- Major Louisiana bridge P3 faces trucking opposition
- Caution signal for the proposed Cascadia HSR project
- The comeback of intercity bus service
- What role should local governments play regarding automated vehicles?
- Is the electric vehicle future an impossible dream?
- News notes
- Quotable quotes
The good news is that the public-private partnership (P3) procurement process for the much-needed replacement of the Calcasieu River Bridge on I-10 near Lake Charles, Louisiana, has a winner. The selected team is Calcasieu Bridge Partners, led by Plenary Americas, with Sacyr Infrastructure and Acciona Concessions. That is welcome news for several reasons. Despite being on I-10, the bridge predates the Interstate system, which opened in 1952 and is well beyond its design life. With only four lanes, it is a bottleneck on I-10, which has six lanes on each side. So the bridge clearly needs to be replaced.
With an expected cost of $2.1 billion, there was no realistic way that federal and Louisiana programs would produce that sum. Hence, the plan calls for toll financing and a procurement method well-suited to megaprojects—a long-term revenue-risk public-private partnership. To address concerns about the costs to locals who use the bridge for commuting, the proposed toll plan calls for a 25-cent transponder toll for residents of the five adjacent parishes. That’s not unusual where a bridge serves numerous local commuters.
The problem that has arisen is fierce opposition from the Louisiana Motor Trucking Association, which has begun a campaign arguing that the proposed truck tolls “disproportionately burden the transportation and trucking industry with funding the project.” As per the standard playbook from American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, the expressed concern is that “the toll is a double tax on truckers and citizens who already pay fuel taxes.”
I have stated elsewhere that trucks using highways and bridges that are paid for entirely by tolls should not also have to pay fuel taxes for those tolled miles. Indeed, under long-established policies for the Massachusetts Turnpike and the New York Thruway, truckers can obtain refunds for certain state highway taxes paid when they use those toll toads (and Bestpass has automated the process of obtaining those refunds for its toll-management customers).
Louisiana officials have worked hard to find half a dozen non-toll funding sources for this bridge megaproject. The project budget includes $375 million in federal grants and another $425 million in state funding, which together cover 38% of the $2.1 billion project budget. The bridge replacement is badly needed, and tolls are the only remaining funding source.
The idea of addressing “double taxation” by giving refunds of the state fuel tax would make very little difference in this case. The Louisiana diesel tax is 20 cents per gallon. The bridge project totals 5.5 miles including approach roads. A Class 8 big rig gets about 7.2 miles per gallon, so it would use less than one gallon traversing the project. Refunding the 20 cents worth of diesel tax would make no real difference compared with the planned large-truck transponder toll of $12.50 per crossing.
The reality is that a major bridge replacement requires a very large one-time budget, and it’s only fair that those who will use and benefit from the much-improved bridge pay for, at least, the majority of its cost. Long-term financing based on toll revenues is a widely used method worldwide and is increasingly being used here in the United States, as well. It is planned for the new Mobile River Bridge in Alabama and is being used for the new Gordie Howe International Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, as well as the replacement of the obsolescent I-5 bridge across the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.
As for the message that the trucking industry is “paying its way” via existing highway taxes, the industry’s current campaign in Congress calls for reducing what it pays into the federal Highway Trust Fund. Overall, trucking currently accounts for 43.2% of the Highway Trust Fund’s annual revenue: $10.5 billion from diesel taxes, $5 billion from the federal excise tax on new trucks, and $1.3 billion from a heavy-vehicle use tax. ATA and its trucking allies are asking Congress to repeal the federal excise tax to encourage more purchases of new, cleaner trucks. But they have not proposed any replacement for the $5 billion. So despite claims that “trucking pays its fair share” of highway costs, the industry is proposing a $5 billion annual cut in the Highway Trust Fund to benefit its members and truck producers. That’s hardly consistent with claims of paying its fair share of highway and bridge costs.
Since 2016, fans of high-speed rail have been enthusiastic about what has been dubbed an “Ultra High-Speed Ground Transportation System,” linking Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. Early studies in 2018, 2019, ad 2020 painted a kind of rosy scenario, suggesting that this Cascadia project could do better than the troubled California high-speed rail project. Fortunately, before going further, the Joint Transportation Committee of the Washington state legislature commissioned an independent, unbiased review of the data and assumptions used in the previous studies. That review, done by RSG in association with STV, Inc., was released in June.
Consultant reports, like those prepared for Congress by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, are often couched in language crafted to avoid offending anyone, and this report follows that model. However, long-time transportation policy analyst Charles Prestrud of the Washington Policy Center has provided his own summary of the report, restating key findings in everyday wording.
To begin with, the project’s early estimate of capital costs, $24 billion to $42 billion, would now be equivalent in today’s dollars to $36 billion to $63 billion, and that still strikes me as very low, given the other factors mentioned in the RSG assessment. These factors include the need for extensive tunneling costs, both to get through mountainous areas and quite possibly to avoid huge right-of-way acquisition costs and litigation in the three urban areas. RSG sees more tunneling needs than prior studies and estimates their cost as closer to $450 million per mile rather than the earlier estimate of $230 million a mile. Overall, RSG estimates that 80-to-90 miles of tunnel will be needed.
As with other HSR projects, another key question is the realism of ridership forecasts. RSG points out that the stated preference survey used in a prior study was not representative, being drawn far too much from social media. Prestrud points out that RSG failed to note that passenger volume on Amtrak’s current Cascades service in basically the same corridor peaked in 2011 and that Sound Transit’s commuter rail ridership between Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett is only half what it was prior to the pandemic. Also, RSG failed to consider improvements in airline service in the corridor, which would compete with the HSR line.
Whatever the true cost is likely to be, funding will be a real challenge. RSG notes the limited ability of the California high-speed rail project to secure federal funds and also reminds readers that the California project expected private-sector investment but got none.
Alas, nowhere in the RSG study is there a benefit/cost analysis. To be sure, there are the usual models of economic impact, job creation, etc. But there is no attempt to total up the costs and compare them to the estimated benefits. You could create a lot of economic impact by spending taxpayers’ money to build an elaborate set of pyramids, but beyond the construction jobs created during that limited span of time, what would the long-term benefits be, compared with the capital costs? Most economists would agree that a multi-billion dollar investment whose benefits are less than the project’s cost makes society poorer. The study makes an attempt to show that passenger fares in some scenarios might cover operating and maintenance costs but would not cover any of the capital costs.
At this point in time, the California high-speed rail project should be seen as a lesson in what not to do.
Intercity bus service was decimated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most customers quit traveling, and about two years ago First Group, owner of market leader Greyhound, sold the company to FlixBus.
But over the past 18 months, the intercity bus industry has made a tremendous comeback. Joe Schwieterman of DePaul University notes that many new services have been started in the Midwest and California. Both Intercity Trails Bus and Flix Bus operate multiple daily trips between Chicago and Detroit. Flix Bus operates service between Chicago and Michigan State’s campus in East Lansing. There are now three different companies offering bus service between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Megabus offers new service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and to Sacramento. Luxury provider Vonlane now offers service between Memphis and Nashville adding to existing Greyhound service between the cities. In fact, many of the bus operator route maps, including the Megabus map, now stretch almost coast to coast.
While the pandemic slashed ridership and led to bankruptcies, the strong demand for bus service post-pandemic coupled with the relatively low costs (both capital and operating) of bus service has led to a resurgence. Most bus lines operate with no explicit subsidy compared with passenger rail lines. And while they might not attract the attention of politicians the way passenger rail does, bus service is more widespread than Amtrak in most areas of the country.
Even between New York City and Washington D.C. where Amtrak has the two services that lose the least amount of money (Acela, Northeast Regional), there are almost 50 bus lines serving different demographics. The Chinatown buses that originate in certain geographic areas are the most well-known. But there are also luxury bus operators such as The Jet and discount operators like FlixBus. Some bus lines such as Tripper Bus operate between the suburbs in those two cities. And there are still plenty of traditional buses such as Greyhound or options that use technology such as Megabus.
And bus prices are typically very affordable, even for the more upscale options. Bolt Bus, Megabus, and Tripper Bus have tickets for $1 to $25 each way, depending on how far in advance tickets are purchased. Mid-priced options such as Greyhound charge about $20 per trip. The most expensive options charge $30 to $100 one-way, although they offer a $50 to $150 round-trip options.
Amtrak’s regional trains offer a $20 one-way fare for travel purchased a month in advance but are a much pricier $115 when purchased a week before travel. Acela trains are $143 one month in advance but about $250 if purchased one week out. And first class on Acela can cost $500 for a one-way ticket, sometimes more expensive than a first-class airplane ticket. Amtrak is able to match bus tickets at the low end of the price range, but its higher-end products cost much more, even compared to buses that offer amenities such as food, wi-fi, and reserved seats.
And, anecdotally to this author’s eye, the Amtrak experience is not noticeably better for that higher price. That $250 Acela service comes with access to the food car where passengers can buy sandwiches and snacks. Only first-class passengers receive free food. And Amtrak New York-to-Washington, D.C, trains have at least five stops while many buses have no stops and some have one or two.
Competition is important. Customers should be able to choose the option that works best for them, and rail may be a better option between Manhattan and downtown Washington, D.C. The problem for taxpayers is that every rail line that Amtrak operates is subsidized—when including the track and electric power as well as the other capital and operating costs. And when minimally subsidized bus service can provide similar services at much lower costs, policymakers need to question the need for the subsidized service.
I compared Amtrak and bus services in the Northeast, and even in that most rail-friendly environment, buses had an advantage. But the difference is even starker in the rest of the country, where Amtrak operates on freight rail lines. On some lines, Amtrak loses $500 per passenger on its service. Many political leaders think that if the law mandating that Amtrak trains get priority over freight rail was enforced more strictly, it would improve Amtrak’s on-time performance and financial picture. But since Amtrak often operates behind schedule and is financially in the red on the track it owns in the Northeast, that seems unlikely.
Yet, many politicians love trains, and the most recent federal surface transportation law—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—increased passenger rail funding by $66 billion. Other changes to the rail program allow federal funding to cover 90% of the costs of new service, an increase over the 80% federal funding currently covers. Further, this provision previously applied to discontinued passenger rail service; now it is for any new line that would, “Enhance connectivity and geographic coverage of the existing national network of intercity rail passenger service,” which is any new line. Sections 21201 and 21202 of the law give the railroad $12.5 billion in supplemental appropriations it can tap from the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.
Given that intercity buses are an excellent substitute for, if not an improvement in many ways over, Amtrak service, it makes no sense for taxpayers to heavily subsidize trains. In many ways, providing Amtrak with subsidies is a wealth transfer from the working class to wealthier train riders. If the market is providing a better option, in this case, cost-effective bus service, it is poor public policy for the government to use taxpayers’ money to prop up a failing alternative.
San Francisco remains a global leader in automated vehicle (AV) deployment, with Waymo and Cruise offering robo-taxi service in the city. Cruise has already received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to offer driverless rides for compensation. Both companies are seeking CPUC permission to expand their operations, but have run into local opposition from some San Francisco officials. With automated vehicle developers planning to enter new markets and scale their operations across the country, one issue raised is the importance of local political buy-in to automated vehicle deployments in the United States.
In the U.S., the regulation of motor vehicles is divided among various levels of government. The federal government regulates vehicle safety, performance, construction, and design, as well as operations for commercial motor vehicles. States are responsible for managing infrastructure, as well as driver licensing, vehicle registration, traffic operations, law enforcement, insurance, and liability determination. Local governments share duties with states, being primarily responsible for a narrow set of tasks involving infrastructure management, traffic operations, and law enforcement.
There has been little concrete federal action on AV policy to date, with most activity taking place at the state level. Despite the federal policy vacuum, there does not appear to be much appetite at the state level to upend the traditional distribution of motor vehicle regulatory authorities. Instead, states have been reinforcing this division of responsibility, preempting localities on matters related to the authorization of AV operations and seeking more conformity across states and with the federal government. This likely reflects states’ recognition that a patchwork of AV regulation is not in the public interest and that attempting to undertake traditional federal responsibilities will invite preemption from national lawmakers and regulators.
Officials in several major U.S. cities have expressed concern that automated vehicles conflict with their political goals, such as reducing access to cars and promoting fixed-route mass transit. San Francisco has been the most vocal so far, owing to it being home to numerous early AV testing and deployment activities, but political opposition from some local officials is likely to grow. Despite their protests, San Francisco’s AV opponents have had little luck convincing state regulators to trust their judgment. City officials’ past opposition to other new forms of transportation, most notably ride-hailing, underscores why state lawmakers and regulators are likely to limit local political control of AV operations.
For most of the 20th century, cities were largely responsible for regulating taxicabs operating within their boundaries. In many cities, incumbent taxi companies colluded with municipal regulators to create cartels that limited competition, raised prices, and reduced service quality. In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a lengthy report detailing how municipal taxi regulation restricted competition and harmed consumers. A few years later, the FTC filed antitrust lawsuits against the cities of Minneapolis and New Orleans as test cases, with mixed results. The FTC reported in 2007 that, by and large, the anti-competitive taxi regulation it had identified in 1984 remained in place.
But that same 2007 FTC report noted that “the biggest change on the horizon is computer-based dispatching technology and mapping” and that “telecommunications advances could have significant effects in helping match riders and available cabs in the future.” Sure enough, a few years later, Uber and then other ride-hailing companies began disrupting the taxi market and expanding consumer choice in a way that antitrust enforcement had failed to do.
Facing the same anti-competitive environment identified by the FTC, ride-hail providers successfully convinced nearly every state to define them as “transportation network companies” rather than taxis and preempt local regulation of their business operations. California was at the forefront of clearing this regulatory path for ride-hailing companies and remains at the forefront of restraining cities like San Francisco from narrowing the pathway for the deployment of robo-taxis at the behest of local special interests.
On Aug. 10, against the wishes of San Francisco transit officials, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to approve expanded Cruise and Waymo operations.
While state governments are unlikely to entrust automated vehicle regulation to cities that have proven they are too easily captured by special interests, AV developers should still seek to generate goodwill with local officials and residents. Clear information sharing and coordination, such as through establishing first-responder interaction plans, is one example. AV developers should also partner with cities on curb management, a subject that will be increasingly important to successful AV deployments as well as a responsibility that local governments are likely to retain.
For their part, local governments should accept their narrow roles in automated vehicle deployment and work to perform these duties in a way that maximizes choice and opportunity for their residents, businesses, and visitors.
“Electric Vehicles for Everyone? The Impossible Dream” is the title of a new report from Mark P. Mills, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and a faculty fellow at Northwestern University’s engineering school. His basic thesis is that the planned transition from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) would be far more difficult than is generally believed and may not lead to significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. The report spans 48 pages, including 201 endnotes to reputable sources. I can’t provide a complete summary in this space, but I am including a few key points for your consideration.
Mills begins by questioning the popular idea that there has been a generational shift away from personal vehicles, citing research by demographers such as William Frey of the Brookings Institution that finds no evidence for such a view. The main focus of the report seeks to demonstrate two propositions:
- We don’t really know how much, if at all, CO2 emissions will decline if electric vehicles replace internal combustion engine vehicles.
- We also don’t know if EVs can reach economic parity with ICE vehicles that most people drive.
The majority of the report’s text, and its citations, are devoted to the first of these propositions. Mills has written previous papers and books about energy and fuels, so I take seriously the case he makes about the need for the massive expansion of mining and processing to obtain needed minerals for EVs. This is not just about lithium; also critically important are cobalt, copper, graphite, and nickel. To make one current EV battery requires about 100,000 pounds of ore. But to mine that requires removing overburden, typically from three to seven tons for each ton of ore. Thus, about 500,000 pounds must be excavated for each battery.
Besides that, of course, the battery and the EV also need aluminum and steel. One more disturbing factor is that as time goes on, lower-grade ores are likely to replace today’s higher-grade ores, which will further increase the energy needed to mine and refine them.
Mills notes some additional points about the impact of battery production. The International Energy Agency’s seminal report on energy minerals, including upstream emissions and grid fueling, concludes that the life-cycle emissions for an EV will be less than for an ICE, but that calculation is based on a 40 kWh battery, which is half the size of batteries in the most popular EVs. Mills writes that IEA’s “own estimates show that an EV could yield no [lifecycle GHG] reductions at all, or even an increase.”
Mills also points to several other troubling details. For one thing, “80-90% of the relevant minerals are mined outside the U.S. and E.U.,” as are the majority of the refining locations. Also, compared with typical ICE vehicles, electric vehicles use about 200% more electronics than ICE vehicles, and silicon device fabrication is very energy intensive. EVs also use more copper and aluminum than ICE vehicles, once again raising concerns about the energy intensiveness of producing aluminum, in particular. Mills also points to ongoing research and development on internal combustion engines, which he says may lead to 30-40% reductions in CO2 emissions per mile driven, between now and 2030.
Another section of the report covers the need for a huge increase in electricity generation and long-distance transmission to bring about the planned EV transition. Since I have covered that topic in previous newsletters, I will simply note this additional point in passing. It is one of the major unresolved problems in achieving anything like the planned electric vehicle transition by 2040 or 2050.
Mills concludes with a warning about government attempts to modify transportation behavior. Basically, if electric vehicles don’t provide equivalent or better mobility for Americans than internal combustion engine vehicles, then he cautions that governments may try to force the issue by, for example, limiting the size of batteries in EVs and mandating smaller sport utility vehicles. Mills notes that the International Energy Agency has put forth the idea that “behavior change is critical for reaching net-zero energy.”
After all these serious concerns, let me offer a few suggestions.
First, today’s batteries are not necessarily the batteries of 10 years from now. Billions of dollars in research and development spending is taking place to develop new types of batteries. Last month, Toyota made headlines by announcing a solid-state battery with a 745-mile range and 10-minute charging time. While the report was treated with skepticism in many quarters, some such breakthroughs would reduce some of the mineral-scarcity concerns raised in Mills’ report. For nickel and some other currently critical materials, The Economist, in its July 8 issue, argued for legalizing deep-sea “mining” of mineral nodules on the seabed, citing the Clarion-Clipperton zone in the Pacific Ocean as likely having 80 million tons of nickel, more than has ever been mined. The nodules also contain cobalt, manganese, and copper.
Some transportation colleagues have suggested that as long as battery minerals remain costly and scarce, electric vehicle policy might be more realistic if it focused on plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs), which include both a battery and a small internal combustion engine. If the estimate that the same amount of minerals needed for one pure EV could equip six hybrids is correct, the trade-off would facilitate an EV transition that would be more do-able by a target date of 2040, though with possibly less total CO2 reduction—a scenario Mills did not discuss. One concern about such a change in strategy is the current California policy that prohibits the sale of ICE vehicles after 2035 and allows PHEVs to be sold, but only up to 20% of an automaker’s new vehicle output.
Mark Mills has raised some important points about current plans to replace all ICEs with electric vehicles within the next several decades. Transportation policymakers should take these concerns seriously.
PennDOT Kills Three-Bridge Interstate P3
In mid-July, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that three Interstate highway bridges that had been part of a nine-bridge reconstruction/replacement project (whose pre-development process is under way by Macquarie Capital and Shikun and Binui) had been removed from the Major Bridges Project. No explanation was provided, but one source told this newsletter that a federal agency had suggested that no federal aid would be available for those three bridges if they were procured as a public-private partnership. The six remaining bridges will be procured as availability-payment P3s since the legislature late last year prohibited using toll finance.
Las Vegas Tunnels Project Gets Expansion OK
Elon Musk’s Boring Company won the Las Vegas city government’s approval to build tunnels and a total of 21 stations within city limits, at the company’s expense. Previously, Clark County had approved tunnels and 60 stations outside city limits. And on July 7, the company announced breakthroughs of its tunnel boring machines for links from the convention center to two hotel complexes. Boring Company is paying the tunnel costs and sharing station costs with the owners of the station locations. It aims to recoup its investment from passenger fares.
“Adding Road Capacity Decreases Congestion and Increases Distance Traveled”
That’s the headline on a press release for a study published by a transportation institute at the University of Buffalo. The paper, by Professor Alex Anas, presents a new approach to modeling freeway travel that he says corrects modeling errors in previous studies that claimed that adding highway capacity is futile because new lanes soon fill up and become congested. The modeling in Anas’ paper is beyond my comprehension but should be of great interest to transportation economists.
Another Stretch of I-35 Austin Expansion Under Way
Two of three major expansions of I-35 through Austin, Texas, are now under way. Capital Express North includes a number of improvements, including adding one high-occupancy vehicle lane each way, between Texas State Highway (SH) 45N and U.S. 290E, north of downtown Austin; Pulice is the design-build contractor. South of downtown, Fluor is under contract for Capital Express South, to expand I-35 by adding two HOV lanes each way between SH 71 and SH 45S. The first contract is $606 million and the second is for news$548 million. The planned central section, estimated to cost $4.5 billion, would depress the freeway below grade and add two HOV lanes each way, bringing the total cost of all three to $5.64 billion. Had the Texas Department of Transportation been allowed to add express toll lanes, which the state legislature has prevented it from doing, instead of HOV and procured the projects as revenue-risk P3s, with 20% TxDOT investment and the rest toll-financed, the agency would have saved $4.5 billion that it could have invested in non-P3 projects statewide.
Utah to Test GPS for Road User Charges
Although Utah already has a permanent road user charge (RUC) program for electric vehicles, it is embarking on a small pilot project in which 100 volunteers will have GPS units in their vehicles to identify which miles are driven where—whether the express toll lanes on I-15, other state highways, or local streets and roads. This would make it possible for different rates to be charged for Interstates, country roads, local streets, etc. and the revenues to be allocated to the jurisdiction responsible for each category of roads. The project will be managed for UDOT by ClearRoad. This approach would enable sets of roads to be managed as public utilities.
Nikola Making an Electric Truck Comeback
Nikola, the hydrogen fuel-cell truck developer that nearly went bankrupt, had a strong 2023 second quarter, reports Fleet Owner. Major trucking company J.B. Hunt signed a contract on Aug. 1 to purchase 10 battery electric and three hydrogen fuel cell electric Class 8 trucks. The FCEVs have an estimated range of 500 miles, while the BEVs’ range is put at 300 miles. At the second quarter’s end, Nikola had 200 orders for FCEVs from 18 different customers. Hunt will get its hydrogen and fueling infrastructure from Nikola’s Hyla division.
Toll Evasion Still Horrendous in New York Metro Area
New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs several major bridges and tunnels, has carried out “enforcement blitz” actions at its bridges in recent months, impounding vehicles and getting drivers’ licenses suspended. One day in July, for example, MTA impounded 26 vehicles for unpaid tolls and fines totaling $700,000, just at the Verrazzano Bridge. In 2022, the agency suspended the registration of 15,000 vehicles, impounded 1,800 of them, and recovered $21 million in tolls and fines. But Streetsblog reported that the New York Police Department “is arresting far fewer drivers this year for driving around with fake or defaced plates compared to last year, despite a promise to crack down ghost cars, the agency revealed at a Council hearing.”
Six Teams Seeking P3 Concession of Athens Ring Road
Final bids were submitted in mid-July for a 25-year P3 concession to operate and maintain the ring road around Athens, Greece. Major players in the bidding include Abertis, Brisa, Macquarie, Meridiam, and Vinci. The Attica motorway, as the ring road is known, was built in the 1990s and is a major component of Greek highway infrastructure.
Third Lane Endorsed for Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in Bay Area
Although California transportation policy is often against adding highway capacity, lawmakers and community leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area are calling for the addition of a traffic lane to the 4.5-mile bridge between Alameda and Marin Counties. The bridge is extremely congested during peak travel periods and has a little-used bike lane on its upper deck. Traffic congestion leads to backed-up queues on surface streets near the bridge in Richmond. Advocates are calling for some of the bridge’s toll revenue to be used to convert the bike lane to a traffic lane. The stop-and-go peak period congestion is a major source of CO2 and PM2.5 emissions.
Panama Gets Four Bids for Pan American East Highway Project
Four teams have submitted bids for Panama’s first highway P3 in order to rehabilitate and maintain the 153-mile Pan American Highway East. The finalist bidders are China Highway Engineering, Isa Intervial, PRODEMEX, and Strabag.
Virginia I-95 Express Southern Extension Finished
The 10-mile extension of the express toll lanes on I-95 southward to Fredericksburg is scheduled to open to traffic this month, according the Virginia DOT and P3 developer/operator Transurban. The two express lanes are reversible, like those further north on I-95 in northern Virginia.
Ground Broken for Syracuse I-81 Interstate Removal
On July 21, a ground-breaking event took place in Syracuse, New York, for the $2.25 billion project to replace elevated I-81 through the city with a boulevard termed a Community Grid. The first two elements of the project, now under contract, call for reconfiguring the interchanges between I-81 with ring road I-481 north and south of the city. Federal and state litigation by neighborhood groups concerning adverse impacts on lower-income neighborhoods is still under way.
Missouri to Widen Full Length of I-70 Across the State
The Missouri Department of Transportation has received a green light to begin a $2.8 billion project that will reconstruct and widen all 200 miles of I-70, from St. Louis to Kansas City. It is the oldest Interstate highway with the oldest pavement, now well past its design life. The project will be procured and constructed conventionally. More than a decade ago, Missouri was part of a major four-state feasibility study of a toll-financed modernization of I-70, including two dedicated truck lanes each way, from Missouri to Ohio. Missouri DOT applied for federal tolling permission under a still-existing pilot program, but it was not approved since the state legislature failed to enact tolling legislation.
Three States Report Progress with Replacing Fuel Taxes
Oklahoma DOT has launched Fair Miles Oklahoma, a pilot project to test motorist responses to a simulated per-mile charging system that could replace the fading state gasoline tax. California, which has carried out several road user charge (RUC) pilot projects, announced a new pilot last month. One group of volunteer motorists will pay 2.5 cents per mile and receive a refund of gas taxes paid during the pilot project. A second group of drivers will pay a variable per-mile fee, based on the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. Finally, Hawaii has become the fourth state (after Oregon, Utah, and Virginia) to launch a permanent road user charge program, starting with electric vehicles, replacing the current $50 annual fee for EVs.
Housing Affordability: Putting People First
A new report on the relationship between land use policies and housing affordability by demographer Wendell Cox reviews international and U.S. data and says “urban containment” policies are correlated with housing unaffordability in such markets as coastal California, New York, Denver, Seattle, and Portland, in contrast to far-less restricted metro areas, such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Rochester, and St. Louis.
Florida Automated Vehicles Summit
Registration is now open for the 2023 Florida Automated Vehicles Summit, in Tampa on Sept. 6-8. I’ve taken part in several of these and can highly recommend this event. This year’s keynote speaker is Cathie Wood, founder and CEO of ARK Investment Management LLC. Register here: https://favsummit.com/register-for-the-2023-fav-summit. (Use code #2023FAVSummit)
“You were not consulted on the [Philadelphia] I-95 repair project. You could not provide a comment to PennDOT about it. You could not attend a public meeting about the repair project to provide input, because a public meeting was never organized. You could not file a lawsuit against the I-95 repair project over its environmental or social impacts. Your opinion on the I-95 repair did not matter, and neither did anyone else’s. Instead, Pennsylvania’s governor and civil service, with federal support, assessed the situation, made decisions, and went to work. . . . Slow, expensive infrastructure development is a policy choice. In an emergency, our elected leaders are usually quick to identify the policies that need to be reformed, albeit temporarily. However, the fact that we can build quickly in an emergency is all the more reason to implement more permanent permitting reforms, to strike the right balance between public input and project delivery.”
—Michael Bennon, “Infrastructure Development by Emergency Declaration,” Public Works Financing, June 2023
“Later this year WSDOT is scheduled to conduct extensive outreach to gauge public support for the High-Speed Rail proposal. That effort should start with an objective presentation of the serious shortcomings and issues identified in the Joint Transportation Committee’s review. It should also discuss alternative improvements in the I-5 corridor that could be implemented much sooner and at lower cost. That’s the kind of problem solving that is needed, as opposed to public outreach that is cheerleading for the kind of gee-whiz bullet train that has become a costly boondoggle in California.”
—Charles Prestrud, “High-Speed Rail Proposal Runs into High Cost Problems,” Washington Policy Center, June 26, 2023
“Making predictions, especially about the future, is dangerous. That didn’t stop Elon Musk from making a rather startling one recently: U.S. electricity demand will triple around 2045, in part due to widespread adoption of electric vehicles. . . . A National Renewable Energy Laboratory scenario from 2018—assuming 88% of light-duty cars in the U.S. are electric by 2050, put electricity demand that year about 60% above the level reached in 2022. . . . [I]n reality, investment in electric power construction has slowed sharply this year. Total clean power installations were down 18% year over year in the first half of 2023 . . . and newly announced purchasing power agreements were down 47% in megawatt terms…. U]nless legal barriers to new electricity infrastructure are resolved, America’s plan to recharge manufacturing—to say nothing of the transport sector—may fall short.”
—Nathaniel Taplin, “Is Musk Right About Electricity Needs?” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 9, 2023