Surface Transportation News: Annual Highway Report, the feasibility of net zero by 2050, and more
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Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation News: Annual Highway Report, the feasibility of net zero by 2050, and more

Plus: Toll evasion with all-electronic tolling, a national per-mile user fee pilot, and more.

In this issue:

27th Annual Highway Report’s Rankings and Changes
By Baruch Feigenbaum

Reason Foundation recently released its 27th Annual Highway Report. Initially developed by the late David Hartgen and refined by our transportation and quantitative teams, the report evaluates state highway systems in four category types: expenditures (capital and bridge, maintenance, administrative, and other), pavement quality (rural Interstates, urban Interstates, rural arterials, and urban arterials), traffic congestion, and safety (structurally deficient bridges, rural fatality rate, urban fatality rate, and other fatality rates).

Consistent with past reports, the top-performing state highway systems come from a mix of high- and low-population states. The top five overall states in the 27th Annual Highway Report’s rankings are Virginia (1st, best overall out of 50 states), North Carolina (2nd), Tennessee (3rd), Georgia (4th), and Connecticut (5th). The five worst-performing states in overall highway condition and cost-effectiveness are Alaska (50th, worst overall), New York (49th), Hawaii (48th), California (47th), and Washington (46th).

Highly-populated states make up half of the top 10 in the 27th Annual Highway Report’s overall performance and cost-effectiveness rankings: Virginia (1st overall), North Carolina (2nd), Tennessee (3rd), Georgia (4th), and Florida (8th). All four geographic areas of the country had at least one state in the top 10 overall rankings. Virginia, in the South, ranks 1st overall. Connecticut, in the Northeast, moved up to 5th in the overall rankings. North Dakota, in the Midwest, ranked 9th overall, and Utah, 10th overall, was the highest-ranked state in the West.

The report found highway system performance problems in each category that seem to be concentrated in a few states. For example, more than 25% of the country’s rural Interstate mileage in poor condition is in just three states: California, Colorado, and Alaska. Similarly, more than 25% of the nation’s urban Interstate mileage in poor condition is in just four states: California, New York, Louisiana, and Hawaii.

This edition of the Annual Highway Report used 2020 data reported by state departments of transportation (DOTs) to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Traffic congestion and bridge data are from 2021.

The report also includes some changes in the data used and how we calculated the scores and rankings. First, the report’s disbursement figures and rankings are adjusted for urbanization. To better reflect that building and maintaining highways is more expensive in urban areas due to higher right-of-way and labor costs, Reason’s quantitative team used expected costs per lane-mile. We calculated this number by performing a LOESS regression between the spending per lane mile and the percent of urban lane miles across the state. Then, the score was calculated by dividing the actual expenditure per lane mile by the expected spending per lane mile.

Second, the report used Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Urban Mobility Report congestion data instead of the INRIX data previously used. With TTI data, we don’t need to rely on Census data for the number of commuters or to estimate the hours of congestion in non-INRIX cities.

Third, this year’s report replaced the Total Disbursements category with an Other Disbursements category and the Overall Fatality Rate with an Other Fatality Rate category. These changes eliminated double counting since the total categories counted disbursements or fatalities twice. In this edition, the Other Disbursements category includes law enforcement, safety, bonds, and interest payments but not capital and bridge, maintenance, and administration costs. The Other Fatality Rate category measures fatalities on minor arterials, collectors, and local roads, but not major arterials.

In this report, 14 states improved or declined by 10 or more places compared to their previous overall rankings. While the changes in methodology and calculating spending played a role in the changes, pavement quality and/or traffic congestion were usually more significant factors for a state’s overall ranking moving significantly compared to past years. Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Maryland, Alabama, Illinois, and Georgia each improved by more than 10 places in the overall rankings in this year’s Annual Highway Report. Idaho, Vermont, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, and Oregon each declined by more than 10 places in the overall rankings compared to the previous report.

As states examine factors that impact the overall rankings, Reason’s quantitative team sought to determine which factors may affect a state’s performance the most and which do not. Generally, the states that perform best tend to select highway projects using a quantitative cost-benefit analysis system, use innovative delivery practices, operate under a 21st-century DOT model described below, and are in right-to-work states.

Virginia and North Carolina, two top-performing states, have quantitative project selection processes. North Carolina puts all its projects through a screening process, with 40% of funding dedicated to statewide projects, 30% to regional projects, and 30% to local projects. Regions in Virginia can receive funding for projects through Smart Scale, a portion of state transportation funding that is set aside. A Virginia DOT working group is adjusting Smart Scale because it has underfunded larger metro areas in the last two cycles.

It is also essential for states to examine innovative project delivery methods. Using public-private partnerships (P3s) and design-builds (DBs) can be vital. With P3s, states work with private consortiums to build projects more quickly and cost-effectively than if the state builds the projects themselves. P3s can transfer risk, limit politicization, and bring innovation to transportation projects. Design-builds combine three steps into one (design, bid, and build to design-build), which reduces costs, and speeds up project delivery. It’s no coincidence that top-ranked Virginia is a leader in P3s, and fourth-ranked Georgia is a leader in design-build.

A third factor is having a modernized, 21st-century transportation department. When states were building the Interstate System decades ago, DOTs had many employees overseeing construction, engineering techs completing the design in-house, and federal compliance staff to meet U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. Today, state DOTs need fewer employees overall, but those employees must have more expertise and often earn higher overall salaries. For example, states need P3 experts who can oversee contract negotiations and ensure taxpayers are protected, and quality standards are met. States also need chief technology officers who can help ensure that technologies are successfully integrated into daily operations.

A political factor impacting costs and the report’s rankings is union representation. States that are right-to-work states, where union membership is much lower, tend to have higher overall rankings in the report not just because their costs were lower but also because their pavement conditions and bridge quality tended to be better. This was true in states that are more urban as well as those that are more rural.

Finally, our analysis found several factors were not significant. Climate (freeze/thaw cycle), terrain, and political representation did not play a major role in highway system quality. This may seem counterintuitive. However, it tracks with our findings that states with long freeze/thaw cycles (North Dakota) often perform better than states with little cold weather (Louisiana), and states with rugged mountainous terrain, like Utah, can still perform better than mostly flat states, like Iowa.

You can access the Annual Highway Report, each state’s detailed information and rankings, and more here. The full report is also here (.pdf). If you have questions about the Annual Highway Report, please feel free to contact me at

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How Feasible Is U.S. Net-Zero Emissions by 2050?

The transition from petroleum-fueled motor vehicles to electric vehicles is a critical component of the Biden administration’s plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, just 27 years from now. I’ve recently finished reading a 12-part report from IEEE Spectrum, the journal of the national organization for electrical engineers, that raises considerable doubts about this being doable.

The report appeared as a dozen-article series in IEEE Spectrum and is now available as an e-book under the title, “The EV Transition Explained.” I highly recommend this well-researched document.

In his introduction, author and researcher Robert Charette summarizes his 18 months of research and concludes the following:

“What I found is an intricately tangled web of technological innovation, complexity, and uncertainty combined with equal amounts of policy optimism and dysfunction. These last two rest on rosy expectations that the public will quietly acquiesce to the considerable disruptions that will inevitably occur in the coming years and decades. The transition to EVs is going to be messier, more expensive, and take far longer than the policymakers who are pushing it believe. . . . Transitioning to electric vehicles and renewable energy to combat climate change are valid goals in themselves. Drastically reducing our fossil-fuel use is key to realizing those goals. However, attempting to make such transitions at scale is fraught with problems, risks, and unanticipated consequences that need honest and open recognition so they can be actively and realistically addressed. . . . There is a cacophony of foolishness being spouted by those advocating the EV transition and by those denouncing it. It is time for the nonsense to stop, and some realistic political and systems thinking to begin.”

Needless to say, a short article here can’t begin to do justice to this 49-page e-book, so I will just provide a few examples of problems Charette identified.

We hear a lot about the need to transform the electricity grid, most of it focused on a huge expansion of high-voltage transmission lines to move renewable electricity from locations of wind farms and solar farms to urban areas needing to replace carbon-based electricity. Charette found that there are also serious electricity problems at the local level.

His case study of Palo Alto, California’s municipal electric distribution system is eye-opening. Palo Alto’s system was built for the electric loads of the 1950s and 1960s. It lacks the capacity to support all-electric homes and large-scale electric vehicle (EV) charging. The system’s 3,150 distribution transformers can each support about 15 households with 1960-era electricity consumption. More than several L2 EV chargers among those 15 households could create high-enough peak loads to overload or blow out that transformer. Palo Alto is pretty typical of the country’s 314 large metro areas and 465 medium-sized cities. Charette quotes a Georgia Tech energy researcher saying that “multiple L2 chargers on one distribution transformer can reduce its life from an expected 30-40 years to three years.”

Yet another problem is the lack of consensus on the best time of day for at-home electric vehicle charging. Most proposed policies aim to incentivize EV owners to charge during off-peak hours such as 9 pm to 5 am local time. But Georgia Tech’s Deepak Divan explains, “Transformers are passively cooled devices, specifically designed to be cooled at night.” Running EV chargers at night means the transformer would be running hot, seriously reducing its useful life.

This is just a small part of what is discussed in Charette’s Chapter 2, which mentions the simultaneous need to replace all fossil fuel electricity production over the next 27 years but doesn’t really go into the details.  Other chapters deal with the challenges of building a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers, creating a large-scale market for personal EVs, convincing consumers to buy EVs, how local policies will help shape the global competition on economy-wide electrification, the policy choices facing governments, including a valid debunking of some ridiculous academic proposals, various policy roadblocks, such as environmental impact report requirements being exploited by grass-roots opponents of transmission lines, wind farms, lithium mines, etc., and labor market impacts.

Charette’s final chapter is titled, “The Aftershocks of the EV Transition Could Be Ugly.” His message in this chapter is that the EV transition will not happen based on hope or wishful thinking. He cites worries from a number of researchers that there is a dearth of engineering and risk-management expertise to draw upon. Georgia Tech’s Divan notes that “while the number of EV users has exploded over the past few years, the number of experts who understand all the nuances [of EVs] has not exploded.”

This report is the best thing I’ve read on the EV transition. Everyone concerned about this subject should acquire and read this highly informative document.

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Rethinking the I-5 Oregon/Washington Bridge Replacement

The twin steel truss bridges that carry I-5 across the Columbia River between Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, look very old—and they are. One span was opened in 1917 and the other in 1958. The bridges definitely need replacing. They are a pollution-causing bottleneck on what is both an important truck route and a daily commuter route. A largely toll-financed replacement was abandoned last decade, over squabbles about both tolling and transit. But a revived project is gradually gaining support, despite remaining concerns about its cost.

This time, the most likely design will have four lanes plus a light rail line in each direction. Tolls, possibly variable, are forecast to somewhat reduce traffic congestion but pay for only about 19% of the project’s cost. The estimated cost is now $5 billion to $7.5 billion, broken down into the bridge itself, the light rail line, and an array of interchange work, approach lanes, and a shared-use path. To simplify this discussion, here is the average expected cost of each component:

Bridge replacement$2.04 Billon
Light rail$1.66B
Interchanges, etc.$2.55B

The four lanes each way would be more effective for congestion relief if at least one each way is a variably priced express toll lane. Based on the evidence of revenue generated on such lanes in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and northern Virginia, express toll lanes would generate a lot more than conventional toll lanes, meaning that tolls overall could likely cover significantly more than 19% of the new bridge’s cost.

Light rail was part of what caused last decade’s replacement bridge project to fail. It was staunchly opposed on the Washington side of the river but strongly supported in Portland. Proponents today tout it as almost free, since they count on a whopping federal New Starts grant to pay for the majority of its cost. That may or may not happen, but that’s not the whole story.

The question not being debated is how much better transit could be provided by express bus service on express toll lanes. That express bus service could be as fast and reliable as the planned light rail, but the benefits don’t stop there. The express buses could provide one-seat rides between numerous origins on one side of the river and numerous destinations on the other side. That would be very important to those who live or work in Vancouver since there are no existing light rail lines there, while Portland has several. And express buses don’t need to have their own lane if they can operate in express toll lanes that are priced to remain largely free-flowing. That means the entire extra bridge structure needed exclusively for light rail could be eliminated, which would save most or all of the estimated $1.66 billion for that component.

Making one of the four lanes each way an express toll lane would reduce the estimated bridge cost to $4.59 billion. Modest tolls on the regular lanes plus variable tolls on the express lanes might lead to tolls covering 40%-to-50% of the reduced bridge cost.

Incidentally, the Washington Trucking Association has said it could support tolls only if the new bridge has more lanes than the old one. Their goals appear to be reducing congestion and getting real value for the tolls they would be paying. This revised plan would offer increased value, less traffic congestion, and improved transit service. This self-help approach might even help the two states get a federal bridge grant.

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Toll Evasion with All-Electronic Tolling

I cheered when toll roads across America began going beyond optional “open-road tolling” (letting transponder-equipped vehicles bypass cash toll booths). And I cheered again when toll roads began eliminating cash-collection 20th-century toll booths, replacing them with all-electronic tolling (AET). In nearly all cases, all-electronic tolling means people either pay via a transponder, usually with a pre-paid account, or they are billed based on an image of their license plate. I’m not cheering these days, however, worried that the toll industry may have made a big mistake.

Last year at a conference of the International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association (IBTTA), I made notes on a presentation by James Hoffman, CEO of the North Texas Tollway Authority. In discussing progress toward electronic tolling interoperability, he noted that of those who need to be billed, 5% cannot be billed or collected from because the number on the plate does not correspond to any known owner or the image of the license plate cannot be read. That contributes to a total of 8.5% of tolls that cannot be collected. The cost of this is not simply the lost revenue; it’s also the staff time and expense devoted to collection efforts.

More recently, an array of news articles crossed my screen about license plate fraud. A Streetsblog post by Gersh Kuntzman was headlined “See How Easy It Is to Buy a Fake New Jersey License Plate.” It featured work by Jesse Coburn examining a large national black market that is enabling fraudsters to buy a phony “temporary” plate made of paper, generally good for 30 days. Other articles showed photos of black-market license plate frames with what looks like a clear plastic cover that shows up blank on most of the cameras used to take license-plate images at tolling points.

In February, Mark Hyman and Larry Deal of TND” s “Inside Your World Investigates” posted a detailed story, “License to Steal: How Toll Booth Thieves Are Getting Away With It.” They assessed the New York Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority (TBTA) as having the most accurate data on this kind of toll evasion. Assuming that the percentages tracked by TBTA are typical of other toll agency experience, they applied a comparable fraction of revenue to toll transactions in 17 states (all E-ZPass members). The estimated total was $305 million per year in uncollected tolls. And as noted above, there’s the additional cost to each toll road operator of the time and money devoted to collection efforts.

This is not really 21st-Century tolling as it was intended to be. The only exceptions to this dire situation are the few express toll lane operations that do not offer “pay-by-plate” options, using cameras only for enforcement purposes. The only one I know for sure is the express toll lanes on I-95 in South Florida.

This problem needs to be solved, not only for the toll industry’s financial viability (including its goal of nationwide electronic tolling interoperability). It will also be critically important to the implementation of mileage-based user fees nationwide as the needed replacement for per-gallon fuel taxes.

Here’s an analogy to start thinking about. Numerous retail establishments used to offer their own credit cards, and some large ones, such as Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Target still do, despite nearly everyone having MasterCard and Visa cards. Why do they do this? They want to ‘own’ their customers so they have more data and can send them promotions and offer inducements to shop more often. But by owning their customers, they also have to deal with late payments, bad debt, collection agencies, etc. They have billing and collection problems, just like today’s all-electronic toll roads.

21st-century toll roads do own the large majority of their customers—those who’ve set up pre-paid accounts, so they are able to send them information, offer them promotions, and other offers. But for these toll customers, they have outsourced any billing and collection to the credit card companies. The cost to the toll agency is very small per transaction, due to the huge economies of scale of the global credit card companies.

One short-term change many toll agencies could make is to increase their surcharges for pay-by-plate customers to fully cover billing and collection costs, which I’d wager would mean charging twice the rate they charge pre-paid transponder account holders. That would reduce the toll agency’s billing and collection costs and toll revenue losses.

But what electronic road pricing really needs is a system that takes full account of the vast economies of scale of institutions such as credit card companies. A fully interoperable nationwide tolling system cannot be based on hundreds of providers each doing its own billing and collections. Nor can any kind of workable nationwide system of road user charges. If you think toll evasion is a big problem today, just imagine the potential problem when all miles on all roads must be paid for via mileage-based user fees.

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Where Is the National Per-Mile User Fee Pilot Program?
By Marc Scribner

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also commonly known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, was enacted in Nov. 2021. Among the many provisions was a new program to establish the National Motor Vehicle Per-Mile User Fee Pilot. The idea was to test the feasibility of replacing federal fuel taxation with a direct mileage-based user fee that is agnostic on vehicle propulsion. This is motivated by the need to future-proof highway revenue collection in the face of rapidly rising fuel economy and growing electrification in the vehicle fleet. But it’s now been a year and a half since the bill was signed into law and the national pilot is nowhere to be seen. Given that successful implementation of the pilot and reporting results to Congress will take multiple years, it is important for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to begin implementation as soon as possible.

Congress authorized the National Motor Vehicle Per-Mile User Fee Pilot in Section 13002 of IIJA, which became law on Nov. 15, 2021. In doing so, Congress laid out a number of parameters on participant inclusion (e.g., vehicle type and geographic distribution), collection mechanisms (e.g., in-vehicle telematics, fueling stations), privacy and data security protections, rate design (e.g., vehicle weight, congestion), and payment. It also contained a number of implementation deadlines that build on each other and were designed to ensure Congress receives meaningful results from the pilot.

Here is the timeline of relevant national pilot program deadlines that Congress provided in IIJA:

  • Nov. 15, 2021: IIJA becomes law.
  • Feb. 14, 2022: Federal System Funding Alternative Advisory Board established.
  • Feb. 15, 2023: The Advisory Board provides implementation recommendations to DOT.

After receiving the Advisory Board’s recommendations, USDOT is to formally implement the pilot. Once participants are enrolled, USDOT then is directed to report to Congress within one year on its progress. IIJA also established the Strategic Innovation for Revenue Collection (SIRC) technical assistance grant program for state and local mileage-based user fee pilots, replacing the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives (STSFA) grant program established by the 2015 FAST Act surface transportation reauthorization. The SIRC program contains an additional deadline for USDOT to report to Congress by Nov. 15, 2024, on the results of both the national pilot and SIRC-funded state pilots.

To date, the U.S. Department of Transportation has not achieved any of these statutory milestones, the first of which is the creation of the Advisory Board that should have been established more than a year ago. Despite Congress’s inclusion of FY 2022 in its authorization, no SIRC grants have yet been made available to state and local governments. The upshot is that DOT has made zero progress on testing the viability of per-mile charging as a replacement for per-gallon taxation as Congress ordered.

This raises the question if DOT will be able to provide meaningful results of the pilot program to Congress in advance of the next surface transportation reauthorization due by Oct. 1, 2026. Establishing the Advisory Board requires that a notice be published in the Federal Register, which will be followed by a 30-day comment period for membership submissions. Background checks must be performed on potential members, which generally take a few months.

Realistically, even if USDOT began the process for establishing the Advisory Board today, it would not be up and running until Oct. 2023. If the Advisory Board submits recommendations on time, that would mean USDOT likely wouldn’t begin actually implementing the pilot until Oct. 2024, one month before the report to Congress on the results of the national pilot and SIRC-funded state and local pilots is due. Assuming it takes USDOT six months to complete national pilot participant enrollment—a very ambitious assumption given USDOT’s inaction—Congress would receive its other progress report in April 2026, just six months before the next surface transportation authorization is due.

Congress had intended that establishing the National Motor Vehicle Per-Mile User Fee Pilot in 2021 would lead to meaningful insight into the viability of replacing per-gallon taxation with per-mile charging in time for the next reauthorization due in 2026. Unfortunately, this is increasingly unlikely due to the transportation department’s failure to make any progress in implementing the national pilot. In the meantime, Congress should continue following mileage-based user fee activities underway in the states and start asking USDOT leadership questions about its failure to move forward on the national pilot.

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P3 Truck Toll Bridge Makes Debut in Illinois

The CenterPoint Intermodal Center (CIC) is located in Joliet/Elwood, Illinois, near I-80, a major east-west truck route. It is the nation’s largest inland port, where containers are interchanged between freight trains and heavy trucks. As many as 20,000 trucks pass through it each day.

There was no direct connection between CIC and I-80, so trucks would use various surface streets to make their way to and from the Interstate. CIC came up with the idea of a privately financed toll bridge to provide a nonstop, direct-access route between I-80 and their huge facility. They reached an agreement with United Bridge Partners, which has financed, designed, and built a growing number of toll bridges in Virginia, Indiana, and Michigan. The project, which opened to traffic in April, is a new 1.5-mile extension of Houbolt Road, including a 0.4-mile bridge over the Des Plaines River.

The public-private partnership agreement is based on a 99-year lease of the toll road and bridge, with agreed-upon toll rates, on the basis of which UBP was able to finance the construction. UBP installed all-electronic tolling, so there are no toll booths or toll delays. While trucks are likely to be the large majority of users, the facility is open to all categories of vehicles, personal and commercial. Initial transponder toll rates are $2 for personal vehicles, $4 for medium trucks and personal vehicles with trailers, and $8 for heavy trucks; those without transponders will pay considerably more.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) oversaw the P3 agreement, under recently approved authority to use alternative delivery of projects, including design-build and P3s. IDOT is currently seeking a public-private partnership consultant to advise on the feasibility of implementing some projects via P3s and other alternative contracting methods, as Inframation News reported on May 4.

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News Notes

Florida Legislature Tries Again to Take Over Miami Toll Road System
Several years ago, anti-toll Republican state legislators from Miami helped push through a state bill to abolish the locally-run Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) and replace it with a state-dominated agency that would not add needed extensions of the system. Citing its home-rule authority, county officials successfully sued to overturn that measure as violating its home-rule charter. But as the Miami Herald reported on May 2, the same faction is trying again, with the new proposal being a pseudo-two-county agency (by adding a gravel road in the northeast corner of adjacent Collier County). As of this writing, the bill has passed both houses of the state legislature.

Latest Virginia Express Lanes Project Faces NEPA Lawsuit
The Northern Virginia Citizens Association, an anti-highway group, filed an environmental lawsuit against the already under way 495 NEXT project that will extend the existing express toll lanes on I-495 three miles northward to connect with the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the American Legion Bridge. The project won federal environmental clearance in July 2021, reached financial close in Feb. 2022, and had its groundbreaking soon thereafter. Construction is under way via Transurban’s design-build contractor, Lane Construction. The rationale for the lawsuit is the claim that the project has been changed, due to the major Maryland express lanes project (including replacing the bridge) being terminated earlier this year, and therefore the previous environmental clearance is not valid.

Toll Roads Fully Recovered in 2022—Fitch Ratings
Traffic on U.S. toll facilities reached 98% of 2019 levels by the end of 2022, according to a report from Fitch Ratings’ Traffic Monitor. Most toll roads and express toll lanes in Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma exceeded 2019 levels, as did the 91 Express Lanes in Orange County, CA. But some toll facilities in California and New Jersey achieved only 80-90% recovery, according to the report. Traffic Monitor is Fitch’s web-based platform that provides current traffic levels on more than 50 U.S. toll facilities.

Projects Facing Huge Construction Cost Increases
Engineering News-Record reported (April 17-24, 2023) that the cost of widening congested I-10 in Baton Rouge had increased by nearly $200 million, to a revised cost of $925 million due to soaring prices for concrete and steel. On April 18, Jeff Davis of the Eno Center for Transportation reported that FHWA’s National Highway Construction Cost Index has increased by 50% over the past two years (third quarter 2022 over third quarter 2020), The largest component of the increase was asphalt, followed by grading and excavation. Given these increased costs, it’s unclear how much additional construction will be made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Walmart Expanding EV Charging to Thousands of Stores
Hyperdrive reported (April 6, 2023) that retail giant Walmart plans to add thousands of electric vehicle charging stations by 2030. The new stations will expand the company’s EV charging network from the current 1,300 fast chargers at 280 locations. The retailer has 4,700 U.S. stores plus 600 Sam’s Club locations. Walmart says that 90% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart location.

Autonomous Farm Vehicles Growing Rapidly
While autonomous personal vehicles and commercial trucks still have limited domains in which they can operate safely and reliably, the market for autonomous agricultural vehicles seems to be booming. As Richard Bishop explains in a commentary (March 30, 2023), farm fields are a far more controlled environment than public highways and local streets, and they are privately owned. Major agricultural suppliers, such as John Deere, have been providing precision GPS-guided farm vehicles and at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show, John Deere introduced the world’s first fully autonomous tractor. Companies large and small are developing autonomous technologies for planting, fertilization, weed control, and irrigation, aimed at reducing waste, saving money, and being environmentally friendly.

North Carolina Bill Would Expand Tolling and P3s
Faced with projected declines in fuel tax revenues, a bipartisan group of legislators in the North Carolina State Senate have drafted a bill to expand tolling and increase the number of tolled projects that could be developed as long-term public-private partnerships (P3s). The bill would also increase fees on hybrids and electric vehicles, reports public broadcaster WUNC.

Electronic Tolling Interoperability Progress
Two regional tolling interoperability hubs have linked up, enabling customers of any of the participating toll facilities to have their transponders read at any of the other toll facilities. The Southeastern hub (SEIOP) representing the Florida toll providers recently joined forces with the Central U.S. hub (CUSIOP), which includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas toll roads. System provider ETC, which helped develop CUSIOP, last year won a contract to develop a comparable hub for the Inter Agency Group which manages tolling for the toll roads in 19 eastern and midwestern states. The resulting E-ZPass hub will then interface with SEIOP and CUSIOP, bring national interoperability even closer.

Struggling California High-Speed Rail Wants $8 Billion from Washington
The 171-mile section of the California high-speed rail project that is actually under construction from Madera to Bakersfield has an estimated cost, for the segment, of between $32 and $35 billion. Its funding plan expects $8 billion of that to come from the federal government—specifically from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Rail Grant budget. As Jeff Davis pointed out in Eno Transportation Weekly (March 24, 2023), that would be 25% of what IIJA has on offer for passenger rail. With 535 members of Congress, only 54 of whom are from California, the odds of success strike me as low.

California Truck Bottleneck Project Under Contract
The congested section where State Route 57 and SR 60 come together in the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California now has a construction contractor. Skanska signed a $267 million contract last month to reconstruct and partially widen portions of this bottleneck, which ranked 7th among the top 100 U.S. truck bottlenecks, as assessed by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry research organization.

Is the Jones Act Unconstitutional?
That’s the question posed by Jonathan Adler, a Case Western University law professor in an April 24 post on the legal blog, The Volokh Conspiracy. Adler points out that Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution, prohibits Congress from giving preference to “the ports of one state over those of another.” Adler cites an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Sam Heavenrich for bringing this idea to his attention.  

More Evidence that Climate Models Run Hot
In a recent commentary on, science correspondent Ronald Bailey cites a recent array of temperature increase measurements, nearly all of which show warming taking place at 0.18 to 0.20 degrees Celsius per decade. That is about half the average rate per decade in the latest major climate models. Bailey cites a very recent paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmosphere in which National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers estimated total troposphere temperature is increasing at 0.14 degrees Celsius per decade. Climate data impacts transportation initiatives and their timelines.

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Quotable Quotes

Q [Washington Post]: “How do you ensure a [major infrastructure] project starts right?”
A [Bent Flyvbjerg]: “There are two things to be sure you have: good funding and a good team. You get the front end right by asking questions—’Why are we doing this project?’ Our brain has a tendency to run with the first idea that comes up, the first idea that makes itself available to our brain. ‘What is the basic need that we’re trying to meet here? What are the different ways we could meet that need’ and so on. You need to keep homing in on these questions at the outset and make sure that everybody agrees on why you’re doing it and what the best solution is.”

Q: “Explain what you mean by ‘Think slow, act fast’?”
A: “[T]his doesn’t necessarily mean thinking for a very long time, but it does mean that you slow down and try to avoid [biases] that are likely to trip you up. Know why you are doing this project. And when you’ve thought slow at first, you can act fast. You are able to deliver much faster if you really have a sound project up front. Part of this process is setting the goal, which seems like such an obvious thing. But in many projects, people get that wrong or they miss the answer. People may actually disagree on what the goal is, but they don’t know they disagree until much later when they start delivering the project. Then they realize, ‘Well, this is not what I meant.’ There can be many different stakeholders who have different ideas of what the project should be. That happens a lot of the time.”
—Bent Flyvbjerg, Lori Aratani, “Most Infrastructure Projects Are Late, Over Budget. He Hopes to Fix That,” The Washington Post, April 28, 2023  

“The Gentry—disproportionately located in urban and suburban clusters—sustain their longstanding antipathy to development in general, and cars and roads in particular, even as demographic trends are making mass transit even less relevant to more and more people. . . . As ever more people seek the lower costs and increased comfort of life outside the megalopolises, the Gentry pushing for ever greater public investment in ever less-rational mass transit are simply ignoring the interests of millions for whom mass transit will never be an option. At the same time, the failure to invest in roads (new construction and maintenance) can throttle the burgeoning movement to dispersed development, and the opportunities they offer those without the resources to live and work under conditions many Gentry prefer. Thus, like so many Gentry attitudes, reflexive aversion to cars, and the corresponding promotion of mass transit (for others), is essentially reactionary and objectively anti-poor.”
—Maynard F. Thomson, “Musings of a Dispatcher’s Friend,” The Dispatcher, May 2023

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