In this issue:
- Why and how to fix LA’s chronic traffic congestion
- California High Speed Rail project has new troubles
- Express toll lanes progress in five states
- TRB slams DOT truck size & weight study
- New thoughts on autonomous vehicles
- Truck tolling services expanding
- Upcoming Transportation Events
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
Fixing L.A.’s Chronic Traffic Congestion
As everyone knows, the Los Angeles metro area is the most congested in America (as measured by the Travel Time Index). It was number one back in 1982 when the Texas Transportation Institute first started producing annual urban mobility reports, and it remains number one more than three decades later. In a way, this is ironic, because the world’s first express toll lanes (on SR 91 in Orange County) were opened 20 years ago (December 1995)-and have worked remarkably well to give commuters and buses an alternative to chronic peak-period gridlock. And since that historic event, many of the country’s other major metro areas have begun building whole networks of express toll lanes-including Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC. But it was only a little over two years ago that L.A. Metro converted two failing HOV lanes (on I-10 and I-110) to ETLs. There is no actual plan for a network, and the existing long-range transportation plan projects significantly worse congestion in future years.
For Reason Foundation, whose headquarters is in L.A., this is ironic and a bit embarrassing. But that’s not the only reason we’ve just released a major study called “Increasing Mobility in Southern California: A New Approach.” Chronic congestion undercuts the economic benefits of a large urban economy, by restricting the extent to which employers can hire the best people, and the extent to which people can find the best job. The worse congestion gets, the more the regional GDP is negatively affected.
The report is the product of more than five years of work, including detailed computer modeling. It offers a comprehensive plan for decreasing the region’s chronic immobility. The plan’s components include:
- A region-wide network of express toll lanes spanning almost the entire expressway system;
- The upgrading of 18 major east-west and north-south arterials to “managed arterials,” with optional electronically tolled grade separations (overpasses or underpasses) at signalized intersection;
- A large expansion of BRT and express bus service, taking advantage of the ETLs and managed arterials as reliable, uncongested guideways;
- Mega-projects to fill in six major missing links in the regional expressway network, five of them as deep-bore tunnels and all six of them electronically tolled.
- Recommendations for revamping or rebuilding a number of freeway interchange bottlenecks that add significantly to congestion, making greater use of the kinds of ITS technology already in use in the region, etc.
The estimated cost of all these improvements is $714 billion, but the toll revenues from the ETL network, managed arterials, and the six megaprojects are estimated to generate over half of that total. The rest of the plan could be paid for out of existing transportation revenues, based on revenue projections from the Southern California Association of Governments, the six-county MPO.
On Nov. 17th I joined study author Baruch Feigenbaum at a luncheon event at the City Club in Los Angeles to unveil the study. Commenting on the proposals were former DOT Secretary Mary Peters, SCAG executive director Hasan Ikhrata, and Caltrans chief financial officer Norma Ortega. Peters praised the plan, saying it “offers solid solutions to LA’s transportation challenges that do not require tax increases and would improve mobility options for all users in the region.” Ikhrata and Ortega pointed to many constraints in existing law and regulations that limit what can actually be done, but agreed with Feigenbaum and me that reducing regulations, expanding the ability to use variable tolling, and enacting state-of-the-art public-private partnership legislation would significantly improve things.
The policy summary of the new report is online at /wp-content/uploads/2015/11/improve_mobility_southern_california.pdf.
The full report and its appendices are available at /wp-content/uploads/2015/11/southern_california_mobility_plan.pdf.
California High Speed Rail Project in Trouble
As the $68 billion Los Angeles to San Francisco high-speed rail project begins constructing its initial operating segment (from Burbank to Merced), new doubts and concerns are emerging. A several-part investigative series published last month by the Los Angeles Times identified estimated cost increases, skeptical feedback from private-sector firms, and criticism from tunneling experts.
The High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) still maintains that the Burbank-Merced segment will cost $31 billion. But Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian managed to obtain a 2013 report to HSRA by its consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, which revised that estimate to $40 billion. Despite that new number, HSRA retained the $31 billion figure in its 2014 report to the Legislature, on the basis of which lawmakers agreed to provide $500 million per year in cap-and-trade revenues to the project through 2020.
The next piece of bad news came in 36 responses to HSRA’s request for expressions of interest from contractors and financiers. Although many would like a piece of this mega-project, none said they would invest unless the state provided a revenue guarantee (i.e., operating subsidies) or first demonstrated train operations that covered operating and maintenance costs. Operating subsidies are forbidden by the voter-approved bond measure committing $9 billion to the project, while waiting until the initial segment is in operation means there would be no private investment in this $40 billion starter segment. Currently, HSRA has $9 billion in potential bond proceeds, $3.2 billion in federal grants, and up to $2.5 billion from cap-and trade revenue-just under $15 billion for the $40 billion segment.
The third problem was highlighted in The Times‘ Oct. 24th article. Vartabedian interviewed a number of highly credible tunneling experts about the tunneling needed for the Burbank to Merced segment. The most likely plan includes 20 route-miles under the San Gabriel Mountains between Burbank and Palmdale, and another 16 route-miles under the Tehachapi Mountains from Palmdale to Bakersfield. If done as twin bores, that would total 72 miles of tunneling. The experts raised serious seismic risk concerns, especially for the San Gabriel Mountains portion of the route. They estimated that instead of starting tunneling in 2017, the earliest start date would be 2019, and the tunneling could take 7 to 14 years to complete. HSRA is looking into an alternate route for the San Gabriel portion, but that route faces extensive political opposition.
Mega-projects expert Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University (author of Megaprojects and Risk), told Vartabedian that the schedule slips, cost increases, litigation, and permit delays “are warning signs that even more delays and higher costs are coming.” Flyvbjerg’s massive mega-projects database shows that high-speed rail projects worldwide have an average cost overrun of 45%, with some exceeding 100%.
Flyvbjerg and behavioral economist Cass Sunstein have written a paper that will be published early next year in Social Research. Titled “The Principle of the Malevolent Hiding Hand; or the Planning Fallacy Writ Large,” it finds that this phenomenon “blinds excessively optimistic planners not only to unexpectedly high costs but also to unexpectedly low benefits.” The California High Speed Rail project can serve as a case study of this problem. You can read the paper online at: http://bit.ly/1hCsaOg.
Express Toll Lanes Progress in Five States
There is encouraging news about current and proposed express toll lanes projects in California, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington State.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed AB 194, which authorizes Caltrans and regional transportation agencies to develop, finance, operate, and maintain new-capacity express toll lanes (ETLs) with no limits on the number of projects or time frame. That opens the door for toll-revenue-based financing and public-private partnerships (P3s) for the state’s major metro areas. In San Diego, the board of the San Diego Association of Governments last month approved a new long-range plan that includes a long-discussed network of express toll lanes, and a larger network is under way in the San Francisco Bay Area, based on the long-range transportation plan of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. In southern California, the county transportation agencies of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties all have various ETL projects under construction or in the planning stage. The Orange County Transportation Authority Board on Oct. 12th voted 13-3 that tolling and operational policies for the $1.7 billion express toll lanes on I-405 will be compatible with those in use for the past 20 years on the SR 91 Express Lanes-the world’s first ETLs.
In Florida, new projects are in the planning or discussion stage in both Tampa and Jacksonville. In the former, Florida DOT is holding community meetings to discuss plans for $3 billion of express toll lanes it is planning for I-4, I-75,and I-275. It has also proposed adding ETLs to another 22 miles of I-4, between Tampa and the Polk Parkway near Lakeland. In addition, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is studying a westward extension of the successful elevated express toll lanes on its Selmon Expressway. Besides relieving congestion, the project would add capacity to an important hurricane evacuation route. FDOT is also studying adding ETLs to I-95 in Jacksonville, which would be the first such project in northern Florida.
In Atlanta, the initially controversial conversion of 16 miles of I-85 HOV lanes to ETLs continues to build traffic and revenue. On Nov. 10th, its dynamic tolling reached a new high of $12 during the AM peak period. That is 75¢/mile. While high in Atlanta, that is only half the peak rates sometimes being charged this fall on the I-95 ETLs in Miami, where the peak toll is now $10.50; since the existing phase 1 project is just seven miles long, that is $1.50 per mile, higher than has ever been charged on the original U.S. ETL project, the SR 91 Express Lanes in Orange County, California.
In Virginia, the three-year old ETLs on the Capital Beltway (I-495), which got off to a relatively slow start in traffic and revenue during their first year, have experienced major gains in 2015. For the September 2015 quarter, daily trips more than doubled (to 84,000) from the year before, and toll revenue, at $28 million, was also more than double than generated in the comparable quarter last year. The region’s third ETL project, on about 20 miles of I-66 outside the Beltway, has made tangible progress recently. The regional Transportation Planning Board voted last month to add the project to its long-range transportation plan, and the project was also approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. And on October 16th, VDOT identified the teams that have been shortlisted to develop the project, under three procurement alternatives. Three teams proposed bidding on the toll concession approach, and five proposed bidding on the design-build-maintain and design-build-alternative-technical-concepts approaches. Proposals are due Dec. 1st, after which VDOT will decide which procurement approach to use and issue an RFP to the teams pre-qualified for that approach.
Finally, the first month’s data on Washington State DOT’s $383 million, 17-mile express toll lanes project on I-405 are looking good. Commuters are trying the new lanes and finding that they deliver time savings in exchange for (so far) modest tolls, averaging $1.70 southbound and $1.60 northbound during the first month; peak-period commuters using the new lanes are saving 15 to 17 minutes-and enough of them are switching to the ETLs that congestion has been reduced in the general purpose lanes. WSDOT Tolling Director Craig Stone was asked if a similar future awaits I-5 through Seattle, a portion of which has non-tolled express lanes. Stone told Channel 5 news that “there is nothing planned for the immediate future”-but that project, in my view, would make a logical follow-on.
TRB Report Slams DOT Truck Size & Weight Study
The Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences has issued a stinging critique of the U.S. DOT’s June 2015 “Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study.” That study, mandated by Congress in the 2012 MAP-21 legislation, concluded that available data were not sufficient to make any recommendations about possible changes in current federal truck size and weight limits.
The TRB’s report, dated Oct. 5, 2015, begs to differ. The TRB review panel says DOT fell short in a number of ways on meeting the requirements laid down by Congress. Although the DOT claimed to be unable to make recommendations, this was in part the fault of sloppy analysis. The TRB panel pointed out that DOT could have produced a “consistent and complete quantitative summary of the alternative [truck] configuration scenarios,” but failed to do so because:
- It did not estimate certain important categories of costs (such as infrastructure costs on roads that are not part of the National Highway System, bridge structural costs, user costs of bridge replacements and bridge weight restrictions, and overall frequency of crashes and fatalities);
- It measured impacts in ways that are inconsistent (e.g., some impacts in annual dollars, other impacts in initial capital spending, pavement costs as percentage changes in the present value of future costs, etc.)-which makes an overall benefits vs. costs calculation impossible.
- It failed to assess the costs and benefits of various grandfather exemptions to current federal size and weight regulations.
The TRB critique includes five chapters on the methods and data used in the DOT report, including arbitrary or non-explained assumptions and a number of findings significantly different from those of previous size and weight studies-but without any explanation of why these results differ from previous ones.
Generally speaking, the trucking industry and its allies in the shipper community were disappointed in the DOT report, while highway safety groups and their railroad allies were cheered that the report called for no changes in the status quo. That’s because two proposals to permit longer and/or heavier trucks have been made by members of Congress, with support from the shipping and trucking communities. One would permit “twin 33s”-double trailer rigs longer than the current 28-foot doubles. The other would permit a gross weight increase from the current 80,000 lbs. (for today’s largest 18-wheel, 5-axle rigs) to 91,000 lbs. for rigs of the same size equipped with six axles, to better support the heavier loads.
When I wrote about the latter proposal several years ago, people from several state DOTs objected, saying that while the extra axle would protect pavements from further damage from the extra weight, that axle would not protect bridges designed for 80,000 lb. trucks. Proponents now claim that the six-axle configuration is “compliant with the existing federal bridge formula.” If that is indeed the case, then the higher weight limit would allow more ton-miles to be transported with fewer drivers and less fuel, which would be good for both productivity and the environment. It’s a pity DOT spent all that time and money, but we still don’t have a definitive truck size and weight study to answer such questions.
Some New Thoughts on Autonomous Vehicles
Autonomous vehicles keep making news, with three October stories highlighting important questions. First, a Google self-driving car (the little pod without a steering wheel) was stopped by a traffic cop in Mountain View, CA for driving too slowly (24 mph in a 35 mph zone). In this particular test vehicle, a Google employee on board was able to bring the car to a stop, in response to the officer’s action. The company explained that this pod-car is designed for controlled environments and low speeds, not driving at the speed limit on ordinary streets. But this incident highlights an emerging question of how to design vehicle automation so that it operates effectively in the real world-e.g., not holding up traffic on the Interstate by driving the legal 65 mph limit when everyone else is doing 75 mph.
Second, a University of Michigan study compared the on-road safety record of conventional vehicles with that of AVs from three of the 10 firms licensed to test their vehicles in California, and found that the AVs were involved in accidents five times as often as conventional vehicles. However, all the accidents involving AVs were the fault of the conventional vehicles crashing into them. A similar finding emerged from a study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Once again, this raises the question of whether the automation algorithms lead to AV driving patterns that confuse drivers of conventional vehicles or don’t make small adaptations that human drivers do without thinking.
The third news story concerned Tesla’s release of what it calls Autopilot as a $2,500 option to owners of its Model S produced in September 2014 or later. Despite its name, the system is a combination of adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, and lane-changing-and is designed for use on highways, not city streets (it cannot handle traffic lights or stop signs, for example). But Model S owners quickly produced videos of themselves doing things they are not supposed to do, such as reading a newspaper while the car drives, leading to a lot of criticisms.
Tesla’s approach of introducing automation features incrementally conflicts with what appears to be Google’s current approach. Tesla aims to move through what the industry calls five levels of automation, from Level 1 (conventional cars with some driver assists like adaptive cruise control) through Level 5 (fully autonomous, with no driver controls). A growing number of human factors and automation experts question one or more of the intermediate stages as being dangerous, due to the time needed for the system to alert the driver (of, say, a Level 3 AV, who may be sending text messages or holding a business meeting) of the need to immediately regain control of the vehicle. The safest course, these experts maintain, is to not develop the intermediate levels and hence not introduce real automation until Level 4 or 5 is perfected. A recent Wired article (Nov. 10, 2015) quoted Ford officials as planning to go directly to Level 4, in which the automation can handle all situations, but driver controls are provided as an option, for when the owner actually wants to drive. Google now plans to go straight to Level 5, with no driver controls provided (first for pod-cars in protected environments, and later for applications like robo-taxis). Most other companies are sticking with the evolutionary approach.
MIT professor David Mindell (aeronautics/astronautics and history of engineering) is an expert on robotics. His new book, Our Robots, Ourselves, cites decades of experience with automation in aircraft, spacecraft, underwater exploration, etc. to argue that full automation is an unrealistic goal. He cites 40 years of lessons learned from automation technology in these other fields, which finds that “those systems are all imperfect, and the people are the glue that hold the system together. Airline pilots are constantly making small corrections, picking up mistakes, correcting the air traffic controllers.” Examining what he calls Google’s “utopian automation,” he argues that in order to work it must:
- Identify all nearby objects correctly;
- Have perfectly updated mapping systems; and,
- Avoid all software glitches.
And that, he concludes, is unrealistic to expect.
Stanford engineering professor Chris Gerdes is one of a growing number of experts raising questions about the ethical decision algorithms that must be built into AVs’ automation systems to handle potential accidents. He and his students are developing and operating various AV prototypes, as well as holding workshops for engineers and researchers from academia, established auto companies, and would-be AV producers. As noted in an article about Gerdes’ work by Keith Naughton of Bloomberg, he is raising such questions as: “When an accident is unavoidable, should a driverless car be programmed to aim for the smallest object or to protect its occupant? If the car must choose between hitting a group of pedestrians and risking the life of its occupant, what is the moral choice?” On a similar theme, MIT Technology Review profiled other researchers dealing with these questions, provocatively titled, “Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill.”
I raise these points not to oppose ongoing research on AVs, which on balance appear likely to offer large safety benefits, but only to illustrate that projections of huge fleets of Level 5 vehicles on our streets and highways five or even 10 years from now strike me as fanciful. There are many serious questions of technology, public acceptance, and ethics still to be worked on. Meanwhile, our streets and highways need major improvements, regardless of what vehicles may be like 30 or 40 years from now.
Truck Toll Providers Are Expanding Services
Though the trucking industry continues to lobby against any increased use of toll revenues for highway finance-even to rebuild aging Interstates for which no current funding source exists-two industry-approved suppliers continue to make it easier and less costly for trucks to use tolled highways. The two providers are Bestpass and PrePass, both with roots in the trucking industry.
PrePass was launched in 1991 as a way to permit pre-vetted trucks to bypass weigh stations and, in some cases, agricultural inspection stations. (Think of this as a trucking equivalent of PreCheck for airline passengers.) With many trucks using toll roads in the Northeast and Midwest, and the implementation of interoperable E-ZPass tolling in that 15-state region, HELP, Inc. (PrePass’s parent organization) launched PrePass Plus in 2002. That service provides a single transponder that enables equipped trucks to bypass toll booths and plazas in E-ZPass states, in addition to weigh stations and ag-inspection stations. It costs a trucking company an additional $5/month to include the tolling bypass feature. Participating trucking companies also get a single consolidated monthly bill for all the toll payments made by each of its trucks.
BestPass was launched in 2003 by the New York State Trucking Association, to provide similar services-both weigh station and toll plaza bypass. By early 2015 its service area encompassed not only the 15 E-ZPass states but also Colorado, North Carolina, San Francisco’s toll bridges, and three U.S.-Canada toll bridges near Niagara Falls.
The last few months have seen new-service announcement from both companies. In October PrePass unveiled a new ElitePass transponder, which is compatible with electronic tolling systems in 20 states and weigh station equipment in 30 states. PrePass has expanded its tolling service beyond the 15 E-ZPass states to California, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and promises others “very soon.” It is also in discussion with several Canadian provinces about expanding its services across the border.
Not to be out-done, Bestpass on Nov. 5th announced that it, too, has expanded into Texas, with its transponders now interoperable with TxDOT’s TxTag, Harris County’s EZ Tag, and NTTA’s TollTag. Other recent additions to its tolling network include Florida and Kansas, with agreements being negotiated for 2016 service in Oklahoma and in Michigan, for the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit with Windsor, Ontario. Bestpass also announced a new service called “exclusion reporting,” which alerts fleet managers to unauthorized toll usage or company policy breaches.
These are all welcome steps toward nationwide electronic tolling interoperability, which is likely to be operational for trucks before it is available to cars.
Upcoming Transportation Events
Note: I don’t have the time or the space to list all transportation events that might be of interest to readers of this newsletter. Listed here are events at which a Reason Foundation transportation researcher is speaking or moderating.
Los Angeles Chamber December meeting, Dec. 2, 2015, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles, CA (Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details at: www.lachamber.com.
Transportation Research Board 95th Annual Meeting, Jan. 10-14, 2016, Convention Center, Washington, DC (Bob Poole and Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details at: www.trb.org/AnnualMeeting.
Chicago Skyway Concession Sold for $2.8 Billion. The two companies that leased the Chicago Skyway for 99 years, paying the City of Chicago $1.83 billion in 2005, have sold the remaining 89 years of the concession to a consortium of Canadian pension funds. Calumet Concession Partners LLC, comprising Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan have agreed to pay $2.836 billion for the concession, subject to final City approval. Last spring, the other major toll road leased by Cintra and Macquarie-the Indiana Toll Road-was acquired by a consortium of Australian and U.S. pension funds for $5.725 billion.
VMT Increase Continued in August. The Federal Highway Administration’s Traffic Volume Trends reported early this month that vehicle miles of travel set an all-time high for the month of August, up 2.3% from August 2014 (or 3.6% on a seasonally adjusted basis). VMT increased in all five geographic regions of the country. This was the 18th consecutive month in which VMT increased compared with the previous year.
FHWA Releases Draft Availability Payments Concession Model Contract. Following up on its two-part model contract for toll (revenue-risk) concessions released in 2014 and early 2015, FHWA has developed a comparable document on availability-payment concessions.. The draft was posted online for public comments that were due by Oct. 29th. The document includes explanations of the various topics that are generally included in a concession agreement for an infrastructure project that will be financed based on a stream of payments from a government agency over the life of the contract.
Manhattan Institute Report on Local Roads Policies. Aaron M. Renn has written an interesting report outlining sensible policies that city and county governments could follow in funding, operating, and maintaining their streets and roads. These roadways are usually funded out of general government revenues, such as property taxes, but Renn suggests ways of limiting the city’s obligations and managing what it has wisely. A brief summary is available at: www.economics21.org/commentary/new-report-beyond-repair-america%E2%80%99s-infrastructure-crisis-local.
Response to Washington Post Critique of P3s. A rather inflammatory article in the Washington Post presented a very inaccurate account of the toll concession project under way in Norfolk, VA: the Elizabeth River Crossings project. Public Works Financing asked me to critique the article, and ran my assessment as the lead article in its October issue. With PWF Editor Bill Reinhardt’s permission, we have posted it on the Reason Foundation website, to ensure wider readership. (https://reason.org/news/show/unpacking-the-washington-posts-crit)
Common Good Calls for Streamlining Infrastructure Approvals. In a new report, the public interest group Common Good estimated that a typical six-year infrastructure project approval process costs the nation over $3.7 trillion in direct costs, lost productivity and other opportunity costs of obsolete infrastructure. It proposes a set of reforms aimed at getting projects approved in under two years. “Two Years, not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals,” is available from www.commongood.org. The report was featured in a Wall Street Journal editorial, “Highway to Bureaucratic Hell” on Sept 12th.
Ontario P3 Projects Out-Perform Conventional Projects. Infrastructure Ontario, the province’s specialized public-private partnership (P3) unit, commissions an independent consultant each year to compare infrastructure projects procured conventionally with those done as P3 concessions. As reported by Nossaman’s Infra Insight newsletter (Oct. 12, 2015), the latest report found that 98% of Ontario P3 projects were delivered on-budget, compared with 71% of those done conventionally. The latter performed better as to on-time delivery, at 86% compared with 73% for the P3 projects. The report is called 2015 Track Record Report.
Dulles Toll Road Customers Lose Appeal. A legal challenge to the large toll increases imposed on customers of the Dulles Toll Road to pay for a major share of the cost of extending the Washington Metro heavy rail line to Dulles Airport failed last month. The Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court ruled that using “excess” toll revenues (generated by very large toll increases) for the rail project were justified because the project is in the same geographical region as the toll road-a result that further degrades the users-pay/users-benefit principle.
The Road to Better Bridges Is the Private Sector. Prof. Jay Weiser of Baruch College at CUNY wrote a nice critique of politicized agencies such as the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, as less than ideal stewards of vitally important transportation and energy infrastructure. “The Road to Better Bridges” contrasts the different incentive structures involved in P3 concessions compared with those of politically controlled bureaucracies. “The Road to Better Bridges” was posted on NR Digital‘s Nov. 2, 2015 issue.
Intercounty Connector’s Traffic and Revenue Ramp-Up. Maryland’s four-year-old Intercounty Connector, a congestion-priced east-west toll road, had 18% more traffic in its latest fiscal year, almost matching the 19% VMT increase in FY 2014. Perhaps more important, in FY 2015 its toll revenue exceeded the level projected in its financing plans, garnering $56 million (vs. a projected $49.7 million). This is good news for the ICC’s bondholders.
Evaluation of UPA and CRD Projects. The six pricing projects funded by FHWA’s 2007 Urban Partnership Agreement competition and 2008 Congestion Reduction Demonstration competition have all been evaluated in some detail. FHWA commissioned Battelle to evaluate individual projects and also to produce an overall evaluation. The latter document, dated August 2015, was released last month. “Contemporary Approaches in Congestion Pricing” finds mostly positive results from HOV to HOT conversions in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, and Minneapolis, from congestion pricing on the SR 520 bridge in Seattle, and from parking pricing in San Francisco. Go to: www.ntl.bts.gov/lib/55000/55600/55668/UPA_2015_Final_9-17-15.pdf
Kansas and Oklahoma to Modernize Tolling. The chairman of the Kansas House transportation committee is urging the Kansas Turnpike Authority to implement open-road tolling similar to what already exists in Illinois and Oklahoma. The latter has open-road tolling on some of its toll roads, while Illinois provides it on all its facilities. Electronic toll interoperability already exists between Oklahoma’s Pikepass and Kansas K-tags. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is installing its first all-electronic (non-cash) tolling, at the Peoria/Elm plaza on the Creek Turnpike. If this initial conversion goes well, the Turnpike Authority plans to expand its use elsewhere.
Correction re Virginia I-66 HOT Lanes. Last month’s article on plans to convert I-66 inside the Beltway to HOT lanes erred in stating that current plans call for retaining HOV-2 vehicles as eligible for free passage. A VDOT website that I had not seen states that the requirement would be changed to HOV-3 when variable tolling is implemented. That would make it consistent with the express toll lanes already in operation on the Beltway (I-495) and on I-95. (http://inside.transform66.org/learn_more/default.asp)
“Our successful highway program has gathered many ‘friends’ willing to help spend the money. In Washington, nothing fails like success. The money-$1.7 billion of annual revenue per penny of [fuel] tax-attracts sharks. Congress knows that the public doesn’t trust what happens to money when it gets to Washington. Instead of a system in which users pay for what they get and get what they pay for, the Highway Trust Fund supports doing ‘nice things’ with money as long as they can be labeled ‘transportation’. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people trust giving their money to their states in increased fuel user fees rather than to Washington, where the user fee is now a tax. Until the program can be refocused on that which is national in scope and federal in responsibility, the public, wisely but sadly, will resist further taxation.”
-Alan Pisarski, “Can’t Trust Washington with the Highway Trust Fund,” In Rebuttal, The Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2015
“Given many possible paths for policy, will the majority of autonomous vehicles be owned or shared? Private ownership will lead to large extant fleets. Since these vehicles will not require a licensed operator, young, old, and disabled passengers can now utilize a dedicated vehicle without a family member acting as a chauffeur. Hence, some families will see owning an additional vehicle as a very rational decision-and the powerful marketing forces of the automotive industry will always prefer the high-volume, well-featured consumption model stoked by year-over-year feature creep over a shared-vehicle model.”
-Bern Grush and John Niles, “Application Creep: Environmentally Sustainable Deployment for Autonomous Vehicles,” Grush Niles Associates, 2015 (www.endofdriving.org)
“In America . . . there are very few state-owned enterprises. Instead, the idea of regulated ‘public utilities’ was preferred. This meant that potentially monopolistic, but capital-intensive energy, water, transportation, and other companies could remain in the private sector if state or federal utility commissions regulated their rates and other activities. These private sector companies have been successful and are not the ones getting failing grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers. They fund what they need as they go along. In 2014 these types of companies raised $750 billion in global capital markets. The ones with failing grades are the government-owned ‘public goods’ enterprises that operate highways, passenger rail, airports, and other systems used by the public at large and are important to the economic infrastructure of the country. The public expects these goods to be provided by the government at a cost that is affordable and fair-but taxpayers are also capable of resenting the subsidies that are necessary to keep fees low. The system for funding public-good infrastructure, however, has collapsed into a morass of politically overlapping jurisdictions of federal, regional, state, and government-sponsored corporate entities that politicians are reluctant to fund.”
-Roy C. Smith, NYU Stern School of Business, “US Infrastructure Financing Needs t[ missing type] (www.efinancialnews.com/story/2015/08/10/us-infrastructure-financing-needs-to-change-track)
“Nobody likes paying tolls. But in reality, tolls are a fact of life and will continue to be a growing part of how roads and bridges are funded in the future. In trucking, where time really equates to money and where every minute counts, a single technology that provides coast-to-coast electronic toll payment and couples it with weigh station bypassing for qualified fleets, meets a critical industry need.”
-Karen Rasmussen, CEO of HELP, Inc., “New Technology Expands PrePass Toll Service,” Fleet Owner, Oct. 18, 2015