- Gas stations in an electric vehicle world
- Why California high-speed rail failed
- Treating induced demand as a religion?
- Smart roads’ disappointing performance
- Opposition to FHWA’s proposed GHG regulation
- The private sector’s historic role in British toll roads
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
Shell, the world’s largest gasoline retailer with 46,000 stations in 80 countries, is showing off its gas station of the future in southwest London. Instead of gas pumps, the station has 10 fast chargers under artistic wood coverings. To keep customers occupied during charging periods of 20 to 40 minutes, it sells sodas, snacks, and basic groceries. Although it has only a few prototypes like the one in London, Shell already has 9,000 branded charging points in operation.
But as a lengthy article by Politico pointed out recently, it’s doubtful that many conventional urban gas stations with six or eight pumps can survive by converting to electric vehicle (EV) charging. The article explains the ongoing war between electric utilities and elective vehicle charging providers like EVgo and ChargePoint, along with truck stops and traditional gas stations. Until recently, most states had laws that prevented anyone but regulated electric utilities from selling electricity. Although that has been changing, the way electricity is provided to EV charge companies is economically untenable, at least in these early days of the transition from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles.
But before going further, let’s do a little math.** With today’s electric vehicle batteries and DC fast chargers, average EV charging takes 20 to 40 minutes—say 30 minutes on average. A typical gasoline fill-up takes about five minutes. Hence, the dwell time of the EV is six times as long as the gas-fueled car. A gas station with 14 pumps can refuel 14 cars in five minutes. During a 12-hour day, it can refuel 2,016 cars. But in that same 12 hours, the station can handle one-sixth as many electric vehicles—just 336. If the average price to provide an EV charge were the same as the average gasoline bill, the station owner would see a drastic reduction in revenue.
One alternative would be a much larger footprint for the electric vehicle (EV) station—up to six times larger to generate the same revenue. That will not be feasible in most urban areas, where affordable land adjacent to gas stations is mostly not available. But it’s a different story in some low-density suburban areas, exurbs, and on long-distance highways in rural areas. That is why convenience store chains and truck stop chains are better positioned than gas stations to be the providers of EV charging.
One early mover is North America’s largest truck stop operator, Pilot Company. As Utility Dive pointed out last month, Pilot has formed a joint venture with General Motors and EVgo to add 2,000 fast chargers to 500 of its U.S. “travel centers” (aka truck stops). It turns out that EVgo had already been working with gas station/convenience store chain Wawa and several others. As you may have noticed in recent years, non-urban gas stations increasingly include “convenience stores,” whose operating margins are higher than what they make from selling gasoline. One consultant told Utility Dive that convenience stores now sell 80% of America’s gasoline. So it should not be surprising that the National Association of Convenience Stores joined with the National Association of Truck Stop Operators in trying to influence what became the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) legislation to address gas-station/convenience store problems with electric utilities. That lobbying produced only lip service in the final legislation, but most states have already exempted gas stations and convenience stores from their bans on those businesses selling electricity to EV operators.
Gas stations have a long history, starting out as mere “filling stations” (a gas pump outside a general store), becoming full “service stations” offering an array of auto maintenance services, and more recently becoming self-service operations selling fuel in most urban locations but paired with a convenience store in suburbs, exurbs, and the countryside. My bet is on the truck-stop/convenience store EV charging model as the next step in their evolution.
Back in 2007, I read a number of reports suggesting that spending $33 billion of taxpayers’ money on a high-speed rail (HSR) system between Los Angeles and San Francisco would have costs exceeding benefits. The idea that a new rail corridor would cost less and be more beneficial than (a) adding priced express lanes to Interstate 5 between the two metro areas, or (b) getting more use out of the multiple airports in both metro areas that would offer travelers departure and arrival locations closer than downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco to their actual origins and destinations, struck me as ludicrous.
My concerns led to a highly detailed 2008 Reason Foundation study on the proposed system, released several months before voters statewide had to vote yes or no on a $10 billion general obligation bond issue to launch the project’s development. The 196-page “due diligence report” raised concerns about where the rest of the funding would come from, whether the travel time between Los Angles and San Francisco could actually be achieved, and the likelihood that if built, the rail system would require operating subsidies, like almost all overseas HSR systems. In Oct. 2008 testimony before the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, study co-author Joseph Vranich said, “The current proposal is untenable. The train will go slower than they say it will, will carry fewer people than they claim it will, and will cost much more than they say it will.” That all turned out to be correct.
It’s taken many years for the project’s failure to become widely recognized, but one dogged reporter has been on the California high-speed rail beat for more than a decade: Ralph Vartabedian, then at the Los Angeles Times and more recently writing major pieces for The New York Times. In his latest NYT article, “How California’s Bullet Train Went Off the Rails,” he reveals many new findings that explain mostly political decisions that led to the cost ballooning to $113 billion, with only a small segment under construction (from “nowhere to nowhere” in the middle of the state) and funding for the rest far from assured.
A key factor in the enormous cost escalation was the political decision early on to avoid the direct route between Los Angeles and San Francisco—paralleling I-5. That route would have relied in part on the existing state-owned right of way and avoided huge, costly battles with agricultural interests in the Central Valley who didn’t want their farms, groves, and ranches cut in half. It would also have avoided the much greater need for costly tunnels to cross the mountains between the two metro areas and the Central Valley. Vartabedian details the politicking that took place to put the route instead through Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, Madera, and other areas. That route was longer, encouraged low-traffic station stops, and ended up requiring slower speeds on shared trackage in both the San Fernando Valley and Silicon Valley. Vartabedian, for the first time, reveals who was responsible for that foolish route decision.
In the early years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority assured the state legislature and the media that the system would not require operating subsidies, so they were confident that private investors would cover part of the construction costs in exchange for some of the resulting fare revenue. In those years, European and Japanese high-speed rail companies spent time in California checking into the viability of the project, likely hoping to become part of it. As Vartabedian had previously reported (and notes again in the current article), French railroad company SNCF recommended the I-5 route as far wiser, facilitating the promised two-hour and 40-minute nonstop travel time. But the company lost interest when the longer and more-costly route was chosen. And no private investment in the system ever materialized.
Many people suspected politics was behind the foolish decisions, but for this detailed article, Vartabedian got many early supporters and decision-makers to acknowledge what actually happened and how those decisions made the project unlikely to ever be completed (and incapable of meeting the nonstop trip time promised to voters who approved the 2008 bond issue). Vartabedian and the New York Times have done this country a great service by unveiling how politics contributed significantly to making an already questionable project unviable.
A recent article in Transfers Magazine published by the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center argues for “spreading the gospel of induced demand.” Unfortunately, the article simplifies induced demand into a series of yes or no questions and then recommends that people, whom the article showed do not understand the concept, “become evangelical about it.”
The authors start by giving a brief introduction to induced demand. In the next section, the authors present the findings from a series of questions they asked 597 non-students and 520 university students throughout the U.S. about induced demand. I have some methodological concerns with the survey. The sample size is very small, so the margin of error could be very large. The survey used stated preference when revealed preference would have been a better process. The survey questions were binary, requiring yes or no answers. Yet induced demand falls within a range. The first question asked whether adding lanes to a roadway is “likely” or “unlikely” to reduce congestion in the long term. But the accurate grad school answer is “it depends.” If it is a low-density slow-growing area, then induced demand is unlikely. If it is a fast-growing area or one with a high population density and the new capacity is priced, induced demand is unlikely or at least smaller in magnitude. If the capacity is not priced, induced demand is likely.
The second question asked if transportation policy should make it easier for most people to drive for most trips or try to shift most trips toward public transit, walking, and bicycling. Again, why can’t the answer be both? Certainly, in rural areas, it makes sense to make it easier for people to drive, since other options might not be available. If you live in West Virginia and you live 20 miles from your job, walking does not seem like a viable alternative. And as the article does throughout, the paragraph includes a normative statement about “respondents who understood that road expansion will not alleviate traffic congestion.”
In a follow-up question, the authors asked what should be done about traffic congestion. They found that even those who agreed that induced demand is a problem supported road widening. The authors speculated that some respondents might support road widening to encourage economic development. Further, the article noted that 89% of respondents who agreed with induced demand thought building more transit would address the problem. Seventy-three percent thought transit was the best option. Yet the authors note that transit can also create induced demand since if more people use transit, more road space will become available for discretionary trips.
Finally, the survey examined whether people’s opinions on induced demand can be changed. It added “refutation text” claiming that adding lanes only reduces congestion over the short term. After reading the refutation text, support for expanding highways declined from 76% to 50%. But six months later, the researchers asked the same question and found support for road widening rebounded to 79%. The authors suggest the change in opinion was due to “acquiescence bias,” but it’s just as likely that, after experiencing congestion in their daily commutes, some people changed their minds.
After the research section, the authors switch to advocacy mode and recommend three calls to action. The first is that proponents should stop justifying roadway and transit projects with the promise of congestion relief. I agree with this recommendation. Highway projects can enable more economic activity, increase safety, improve freight delivery, and allow more people to use roadways. Congestion relief may not be a long-term benefit. Transit projects can help working-class residents reach their jobs, but they don’t reduce traffic congestion either.
The authors’ second recommendation is to spread the word about induced demand. But one of the main findings of the study is that almost nobody understands induced demand. If people don’t understand what it is, why are we asking them to teach it?
The third recommendation is to “update” our teaching on the subject. As somebody who completed a master’s degree project (mini-thesis) on induced demand, I’m dismayed that so few students understand it. But what individual will provide a balanced approach to induced demand? Perhaps retired University of California-Berkeley professor Robert Cervero would be willing to come out of retirement to teach the class. Cervero studied the phenomena of induced demand in California and then spent years pushing back about bogus claims about induced demand across the country.
More troubling is the authors’ recommendation of the “induced demand calculator,” which is used as a sort of propaganda tool and was created by several 501(c)4 advocacy groups. As I wrote in the January Surface Transportation Newsletter, the calculator does not provide an accurate measure of induced demand:
The calculator treats all new travel as bad. Yet increasing roadway capacity in urban areas has at least three benefits. First, new road capacity creates economic benefits. It allows employees to reach a larger number of employers in a given time, creating a better match between employees and employers. It promotes economic activity by increasing the number of consumers that can reach businesses in 15 minutes.
But the calculator’s biggest problem is that it is technically inaccurate. Instead of separating existing trips made at a different time or on a different roadway from new trips, the calculator assumes all new travel that happens at a given time on an expanded roadway at any given point is induced demand.
Most troubling is the report’s blurring of lines between research and advocacy. The authors advocate treating induced demand as a “religion.” Yet transportation research should be based on science. And religion and science are opposites. One requires creating a hypothesis and testing it using the scientific method. The other requires believing something as a fact without testing or questioning it. Neither this article nor the concept of induced demand should be treated as any type of gospel.
Engineering News-Record (ENR) published a major article on various kinds of “smart-road” technology in its Sept.5 issue, headlined “Laying Tech Test Tracks.” The subheadline gave away the findings: “Domestically and abroad, agencies are testing smart roads with mixed results.” The findings reinforced the skepticism I’ve expressed in previous newsletter articles about both on-road electric vehicle charging, now dubbed dynamic charging, and “solar roads.”
The idea of charging electric vehicles (EVs) while they drive on highways sounds appealing, as opposed to having to get off the road and sit waiting at a charging station for 45 to 60 minutes while the vehicle gets charged. The problems that are emerging in test projects reflect the practicality of actually doing this on a large scale, as well as the lack of a viable business model under which vehicle operators actually pay for the electricity they pick up while driving.
The ENR article profiles several test projects under way in both Europe and the United States. One startup is WiTricity Corp., in which Siemens recently acquired a minority stake. So far, all it has demonstrated is static charging, in which a bus or other vehicle is charged while sitting in one place. The big action is in dynamic charging, with several firms testing their approaches. One is Electreon, an Israeli startup. Early this year, it demonstrated dynamic charging on a 1km closed track near Milan, Italy. Electromagnetic coils were embedded in the roadway, in varying kinds of asphalt pavement, at a cost of $1 million per lane-km. The coils have an estimated life of 10 years. Trials of Electreon’s system are under way in Sweden on a 1.65 km highway section on Gotland Island. Electreon says that trial showed the vehicles could charge while driving at 80 km/hr (about 50 mph). More recently, Michigan DOT is gearing up for a trial of Electreon’s system on a 1-mile road segment.
To be able to pick up electric energy on the fly, an EV must be equipped with an Electreon receiver. For widespread use, in addition to many thousands of highway miles being equipped with in-pavement coils, all EVs would need to be outfitted with compatible receivers. And there must be a way to itemize the amount of electricity picked up by each vehicle so that the owner/operator can be charged for that amount. A contractor working with Electreon in Sweden noted to an ENR reporter that “There is still some work to do concerning standardization, industrialization, and the business model.” No doubt.
Let’s also do a bit of number-crunching about dynamic on-road charging. In the Italian trial, Electreon told ENR that a small Italian Fiat 500 drove for four hours on the closed track, and its small battery only went from 22% charged to 48% charged. On a highway trip, to get that modest increase in stored electricity, an EV going at 50 mph would have to be charging while driving 200 miles. A larger EV, like a Tesla, would have to drive a lot further than that, charging all the way, to get such a modest improvement in its stored electricity. That would require a huge amount of in-road coils, at $1.6 million per lane-mile.
Florida is also getting into dynamic charging tests. The Central Florida Expressway Authority is planning a $10 million dynamic charging pilot project on one mile of its upcoming Lake/Orange expressway. The roadway equipment, in this case, will be provided by Evolgy, a European company. The project is being coordinated by ASPIRE, an engineering research center at Utah State University, with support from the National Science Foundation. ASPIRE is also working with transportation agencies in Michigan, Indiana, and Utah on other dynamic charging pilot projects.
As of now, my assessment is that this is a cool-sounding idea that very likely will not make sense as an alternative to EV charging stations and has yet to set forth any kind of plausible business model.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has received more than 39,000 comments regarding its proposed regulation that would require state departments of transportation (DOTs) to track on-road greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the goal of achieving net-zero highway emissions by 2050. More than half of Senate Republicans (27) sent a letter to the FHWA deputy administrator arguing that there is no legislative basis for such a regulation. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association also objected to the regulation. But 28 Senate Democrats sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg supporting the proposed regulation.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), representing all 50 state transportation departments, sent a letter to FHWA pointing out that “consensus support” for the regulation is lacking among its members. AASHTO’s letter pointed out that “we do not see a provision in federal law that requires FHWA to establish a GHG emissions performance measure,” and that “FHWA’s [justification] of its legal authority for establishment of this new rule can lead to consequences beyond the intent of Congress.”
Critics have pointed out that a provision similar to the proposed FHWA regulation had been included in the House transportation reauthorization bill, but that bill was scrapped when Congress adopted the bipartisan infrastructure law approved by the Senate, which became the IIJA law signed by President Joe Biden. Hence, Congress had considered such a requirement but ended up rejecting it.
This matters because of a recent Supreme Court decision: West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. The majority opinion by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts found that the EPA had put forth a mandate for states to adopt a cap-and-trade scheme for carbon emissions, after a bill to require that had recently been rejected by Congress. In rejecting EPA’s assertion of legislative powers, the court expanded on previous vague provisions in its “major questions” doctrine. Under the clarification, a regulation may be challenged if it is economically significant and is based on a broad interpretation of a very vague statutory provision or no authorization from Congress. (For more details, see “A Major Win for Limited Government,” Cato Policy Report.)
I am not an attorney, but I think it’s highly likely that if FHWA proceeds to enact this proposed regulation, there will be immediate litigation based on the West Virginia decision, and that litigation is likely to lead to the regulation being thrown out. That will hand the matter back to Congress, where it belongs.
Robert Poole’s Editor’s Note: I met co-author Dan Bogart when he hosted me for my 2018 book tour appearance at the University of California-Irvine, where I learned of his already extensive research on United Kingdom turnpike trusts. This article is the concluding section of the authors’ new working paper on the subject, which I highly recommend.
We have shown that before the expansion of railways, a network of good-quality main roads across England and Wales provided a transport infrastructure that was fit for purpose. This contrasted with the generally expressed view that main roads had been in a poor state at the turn of the [19th] century. Government had intervened during this period, but the extent to which it was responsible for infrastructure improvement has been unclear. Our analysis demonstrates that turnpike trusts were responsible for building 4,000 miles of new, good-quality road in England and Wales, much of it between 1810 and 1838. On a directly comparable basis, the not-for-profit trusts built 30 times the mileage than had been built with direct government funding during the early 1800s. Nevertheless, government intervened successfully in less-direct, subtle ways across the wider road network.
Firstly, it provided a framework in which interest groups and government actors could explore both the problems and solutions to meeting demand. Member of Parliament Henry Parnell described their input as “working with the trusts,” though in practice, there was intervention for a short period in some trusts and increased regulation and greater public reporting for all.
Secondly, although the government-funded works of Telford created an iconic road to Holyhead, the exposure and approval given to McAdam and his methods in government enquiries persuaded many more trusts to employ him. This ultimately led to the age of standardization which was an indirect triumph for government intervention. We believe that this voluntary adoption of the expert-led approach resulted from the partnership of government with the not-for-profit turnpike trusts. It left some localism and conveniently kept the costs of road infrastructure on the road user, not direct taxation.
Finally, our analysis illustrates how the growing state capacity in England and Wales did not directly lead to a large increase in public goods and road infrastructure. In the main, it led to better regulation and support of not-for-profit trusts which could hold and efficiently manage nationally important infrastructure assets. The framework of support, targeted management intervention, and regulation established by government made the independent turnpike trusts of the early 19th century more capable than those which had begun to fail in the late 18th century. As such, our work points to a synthesis between the traditional view that turnpike trusts were the principal actors in creating the good road network of England and Wales and the revisionist view, which sees government as playing a large and leading role.
Two Possible Start Dates for New Charlotte Express Toll Lanes
The Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) board is interested in the proposed addition of express toll lanes on I-77 between Charlotte and the South Carolina border, but the question it must decide is how to finance and procure them. The North Carolina Department of Transportation explained to CRTPO board members last month that if the state develops the project, the earliest it could begin to receive funding is 2029. But if a long-term toll-financed public-private partnership like that used to develop the toll lanes now operational on I-77 north of Charlotte is used, the $2.1 billion project could begin several years sooner. NCDOT will pursue the option CRTPO recommends.
Electric Truck Charging Network Planned for I-10
Startup company TeraWatt Infrastructure has announced that it will develop and install charging stations sized for electric trucks along I-10 from California to Texas. Freightwaves quotes CEO Neha Palmer saying that “We have brought in the large amount of power that you need for large-scale EV charging, especially for those [heavy truck] large-battery formats.” Unfortunately, the charging stations cannot be located at existing rest areas on I-10, due to a federal law dating to 1960 that forbids offering any commercial services at Interstate rest areas. Hence, electric big rigs will have to leave I-10 and go to an offline location to get charged.
Modernized Service Plazas Are Opening on New York Thruway
Under a 33-year public-private partnership (P3), 23 of the 27 service plazas on the Thruway are being rebuilt and modernized. Last month saw the reopening of the third plaza, Junius Ponds in Seneca County, with new retailers Shake Shack, Starbucks, and an Applegreen Market Store. The revamped plaza includes outdoor picnic space, room for food trucks, a dog walking area, and (soon) two EV charging stations. The $450 million cost of the program is being met by Empire State Thruway Partners, which will pay the Thruway Authority 0.84% of each facility’s gross revenue for 33 years. Although most of the Thruway is an Interstate (I-90), because it is a toll road that predates the 1960 ban on commercial services, it and other tolled Interstates were exempted from the commercial services ban.
Express Toll Lanes Opening in California and Utah
New express toll lanes (ETLs) opened at the beginning of November on US 101 in the Bay Areaa and on I-15 in Utah. Both projects are extensions of existing express lanes added in recent years. In Utah, the I-15 ETLs now extend 82 miles from south of Salt Lake City to Ogden to its north. Utah DOT says this is the country’s longest continuous ETL corridor; it has one lane in each direction. The new California ETLs are in San Mateo County, from Redwood City to I-380 in South San Francisco. These 22 miles of new ETLs connect to recently completed ETLs on US 101 in Santa Clara County. The latter offer one express lane in each direction, rather than two in San Mateo County. The 101 express lanes are part of the growing network of such lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Melbourne Airport Rail Line Found Not Cost-Effective
A benefit/cost analysis of the proposed $8.3 billion rail line between downtown Melbourne and the Melbourne Airport has been found by Infrastructure Australia to be not worth building at this point. The net present value of the project was found to be -$2.4 billion, with a benefit/cost ratio of 0.5. Infrastructure Australia used the same 7% discount rate as America’s Office of Management & Budget (OMB). A business case assessment by the Victoria government used only 4%, with a benefit/cost ratio of 1.0. Infrastructure Australia noted that the rail line may be justified in the future, but the Tullamarine Freeway between the airport and downtown will not reach capacity until 2036.
Toll Traffic Volume at Pre-COVID Levels
Fitch Ratings on Oct. 17 reported that traffic volume on U.S. toll roads returned to 99% of its 2019 level during the first six months of 2022. Toll traffic lagged this average in the San Francisco Bay Area while exceeding 99% on most tolled facilities in Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas. The data were published in Fitch’s U.S. Airports and Toll Roads Traffic Monitor.
Gasoline Use Reached New High in 2022
Jeff Davis reported in the Oct. 20 issue of Eno Transportation Weekly that a record 6.8 billion gallons of gasoline were sold in the United States in the 2022 fiscal year (FY); the previous peak was in 2018. The data come from the year-end report from the Treasury Department on the receipts from the federal gasoline tax—$27.5 billion compared with $26.25 billion in FY 2018. Federal diesel tax receipts also reached an all-time high of $12.2 billion. Motorists and truckers evidently drove more than expected in FY 2022, and larger, heavier gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks are a larger component of the personal vehicle fleet. Legislated increases in federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements and increasing electric vehicle penetration will reduce fuel consumption in future years.
Audi Developing Anti-Pollution Devices for Electric and Conventional Vehicles
Rubber-tire vehicles operating on pavement generate particulate matter, 85% of which is caused by abrasion of tires and roadways. German auto company Audi, along with supplier Mann+Hummel is developing a filter in line with the radiator (on internal combustion vehicles) to trap these fine dust particles. On EVs, the filter can also be operated while the vehicle is stationary, and being charged. The filter system has been tested on Audi vehicles, including the electric e-tron.
Parkersburg Bridge Privatization Ahead of Schedule
The aging Memorial Bridge in Parkersburg, West Virginia, is being rehabilitated by United Bridge Partners, which is buying the bridge from the city. The $50 million renovation cost is being paid by UBP, whose contract with the city transfers ownership and operations to the company. UBP is also continuing to pay part-time toll collectors during reconstruction, despite the bridge being closed to traffic, and it is working on a severance package for them, since tolling will go all-electronic when the bridge re-opens in Aug. 2023, three months earlier than the original schedule called for. The toll when the refurbished bridge reopens is expected to be $1 compared with the prior 50 cents.
$1.5 Billion Rail Complex to Relieve Los Angeles Ports Congestion
BNSF Railway last month announced plans to develop a $1.5 billion rail facility in Barstow, 130 miles from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The purpose of the 4,500-acre facility is to allow containers offloaded from incoming ships to be sent by rail directly to the Barstow International Gateway, where the cargo can be transloaded from 40-foot international containers to 53-foot domestic containers for onward shipment by rail or truck. BNSF already has a rail yard on the property, which is linked to the railroad’s main lines heading east.
Hurricane Leads to EV Battery Fires in Florida
Among the impacts of Hurricane Ian on the southwest coast of Florida have been many vehicles damaged by flooding. State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis sent an alert on Oct. 6 to first responders, noting that corrosion from having been underwater has led to EV batteries catching fire. The next day the Fire Marshal’s Office sent out a detailed warning outlining recommended procedures from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It outlined what EV owners should do (and not do) if their vehicles experienced flooding and procedures for firefighters to deal with battery fires.
General Motors Thinks You Will Drain Your EV During Power Outages
The giant auto company last month announced the launch of a new division, GM Energy, that will sell electricity storage units to EV owners. The equipment will enable the EV owner to use electricity from the EV’s battery and/or the storage unit to supply electricity to their home during power outages. This might be fine for a half-hour outage, but as someone who lives in hurricane country, I’m very familiar with power outages lasting three to five days. One thing I don’t want during such a period is to be stranded, immobile, and unable to get to grocery stores or Home Depot to deal with other impacts of the hurricane.
Infrastructure Asset Recycling Proposed in Ecuador
Ecuador’s Minister of Transport and Public Works plans to lease existing airports and toll roads to investors, aiming to raise large enough up-front payments to reduce the government’s $64 billion debt. Inframation News reported (Oct. 21) that if Ecuador’s Congress approves a new investment law that would permit asset recycling, it will engage in feasibility studies of long-term P3 leases of two airports, a seaport, and several highways.
Will Construction Cost Inflation Consume New Federal Spending?
The July-August issue of ARTBA’s Transportation Builder magazine contains a graph of the sharply increasing costs of the inputs to highway and street projects. The producer price index for these inputs (excluding labor costs) has increased from 100 in 2014 to 150.1 as of June 2022, with most of that increase taking place since 2020. American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) chief economist Alison Premo Black noted, “The average cost of materials used in highway and street construction was up 15% in July  compared to July 2021.” With skilled construction labor also in short supply, a significant fraction of increased federal IIJA funding will be absorbed by the increased cost of already planned projects.
I-81 Syracuse Viaduct Removal Moving Forward
Engineering News-Record (Oct. 3) reports that the project to tear down the elevated I-81 route through Syracuse, NY, passed a milestone in September with the shortlisting of firms for the first phase of deconstruction. The total expected cost of removing the 1.4-mile viaduct and replacing it with a boulevard is $2.3 billion. Deconstruction is expected to begin by year-end and continue through 2025.
“Not looking good in hindsight are two former California governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Jerry Brown (D), who backed the [high-speed rail] plan as a way to reduce carbon emissions from cars and planes. Don’t feel too sorry for California voters, though, who brought this mess on themselves—first by approving the 2008 referendum, then by re-electing Brown in 2014 over moderate Republican Neel Kashkari, who campaigned against what he called the “crazy train.” . . . Full operation of a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bullet train would cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of 213 million gallons of gasoline per year, according to the high-speed rail authority’s 2022 annual report. That’s about a week’s worth of California’s fuel consumption in 2021. Surely there is a cheaper, less-grandiose way to achieve the same savings.”
—Charles Lane, “California ‘Crazy Train’ Is Still Going Nowhere Fast,” The Washington Post, Oct. 12, 2022
“Cal HSR is just the most dramatic example of the cultural framework that has overtaken public policy/projects in the last 20 years, where there is a general tacit agreement (diffused among several authorities, consultants, and elected decision-makers) that outcomes don’t have to be taken seriously—and that special interest orientation (ideology, mode, geography) is given the same weight as engineering economics—especially if the project is supported by ‘someone else’s money.’”
—Stephen Lockwood, “Just Another Piece of Mega-Pork,” posted on a private transportation blog, Oct. 14, 2022 (used by permission)
“The administrative state’s corrupting, fundamental forces are on full display in our MARAD/FOIA case [regarding the Jones Act], which is indeed right out of the textbooks. A federal agency tasked with supporting the U.S. transportation system and Merchant Marine has evolved over decades to become little more than a lobbying firm for a law (and industry) that actually undermines the agency’s statutory purpose. Its ‘advisory committee’ is stacked with industry insiders dedicated to preserving that harmful status quo, and its employees routinely strategize with lobbyists and other industry players—‘elites’ by anyone’s definition—to deliver [economic] rents, not to effectuate great policy, regardless of the harms that such actions cause.”
—Scott Lincicome, “My ‘Treason’ Charge and the New Right’s Governance Fantasy,” TheDispatch.com, Oct. 26, 2022
**Editor’s note Nov. 8, 2022: The original figures in this paragraph were incorrect and have been updated.