replacement highway capped with an extension of Brooklyn Bridge Park ($3.5 billion), and
  2. A bored tunnel plus a replacement boulevard and new open space ($11 billion).

Arup’s study cited a number of precedents, including the reconstruction of the Calle 30 ring road in Madrid. Of its 62-mile length, 35 miles are covered, part of it via a deep-bore tunnel that I visited shortly before it opened in 2007.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own “expert panel” has recently called for a reduced-lanes replacement, which the mayor rejected as unrealistic, since the traffic has to go somewhere. There are definitely trade-offs between Arup’s options 1 and 2, with the former both a lot less expensive and probably quicker to build. And the Gowanus is in bad shape and needs to be replaced sooner rather than later.

There is also the outrageous costs of recent subway tunnels in New York City, which have cost several times as much per mile as comparable tunnels in London, Paris, and Tokyo.

But it’s encouraging to see the reality sinking in — the Gowanus needs to be replaced, to serve current and projected traffic. Mayor de Blasio has scoffed at the “road diet” idea that traffic will melt away if fewer lanes are provided. “We have to be careful,” he told Gothamist recently. “If we say, ‘Hey, let’s reduce the amount of lanes,’ that’s not a guarantee people get out of their cars; it is a guarantee of traffic jams and other problems.”

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Further Thoughts on DOT’s ITS Policy
by Baruch Feigenbaum

Last month’s article on US DOT’s decision to invest $38 million to equip emergency vehicles, transit vehicles, and related infrastructure with vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication technology generated a lot of feedback.

In the article, I could have been clearer with my terminology. First, DOT’s decision to equip vehicles with V2X does not require dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) to be used. I believe that most of the vehicles will use DSRC, but they can use another technology. Second, 5G and cellular vehicle-to-everything (CV2X) communications are different technologies. CV2X uses the LTE framework and DSRC uses the Wi-Fi framework. I believe that in the future CV2X will use 5G networks, but that technology is still in the development phase.

The transportation industry is hyper-focused on spectrum use because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking comments on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would share a portion of the 5.9G GHz spectrum. The proposal would devote the lower 45 MHz to unlicensed operators and permit C-V2X in the upper 20 MHz. DOT is concerned that 20 MHz is not enough space for C-V2X uses.

I remain skeptical that DOT needs all of the spectrum. But FCC has muddied the waters by giving mixed signals on its intent. In 2018, FCC sent a letter to Toyota suggesting that the carmaker use caution when studying DSRC because it is unclear if the technology can coexist with other technologies on the 5.9 GHz spectrum. Yet, when the agency reached out to the information technology services (ITS) community, it noted that it planned to have multiple technologies share that spectrum. The FCC cannot have it both ways. The FCC did not know if sharing spectrum was possible in 2018 (and we still don’t know), but if it believes different technologies can co-exist, it should not have objected to Toyota’s tests.

From my perspective the FCC’s decision to claw back spectrum is premature. I believe that, in the future, technologies will be able to use 5G without relying on the 5.9 GHz spectrum. However, that day has not arrived. Meanwhile, the FCC can wait to take action until there is a demonstrated need for new spectrum. Its plan would harm the ITS community without helping anyone else.

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Upcoming Transportation Events

Note: We don’t have the time or space to list all transportation events that might be of interest to readers of this newsletter. Listed here are events at which a Reason Foundation transportation researcher is speaking or moderating.

Transportation Research Forum Annual Forum, Jersey City, NJ, Jersey City University School of Business, March 13, 2020 (Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details here.

IBTTA/TRB/AASHTO Summit on Finance and Policy, Denver, CO, Hilton Denver City Center, May 7-9, 2020 (Adrian Moore speaking). Details here.

APTA Mobility Conference, San Antonio, TX, Marriott Rivercenter, May 17-20, 2020 (Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details here.

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News Notes

Compromise Saves Florida Toll Lanes—Sort Of   
The authors of a bill to convert the new express toll lanes on Miami’s Palmetto Expressway into general-purpose lanes agreed to withdraw their bill in favor of changes agreed to by Florida DOT headquarters. One lane each way of the toll lanes will be converted to a general purpose (GP) lane, a new access point to the express lanes will be added—and the tolls will be temporarily suspended. While the anti-toll legislators celebrated their victory, the toll suspension will likely demonstrate—dramatically—how much worse the congestion will be without variable pricing in those lanes.

Fitch Downgrades Miami-Dade Expressway Authority Bonds
In response to last year’s legislation to abolish the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) and make any new bond-financed projects there subject to the legislature’s approval, Fitch Ratings, on Feb. 20, reduced the rating of MDX’s $1.3 billion in revenue bonds from A- to BBB+. And the outlook for the toll agency has been changed to “Negative.” To underscore the larger context, Fitch also stated that the change “takes into account the acute level of political interference into the authority’s governance and rate-setting,” since the bill also reduces toll rates and places a moratorium on toll increases. The law abolishing MDX remains under legal challenge as this is written.

California Toll Bridge Needs Replacing, but Toll Revenues Go Elsewhere
The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge across the San Francisco Bay is—literally—falling apart and needs replacement. The estimated price tag is $8 billion, and the last major bridge replacement across the bay took 25 years to plan and build. The bridge has a modern transponder-based toll system, so what’s the problem? Several years ago Bay Area voters approved a plan to increase tolls on all the region’s toll bridges, aimed at bringing in $5 billion in new revenue. Was any of that earmarked for replacing obsolete bridges? Nope—the proceeds were dedicated to a laundry list of transit and smart-growth projects around the region. Whatever happened to users-pay/users-benefit?

Railroad Competition Coming to France
European Union regulatory change will soon open up rail infrastructure in member countries to competing passenger rail providers. French rail operator RATP is getting ready; it has formed a joint venture with Getlink, the owner of the Eurotunnel, to compete with state-owned rail operator SNCF. In 2018, RATP and Keolis won the bidding to provide service on the forthcoming express rail link to connect Paris with Charles de Gaulle Airport.

More Express Toll Lanes Coming to Charlotte, NC
With traffic in the new express toll lanes on I-77 exceeding forecasts, North Carolina DOT is well along in plans to add another such project. The new electronic toll lanes (ETLs) will be added to congested US 74, with one new lane in each direction, improving access to I-485. The project has the approval of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization. The estimated cost of the 6.5-mile project is $900 million. Prior to the start of construction in 2022, NC DOT will be making improvements to parallel routes, which should ease congestion during the express lanes’ construction.

Intercity Bus Service Continues to Grow
Making Connections: 2020 Outlook for the Intercity Bus Industry in the United States” is the latest annual report on this important segment of intercity passenger transportation. The recent report comes from the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University. There are now three major players with growing regional networks: Greyhound, newcomer Flixbus (from Germany), and Megabus. The report summarizes their growth and new services and also discusses changes in services being offered in this highly competitive industry.

Wyoming Senate Defeats I-80 Toll Proposal
Wyoming State Sen. Michael Von Flatern’s bill to request a slot in the three-state federal pilot program to allow toll-financed reconstruction of an Interstate highway was defeated by a vote of 18-11, despite having been sponsored by the Joint Highways, Transportation, and Military Affairs Committee. Because 2020 is a budget year in the state, non-budget measures require a two-thirds vote. If re-introduced next year, it could pass with a simple majority vote.

Younger People and Driving
The GreenCarCongress released a study on the fraction of Americans with a driver’s license, by age group. Not surprisingly, those below 18 with licenses are still far below their level in 1983—but their fraction has increased since 2014. In fact, every age group has from 1.3 to 5.1 percent more licensed drivers in 2018 than in 2014. One reason for the lower levels among teenagers is that most states, since 1983, have restricted teen licenses in various ways. And the National Association of Auto Dealers points out that sticker shock from today’s larger and higher-tech vehicles may be keeping many younger drivers out of the new car market. J.D. Power reports that the average new car cost $33,600 in 2019, up $1,100 from 2018.

Ride-Hailing and Urban Traffic Congestion
The Feb. 15-16 weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal carried a lengthy article by Eliot Brown, “The Ride-Hail Utopia Got Stuck in Traffic.” It cited a number of recent studies that link increased congestion with the rise of ride-hailing providers such as Uber and Lyft. More stop-and-go traffic on city streets also means less-efficient combustion and hence more emissions The Union of Concerned Scientists released a Feb. 25 study estimating that Uber and Lyft generate 70 percent more pollution than the trips they displace—which are often transit, biking, or walking trips. It’s a positive that both the WSJ and UCS correctly identified the phenomenon under discussion as ride-hailing, not “ride-sharing.”

Bestpass Adds Toll-by-Plate for Truckers
Trucking industry supplier of nationwide electronic tolling transponder and billing services, Bestpass, just announced that it is adding a toll-by-plate function to complement its transponder service. The new feature includes both power unit and trailer plates. Bestpass offers a comprehensive toll management service for trucking companies, which includes consolidated billing and reporting. The company was originally created as an arm of the New York State Trucking Association but now serves customers nationwide.

Amtrak Gains Approval for Portal North Bridge Replacement.
One of the two major projects in the controversial Gateway project to improve passenger rail access across the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey has won Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approval to apply for grant funding. The Portal North Bridge project will replace an antiquated swing bridge with a new $1.7 billion bridge. The other component—the $12.1 billion tunnel project—is still rated medium-low by FTA, making it ineligible for FTA grant funding. But US DOT has indicated it is open to interim repairs to the existing tunnels as a place-holder while alternative funding arrangements for a new tunnel are pursued.

Self-Service Gas Stations Will Not Be Banned in Illinois
A bill that would have required all gas stations in Illinois to have attendants pump gas for people has been withdrawn, a week after it was introduced. Currently, New Jersey is the only state that does not permit self-service gas pumping.

The Incredible Shrinking New York Metro Area
A new academic study from Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation finds that the four-state, 35-county metro area centered on New York City has slipped into absolute population decline spawned by domestic outmigration—“a vast exodus of regional residents moving to the rest of the country.” The decline would be far worse if it were not for continued immigration from overseas. While the authors cite “life-cycle movements, lifestyle preferences, and shelter-cost and livability impediments” as factors, they don’t mention the relative tax burdens of those four states compared with the Sunbelt states. “Urbs, Burbs, and the Immigration Locomotive” is by James W. Hughes, Connie O. Hughes, and Joseph J. Seneca.

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Quotable Quotes

“There is no free lunch and there is no free concrete. If the existing revenue does not match the existing need, then the only options are to raise revenue through taxes on all, or tolls on some. Throughout this whole melee, it was interesting to hear public officials and well-meaning citizens rebuke the idea of a toll as somehow being a violation of conservative principles. Here’s a news flash: research by the Alabama Policy Institute clearly indicates that one of the most conservative approaches to funding regional infrastructure is what is often referred to as ‘a user-pays system,’ or more commonly, a ‘toll.’ . . . If you want it, then you have to pay for it. If you have to pay for it, you have to have the revenue. If you have to have the revenue, then you face the choices of increasing taxation and growing government or (wait for it) reasonably establishing a pay-as-you-go system of funding. Any reader who claims to be a fiscal conservative is likely sitting back in their chair smiling now.”
—Phil Williams, “For Whom the Bridge Tolls,” Alabama Policy Institute, Dec. 9, 2019

“Since opponents of the managed lanes don’t have the support needed to kill the project outright, they appear to be imposing so many regulatory barriers and hurdles that the managed lanes become infeasible. Assembly members have filed bills that would ban nighttime construction, require local county consent, prohibit tolling, eliminate property acquisition, and artificially cap tolls so that the revenues would not be enough to fund the project. HR 84 would prohibit nighttime construction of the lanes. Most major highway construction projects feature nighttime roadwork and lane closings as a way to minimize disruptions during peak commute times and reduce costs. Given the existing levels of extreme congestion, closing lanes during the day would cause travel nightmares . . . HR 258 would prohibit the construction of any toll lane in Prince Georges County unless the local delegation approves it. Interstate highways are designed for interstate commerce, and they are owned by the states. While local government sentiment is important, any decision on where to build and how to fund the roadway should be left to the state government.”
—Baruch Feigenbaum, “The Misguided Efforts to Derail Maryland’s I-270 and I-495 Toll Projects,” Feb. 14, 2020

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Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.