Surface Transportation News #131

Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation News #131

Six states pursuing new express toll lane projects, Distortions of fact on NC toll concession

In this issue:

Six States Pursuing New Express Toll Lanes Projects

The success of more than a dozen operational express toll lanes projects around the country (most of them conversions of former HOV lanes) has inspired a raft of new projects in six states, many of them involving more-costly lane additions. Here is a brief overview.

California: The biggest recent news is that Orange County, home of the country’s first express toll lanes (on SR 91 in 1995) will finally get its second ETL project. Caltrans has agreed to add one ETL each way to a 14-mile stretch of congested I-405, from near the John Wayne Airport to the Los Angeles County line. Local opposition had led the Orange County Transportation Authority to drop plans for doing that project, but while OCTA will use its local sales tax money to add one general purpose lane each way, Caltrans will convert the existing HOV lanes to ETLs. Meanwhile, neighboring Los Angeles County is making plans for ETLs on its portion of I-405, and on I-5, SR 134, and I-105. Riverside County is under way extending the ETLs on SR 91 eastward to I-15, and San Bernardino County is considering ETLs on I-10 and I-15. A regional ETL network is in the process of being created.

Colorado: With its second ETL project (on U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver) under construction, three additional projects are in the planning stages. Furthest along is I-70 East, a $1.4 billion project that would rebuild portions of this east-west Denver freeway, removing a two-mile elevated portion and putting that section below grade. There would be two ETLs in each direction on the rebuilt highway. The state’s P3 unit, HPTE, will pursue the project on a design-build-finance-operate-maintain basis. Also being pursued are ETLs on the southwest quadrant of the Denver beltway, C-470, and on a stretch of I-70 into the ski country west of Denver. In a related development, by 2017 the occupancy requirements for HOV lanes and free passage in ETLs will be increased from two to three.

Florida: The latest ETL news in the Sunshine State is that the $2.3 billion I-4 Ultimate project in Orlando reached financial close early this month. It will rebuild much of I-4 through the city while adding two ETLs in each direction. In St. Petersburg, Florida DOT is pursuing a 3.3-mile elevated tollway to be operated as ETLs linking U.S. 19 to I-275, saving motorists 9 to 13 minutes compared with surface streets, in exchange for paying a variable toll. And in South Florida, construction is under way to add ETLs to I-75 in Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) and the Palmetto Expressway (SR 826) in Miami-Dade County.

North Carolina: This state’s first ETL project is also its first toll concession project. The $655 million project will add ETLs to 26 miles of I-77 in Charlotte. The project will convert the existing HOV lane each way to ETL and add a second ETL each way. Winning bidder Cintra reached commercial close (agreement on all deal terms) with North Carolina DOT late in June. The concession is for 50 years, with construction to begin in 2015 and completion by mid-2018.

Texas: The newest ETL project is the $525 million Loop 375 Border Highway West Project in El Paso. The winning bidder, a Kiewit/Abrams joint venture, reached commercial close with Texas DOT last month. The overall project is 9 miles long, much of it elevated, with ETLs on 5.6 miles of it.

Virginia: Virginia DOT is studying alternative improvements for a long stretch of I-66 outside the Capital Beltway. Getting the most attention is a potential $2 billion project to replace the existing HOV lanes with ETLs, procured as a toll concession. Virginia DOT’s P3 unit has not yet done a Value for Money study of the project, but Public Works Financing reports that I-66 is “the most advanced project in the P3 pipeline.”

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Distortions of Fact on North Carolina Toll Concession Project

The I-77 express toll lanes project in Charlotte is proceeding despite an active grass-roots campaign against it. This effort is making many of the same kinds of misleading or outright false allegations about the project that have surfaced in Georgia, Texas, and elsewhere, so it’s important that transportation professionals understand what they are up against from this type of opposition.

The most respectable summary of these allegations was put out in June by a think tank called Civitas NC, drawing on the work of grass-roots activists. Written by Rachael Dobi, its headline was “I-77 HOT Lanes: a Bargain or a $400M Gamble?” Its opening paragraph telegraphed the main message: “A new ‘public-private partnership’ in North Carolina appears to put hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars at risk while guaranteeing profit for a company that has run into trouble in other states.”

The body of the piece contains four claims that are regularly showing up in debates over P3s and tolling in other states. The first is that the debt to be raised for the project is “government-guaranteed.” That is totally false. The tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds and an expected TIFIA loan are revenue-based financing, backed by the project’s expected toll revenues. Buyers of revenue bonds take the risk of default with their eyes open, and the feds have thus far not lost any money on TIFIA loans.

Second, opponents of variable pricing always concoct a scary figure for how much it would cost to use the ETLs. In this case, Dobi came up with $21 per day (!) by assuming that commuters would each (a) make a 52-mile round trip the entire length of the ETLs, (b) do this every day, and (c) always drive during the highest-priced peak period. Ample evidence from ETLs around the country shows that most people who use the lanes do so only for especially time-sensitive trips, typically once or twice a week. And of course on a 26-mile long facility, many will use only a portion of it, paying a proportionally smaller toll.

Third, Dobi asserts that in the event of a default due to insufficient toll revenue, the taxpayers would have to make good on the debt (based on her false assumption that the debt is “government-backed”). She goes on to make the completely false claim that on SH 130 in Texas, taxpayers bailed out developer Cintra with “$100 million in gas taxes after it defaulted on its loan.” Cintra has not defaulted (though that project is having trouble meeting its debt service due to low traffic and revenue), and no such taxpayer bailout has occurred or will occur. In fact, the company paid Texas DOT $100 million as a concession fee when it won the right to develop and operate this project.

Fourth, Dobi writes that even if the I-77 project succeeds financially, it will still be a failure because “congestion won’t even be adequately reduced,” because “only those willing or able to pay the tolls would use the HOT lanes.” This is the old “add GP lanes instead of ETLs” argument, which has been falsified by the performance of real-world ETLs. In a fast-growing urban area like Charlotte, adding a GP lane each way instead of an ETL would attract drivers who now use parallel arterials due to I-77’s congestion, resulting in a return of congestion. By contrast, having two ETLs each way (one new, one the converted HOV lane) creates added capacity that will be uncongested long-term, thanks to faster and more reliable ETL trips attracting many drivers out of the free lanes.

So where does the piece’s headline number of $400 million taxpayer exposure come from? The bulk of it–$315 million-is the revenue-based debt (PABs and TIFIA) portion of the financing plan, which-I repeat–is not government-backed. The other $75 million is a worst-case estimate of a mechanism I have not seen before in concession financing. NC DOT has offered bond-buyers the possibility of $12 million a year in payments to cover shortfalls in revenue-based debt service payments in the early (ramp-up) years of the project’s operations. The maximum amount the state committed is $75 million. Whether that is wise or not is open to debate, but I imagine it will lead to slightly lower interest rates on the revenue bonds when they are issued. But I emphasize again, those would not be payments to Cintra but rather to the bondholders. The state DOT has agreed to invest only $88 million in the project up front (about 13.5% of the $655 million budget), well below the 20-25% more typical of toll concession financing structures. So in this case NC DOT has split its investment into two parts: one part definite and the other contingent on performance. I’m not troubled by that.

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Natural Gas Trucks: Progress, but no Breakthrough

The fracking revolution has led to an abundance of U.S. natural gas, at relatively low prices. That development has stimulated the quest to shift trucks from diesel to either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). But it will take more than just low fuel prices to make such a transition happen.

An August 8th piece in The Hill by former Sen. Pete Domenici, Kathryn Clay, and Raymond Orbach called natural gas “The Silent Transportation Revolution.” It cited the increased use of CNG and LNG in bus and truck fleets, the growth of refueling stations along several major highways (I-10, I-40, I-95), and the development of more efficient fuel tanks as evidence that the revolution is under way. But that conclusion is premature.

The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 26th) carried a news article headlined “Natural Gas Trucks Stuck in First Gear.” It pointed in particular to the 33% price premium for a natural gas powered tractor compared with the equivalent diesel-fueled tractor. It noted recent sales projections that about 10,500 heavy-duty natural gas trucks will be sold this year, compared with forecasts of 16,000. And it also pointed out that, thanks to federal emission mandates, the newest diesel engines get close to 7 mpg compared with 6.5 mpg for their predecessors. That may sound like small change, but for a heavy truck that goes 100,000 miles a year, that difference means real cost savings.

A more detailed article, “Trucking’s Green Sprouts,” in The Journal of Commerce (July 21st) concluded that a transition away from diesel has not reached a tipping point “by a long shot”-because of high equipment acquisition and maintenance costs, the lack of a complete refueling infrastructure, and the need for further progress in engine and fuel tank design. It also quotes the CEO of trucking giant YRC as pointing out that the transition of trucks from gasoline to diesel took decades.

Natural gas has its largest foothold in local fleets, able to be refueled at a central station-buses, garbage trucks, etc. But nationwide, there are only about 1,500 refueling stations, of which only 716 are public. That includes the growing network along Interstates being developed by Clean Energy Fuels, most of which are CNG. Saddle Creek Logistics Services is a Florida-based pioneer in natural gas trucking, which earlier this year did four round trip test runs of a CNG-fueled tractor trailer between Lakeland, FL and San Diego. One of its findings was that some refueling stations are better than others, in terms of refueling time (one took three hours!).

Other major companies trying out natural gas trucks include Con-way Freight and UPS. Con-way has experimented with single-axle CNG tractors, finding their price to be almost double the cost of an equivalent diesel rig. They also experienced higher maintenance costs, higher cost of supplies, and the need to find and train qualified mechanics. Despite the fuel cost savings over diesel (at about 10-12¢/mile in pickup and delivery operations), that was not enough to offset the higher capital costs. UPS is using natural gas trucks in regions where refueling stations have been established, but is projected by year-end to have just 2% of its 100,000 fleet powered by natural gas.

One other point I learned while researching this story is that natural gas trucks do pay highway fuel taxes. At the federal level, CNG is taxed at the same rate as gasoline, on a BTU-equivalent basis. LNG is taxed on a per-gallon basis, at the same rate as diesel. But LNG has considerably less energy content per gallon, and NGV America figures that LNG is taxed at 170% of the diesel rate, on an energy equivalent basis. Both of these taxes go into the Highway Trust Fund. State taxing policies, however, “vary all over the place.”

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Rethinking Rail Transit, Continued

The last few months have seen a flurry of articles, reports, and studies questioning the conventional wisdom about streetcars and light rail as cost-effective forms of urban transit. Since very few metro areas have the high density of urban core jobs to support high-capacity heavy rail lines, almost all the requests for funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program are for streetcars and light rail-what Cato Institute analyst Randal O’Toole calls “high-cost, low-capacity transit.”

In a data-rich Cato policy analysis released on June 3rd, O’Toole contrasts the low capacities of actual streetcar systems (3,000 people/hour) and light-rail systems (6,000 to 12,000 people/hour) with those of heavy rail systems like BART in San Francisco (45,000/hr.) and the New York subway (49,500/hr.). To be sure, the cost per mile of heavy rail averages more than four times the cost of light rail, but what does that extra cost buy in terms of performance? The figures below are sobering:

Heavy Rail Light Rail
Percent of seats occupied 52.2% 39.2%
Farebox recovery (% of operating costs) 45.0% 21.2%
Weekday passenger miles/route mile 25,205 5,245
Weekday trips/route mile 5,349 1,013
Weekday trips/stop 11,649 1,810

To be sure, much of the difference between the two is that heavy rail is generally only built in places where there is high demand, but the question we need to answer is whether the light rail (and streetcar) projects add enough value to be worth doing despite their dismal performance.

Certainly the streetcar fad does not pass this test. As The Economist trenchantly explained in an August 5th piece (“Why Trams Are a Waste of Money”), streetcars offer slow journeys that would often be faster by walking. Because they are confined to rails in the street, they cannot route around obstacles, the way buses can. Streetcars soak up money that would provide a lot more transit service if spent on expanding bus routes and frequencies. And no, streetcars do not, by themselves, foster economic development.

One of the most fascinating analyses of transit’s limited role in cities comes from the MIT Media Lab’s Social Computing Group. They created maps for a number of major cities enabling a user to specify a location and then see which mode of getting to various places from there would be fastest. In Washington, DC, if your starting point is Capitol Hill, within a fairly small urban area, transit would be your fastest choice for less than 1% of possible destinations; biking would be faster for 55.9% and a car would be faster for 43.1%. In downtown Philadelphia, for a similar set of urban destinations transit would be fastest for only 1.2%, compared with 18.6% by bike and 70% by car. In the Chicago Loop, transit is fastest for 1.3% of urban destinations, compared with 95% by car. And in a fairly central location in San Francisco, a similar pattern obtains: 2.8% by transit, 16.6% by bike, and a whopping 80.5% by car.

All four of these cities have traditional central business districts and heavy rail plus bus systems. Yet even within the downtown area, transit is hardly ever the fastest choice, compared with biking or driving. As Emily Badger explains in her July 7th Wonkblog post on the MIT study, “These maps illustrate why people make rational calculations to drive so much of the time, even in cities where decent transit does exist.” And the idea that adding a few dozen miles of streetcar or light rail would change this is, shall we say, delusional. (You can read her post with the amazing maps at www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/07/07/why-cars-remain-so-appealing-even-in-cities-with-decent-public-transit)

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Has the Case for V2V Been Made?

Last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a major research report on its experiments in Ann Arbor with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications systems-and also released an advance notice of proposed rule-making (ANPRM) that is expected to mandate the inclusion of V2V technology in all new vehicles within a few years. The announcements led to cheers from much of the intelligent transportation system (ITS) community, which has been waiting years for NHTSA to bite the bullet on proceeding with V2V.

The basic case made for V2V is improved safety. According to ITS America, the U.S. DOT has estimated that V2V and the related V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) could potentially prevent or reduce the impact of 80% of all unimpaired vehicle crashes. The italicized words are important qualifications when estimates of lives saved are tossed around. AAA reports that distracted driving contributes to 16% of all fatal crashes, and other sources estimate that 40% of fatalities in car crashes occur because of a drunk driver. So if we focus just on fatal crashes, we can estimate that more than half are due to driver problems that V2V would not address. Eighty percent of the remaining 44% is just 35% of all crashes, very different from the headline figure of 80%.

Next, we have to ask how soon those benefits would appear. NHTSA is working toward a mandate that all new vehicles come from the factory with V2V. Full benefits would be realized only once the entire fleet is equipped, but we know that it takes about 20 years for the whole automobile fleet to be replaced as old vehicles are scrapped and replaced by new ones. You could do a 20-year benefit/cost analysis that would estimate the annual benefits as they increase over 20 years, discounted to present value by a realistic discount rate (since benefits in future years are worth less than benefits today). If anyone has done that sort of calculation, we’d all like to see the results.

What about the 20-year stream of costs? The NHTSA crash-reduction estimates are based on both V2V and V2I being implemented. But achieving the full benefits of V2I would require equipping millions of intersections with communications technology during those same 20 years, estimated in a recent GAO report to cost $25-30,000 per installation just in capital costs. For a million installations, at $25K each, that’s $25 billion. That cost must be added to the estimated cost of equipping all new cars, estimated by DOT as $350 per car. There are about 254 million registered vehicles, so the cost of equipping them all, over 20 years, would be about $89 billion. So the total capital cost would be $114 billion.

There are also numerous technical, legal, and political questions that need to be addressed before a system like this could be implemented. Spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band has theoretically been reserved for this purpose, but the ITS community continues to point to pressure from other potential users to have the FCC reallocate portions of this band.

There is a host of data security and privacy issues involved with V2V. You can read an excellent overview of these issues, including a good description of how V2V works, by downloading Sean Gallagher’s Jan. 30, 2014 Ars Technica article, “Potholes Abound on the Road to Car-to-Car Communication.” V2V would continually broadcast your vehicle’s location, speed, and some other data to anything within a range of about 820 feet. This raises all kinds of concerns about who might gain access to this information and what they might do with it. There has been a fair amount of discussion among techies about what kind of security system would be required; Gallagher says it would be the largest public key encryption system ever developed. The GAO’s December 2013 report said that “It is currently not only difficult to estimate the potential costs, but unclear who or what entity-consumers, automobile manufacturers, the Department of Transportation, state and local governments, or others-would pay the costs. Determining who or what entity will fund the [security] system will likely prove challenging.”

There have been a number of reputable articles about the ability of hackers to gain access to the existing electronic control units (ECUs) already in your car. Early hacker demonstrations required hard-wired access to the onboard diagnostic port (OBD) under your dashboard (the place where you plug in the pay-as-you-drive insurance module), but in March 2011 academic researchers Stefan Savage and Tadayoshi Kohno described hacking a car’s software wirelessly, using the vehicle’s Bluetooth and cell phone connections. Unless there is a really good V2V security system, such hacking would be made easier by every car having two-way communications capability built-in. There is even a project under way by the European Network of Law Enforcement Technology Services that would give police the ability to remotely disable a car’s systems, bringing it to a halt (to avoid hazardous police vehicle chases).

Finally, the car enthusiast community has expressed concerns about the future ability to drive classic cars without GPS, ECUs, and V2V. If NHTSA intends that all vehicles will eventually have V2V on safety grounds, will classic cars be banned from the highways?

As a lifelong fan of technology, with two engineering degrees from MIT, I’m not saying V2V is a bad idea. I’m simply pointing out that the benefit/cost case for it has not yet been made, and a that a great many other questions have not yet been seriously addressed. It will be interesting to read the comments submitted in response to NHTSA’s NPRM when it is issued.

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A Suggested TIFIA Reform

The entire public-private partnership (P3) community, along with many state DOTs and MPOs, is pushing for Congress to continue or expand the TIFIA loan program for surface transportation projects with a dedicated revenue stream. Given the key role that TIFIA has played in providing gap financing for a growing number of good projects, I continue to support TIFIA.

However, when Congress crafts the replacement for MAP-21 (which theoretically expires Sept. 30th but has been extended through next May), they should reinstate the original cap of 33%–i.e., the maximum size of a TIFIA loan is 33% of the total project budget. That requirement was part of TIFIA from its inception in 1998 until MAP-21 changed it to 49% in 2012. I’ve thought all along that for TIFIA to fulfill its role as providing subordinated gap financing, it should provide no more than a third of a project’s budget. It’s critically important that buyers of the primary debt judge that debt to be investment-grade and carrying most of the debt load.

But there are two other reasons why the TIFIA loan cap should be reduced. First, it is in Congress’s interest, state DOTs’ interest, and project developers’ interests that as many projects as possible that meet solid criteria be able to get a subordinated gap-financing loan. A $1 billion allocation will cover considerably more projects if dished out in chunks representing 25% to 30% of a project’s budget rather than 40 to 49%.

Second, there is a growing right-wing populist campaign under way against tolling and P3 projects. One of their claims is that if a project fails and defaults on its debt, then “taxpayers” will lose money. That claim is false when it comes to bank loans or private activity bonds, which are revenue bonds not backed by the taxing power of the government sponsoring the project. But TIFIA loans are made by the U.S. DOT, and in a future work-out of a bankrupt project, the DOT might be forced to take a “haircut” and accept, say, 60¢ on the dollar, along with the other lenders. That would be a direct loss to federal taxpayers (even though it would be a tiny rounding error in US DOT’s total budget). Reducing the size of TIFIA loans would reduce that taxpayer exposure below its already low level.

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Upcoming Conferences

Note: I don’t have space to list all transportation conferences that might be of interest. Below are those that I or a Reason Foundation colleague are taking part in.

IBTTA 82nd Annual Meeting, Sept. 14-17, Hilton Austin, Austin, TX (Robert Poole speaking). Details at www.ibtta.org/austin

Future of Atlanta [Cobb County] Transportation, Sept. 18, Kennesaw, GA, Kennesaw State University Center (Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details at http://sbdc.kennesaw.edu/TransportationTownHall.htm

2014 Preserving the American Dream Conference, Sept. 19-21, Embassy Suites-Stapleton, Denver, CO (Robert Poole and Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details at http://americandreamcoalition.org/?page_id=3515

Southern California Transportation Challenges and Opportunities, VICA 26th Annual Business Forecast Conference, Oct. 3, Burbank, CA (Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details at www.vica.com/pages/BusinessForecastConference

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News Notes

Explaining Mixed Results of Red Light Camera Studies . Five university researchers think they have found out why some studies of red light cameras show reduced accidents while others show increases. They identified four criteria by which to separate rigorous from non-rigorous studies, such as avoiding selection bias in the choice of control (non-camera) intersections. Their conclusion, published in the summer issue of the peer-reviewed journal Evaluation and the Health Professions, was that the rigorous studies showed increased accidents, while the poor-methodology studies showed decreases.

Texas Anti-Tolls Ballot Measure. On their November ballots, voters in Texas will face a constitutional amendment that would divert half the oil and gas tax revenue now used for the state’s rainy-day fund to the State Highway Fund. However, none of that money could be used to help fund toll roads. A report from the Texas House Research Organization describes the amendment as helping the state rely less on tolls and debt for highway projects.

Abertis May Acquire Indiana Toll Road. Spanish toll road company Abertis has entered into talks with the three principal creditors of the privatized Indiana Toll Road, reports Public Works Financing in its July-August issue. Abertis has hired Barclay’s Capital to discuss the possibility with Santander, BBVA, and BNP Paribas. Cintra and Macquarie financed their 75-year lease of the Toll Road prior to the 2008 financial markets collapse and the ensuing Great Recession, which hurt the highway’s traffic and revenue. Thus far, Abertis’s only U.S. toll facilities are in Puerto Rico.

Five Shortlisted for Dutch Locks PPP. Rijkswaterstaat has short-listed five consortia for its 30-year design-build-finance-maintain concession for its $903 million project to build new sea locks for a key Dutch commercial waterway. After an initial round of discussions, the agency will select three finalists, whose bids will be due next April. The new locks are intended to be operational before the end of 2019, reports Inspiratia Infrastructure (August 20th).

Orange County (CA) Toll Roads Now All-Electronic. The three toll roads developed and operated by the Transportation Corridors Agencies in southern Orange County completed the switch to all-electronic tolling early this summer. Before the conversion, 81% of daily tolls were paid electronically via a FasTrak account. Today that figure is up to 96%, with the remainder being billed via license plate imaging.

States Better at Highway Funding than Congress. Since 1997, 23 of the 50 states have increased their taxes on motor fuels a total of 32 times, according to the results of a study recently released by ARTBA (American Road & Transportation Builders Association). In addition, 7 states have adopted some form of inflation-related adjustment mechanism in their taxation of motor fuels. Many of these measures have occurred in recent years, following the end of the Great Recession.

Driver Tests 38-State Tolling Interoperability. If you drive 13,000 miles and use every major toll system in America, will their systems all recognize you as a valid user? That challenge was posed by Glenn Deitiker, president of BancPass, which offers a smart-phone app for electronic toll payments. His test driver used a transponder from North Carolina, NC QuickPass, but also registered in advance with each of the major regional electronic tolling systems (E-ZPass, Sunpass, FasTrak, etc.). The results were mixed, reported TollRoadsNews.com: most systems could interface with the transponder, but many had trouble with the video tolling used as an alternative. Although they could all read the test vehicle’s license plate, quite a few had trouble processing the data. Overall, Deitiker told the IBTTA all-electronic tolling summit in San Diego, it is possible to achieve tolling interoperability nationwide today-but it’s not easy. (http://tollroadsnews.com/news/are-we-there-yet-a-test-of-national-toll-interoperability)

Moody’s Finds Infrastructure Bonds Less Volatile than Corporate Bonds. According to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service, “Infrastructure Default and Recovery Rates, 1983-2013,” ratings on infrastructure bonds have been more stable than those of non-financial corporate issuers. Ratings in the U.S. municipal infrastructure sector were about one-fifth as volatile as ratings of those corporate bonds, while ratings of corporate infrastructure were about two-thirds as volatile. The report was issued in May 2014.

Hybrid Toll/AP Concession in Brazil. The last few years have seen a number of U.S. toll concessions in which the government does the tolling and compensates the concession company via availability payments. The first such project is now under way in Sao Paulo state in Brazil. The $1.3 billion project will upgrade, operate, and maintain a key portion of highway SP-099 (Nova Tamoios) over a 30-year period. Five bids have been submitted by pre-qualified consortia; the winner will be the one offering to do the project for the lowest annual availability payment.

Trolley Trucks Proposed for LA Port. The Port of Los Angeles is working with Siemens Mobility and Logistics to install an overhead catenary system along a one-mile stretch of Alameda Street-a so-called eHighway. The idea is to require (or encourage?) drayage trucks to switch to electric power when transporting containers to and from the port, thereby reducing diesel emissions. The $13.5 million installation will take place in 2015. No word yet where the dual-mode trucks are supposed to come from-or who will pay for them.

Tampa’s I-4 Connector Wins Award. The $421 million tolled connector between I-4 and the Selmon Expressway toll road won the 2014 Outstanding Project Award from Florida DOT and the Florida Institute of Consulting Engineers. Opened last year, the Connector currently handles 24,000 vehicles a day, keeping them off the local streets of Ybor City as they pass between the two expressways.

Truck Parking Information System Open in Michigan. Michigan DOT has opened the first Truck Parking Information & Management System at five public rest areas and 10 private truck stops along I-94. It collects real-time information about truck parking availability at those 15 locations and distributes it to dynamic message signs, smart-phone apps, and future connected vehicle technology. MDOT worked with HNTB to identify available truck parking spaces off the highway. The real-time data are sent to Truck Smart Parking Services, a private data-services company. More details are provided in the Summer 2014 issue of Transportation Management & Engineering‘s article “Trial Voyage” by Eric Morris and Collin Castle.

Good Introduction to Bridge Condition-Monitoring. The Atlantic’s Citylab.com has published an excellent overview of how various sensing devices can monitor the structural condition of highway bridges. Former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, points out that bridge condition-monitoring is better at spotting serious problems than periodic visual inspections, but it also can identify cases where old but structurally sound bridges can be kept in service longer. Together, such data can be of great help in prioritizing where and when to spend bridge repair and replacement dollars. (www.citylab.com/tech/2014/08/how-to-save-americas-crumbling-bridges-while-congress-gets-its-funding-act-together/378853)

Clarification re CityLab and Rockefeller Foundation. Eric Jaffe of CityLab emailed after last month’s issue to point out that CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities) has Rockefeller Foundation funding only for its Future of Transportation series, not the overall program.

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Quotable Quotes

“Under Panamanian leadership, the canal has not merely been maintained as one of the world’s premier shipping routes. It has been transformed from a staid, state-owned public utility, with its quasi-socialist ‘zone’ for employees, to a modern business that aims to maximize revenues and compete internationally. The privatization of the ports on both coasts and the railroad that runs alongside the waterway, as well as the construction of a third set of locks, are testaments to the visionary and entrepreneurial thinking that Panamanian ownership has brought.”
-Mary Anastasia O’Grady, “The Panama Canal Celebrates 100 Years,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 18, 2014

“Another common misallocation has been for the light rail systems in many U.S. cities. While there are entirely appropriate in dense ones, they amount to white elephants in the spread-out ones. It is astounding, for example, that the nation’s longest light rail system is found not in New York City or Chicago, but Dallas, a sprawling city that may never achieve a critical mass of riders. Yet Dallas Area Rapid Transit boasts this thanks largely to $70 million in federal subsidies. Unsurprisingly, given the regional layout, DART’s ridership has fallen well under initial projections, and [it] used revenue that could have gone toward buses, which are cheaper and better at serving remote, low-income areas. It is worth noting that since 1992, when the system went under construction, per capita transit ridership has actually fallen, citywide.” [italics in original]
-Scott Beyer, “4 Reasons Federal Money Is Bad for U.S. Transportation,” NextCity, August 28, 2014

“The man of system . . . seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that . . . in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. When the man of system ignores the inherent limits of his mind and the incentives of those he would command, his hubris will produce consequences at odds with his intentions.”
-Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, quoted in Sandy Ikeda, “Passing a Law Won’t Get It Done, The Freeman, April 2014

“The bottom line is that there has to be an overriding reason to change the way freight moves in this country. Short-sea shipping, after all the studies, hasn’t provided one.”
-J. Stanley Payne, Summit Strategic Partners, quoted in Mark Szakonyi, “Full-Speed Ahead on Marine Highways,” The Journal of Commerce, August 18, 2014

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