- New study quantifies value of Interstate highways
- Spurious objections to Maryland’s express toll lanes
- Texas returns to HOV lanes
- FRA re-proposes flawed crew-size mandate
- Autonomous trucks making progress—but aren’t quite there yet
- Are highway workers “pedestrians”?
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
Economists over the years have used various methods to estimate the economic benefits of highways, especially the Interstate Highway System, which introduced a nationwide system of limited-access super-highways comparable to Germany’s autobahns and Italy’s autostrade. As econometric methods become increasingly sophisticated, it’s not surprising that recent years have brought forth new, improved studies of this sort.
The latest is a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, with the rather bland title of “Highways and Globalization.” Working Paper 27938 was produced by economists Taylor Jaworski, Carl Kitchens, and Sergey Nigai. The study is a big enough deal that it was featured in a Washington Post column on July 18, “The Most Valuable Interstate Highways.”
That headline and story are a bit misleading, implying that the study’s biggest finding—of annual economic benefits of $742 billion—is the total economic value of those highways. Actually, the modeling in the paper is limited to only goods movement on the Interstate system, including trade among the 48 contiguous states and imports and exports via seaports and border crossings with Canada and Mexico.
The authors built a detailed econometric model of the flow of goods over the entire federal and state highway network, taking into account over 3,000 counties and the major seaports and international border crossings. They modeled trade flows on this network, taking into account known congestion levels and both first-best and second-best routes between origins and destinations. After calibrating the model using the entire U.S. highway system, they removed the entire Interstate highway system from the model and re-ran it. This enabled them to estimate the annual value added by the Interstate system—$602 billion in 2012 dollars, or $742 billion in 2021 dollars.
For a second counter-factual exercise, they re-ran the model 10 more times and in each run removed one of the 10 longest Interstates. Below I’ve included six of these, with the economic values updated to 2021 dollars.
Value of six major Interstates
|Interstate||Route-miles||Annual value $B||Annual value/mile $M|
From the table, we can see that the most productive Interstates for goods movement are I-80 and a near tie between I-70 and I-75. But in terms of trade value per mile, the productivity champs are I-75 and a near tie between I-5 and I-70.
Here are several points to keep in mind in assessing these results. First, I am not an economist, let alone an econometrician, so I cannot assess the validity of their detailed methodology. This is a working paper, so I’m sure other econometricians will be looking at the assumptions and equations and pointing out any shortcomings.
Second, these results apply only to the goods-movement function of the Interstates. Their value for personal travel—both urban and long-distance—is over and above what is estimated in this paper. And third, of course, there are one-time and ongoing externality costs of the Interstates, as highway critics keep reminding us. Comparing total annual benefits with total annual costs is not part of this paper, but my guess is that the total benefits far outweigh the total costs.
There is also the question of value for money. The cost of building the Interstates is reported as $114 billion, equivalent to $535 billion in 2020 dollars. For the system to yield economic benefits of over $700 billion per year just from better goods movement is astounding—it’s hard to find a larger return on investment in infrastructure. And with its reconstruction and modernization estimated at a one-time investment of $1 trillion by the Transportation Research Board’s special committee on the Interstate system’s future, that huge need is easier to justify as a means of preserving and increasing the Interstate system’s benefits going forward.
Earlier this month, acting Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator Stephanie Pollack delayed issuing a record of decision on the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Maryland Department of Transportation’s I-270/I-495 express toll lanes public-private partnership project. FHWA was expected to approve the FEIS on Aug. 5. In fact, as of this writing, the agency’s permitting dashboard still lists Aug. 5 as the target date. The project cannot move forward until this document is approved. The agency refuses to set a new date, announcing the review is “in progress.”
The Washington Post reported Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan “blasted federal transportation officials for delaying a decision that would have cleared the way for him to move forward with a plan to build toll lanes on Interstate 270 and part of the Capital Beltway, according to a letter he sent to the Biden administration.”
The Post added Hogan was “completely blindsided” and “chided the acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration for failing to approve the state’s environmental plan.”
The project has been controversial from the start, especially amongst a large number of NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard) who oppose most construction proposals in Montgomery County. For example, recently, neighbors in the Homewood neighborhood of Silver Spring were unable to build a sidewalk funded by the neighborhood association because a resident sued to stop its construction because it required tearing out a weed that the homeowner called his “emotional-support plant.”
The current FHWA has seemed to be hostile toward highway projects that add lanes. It blocked the planned reconstruction of I-45 in Houston, for example. The I-45 project is also understandably controversial because TxDOT’s plan requires taking 1,000 homes. But, in contrast, Maryland’s I-270/I-495 managed lanes project does not condemn a single residential property. In another difference between the Texas and Maryland projects, while TxDOT is hamstrung by an inability to toll or use a P3, requiring its project to have a larger footprint and cost more, MDOT is not adding any general-purpose lanes and is proceeding in a staged approach to minimize the environmental footprint.
One of the groups leading calls for the delay is the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, led by anti-highway, toll-lane critic Ben Ross, who claims to have uncovered fraud because the projected traffic volumes changed between the supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) and the FEIS.
Ross’ criticisms center around four points. First, he is concerned that modeled traffic volumes on I-495 between I-270 and I-95 decreased since the SDEIS and argues that this is inconsistent with modeling. Yet the earlier model failed to take into account the number of vehicles that would use the new express toll lanes on I-270 taking that highway to the intercounty connector to reach I-95 north, foregoing the northern part of I-495 altogether. As a result, we would expect traffic volumes to decline somewhat on that portion of I-495. And that’s what the model shows.
Second, Ross questions why traffic on the eastern Beltway (I-95/I-495) between the Potomac River and I-95 would decrease if the managed lanes are built. Again, I believe the previous model did not consider that some traffic currently using the eastern Beltway will switch to the western Beltway (which is now congested at least six hours per day) when the managed lanes provide a congestion-free option between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-270 spur. If enough traffic shifts from the eastern Beltway, travel times would improve on that highway.
Third, Ross is convinced that hourly changes in traffic of 1% to 5% show some type of fraud. Yet, most of the traffic changes result from modeling improvements around the Greenbelt metro station, both in transit station access and local street construction.
Finally, Ross raises concerns about traffic changes on several arterials. Let’s use MD 201—Kenilworth Ave.—as an example. He argues that if the model places fewer drivers on 201 north of the Beltway, other drivers will switch to 201. While that thinking makes sense from a regionwide perspective, it will not apply to every corridor. And Ross is cherry-picking the corridors to make his point. Perhaps 201 is only a better option for the current drivers. Maybe the long-term plan includes a road diet that will reduce the number of lanes on 201, making it less appealing for drivers. Maybe there are changes to the local street grid that Ross is not capturing.
One major factor that Ross never mentions regarding long-term traffic projections is post-COVID-19 commuting patterns. Workers have been slower to return to the office than some might have expected, reducing peak period car trips. The new modeling takes that into account.
During both EIS processes, MDOT had to use the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) traffic-demand model and have the results verified by staff as well as MDOT and FHWA career employees.
The project would help bring faster travel times for Maryland residents who are tired of sitting in traffic congestion on I-270 and I-495. Let’s hope FHWA won’t allow itself to be used as a political tool for NIMBYists.
As Gov. Hogan put it in a letter to President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, “This has been called the most important and transformative transportation project for the National Capital Region in the last 50 years, and with so many Marylanders still stuck in soul-crushing traffic, we are not going to let politics delay it any further.”
In what seems like a return to the bad old days of unmanaged traffic, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is planning to spend billions of scarce fuel-tax dollars adding carpool (HOV) lanes to congested freeways. And it’s disguising this effort by referring to them as (non-tolled) “managed lanes.”
I kid you not. For example, these non-managed HOV lanes are in TxDOT’s near-term plans for the eastern portion of the I-635 LBJ Freeway in Dallas (a $1.7 billion project), elevated HOV lanes on I-35 in San Antonio ($1.5 billion), and the I-35 Capital Express Central project in Austin ($4.9 billion). That means Texas is poised to spend over $8 billion on carpool lanes—a flawed and ineffective approach to traffic management.
I’m sure TxDOT fully appreciates the success of the existing express toll lanes in Dallas and Ft. Worth, which are serving numerous satisfied customers every day with faster and more reliable trips than they could get in general purpose lanes or HOV lanes. Alas, the powers that be in populist Texas these days have forbidden TxDOT to spend any money on new toll projects, which means priced managed lanes are forbidden for the foreseeable future.
Texas legislators should also know that HOV lanes have been a failure nationwide. My colleague Baruch Feigenbaum made this case in a new Reason policy brief released last month, “From Failure to Success: Converting High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes to High Occupancy Toll Lanes/Express Toll Lanes.”
HOV lanes were a 1970s idea aimed at saving fuel by reducing the number of people commuting alone. They began as bus-only lanes. That concept left the vast majority of an expensive new lane unused, so carpools were then allowed in—initially four or more people per car, which was soon reduced to three people per vehicle, and in most places down to two (many of which were actually fam-pools—which took no vehicles off the roads). As Baruch’s paper points out, empirical research found that most HOV lanes were either too full during peak periods (i.e., congested) or under-used (wasting expensive pavement). Not only that, during the 1980s and 1990s when most HOV lanes were built, carpooling shrank from 19.7% of commuters in 1980 to just 12.2% in 2000 and down to 9.7% in 2010.
As a result of this large-scale failure, building new HOV lanes pretty much ground to a halt after 2000. Increasing numbers of them have been and are being converted to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes—lanes with variable pricing to manage congestion but which let carpools of (usually) three or more people use them either at no charge or at a discounted toll. This has occurred with HOV lanes in Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, North Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle, and the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., among others. And some newly-built express toll lanes offer free passage only to super-HOVs (vanpools and buses). Such projects exist in Austin, Denver, Orlando, and on I-95 in Maryland.
These projects have been welcomed in blue states (California, Washington State), purple states (Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia), and red states (Florida, Georgia—and 10 years ago, Texas). Variably-priced HOT/express lanes have a history of bipartisan support in Virginia, which is one of the pioneers of both HOT lanes and investor-financed HOT lanes, predating Texas’s former embrace of both.
With the levels of current and projected traffic congestion in Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth and San Antonio, investor-financed HOT/express toll projects would likely be quite feasible, avoiding much of the $8 billion drain on TxDOT’s capital budget due to the ban on new tolls. When those new HOV lanes fail—either with too much or too little traffic—it will be too late to recoup their capital costs from new toll revenue, while $8 billion worth of other highway projects across Texas will have been postponed or cancelled due to the diversion of that $8 billion to build 1970s-style HOV lanes.
Note: In 2020 I presented a paper commissioned by the OECD’s International Transport Forum on the impact of HOV and HOT lanes on congestion in the United States. It is downloadable from the ITF website.
On July 28, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proposed a regulation that would require freight trains to have at least two crewmembers on board during operation, except for case-by-case approval of reduced-crew operations. If this sounds familiar, that’s because this requirement was proposed in 2016 and then withdrawn in 2019 due to a lack of evidence supporting the claim that multi-person freight train crews are safer than single-person crews. FRA has now revived the proposal while furnishing no new safety evidence.
It is, however, the fulfillment of President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to railway labor unions. Contrary to FRA’s statutory mandate, promulgating this crew-size rule will not meaningfully promote rail safety. It amounts to economic regulation masquerading as safety regulation. Worse yet, this rule would perversely harm the interests of railroad workers in the long run by making freight rail less competitive with increasingly automated trucks.
In 2016, when FRA first proposed such a minimum crew-size regulation, it conceded that “FRA cannot provide reliable or conclusive statistical data to suggest whether one-person crew operations are generally safer or less safe than multiple-person crew operations.”
This admission of FRA’s lack of data to support its proposed rule did not originate from FRA. Rather, it came from the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is the executive branch’s regulatory watchdog. The draft notice of proposed rulemaking that FRA originally sent to OIRA for review instead claimed, “Studies show that one-person train operations pose increased risks by potentially overloading the sole crew member with tasks.”
Despite the absence of evidence, FRA continued forward on the proposed crew-size rule until it was withdrawn in 2019. In its withdrawal notice, the agency concluded, “FRA’s statement in the [proposed rule] that it ‘cannot provide reliable or conclusive statistical data to suggest whether one-person crew operations are generally safer or less safe than multiple-person crew operations’ still holds true today.”
The 2019 withdrawal notice also contained a nationwide preemption order that was aimed at overriding several state crew-size laws, which had been enacted in recent years at the behest of railway labor unions. This was challenged in federal court by two railroad unions and three states. In Feb. 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the challengers, finding that FRA failed to meet procedural requirements in issuing the preemption order. The court remanded the matter to FRA to reconsider the underlying issues. The timing of this decision was especially fortuitous for rail unions because FRA was now controlled by their political allies following President Biden’s inauguration a month earlier.
While on the campaign trail in June 2020, then-candidate Biden raised industry eyebrows when he explicitly promised in a special video for rail union executives that, if elected, he would be “requiring two-person crews on freight trains…to get [unions] the thanks, respect, and opportunities that [they] so richly deserve.”
FRA’s July 28 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) makes good on that promise. Like the 2016 NPRM, FRA concedes that it does not possess “any meaningful data” to support the conclusion that two-person train crews are safer or that one-person crews are less safe. Its NPRM also appeals to the same two-decade-old anecdotes from Quebec and North Dakota that fail to provide a reasonable basis for the rule. Indeed, in the case of the 2013 Casselton, ND, accident, FRA’s own recounting of the incident in the new NPRM—”the conductor admitted that he had never been in a situation where a collision was imminent, did not know what to do, and therefore might not have gotten down on the floor and braced himself, as the locomotive engineer instructed”—works against the supposed safety basis of this proposed rule because one-person crew operations would have eliminated the on-board conductor who was put in harm’s way in Casselton due to his own inexperience with proper safety protocols.
While the process for obtaining permission to operate single-person freight train crews is designed to appear more flexible on paper than the 2016 proposal’s waiver process, approval is ultimately at the discretion of FRA political appointees. In an article for Railway Age (“Biden Promise Fueled FRA NPRM,” Aug. 2), longtime rail policy insider Frank N. Wilner explains why the proposed waiver process provides only the illusion of potential regulatory relief. “The FRA’s standards in the waiver process for Class I railroads are arguably designed to assure denial,” writes Wilner. “The FRA, already with its thumb on the scale, sets itself up as the judge over what are unspecified criteria for evaluation. An example is the definition of ‘catastrophic.’ It appears to encompass every event requiring an incident report, including derailments having nothing to do with crew activity.”
The re-proposed crew-size mandate cannot be justified on safety grounds, as required under the law. If finalized, rail carriers are sure to challenge this rule as arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act and exceeding FRA’s statutory authority from Congress. Rail unions undoubtedly view this as a major policy win for their narrow economic interests, but the rule is likely to be self-defeating for their members in the long run.
As discussed in a Sept. 2021 policy brief for Reason Foundation, the trucking industry is anticipated to automate in the coming years, which could reduce truck operating costs by roughly half. A two-person crew-size mandate would impose a perpetual rail labor cost floor, thereby disadvantaging freight rail to its increasingly automated trucking competitors. This would cause shippers to increasingly substitute trucks for rail, which would have economic, safety, and environmental consequences.
With respect to the environment, trucks emit far more pollutants. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (“2021 SmartWay Online Shipper Tool: Technical Documentation,” Table 12), when compared to freight rail, trucks produce approximately 10 times as much carbon dioxide, more than three times as much fine particulate matter, and two-and-a-half times as much nitrogen oxides per ton-mile. Despite its frequently professed commitments to reducing transportation’s environmental footprint, it appears the Department of Transportation under President Biden has made a choice to increase the emissions intensity of the transportation sector in order to reward a favored special interest.
As is always the case in politics, actions speak louder than words. Fortunately, Congress can rein in FRA’s abuse of power. Amending FRA’s statutory authority to prohibit crew-size regulation, defunding enforcement of this rule, and rigorous investigations and oversight should all be on the table.
Last month, Kansas became the 38th state to enact a law that allows the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles on state highways (but it applies to vehicles up to 34,000 pounds, thereby excluding Class 8 big rigs that are the mainstay of long-distance trucking). The 38 state laws range from allowing full deployment and operation for all types of trucks to those that allow only testing with safety drivers.
While there are no Class 8s in regular operation on major highways with no one on board yet, regular operations of such rigs with safety drivers are taking place, with major carriers teaming with autonomy providers such as these:
- J.B. Hunt Trucking with Waymo automation
- U.S. Express with Embark automation
- DHL Supply Chain with Volvo Autonomy
- FedEx with Aurora automation
- UPS with TuSimple automation.
Hardly any truck automation developers plan to build autonomous trucks. Instead, they are partnering with the major original equipment makers (OEMs) such as Navistar (partnering with TuSimple automation), Daimler (with Torc automation), and both Paccar (maker of Kenworth and Peterbilt) and Volvo Trucks (with Aurora automation).
Also interesting is the emerging business model for long-haul automated trucking. FleetOwner reported in Jan. 2022 that both Aurora and Torc are moving toward a model in which a trucking company buys the Class 8 truck with automation as an option. If they buy it that way, the automation company will manage the autonomous portion of its operations, mostly on major highways such as Interstates. Aurora’s CFO Richard Tame explained their business model, which depends on avoiding the cost of a human driver in the truck. As he told FleetOwner, “We don’t have a commercial product with a driver because the sensors [lidar, radar, and camera] are so expensive. Having an expensive kitted-out truck with a safety driver is not a product.”
The trucking company would pay a per-mile fee for Aurora to operate the truck, which he estimated would be about half the cost of drivers. Hence, a win-win for both the trucking company and the automation company.
Yet despite the continued progress with on-road testing for commercial carriers, glitches still occur. The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 2 that a TuSimple big rig with a safety driver and engineer on board made a sudden left turn, cutting across I-10 and crashing into a concrete barrier. The article reported that TuSimple’s internal report blamed the accident on one of the onboard employees failing to reboot the automation system before turning the system on, leaving in place an outdated left-turn command. That this kind of error could occur in one of truck automation’s leading companies suggests that we are not yet ready for fully autonomous commercial service.
Everyone is rightly concerned about recent increases in pedestrian deaths on and alongside roadways. But is that total being exaggerated by a data problem? The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has been pointing this issue out for years, without the problem being addressed. (“Counting Vulnerable Road Users,” Brad Sant, Transportation Builder, May-June 2022)
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the source of data on pedestrian fatalities, and the data it reports include deaths of highway workers in work zones—but these deaths are not reported as a subtotal. The only other potential source is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which seeks to report all on-the-job worker deaths. But according to ARTBA, isolating highway work zone deaths in BLS data is difficult since the BLS categories are by type of work performed, not by location.
The new IIJA legislation calls for state and federal agencies to deal with safety hazards for “vulnerable road users” (VRUs), whose definition in the law includes highway workers. The article reports that the VRU materials prepared for stakeholder meetings on VRUs earlier this year did not address the data problem noted above but noted that ARTBA participants reminded agency officials that highway worker deaths should not be hidden within the “pedestrian” category.
Effective measures to reduce fatalities of individuals on highways depend on accurate data on who, where, and why these fatalities occur. As Marc Scribner pointed out in the June issue of this newsletter, the new Safe Road and Streets for All grant program addresses fatalities that occur on only 47% of America’s roadway route miles—primarily county and municipal mileage. Despite being touted as the answer to rising “pedestrian” deaths, it is focused on less than half the problem. And since many highway work zones occur on state DOT miles, they are not even eligible for the one federal program aimed at reducing “pedestrian” fatalities.
In short, we have no idea what fraction of the record-high 2021 “pedestrian” fatalities were actually deaths of workers in highway work zones. Without that information, it is hard to figure out where it makes sense to allocate resources effectively to reduce that horrible toll.
Pennsylvania Legislature Bans Toll P3s
Following citizen lawsuits opposing PennDOT’s $2 billion plan to toll-finance the replacement of nine major Interstate highway bridges, the legislature enacted a sweeping revision of the state’s public-private partnership (P3) law for highways. It bans projects that would toll all lanes of a highway or bridge but allows tolls that are optional (as on newly built express toll lanes). Even that would require the permission of the legislature. While PennDOT hopes to proceed with replacing the nine aging bridges, it’s facing a major problem: where to find an additional $2 billion.
First Express Toll Lanes Project Proposed for New York State
On Aug. 4, Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and the Long Island Contractors Association released a report proposing a P3 procurement of what would be the state’s first express toll lanes. The project would add an ETL each way along the 25.5-mile Southern State Parkway. The report refers to hazardous conditions on the parkway, including sharp curves, short on-ramps and off-ramps, too many small exits, and intersections with three major north-south highways. When it opened in 1927, the speed limit was 35 miles per hour and traffic volume was a small fraction of today’s level. New York state does not have a transportation P3 law, though the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey has done a number of large-scale P3 procurements.
San Diego Competition Has Three Finalists
SANDAG, the metropolitan planning organization for San Diego County, has selected three finalists in its competition for innovative public-private partnerships in transportation. One, from Beep and Balfour Beatty, would create mobility hubs served by autonomous electric shuttles. Cordoba Corporation (with a large team of others) proposed extending a current light rail line across the border into Tijuana. And Cavnue (also with a number of partners) proposed “a next-generation managed lanes network” aimed at express buses and autonomous vehicles. These finalists will each get a $50,000 stipend to flesh out what they have proposed.
Another Express Toll Lane Proposed for I-77 in Charlotte
The North Carolina DOT recently received an unsolicited proposal to finance, develop, and operate express toll lanes on I-77 South, between Charlotte and the South Carolina border. It did not release the identity of the company or team that submitted the proposal. Toll projects in the state must be requested and approved by the local transportation planning organization before NCDOT can ask for competitive proposals. Last month, the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Office voted to study the I-77 corridor and asked NCDOT to share whatever information it has about the proposal to assist CRTPO in its assessment.
Major Bottleneck Fix Under Way in Columbia, South Carolina
In a project estimated to take eight years and $2.08 billion, SCDOT is under way on redesigning and rebuilding “malfunction junction,” where I-26, I-126, and I-20 all come together in the Columbia metro area. It is SCDOT’s largest construction project ever. This overloaded interchange is the bane of daily commuters, vacationers, and long-distance truckers. It is ranked at #61 on the American Trucking Associations’ 2022 ranking of the country’s top 100 truck bottlenecks. Were this project to be financed up-front based on projected toll revenues (rather than being built out of annual SCDOT cash flow), it would likely be finished and in service several years sooner—and would come with guaranteed ongoing maintenance.
First Kansas Express Toll Lane Project Starts Construction This Fall
Kansas DOT and its contractors will break ground in mid-September on the state’s first express toll lanes project. It will add an ETL each way on U.S. 69 in the vicinity of Overland Park. The project is being pursued on a design-build basis. In addition to adding the express lanes, it will also add 11 noise walls along portions of the highway.
New Providers of EV Charging Emerge
Last month, General Motors and truck-stop company Pilot Co. announced plans to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations nationwide. The aim is to add 2,000 fast-charging stalls at 500 Pilot and Flying J locations, with most to be completed by 2025. They will be open to all electric vehicles, but drivers of GM vehicles will be able to make reservations and get discounts. Separately, Tesla announced that it plans to open “some” of its current Supercharger network to non-Tesla EVs.
Majority Stake in Canadian Parkway P3
A majority stake in the (non-tolled) Herb Gray Parkway in the Windsor, Canada area, is on the market. The developers/operators of this P3 expressway (ACS, Fluor, and Acciona) are selling the majority of their shares in the 30-year concession, which was financed based on availability payments from the Ontario government. The project began with a C$1.2 billion design/build/finance/maintain concession, and the Parkway opened to traffic in 2015. According to Inframation News, the buyer is Connor, Clark & Lunn Infrastructure (CCL).
NHTSA Approves Autonomous Electric Truck
Einride, a freight technology company, has received approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to operate its Autonomous Electric Transport vehicle on public roads. Einride plans to operate it for commercial customers, including GE Appliances. There will be no driver in the vehicle, but each will be monitored in real time by a remote pod operator.
Transit Ridership Not Expected to Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels This Decade
That’s the title of a report by Phil Plotch of the Eno Center for Transportation, released on July 1. Plotch cites sobering statements from some of the country’s largest transportation agencies, including the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Los Angeles Metro, San Francisco BART, and the New York MTA. What appears to be a permanent change in working from home is a major factor in current ridership and in the restrained forecasts for the rest of this decade.
Oklahoma DOT OKs Three New Turnpike Routes
All three projects are aimed at improving connectivity with existing turnpikes. The Tri-City Connector will connect the Kilpatrick Turnpike near the airport with I-44. The planned East-West Connector will link I-44 through I-35 to connect with I-40. And the new South Extension Turnpike will link the East-West Connector to I-35.
U.K. Demonstration Project Claims Platooning Is Safe
The multi-year HelmUK trial of platooning on highways involved heavy trucks, electronically linked to take advantage of less air drag when driving closely behind one another. It was supported by the Transport Research Laboratory, National Highways, and the Department for Transport. The official finding is that platooning can be safely carried out on the U.K. road network but that improvements to fuel economy and air quality were “not as significant as predicted.”
Feds May Sell Their Share of SH 130 Concession
Back in 2016, U.S. DOT’s Build America Bureau converted its $430 TIFIA loan into an equity stake in the company (SVP) that acquired the toll highway out of bankruptcy. In late June, BAB announced that it is exploring the possible sale of its 34% equity stake. Neither the SH 130 Concession Company nor its majority owner, SVP Global, made any comments to the Inframation News reporters.
Correction re New York Ferry News Note
An alert reader spotted an error in last month’s News Note about the money-losing NYC Ferry system. The Independent Institute study noted that the per-ride subsidy on those ferries is over $9, compared with only $1 per rider subsidy for the subway. The news note garbled that, incorrectly stating that the ferry fare is only $1. Actually, the ferry fare is the same as the subway fare.
“It’s worth thinking a little about induced demand. Here’s what it gets right. Suppose that the Highway Fairy comes along and builds a second deck on top of I-95 from Richmond, Virginia all the way up to Portland, Maine. Traffic becomes a lot less congested, and because traffic is less congested, car trips around the Northeast go faster. Because driving is now faster, it poaches mode share away from Amtrak and airplanes on the Northeast Corridor. And ideas like ‘let’s drive from Fredericksburg up to Baltimore to see the Aquarium’ or ‘let’s drive from Providence to Portland for the long weekend,’ or ‘I can commute to Philadelphia from south of Wilmington’ start to seem more appealing. All that extra driving eventually soaks up the additional highway capacity, and the bigger I-95 ends up congested after all. I think that’s an accurate description of the situation, but it’s fundamentally odd to describe that as if the Highway Fairy didn’t accomplish anything useful here. People got to go more places and do more stuff. To the extent that there’s a genuine problem with overbuilding roads, it’s that sometimes they don’t induce much demand. That’s a ‘bridge to nowhere’ and a waste of resources.”
—Matthew Yglesias, “Answering Bill Maher’s Concerns on Traffic and One Billion Americans,” Slow Boring, Substack.com, Aug. 3, 2022
“The tragedy of transport planning in the U.S. is that there continues to be a belief that the reason there is low transit ridership is the car industry, which in a conspiracy with politicians and land speculators, has made mass transit unsuitable for moving people from where they are to where they want to go. With the exception of NYC and to a certain extent Boston and Washington, DC, American cities have been built when they were necessary, but with the objective of housing their residents in the type of dwelling they preferred, that is, a house on a piece of land that are both as large as the owner can afford. This has resulted in low densities and, therefore, lower than optimal numbers to support public transit.”
—Michael L. Sena, “Mobility Implications of America’s Anti-City Legacy,” The Dispatcher, Aug. 2022
“Buttigieg concluded that he believed tolling would be limited to specific locations and high-traffic highways and bridges, rather than an approach for how the road system at large would be funded. In response Rep. Daniel Webster (R, FL). who raised the tolling question, did not offer any evidence of the benefits from expanded toll roads in Florida’s Orlando metropolitan area in terms of delivering new infrastructure that enables economic growth and expanded access to economic opportunity. . . . There is no one silver bullet to address the systemic and structural shortfalls of federal transportation revenue. A variety of solutions is needed to contribute to a comprehensive and viable toolbox of solutions—including tolling, road-use charging, congestion pricing, and other mechanisms that allow users to pay for the facilities and services they consume. But continuing to avoid the tough decisions on how to pay for transportation infrastructure does a disservice to the American people.”
—Mark Muriello, “Missed Opportunity for Highway Revenues in House Committee Meeting,” IBTTA Tolling Points, July 21, 2022
“This [automation] doesn’t, especially in the short term, replace human drivers. It just kind of eats into the shortage. . . . So what might happen is that the very long routes—that force drivers to be away from home all the time—get taken over by something like this. Then those people can start going to more regional driving and can get home every night. So it’s not really a replacement story. It’s sort of an implementation story.”
—Richard Tame, quoted in “As Excitement of Self-Driving Trucks Grows, Fleets Will Soon Have Products to Choose From,” FleetOwner, Jan. 18, 2022