Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation News #133

Is it futile to expand highways? New thinking on autonomous vehicles. Are taxpayers losing money on TIFIA loans?

In this issue:

Is Adding Highway Capacity Futile?

Some years ago, Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution postulated that adding capacity to a congested highway leads to a “triple convergence” of responses: some drivers shift from other roads, some drivers shift from other times of day, and some commuters shift from other modes. The predictable result is that after some time interval, the expanded highway ends up just as congested as before. This has been called the “iron law of highway congestion,” and anti-highway groups have used it as a reason to lobby against adding capacity, especially to congested urban freeways.

In 2011 the American Economic Review published a quantitative analysis of this phenomenon by Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner (hereafter, D&T), titled “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from U.S. Cities.” Using FHWA highway statistics data and National Household Travel Survey data, their econometric analysis found evidence that vehicle miles of travel (VMT) on urban Interstates increase proportionally to highway capacity. In effect, they claimed, highway supply creates its own demand.

For some reason, last month a free-market think tank (PERC) reprinted a 2011 blog post by Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog based on the D&T paper, called “Building Roads to Cure Congestion Is an Exercise in Futility.” Like a 2011 Wired article about the D&T paper, it claimed stronger results than D&T’s analysis produced-a purported one-for-one correlation (always and everywhere) between highway capacity growth and VMT growth. That post was widely circulated just about the time that the long-planned, billion-dollar northbound HOV lane addition on I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles opened to traffic. And when first-month, before-and-after traffic comparisons showed negligible changes in rush-hour travel speeds on that stretch of the 405 (even though the duration of the peak period was shortened), the anti-auto, anti-highway crowd declared that outcome a vindication of D&T. As Joseph Stromberg wrote in a post on Vox.com (Oct. 23): “The ‘fundamental rule’ of traffic: building new roads just makes people drive more.”

I re-read the D&T paper last month, and as I did in 2011, found a number of problems with their analysis. First, their detailed analysis is for urban Interstates only; analytically, they treat arterials and all other roadways as a large blob. That leaves them unable to analyze (as opposed to only speculating about) the extent to which drivers shift trips from parallel arterials to the newly expanded urban Interstate (which would not represent new driving).

Second, D&T’s premise that all such freeways have a “natural level of saturation” implies that all urban Interstates should fill up to the point of serious peak-period congestion. But in fact, actual congestion levels (extent and duration) vary considerably among a metro area’s freeways, and among large metro areas overall. Randal O’Toole’s Antiplanner provides data on daily VMT per lane-mile on urban freeways, finding a range from as low as 9,000 to a high of 22,000.

Third, since most metro areas in recent decades have added relatively little freeway capacity, D&T’s analytical results, even if correct, tell us only that making marginal increases in freeway capacity produces little in the way of congestion reduction. In fact, the relatively small number of urban areas that have made much larger than average capacity additions have had considerably less congestion thereafter than the majority that have done only incremental additions. Exhibit 13 in the 2012 Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Center is a graph showing that, compared to the 84 urban areas that have made only modest capacity additions, the 17 that have kept capacity growth to within 10% of VMT growth have (on average) experienced decreasing congestion since 1997. D&T’s methodology does not capture differences of this kind.

O’Toole also provides data showing significant differences among the 30 largest metro areas (for the same time periods D&T cover) in the relationship between capacity expansion and VMT growth. If D&T’s finding that the elasticity between capacity increase and VMT increase is always close to 1.0 were correct, those large variations among congested urban areas would not exist.

I could go on, but I’d like to close with some thoughts from commuting expert Alan Pisarski from his recent presentation on this subject. Supposing that some version of Downs’ and D&T’s “fundamental law” were correct, does the “futility” of the anti-auto people follow? On Downs’ triple convergence, he suggests looking at why more motorists show up on the expanded freeway: some switch from parallel routes because they find doing so an improvement over their former route. Those who shift from other travel times do this because it increases their utility. And the same goes for those who shift from other modes. Hence, the expanded freeway “improves and expands choice for both previous and new users.”

And this gets back to the question of how a highway provider should respond to increased demand from its customers. Should it tell the customers they are wrong to prefer personal mobility? Should an electric utility tell its customers they should switch to wood-burning stoves, rather than adding generating capacity? Should a school district not add schools to serve a growing population of families with kids? Infrastructure providers are supposed to provide the vital facilities that people need (and are willing to pay for), not tell them their preferences are wrong.

To be sure, there are locations where the cost of adding freeway capacity may significantly exceed the benefits to highway customers. When that is the case, I agree with both Anthony Downs and Duranton & Turner that the solution is to implement congestion pricing. And as readers of this newsletter know, I’ve spent decades advocating pricing, along with cost-effective capacity additions, for dealing with urban freeway congestion.

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Important New Thoughts on Autonomous Vehicles

I continue to read extensively about autonomous vehicles (AVs), and while I see significant potential, the more serious literature I review, the more skeptical I become about the popular media hype of cars without any function for a driver, going anywhere on demand. Two of the most thoughtful discussions of the limitations posed by current systems are “Who Is in Charge: the Promises and Pitfalls of Driverless Cars,” by M. L. Cummings and Jason Ryan, in the May-June 2014 TR News from TRB and “A Driverless Future?” by Paul Hutton, drawing on the views of five industry experts, in Vol. 9, No. 3 of Thinking Highways, North American edition.

Let me summarize the main points raised by this collection of experts, as follows:

  1. Automation is inherently brittle and subject to failures;
  2. Hence, for at least a long time, a driver must be able to take over on short notice;
  3. We don’t really know how to provide such transitions, and the aviation experience is troubling; and,
  4. There are ambiguous situations where we may not want the automation to make the decisions.

Consultant Alain Dunoyer maintains that “A 100% autonomous vehicle is only going to be 100% autonomous for part of the road, under certain weather conditions,” and Cummings and Ryan (C&R) note that “Google researchers admit that they have yet to master inclement weather and construction areas.” For example, LIDAR sensors have trouble with dust, fog, and precipitation. And the extent of redundancy of the four key systems (LIDAR, cameras, GPS, and maps) is unknown, “or whether the car will function correctly if any one of the four systems fails.”

Steve Shladover of UC Berkeley (in Thinking Highways) points out that there is one fatal-injury crash for every 3 million hours of vehicle operation today. Hence, for the automated vehicle to be no less safe, it must have mean-time-between-failure better than that. Yet “This is a consumer product that is software-intensive. It has to operate under incredibly complicated and diverse conditions. This far exceeds the complexity of what a laptop computer or a smartphone needs to do, but can you imagine a laptop or a mobile phone that can go 3 million hours without crashing?” That works out to about once every 350 years.

Therefore, with current technologies, there must be provision for handing back control to the driver under some kinds of circumstances. But that opens up a whole can of worms. C&R point out that the human systems engineering community finds that “automated systems can lead to boredom, which encourages distraction.” So at the very time when she must quickly resume control, “The operator may be unaware of the state of the vehicle . . . and may not be able to respond quickly and appropriately” to avoid an accident. They illustrate this kind of situation with a number of examples from aviation, noting that a number of recent crashes have resulted not from “pilot error” per se, but from “failures of human-automation interaction.” Human attention is a limited resource, and without ongoing stimulus to pay attention, the result is boredom and hence inability to react very quickly when the need to resume control occurs without warning. They also cite recent research on this kind of situation with today’s driver-assist automation systems. They conclude that the design of vehicular automation must ensure that the operator understands the system’s limitations and maintains full awareness of the system’s state in real time. And that is quite at odds with media visions of people having business meetings or playing computer games while the car does all the driving.

Perhaps most troubling is the question of ambiguous situations, where we may not want the automation to make the decisions. As of now, humans are much better than machines at interpreting a traffic cop’s gestures at a construction zone, and distinguishing between harmless debris in the road that you can drive over versus objects you must swerve to avoid. C&R point out that “avoiding a car calmly changing lanes is entirely different from anticipating the actions of a reckless and irrational driver.” Shladover notes that “ethically ambiguous situations” are inevitable, but it’s not at all clear if we want software to make the decision about which way to swerve to avoid a possibly fatal accident (pedestrian on one side, oncoming car on the other). Many such dilemmas have been proposed, but I have yet to see a compelling argument on how to resolve such questions.

C&R suggest that perhaps “machines should not be allowed to take the lives of humans under any circumstances–which is similar to one of the three laws of robotics drawn up by author Isaac Asimov.” The widespread assumption that autonomous vehicles must become the norm as soon as possible because this will lead to net lives saved cannot be taken for granted, they say, “particularly at NHTSA [automation] Levels 2 and 3.” Moreover, even some killing of humans by machines “will not resonate well with the general public” and could cause a political backlash against the technology.

I’ve only skimmed the surface of these important, thought-provoking articles. I urge you to read them yourself. Both are available online; just Google their titles.

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Are Taxpayers Losing Money on TIFIA Loans?

Anti-toll and anti-PPP groups have recently begun arguing that taxpayers are bailing out bankrupt PPP toll projects, circulating a January 2012 Bloomberg article that cited a Congressional Budget Office report (Jan. 9, 2012) that said the bankruptcy court in the case of the South Bay Expressway (SBX) in San Diego “imposed a 42 percent loss [$72 million] on federal taxpayers.” Of the several dozen TIFIA loans made for toll projects thus far, there have been only two bankruptcies: SBX in San Diego and the Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia.

Let’s take the latter case first. Earlier this year, concession company Transurban paid off the TIFIA loans that were outstanding on Pocahontas Parkway when it wrote off its equity investment in that project and turned it back to the Virginia DOT. So federal taxpayers have lost nothing in that bankruptcy.

SBX is a bit more complicated. The SBX concession company (owned by Macquarie) filed for bankruptcy due to a major shortfall in toll revenue, occasioned by the collapse of the residential new-housing market in eastern San Diego County (which declined 83% between 2006 and 2009). In the initial bankruptcy deal, the concession company’s equity was wiped out and the debt providers (including TIFIA) each took a 42% “haircut.” But that’s not the end of the story.

Subsequent to the bankruptcy settlement, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) worked out a deal with the creditors to buy the nearly new toll road (which had cost $773 million) from the creditors for the bargain price of $344.5 million. That deal closed on Dec. 21, 2011, after the above-mentioned CBO report was already written but not yet published. The revised deal gave TIFIA a $94.1 senior lien note plus $15.4 million in cash, plus a small $1.4 million subordinated loan. The senior lien has higher interest rates than the original TIFIA loan (and has received an investment-grade rating from Fitch). With the improved toll revenue prospects of SBX going forward, “the TIFIA program is positioned to receive 100 percent of the original loan balance,” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s analysis.

OMB’s FY 2015 Federal Credit Supplement provides a table showing detailed figures on the entire TIFIA loan portfolio, whose value is re-estimated every year. The latest total of the column headed “net lifetime re-estimate amount” shows a potential loss of $27 million out of 49 TIFIA loans totaling $19 billion (about .014%). Thus, according to OMB, the overall TIFIA portfolio-so far-is essentially breaking even. To be sure, there may be one or two bankruptcy filings in the next year or so, and many of the projects that have received TIFIA loans are still under construction. But a realistic estimate, as of now, is so far, so good.

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Pennsylvania Taking on Deficient Bridges via PPP

For many years, Pennsylvania has been among the five states with the highest percentage of bridges designated either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. In Reason Foundation’s 21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems (1984-2012), the state ranked 48th out of 50, with a whopping 38.74% of its bridges in those categories, with only New York (38.82%) and Rhode Island (50.52%) scoring worse. But the Keystone State is embarking on a pioneering public-private partnership to make a large dent in that backlog: the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project.

After a 10-month procurement process, PennDOT last month selected a team headed by Plenary Group and the Walsh Group for an $899 million contract to replace 558 deficient bridges statewide and then to maintain them for 25 years, on a design-build-finance-maintain (DBFM) basis. The team is putting in $63 million in equity and the state will issue $772 million in tax-exempt private activity bonds on behalf of the team, to finance the project. Over the duration of the contract, PennDOT will make annual availability payments, estimated at $65 million per year, enabling the team to make a return on its equity investment and to pay debt service on the PABs to bondholders.

The bridges are small, with an average age of 70 years and an average replacement cost of about $1 million. In an interview with Reason Foundation’s Leonard Gilroy, PennDOT’s Bryan Kendro (director of the Office of Policy & Public Private Partnerships) explained how the project will work, and why it is better than conventional procurements. Kendro explained that the basic idea is to standardize replacement designs to take advantages of economies of scale. PennDOT tested the idea of “bundling” bridges into a single contract several years ago, via a single design-build contract to replace 10 bridges. That led to 30-40% savings on design costs and 10% savings on construction costs. Larger economies of scale are expected with the 558-bridge contract. Other advantages of the DBFM contract include (1) getting a much larger number of bridges replaced much sooner, thanks to financing the project rather than doing it out of annual budgets, and (2) generating designs with lower life-cycle costs thanks to the same entity that designs and builds them being responsible for maintaining them for 25 years. (You can read the whole interview at http://reason.org/news/show/pennsylvania-transportation-ppp.)

Out of its 25,000 bridges, Pennsylvania has more than 4,000 categorized as either structurally deficient (like these) or functionally obsolete, so if this PPP project goes well, there may be interest in applying the model to additional bridge-bundling PPP contracts. Likewise, other states with high percentages of deficient bridges may see the PennDOT model as something to emulate.

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Commute Mode Share Data Show Interesting Trends

The 2013 American Community Survey data on work trips by mode were released last month. Forget all the hype you’ve read about record gains for transit use. Yes, total transit ridership nationwide increased by a modest 375,000, but 80% of that took place in the six largest markets (and 40% in the New York metro area alone). Of the remaining 75,000 new riders, Seattle, Miami, San Jose, and Phoenix accounted for 60,000, leaving only 15,000 new riders shared among 42 other large metro areas. Los Angeles actually lost 5,000 transit riders, giving it a commute mode share of 5.8%, lower than the 5.9% it had in 1980 when it began adding rail to its transit system.

As in previous commuting-mode reports in recent years, driving alone in major metro areas increased modestly, from 73.5% in 2010 to 73.6% in 2013, while car-pooling decreased from 9.6% to 9.0% (continuing a several-decade decline). Working at home (telecommuting) continued to increase, growing from 4.4% to 4.6%. That increase in telecommuting was cited in recent news reports as the most likely explanation for the recent decrease in ridership on the Washington, DC Metro heavy rail system, taking its total ridership back to the levels of 2005. Metro staff have pointed out that, in response to federal tele-work policies, more than 10% of federal workers in DC now telecommute at least once a week.

Pro-transit and anti-auto groups such as the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) continue to argue for shifting more federal and state funding from highways to transit. But especially when it comes to federal funding, the numbers simply do not support that. As Greg Cohen pointed out in a recent National Journal transportation blog post, during the recession VMT per capita decreased about 3,000 miles per year, but during the same period, transit passenger miles per capita increased only 16 miles per year. So “99.5% of all lost highway miles were basically trips that simply didn’t occur,” Cohen notes. He goes on to remind us that for several decades, transit has received nearly 20% of federal surface transportation funds, while accounting for only 1.3% of passenger miles of travel (BTS Table 1-40). He also notes that since 1957, U.S. population has increased by 150 million, while the number of transit trips per capita has dropped from 63 to 34 per year. In effect, “none of these [new] people are using transit.” The average American travels 175 miles on transit each year, but drives 13,615 miles a year on streets and highways.

Transit is vitally important for commuting in what demographer Wendell Cox calls legacy transit metro areas, whose central business districts contain a significant share of the region’s jobs. Elsewhere, grid-type bus systems offer mobility to people without cars, and in many cases can be improved via adding limited-stop express buses on major arterials and regional express bus services on express toll lanes. But it is increasingly difficult to justify a nationwide policy of shifting 20% of federal highway user taxes to transit that is (1) highly concentrated in a handful of very large metro areas and (2) handling overall only 1.3% of passenger miles of travel.

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Transportation in the November Election

It was a mixed bag for transportation ballot measures in the Nov. 4th election. Four statewide ballot measures endorsed increased funding, with Maryland and Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly voting to amend their constitutions to prohibit raids on their transportation trust funds. Texas voters approved by an 80/20 margin a constitutional amendment to allocate up to half the annual tax revenue on oil and gas production to the state’s highway fund. In Massachusetts, however, voters passed (by 53/47) a measure to repeal the indexation of their gas tax.

At the regional/local level, the American Public Transportation Association reports that over 70% of all ballot measures to increase spending on transit (either alone or along with highways) were approved by voters. This includes two such measures in the San Francisco Bay Area, two in the Atlanta area, and one each in Rhode Island and Seattle. But there were also some notable defeats. Voters turned down light rail proposals in Austin (42/58), Pinellas County, FL (38/62), and Alachua County/Gainesville, FL (40/60), and mixed transit measures in Wichita, KS (36/62) and Kansas City, MO (37/62). A Seattle monorail proposal was trounced by a 20/80 margin.

In addition, Maryland voters elected Republican Larry Hogan as their new governor. During his campaign he voiced opposition to both the Baltimore Red Line and the WAMATA Metro’s Purple Line. Whether that was just campaign rhetoric or serious opposition remains to be seen.

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Express Toll Lanes Continue to Grow

New projects to add express toll lanes are in the planning stages in Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, and Virginia. And several other projects are nearing completion and are scheduled to open within the next six months.

Toll lanes on I-95 will be opening soon in South Florida and Virginia. In Northern Virginia, 29 miles of express toll lanes from Rt. 610 in Stafford County to the Capital Beltway will open next month. Developed by the same Transurban/Fluor team that developed and operates the express toll lanes on the Beltway, the new lanes will interface with the Beltway lanes, forming the beginning of an express lanes network for the Washington, DC metro area. And set for opening in April is Phase 2 of the I-95 express lanes in the Miami metro area; after opening, the lanes will extend from downtown Miami to downtown Fort Lauderdale. Phase 3, not yet begun, will extend the express lanes to Delray Beach in Palm Beach County.

Colorado DOT, with express lanes in operation on I-25 and under construction on US 36, is finalizing a project to add express toll lanes on a portion of I-70 north and east of downtown Denver, as part of reconstructing that aging stretch of Interstate. Florida DOT is studying potential express lanes projects in Tampa and Jacksonville, with I-95 as the most likely corridor in the latter. Massachusetts DOT held an industry day in October to review three potential PPP projects, one of which would add express toll lanes to Route 3 south of Boston. Virginia DOT recently announced that the best congestion-relief option for I-66 outside the Beltway will be express toll lanes, with a project go-ahead targeted for 2015 and construction to begin in 2017. In Washington State, WSDOT is under way with constructing Phase 1of the I-405 express toll lanes, on 17 congested miles between Bellevue and Lynwood. And Texas DOT is in the procurement phase for its SH 288 Toll Lanes P3 project to add four express toll lanes to a 10-mile stretch of this expressway in the Houston area. The estimated cost is $535 million.

There are missed opportunities for express toll lanes in other states. A prime example is New York. The $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project (across the Hudson River, just north of New York City) will be toll-financed, but the increased toll rates have not yet been announced. What has been announced is a bus-only lane on the bridge, even though funding for new express bus service is uncertain. Even when funding for the bus service is obtained, any likely level of bus service will use only a very small fraction of the bus lane’s capacity. This is a perfect opportunity to operate the lane as an express toll lane instead, charging a variable premium-level toll that will keep the lane free-flowing during peak periods, while raising more revenue than the general lanes. That would enable the toll rates on the general lanes to be somewhat less than otherwise needed, easing the political shock of the new rates.

Finally, in Wisconsin, newly re-elected Gov. Scott Walker has suggested rethinking how that state funds transportation, and expressed interest in HOT lanes on urban Interstates.

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News Notes

Bidders Prepare for Indiana Toll Road Auction . A federal bankruptcy judge approved the reorganization plan proposed by the ITR Concession Co. The plan gives the company until August 2015 to find a buyer for the 67 remaining years of the concession. Public Works Financing reports that at least four consortia have been formed to bid for the concession: Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, teamed with Cintra and Brookfield Asset Management; Hastings Fund Management teamed with CalPERS and Autostrade; Abertis Infrastructure teamed with Borealis (Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System); and IFM Investors teamed with Alberta Investment Management Corp. and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

Arizona’s First Highway PPP. Arizona DOT has opted for a design-build-maintain (DBM) approach for its long-planned South Mountain Freeway, which will not be tolled. Under the state’s PPP law, last year it received an unsolicited proposal for the $2 billion project, which also did not include toll financing. ADOT is now asking interested firms to submit their qualifications to design, construct, and maintain the new freeway.

AAA Finds Voice Apps in Cars Distract Drivers. A new study from the AAA Foundation investigated the impact on driving behavior of the recent generation of voice-activated apps that allow drivers to create and sent spoken text messages, adjust controls, enter GPS destinations, etc. The study found that as workload goes up, driver distraction goes up. “That suppresses [other] brain activity, it slows reaction time, and it decreases visual scanning,”-which increases the risk of accidents.

A Tipping Point for U.S. High Speed Rail? The American Public Transportation Association’s Committee on High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail held a roundtable last month to discuss whether some threshold amount of new passenger rail service will lead to a major increase in its acceptance as a new transportation mode. Ken Orski published his skeptical view in Innovation NewsBriefs on October 2nd. I’m largely in agreement with his views, which you can find online at www.innobriefs.com.

Dutch Developing New Locks as PPP Projects. Unlike the United States, the Netherlands is using long-term design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) concessions for new and replacement locks on its vitally important waterways. Last month Rijkswaterstaat began the procurement process for the Lekkanaal-Beatrix Lock project, a $295 million effort that will widen the approaches at both ends of the lock and add a new (third) lock chamber to handle larger cargo vessels. Meanwhile, in a procurement already under way for the $886 million Ijmuiden sea lock project, the agency received the requested risk-management plans from four interested consortia. The best three will be short-listed for detailed proposals.

Useful Perspective on Transit Buses. Joshua Schank’s “The Case of the Neglected Transit Bus” is a short essay on the website of the Eno Center for Transportation, and is well worth reading. It makes the point that, all too often, metro areas with rail systems fail to pay enough attention to their bus systems, which in many cases carry a lot more passengers and are far less costly to expand. (https://www.enotrans.org/eno-brief/the-case-of-the-neglected-transit-bus)

Croatia Plans Motorways Privatization. Bids are expected late this month for a concession of 30 to 50 years for Croation Motorways. The government is expecting to raise in the vicinity of $3 billion from selling the concession, with the proceeds going to reduce the national debt. Inspiratia Infrastructure reports that five groups are expected to bid, headed by: Atlantia/CPPIB, Cintra, Egis/Macquarie, Goldman Sachs/Vinci, and Strabag.

Germany Plans Shift to Autobahn Tolls. Last decade Germany implemented a system of electronic truck tolling called TollCollect, with the revenues dedicated to transportation infrastructure. Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, and Switzerland have tolled motorways on which German cars and trucks must pay tolls, but passenger vehicles from those countries can use the Autobahns at no charge. Now that truck tolling is well-established, the German government is getting set to charge autos and other light vehicles using the Autobahn, as well. But because German drivers already pay an annual vehicle tax, they will be able to deduct the new charge from that tax liability. The current plan, if finalized, would begin the car tolls in 2016.

A Thoughtful Critique of NHTSA’s V2V Proposal. In response to the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking issued by NHTSA concerning a proposed mandate that new motor vehicles come equipped for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has submitted official comments to the NHTSA docket (No. NHTSA-2014-0022). Scribner makes three points. First, NHTSA should wait until a long-standing dispute over the allocation of needed spectrum in the 5 GHz band is settled. Second, NHTSA should consider alternative communications technology such as cellular, rather than dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which may be considerably less costly. Finally, NHTSA should consider the possibility that automated vehicles may not require V2V, depending on how AV technology evolves. “Mandating early V2V technology in a manner that negatively impacts automated vehicle development will harm both V2X and vehicle automation in the long run.”

AASHTO Lays Out Alternative Transportation Revenue Sources. The American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials has released an updated matrix of 33 possible federal transportation revenue sources, with an illustrative rate for each and the amount of annual federal revenue it would generate if implemented. The matrix is available at: http://downloads.transportation.org/TranspoRevenueMatrix2014.pdf.

Correction re Last Month’s Issue. In News Notes last month, I garbled the name of the organization that did the report on express bus service on HOT lanes. The correct name is the Center for Neighborhood Technology. And a link to the article is: www.nctr.usf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/JPT_17.3_Newark.pdf.

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Quotable Quotes

“Obama’s transportation legacy may actually be that the process of devolution started under his watch-or, in other words, that transportation decisions began passing from the federal government to the states. Amidst federal paralysis, at least thirty states have launched serious initiatives to increase transportation-related funding since 2013. Most major metro area are expanding commuter rail networks, projects which are financed mostly by local taxpayers. Maybe local is the better way to go, since the vast majority of Americans use only infrastructure in their own county. Local ballot referenda for transportation have a stellar success rate.”
-Rebecca Strauss, “Obama’s Disappointing Legacy on Transportation Policy,” Council on Foreign Relations, October 16, 2014

“Treat road pricing as a signal, not a burden. No one likes being charged to use a highway. But when you pay a fee to go through an all-electronic toll system at highway speed, you’re receiving valuable data. The price you pay gives you an accurate picture of what it costs to build and maintain a modern, efficient road. ‘A toll is a user fee, not a tax,’ notes the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, creating ‘a clear and direct link between use of the facility and payment for that use.’ That link between cost and benefit matters, whether our goal is to keep our highways safe, get to work on time, or reduce our country’s dependence on oil from people that don’t like us very much.”
-Joseph Kopser, CEO, RideScout, “Highway Congestion Is Costing Us More than Just Time,” Huffington Post, Oct. 1, 2014

“It is difficult to overstate the best of times. American railroads are the most profitable form of transportation on earth. Worldwide, no other form of freight movement earns as high a profit as American railroads while spending billions of dollars on maintenance, new equipment, and new capacity.”
-Don Phillips, “The Best of Times, the Worst of Times,” Trains, December 2014

“Buses remain the greatest underutilized resource in transportation today. With simple adjustments to routes, and some low-cost amenities added in, buses could easily compete with private vehicles in more metropolitan regions without any major additional capital investment. In order to do this, buses need to run with high frequency and reduced delays on routes that people actually want to use. This often proves more challenging in practice than in theory. But with a few small policy changes, such practices could become more common and have a substantial positive impact.”
-Joshua L. Schank, “The Case of the Neglected Transit Bus,” Eno-Brief, Oct. 7, 2014

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