Surface Transportation News: Pandemic and migration change transportation plans, supply chain crisis, and more
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Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation News: Pandemic and migration change transportation plans, supply chain crisis, and more

Plus: Puerto Rico considering more toll road leases, emulating Canada on commercial rest areas, and more.

In this issue:

Transportation Planners Need to Adapt to Changes in Remote Work, Migration

It’s still something of a cliché to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed America, especially via the large increase in remote work. Several recent reports provide facts and figures on these ongoing changes, and transportation planners and funders in state legislatures, Congress, and elsewhere need to increasingly take the transportation implications into account.

Let’s start with a study by Adam Ozimek of Upwork, released in March. The new survey of 23,000 respondents found that remote work is still a significant factor in people’s decisions about where to live and work. It found that 2.4% of those surveyed have moved because of remote work since 2020. And 9.3% said they are “planning on moving because of remote work,” compared with only 6.1% saying that in Upwork’s first survey during the pandemic, in Oct. 2020. Significantly, 28% of those who say they are planning to move would be four hours away from where they live now, and another 13% said they will move two-to-four hours away from where they live now.

These potential moves reflect the ideas of hybrid and remote work embraced by many employers, with employees splitting their time between home and workplace. This leads to a kind of “donut effect” in which the catchment area for an employer spreads widely. For example, using a housing prices map centered on New York City, the donut may include the Poconos, Allentown (PA), and southern New Jersey—places far beyond the metro area (and outside the territory of its metropolitan planning organizations MPOs).

A detailed article, “Internal Migration: Movers and Shakers,” in The Economist also discussed these trends and the potential impacts on the economies of major cities. It quoted Harvard economist Edward Glaeser cautioning city leaders about “the completely understandable urge for progressive action in cities running into the buzz-saw of heightened geographic mobility,” but warning that if they increase taxes on business and the rich “and fail to offer basic services like public safety, then something that was a modest economic disruption could turn into something much more severe.”

It also quoted Chapman University’s Joel Kotkin saying, “People go where they can achieve the American dream. It’s increasingly difficult to do that in the cities that created the American dream, like New York,” because of their high cost of living.

Demographer Wendell Cox has a new report out, reporting on census data on population changes for the 15 months ending July 1, 2021. While there was a record low amount of population increase, there was a “perhaps unprecedented rise in net domestic migration,” Cox writes, accelerated by the increase in remote work. Metro areas above one million people with the largest one-year population gains topped out with Austin at 3%, followed by Raleigh, Phoenix, and Jacksonville. Those with the largest population losses were San Francisco (-2.6%) followed by San Jose, New York, and Los Angeles.

Putting these pieces together, Kotkin has published a long article called “Exurbia Rising.” Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already significant migration from older, high-cost-of-living cities to urban counties in states such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Those making such moves were “young people in prime family formation years.” The suburban and exurban counties experiencing the highest growth had 3.5 times as many children per household as in places like Manhattan and San Francisco. As one major home builder, Robert Schottenstein, CEO of M/I Homes, told Kotkin, “This is a flight to safety and security. The millennials are getting older, and they are transitioning as they start families.”

Some of the original exurbs have turned into suburbs, as population growth spreads outward. Kotkin cites places such as Irvine, CA, and The Woodlands near Houston as examples. More recently, such planned communities farther from major metro areas include Summerlin, NV, Tres Lagos, TX, and New Albany, OH. Contrary to the stereotype of lily-white suburbs, Irvine is 40% Asian, The Woodlands is 30% non-white, and Tres Lagos is 75% middle-class Hispanics. New Albany, over the past 20 years, has grown from 3,700 to 10,000 and has 15,000 employees in its business park—prior to the opening of Intel’s planned $20 billion chip manufacturing project.

The key to housing affordability, says Kotkin, is taking advantage of lower-cost land on the fringes of metro areas—the exurbs. And contrary to the notion that the need to create services like roads, water, and sewers makes housing there more costly than infill development, utility needs are largely being met by cost-effective municipal utility districts (MUDs), of which Texas has more than 900 and Colorado more than 1,800.

Current federal, and some state, transportation planning ignores these developments and trends. Rather than figuring out the transportation needs of increasingly decentralized urban/suburban/exurban metro areas, many transportation planners and the U.S. Department of Transportation continue to focus a lot of efforts on getting Americans out of their cars and into high-density housing that can be served by transit. The metro areas where transit works relatively well are those that still have large job centers downtown—mostly legacy transit cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. But planners’ focus on density and transit ignores the suburbanization and exurbanization that has been accelerated by the pandemic and the rise of remote work.

Kotkin suggests that a major change is long overdue. Congress and many MPOs that continue to expand funding for rail transit projects and attempt to restrict housing developments at the urban fringe ignore this country’s rapidly changing geography. He notes that a study of 23 completed rail transit systems found that in those locales, “the percentage of commuters driving alone has increased…and even in the largest metropolitan areas, the average transit commute takes about 75 percent longer than the average auto commute.”

Moreover, as access studies from the University of Minnesota have documented, in metro areas with more than one million people, “cars can reach almost 55 times as many potential jobs as transit in less than 30 minutes,” Kotkin writes.

We need transportation policies that match our evolving urban/suburban/exurban geography. Rail transit and forced densification are not the answer.

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Convert Freeways to Boulevards or Deck Them Over?

In its proposed American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration included a $15 billion program to “reconnect neighborhoods” that had been divided when the original urban freeways were built in the 1960s. In enacting the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress cut back that funding to $1 billion over five years, split into 25% for planning and 75% for capital spending. Those metro areas with potential candidates for this program face a major decision. If the freeway in question is not a vital link in long-standing travel flows, replacing it with an at-grade boulevard may be desirable, though the cost of tearing out the freeway and building the boulevard may be daunting. But if the freeway is serving as a critical link in the transportation system that serves, cars, buses, and trucks, decking over the freeway may be far wiser and less costly, assuming the freeway section in question is already below grade.

In Chapter 10 of my book, Rethinking America’s Highways, I summarize several cases of freeway teardowns, which have mostly occurred in places where the removed freeway was a never-completed stub rather than an important network link. I also discuss a growing number of cases where portions of urban freeways have been decked over—in metro areas such as Dallas (Woodall Rogers Freeway), Denver (under way on I-70), Phoenix (I-10), and Seattle (I-5 and I-90), as well as a major project in Hamburg, Germany. Decks are far less costly than tunnels such as the Big Dig in Boston and the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle (though tunnels, financed via toll revenues) may be a solution where the existing freeway is above-grade)

Two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Jeffrey Brinkman and Jeffrey Lin, released a cost-benefit analysis of “burying” an urban freeway rather than converting it into a boulevard. They recognize the economic value of freeways that are key links in metro-area mobility and factor that into their analysis, “The Costs and Benefits of Fixing Downtown Freeways.”  They understand that the amenities for freeway users are dis-amenities for those in adjacent neighborhoods, and show that urban population declines are greatest in Census tracts nearest to freeways. Freeway access is a benefit to suburban commuters going downtown but does not help most near-downtown workers get to their jobs.

Drawing on some urban economic models that separately assess people’s value of job access and the quality of life benefits of neighborhoods, they model a hypothetical project that would deck over a 4.5-mile stretch of I-95 in Philadelphia, along the riverfront. In passing, they note that portions of Philadelphia’s I-676 and a portion of I-95 have already been decked over, creating parks and reconnecting divided communities. They then model the estimated amenities and productivity of neighborhoods affected by the potential project, with the assumption that the transportation benefits of I-95 would remain the same as before it is decked over. Their model predicts that the population near the freeway would increase dramatically along with modest increases in land values. They estimate that the net present value of lifetime benefits (using a 7% discount rate) would be around $3.5 billion.

They also estimate the project’s cost, at $500 million per mile (no source given), at around $2.25 billion. Obviously, the actual cost would depend on the specifics of the freeway in question, but this is an encouraging preliminary finding that decking over a depressed freeway may well have real economic benefits exceeding its costs. That would be a win-win solution, for at least certain kinds of downtown freeways.

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An Example of How Not to Introduce Road User Charges

Dating all the way back to the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission’s landmark 2009 report, Paying Our Way, the widely-accepted solution for the long-term decline of fuel tax revenue is to replace the fuel tax with some kind of per-mile charge. With ever-increasing federal miles per gallon (mpg) fuel efficiency requirements for new vehicles, plus federal government and auto company plans to phase in electric vehicles and phase out internal combustion vehicles, charging per mile will be sustainable long-term no matter what means of vehicle propulsion evolve.

To date, just about every pilot project to test mileage-based user fees (MBUFs)—or road user charges (RUCs) as they are known in the west—has stressed to participants that what was being simulated was the replacement of the gas tax, not some new charge in addition to it. Many of the pilot project participants were skeptical prior to taking part, fearing that the mileage-based user fees would be “yet another tax increase on driving.” But by the conclusion of the project, they understood, having seen monthly reports on what they were paying via their current state fuel tax compared with the hypothetical MBUF had it been real.

All this is by way of context for a recent Time article, titled “This California City’s Attempt to Charge People for Driving Back-Fired. Here’s Why That Matters for Everyone.” Although the article zeroed in on the city of La Mesa, the focus of the piece was the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the metropolitan planning organization for the San Diego metro area. SANDAG’s new long-range plan calls for implementing a road user charge in 2030, to help pay for the projects in its $160 billion regional long-range transportation plan. The RUC would be charged in addition to the current state and federal gas tax, not as a replacement. So it would, indeed, be “yet another tax on driving,” as charged by conservative Republican activist Carl DeMaio, who is quoted in the Time article.

DeMaio and his allies have made opposition to the mileage tax a key point in opposing city officials up for re-election if their city has signed on to the SANDAG plan. The article recounts DeMaio-led anti-mileage-tax town halls and the political pressures that have led a number of city officials to reverse their previous support for the mileage tax. Time reporter Justin Worland wrote that “SANDAG expects [the mileage tax] to raise $14 billion in revenue over two decades, which would help underwrite new trolley lines, more efficient highway lanes, and rideshare programs.” In the majority of states, including California, gas taxes can only be spent on roadways, consistent with the users-pay/users benefit principle. Clearly, what SANDAG has proposed is not only an add-on; it is clearly an overall transportation tax, but the tax would be paid only by roadway users. Thus, rather than having a debate about why road user charges are a better, more sustainable option than gas taxes, SANDAG is left trying to explain additional taxes.

Here I must confess that I’ve had a minor role in the evolution of the SANDAG plan. Early last year I accepted an invitation (along with Prof. Michael Manville of UCLA and Brianne Eby of the Eno Center for Transportation) to take part, as subject-matter experts, in a Zoom meeting with the SANDAG board. My talking points for that session were:

  • Express toll lanes control congestion and can generate revenue;
  • All lanes of a congested Interstate can be (legally) tolled to manage congestion;
  • Transportation equity is very complicated; and,
  • We need to replace per-gallon fuel taxes with per-mile charges.

Several months later, SANDAG’s chief planning officer emailed to invite me to discuss with senior staff “the political calculus of congestion pricing.” saying they were impressed with the points in my Reason paper, “A Conservative Case for Highway Tolling.” I accepted and did so on June 10. I don’t have notes on what I said then, but it was likely along the lines of the above talking points. Evidently, I failed to stress strongly enough the need to ensure that a road user charge should be a replacement for the fuel tax, not an addition to it—and now SANDAG is facing a major political blowback.

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Puerto Rico Considering More Toll-Road P3 Leases

Puerto Rico gets little respect as a public-policy pioneer. Yet it is one of the few U.S. jurisdictions that has a dedicated public-private partnership unit as part of its government (Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnership Authority—P3A). And it has pioneered some notable transportation P3 projects:

  • One of the first U.S. revenue-risk P3 toll projects, the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge in San Juan;
  • The P3 leases of two of its toll roads, PR-5 and PR 22; and,
  • The P3 lease of the formerly stodgy San Juan International Airport, converting it into a world-class airport.

The P3A recently asked for comments on its “Desirability and Convenience Study” on the possible P3 lease of some or all of its other (non-P3) toll roads: PR-20, PR-52, PR-53, and PR 66. What apparently motivated the study was “deterioration and a lack of adequate maintenance” of those four toll roads combined with the large debt ($5.8 billion) of the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (PRHTA), of which $1 billion is associated with those toll roads. That would make it difficult for PRHTA to finance major upgrades of those toll roads, especially given Puerto Rico’s overall debt burden—it is in the process of emerging from a de-facto bankruptcy overseen by a congressionally authorized restructuring commission.

Besides retaining the status quo, the study offered three options: an availability-payment (AP) concession for the four toll roads, a revenue-risk P3 concession for only PR-52, and a similar concession for all four toll roads. The study favored the last option, on the presumption that this would be large enough to generate an up-front concession payment that could be used to reduce some of PRHTA’s current debt. That was the model used for the successful P3 lease of the San Juan Airport. However, the projected revenue from the airport (fueled by tourism) may be more robust than the projected revenue from the toll roads (driven mostly by locals).

So-called “brownfield” leases of existing revenue-generating infrastructure have been used widely overseas, but on only a limited basis in the United States. The two best-known in transportation are the long-term P3 leases of the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road, both of which generated large up-front payments due to robust projected revenues and no major near-term capital improvement needs. Other brownfield toll road P3s offered riskier revenue projections, including the Northwest Parkway in Colorado and the Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia; to the best of my knowledge, neither involved a significant up-front payment.

Puerto Rico’s existing P3 toll roads are being well-run by their private-sector partner (Abertis and Ullico). The P3 entity added reversible Dynamic Toll Lanes to PR-22—the world’s first variably-priced lanes added to an existing toll road. This performance evidentially has given the P3A confidence that further toll road P3 leases would be good public policy. Comments on the study are due by April 25th.

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Could Automation Replace Most Long-Haul Truck Drivers?
By Marc Scribner

In March, the journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications published a new study by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Michigan finding that “up to 94% of long haul trucking operator-hours may be impacted” by automation (Mohan and Vaishnav, “Impact of automation on long haul trucking operator-hours in the United States”). This headline finding may understandably alarm owner-operators and truck driver unions, but the authors note that this scenario could only occur in the future when automated vehicle (AV) technology advances to a point well beyond near-term capabilities. As it stands, policymakers should prioritize safety considerations of AV technology over highly speculative future workforce impacts.

The Mohan and Vaishnav study examines the truck driver workforce implications of the “transfer-hub” model of long-haul automated trucking. This entails truck trips being split into urban and highway legs. The automated tractor would drive the rural highway miles between urban transfer hubs. At the transfer hubs, trailers would be switched between automated and human-driven tractors. Human-driven tractors would bring trailers from an urban origin to a transfer hub and from the transfer hub to the destination.

Their model found that 94% of operator-hours are at risk of replacement by automated driving if AV technology is deployed everywhere in the continental U.S. in all weather conditions. But current AV technology isn’t capable of operating everywhere in all types of weather that can currently be driven by human operators. Recognizing these limitations, Mohan and Vaishnav then develop three additional scenarios to apply constraints on operation that are relaxed to progressively build to higher operating levels and workforce impacts.

First, they consider automated operations restricted to eleven southern sun-belt states. Most heavy-duty AV testing currently takes place in these states primarily because they are unlikely to encounter snow and ice that current generation AV technology cannot handle. They estimate that this scenario would impact only 10% of operator-hours.

Second, they consider automated operations restricted to spring and summer months across all states. They are able to exploit the Census Bureau’s Commodity Flow Survey dataset, which lists the financial quarters of shipments in the sample, to focus on trips that would take place in warmer weather. They estimate that this scenario would impact an additional 43% of operator-hours, for a cumulative total of 53% of operator-hours impacted by truck automation.

Third, they consider automated operations for trips of at least 500 miles. They selected this minimum trip distance due to potential interactions with federal hours-of-service regulations that may complicate the economic case for automating shorter long-haul trips in a transfer-hub model, and posited that truck drivers could generally complete 500-mile trips in a single day without stopping. They estimated that this scenario would impact an additional 33% of operator-hours, for a cumulative total of 86% of operator-hours impacted by truck automation.

Hence, relaxing the third and final constraint to allow for the operation of long-haul AV trucks everywhere in all conditions adds just 8% of operator-hours in Mohan and Vaishnav’s model to reach that 94% headline figure. This has a couple of implications.

First, achieving automated driving capabilities necessary to automate anything close to 94% of long-haul operator-hours is likely many years off. The technology has not reached the point where all highway miles in all weather conditions can be automated. Even when the technology is capable of handling snowy Midwestern highways, it is likely to be deployed at the speed of fleet turnover—so, a phase-in of a decade or more can be anticipated. At this pace, truck driver displacement may not be much more rapid than attrition through retirement in a workforce that skews middle-aged.

Second, sizeable workforce impacts could be felt before full deployment of automated trucks everywhere and anytime. If Mohan and Vaishnav’s model is a rough approximation of a future AV truck phase-in, there could be many opportunities to automate highway miles in weather free of snow and ice that is easier to automate. They estimated that approximately half of operator-hours could be automated in the warmer months between April 1 and October 1 across the entire continental U.S. The scale of such an impact would reshape the trucking industry well before automated capabilities approach that 94% headline figure.

However, despite the recent announcements made by automated truck developers such as TuSimple and Locomation that they are expanding their on-road testing, automated trucking remains in its infancy and will not transform the trucking industry in the short run. Discussions on eventual workforce impacts have already begun (the AV industry has formed the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity in response), but these future impacts are extremely uncertain, and public policy is a blunt tool at best. Until automated trucking operations expand beyond limited test cases, policymakers should remain laser-focused on harnessing the road safety promise of AVs rather than speculating on potential job losses that might occur decades from now.

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Let’s Emulate Canada on Commercial Rest Areas
By Baruch Feigenbaum

The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of trucking to the American economy. Hospitals needed medical supplies and students taking classes from home needed computers transported by trucks, for example. The supply chain crisis has reminded us that driving a tractor-trailer is a challenging job. Long-haul trucking has a near 100% annual turnover rate, among the highest for any profession.

The American Transportation Research Institute, the trucking industry’s research arm, conducted a study and found that truck drivers’ two biggest needs today are ample parking spaces and healthy and quick food options.

A lack of parking is the biggest problem. Some drivers stop driving earlier in the day—before they reach their hours-of-service limit because finding parking spots between 4 p.m. and 5 a.m. can be extremely challenging in many areas of the country. If more parking spaces were available, some truckers could drive an additional 100 miles per day. Thus, the current lack of truck parking hinders our supply chain, raising prices and reducing economic activity.

Truck drivers are also looking for healthier food, which can be sparse at many truck stops. Specifically, truck drivers say they are looking for fresh salads and fresh fruit. And most drivers do not have the luxury of sitting down for a meal at a restaurant or finding a place to park so they can shop at a grocery store every night.

Thankfully, one government has created a plan to solve these issues. But it is not in the United States; it’s the province of Alberta, Canada. With its commercial rest areas proposal, Alberta plans to issue a request for proposals to rebuild as many as 18 highway rest areas on level 1 highways (classified as freeways and other major arterials in the U.S.). Under the planned design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) P3, the selected company would build the facilities, collect the rent from tenants (gas stations, electric charging companies, restaurants), and pay a monthly fee to the province for 30 years. The new rest areas would offer 24-hour access to basic services such as parking, restrooms, and climate-controlled facilities. But the facilities will also offer commercial services such as fuel, electric vehicle charging, convenience retail, and restaurants.

Alberta’s current rest areas are underused because they lack commercial services. In addition, they are not always safe, making them a last resort for many drivers. And they are poorly maintained due to budget constraints.

Contrast Alberta’s approach with what Florida is now planning. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is proposing to add 11 truck parking areas on I-4 across four counties. In the corridor, an estimated 40% of truck drivers spend more than one hour looking for parking. Between the Osceola County-Polk County line and I-95, a distance of more than 100 miles in the corridor with more than four million people, there are only 36 truck parking spots. By 2025, FDOT estimates that the corridor will need 750 spots. Between 7,000 and 20,000 trucks use I-4 every day. That Interstate corridor has one of the largest parking space deficits, but almost every Interstate corridor in the country needs more parking. FDOT has identified 11 locations for new parking. But unlike Alberta, which is using a P3 to add commercial services, FDOT is merely adding parking spaces, not offering other amenities.

Florida DOT has typically been a leader in U.S. P3s, with three of the largest (by dollar value) transportation P3s in the country. Why won’t these truck stops offer fuel, electric vehicle charging, retail, and restaurants? Federal law makes offering any of these services illegal. When the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was passed, one of the compromises was to prohibit commercial services at Interstate rest areas, even though states own their Interstate highways. As a result, the only food available comes from vending machines. The National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) has lobbied relentlessly to keep the ban in place. At a 2009 congressional hearing, the association’s president suggested that the commercial service ban was the only policy in the surface transportation reauthorization bill that the group cared about.

For some reason, NATSO thinks that all truckers who now patronize truck stops would switch to the commercial services at rest areas instead. Yet, the evidence on I-95 in Delaware and Maryland, which is a toll road that was grandfathered into the Interstate system and allowed to offer commercial services, is just the opposite. Many truckers and other motorists use the commercial service plazas, while others exit the highway to eat at restaurants or purchase fuel.

Further, the commercial service plazas can offer more than more parking and better food. The plazas on tolled Interstates (exempt from the federal ban) increasingly offer electric vehicle charging. High fuel prices have increased the demand for electric cars and trucks. Yet many travelers will not consider an electric vehicle due to range anxiety. The typical lower-priced EV needs to be recharged after 100 miles. Placing electric vehicle charging stations at rest areas will be a game-changer, encouraging long-distance travelers to purchase an EV.

Further, these improved Interstate rest areas can offer convenience retail, basically a 7-11 on steroids that will allow customers to get healthier food to go or basic clothing if they forgot to pack something.

It is time we move past the short-sighted views of NATSO. Congress needs to find a legislative vehicle to allow states, which own their Interstates, to use P3s to expand and offer commercial services at their rest areas. Service plazas need to offer 21st-century solutions such as ample parking, higher-quality food, and electric vehicle charging instead of remaining stuck in a 20th-century mentality.

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News Notes

Reason Seeks Additional Transportation Policy Analyst
Reason Foundation, the publisher of this newsletter, has an opening for an additional member of its transportation policy team, to work with me, Baruch Feigenbaum, Marc Scribner, and Vice President Adrian Moore. This is a full-time position, starting in the late spring or early summer of this year. A detailed description is available on the Reason Foundation website.

PennDOT Selects Winner for Major Bridge P3 Program
From among the four shortlisted teams, Pennsylvania DOT selected the team led by Macquarie and Shikun & Binui Concessions for its project to repair or replace up to nine bridges on its Interstate highways around the state. The first step will be a pre-development agreement under which the winning team will finalize the design and packaging of the bridges. The intent is to follow this with a long-term DBFOM agreement. Tolls will be charged to provide the revenue stream on which the project will be financed, but PennDOT will take the revenue risk and will compensate the P3 entity via availability payments. Late last year Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) vetoed a bill aimed at preventing the rebuilt or replaced bridges from having tolls.

Is It Time to Start Thinking About NEPA Reform?
In my column in the March issue of Public Works Financing, I discussed research that attributes much of the difference between very high U.S. highway and transit project costs (compared with other developed nations) to “citizen voice”—the ability of NIMBY and environmental groups to litigate endlessly to delay projects they oppose. The column suggests a potential bipartisan political opportunity to revise NEPA and other federal statutes to continue environmental impact studies but to limit or prevent endless litigation. The column is available on the Reason Foundation website.

World’s Longest Suspension Bridge Opens in Turkey
Thanks to a $2.7 billion long-term P3, Turkey now has a 6,637-foot suspension bridge across the Dardanelles Strait, linking the Asian and European shores of this important waterway. The new bridge’s name honors a battle in 1915 that took place in this area, hence the name “1915 Canakkale Bridge.” Travelers will pay a $13.60 toll to cross the channel on the bridge in six minutes, compared with the current 1.5-hour ferry trip. The P3 company is a consortium of Turkish and South Korean companies.

Mercedes Takes Legal Responsibility for New Driver Assist System
A new system called Drive Pilot, available on high-end Mercedes automobiles comes with a unique provision. It is considered a Level 3 system, which will not require the driver to be ready to take control. Hence, when Drive Pilot is in operation, Mercedes says it will assume all legal liability for any accident that might occur—a step no other auto company has taken. But there are limitations. Drive Pilot can only be used on certain highways, and the car cannot exceed 40 mph when operating in that mode. Also, Drive Pilot will operate only in daylight and in reasonably clear weather. And it is supposed to be able to give the driver a 10-second warning before it disengages.

New Toll Lanes Under Way in Northwest Austin
Despite a legislative ban on new toll projects in Texas, a project to add express toll lanes is getting under way on SH 183. This is taking place because the project is being carried out by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), which built and operates the existing express toll lanes on the Mopac Expressway. The legislative ban applies only to projects that use TxDOT funds or are carried out under long-term P3 agreements. Existing toll agencies and regional mobility authorities are exempt. The tolls will be charged only on the newly added express toll lanes, and the $612 million project is also adding one general-purpose lane each way, along with adding two express toll lanes in each direction.

Waymo Joins Cruise with San Francisco Robotaxis
Waymo is launching a fully autonomous taxi service in a portion of San Francisco, initially serving only Waymo employees. Competitor Cruise launched a similar service several months ago, operating only at night. Both services currently charge no fees. Cruise is the only company that has a California PUC license to charge for robo-taxi service; Waymo can only charge for service if there is a safety driver in the vehicle.

Charlotte Express Toll Lanes Proving Popular
During the long process of getting approval to add express toll lanes to I-77 approaching downtown Charlotte, NC, fierce opposition arose from critics who claimed either that the lanes would attract so few users that they would not reduce congestion or that the pricing would not prevent the lanes from getting congested like the adjacent general-purpose lanes. But by the fourth quarter of 2021, the lanes generated $11.5 million from willing customers and are now projected to generate $45 million this year—$10 million more than projected prior to construction (and prior to COVID-19). This is a familiar pattern for the first express toll lane in a state or large metro area—most people simply don’t believe they will work. (See “After Slow Start, I-77 Toll Lane Revenue Is Surging,” Steve Harrison, WFAE, March 30, 2022)

$2.2 Billion Norwegian P3 Bridge/Tunnel Project Financed
The Sorta Link project will design, build, finance, operate and maintain a 9.4-kilometer four-lane highway connecting Bergen and Oygarden. Its large cost stems from the need to construct 4.6 km of twin-bore tunnels and a major bridge. The winning P3 team includes Macquarie Capital, SK Ecoplant, and WeBuild. Financial close on the project was reached on March 16. Once construction is completed, the P3 entity will operate and maintain the new link for 25 years. The project is a key portion of Norway’s 2018-2029 National Transport Plan.

Washington State Budgets $1.2 Billion Toward I-5 Bridge Replacement
Last month, the Washington legislature agreed on a $16 billion state infrastructure program that includes $1.2 billion for its share of the project to replace the obsolete I-5 bridges between Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA. The replacement bridge’s configuration and total cost have not yet been decided between the two states, nor has the extent to which toll financing will be used.

Major New P3 Toll Road Financed in Bali
World Highways reported last month that construction will soon begin on the 97-kilometer Gilimanuk-Mengwi Toll Road on the Indonesian island of Bali. The project will include a parallel bikeway, a first in Indonesia. The $1.72 billion project is being developed as a DBFOM by a team headed by Tol Jagat Kerthi Bali, which won a 50-year concession to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the new link.

MBUF Group Taps Important Data Provider
The Eastern Transportation Coalition last month announced a contract with Geotab Intelligent Transportation to obtain origin-destination and freight data for use in its ongoing MBUF research and pilot projects in 18 eastern states. Geotab’s Altitude data platform enables road providers (and researchers such as the TET Coalition) to identify problem areas and measure the impact of proposed policy changes.

Orlando Toll Road Provider to Add Elevated Toll Lanes
The five-county Central Florida Expressway Authority is planning a $365 million project to build 2.8 miles of elevated toll lanes to extend SR 414 between U.S. 441 and SR 434 in Maitland, a suburb of Orlando. The project is intended to reduce congestion on SR 414 and on Maitland Blvd.

New EPA Regulations for Trucks and Buses
The Environmental Protection Agency last month released proposed new regulations concerning nitrogen oxide (NOx) and CO2 emissions from commercial vehicles. The NOx regulations apply to all categories of commercial trucks, as well as school and transit buses. The CO2 regulations exclude heavy trucks but would apply to school and transit buses as well as delivery trucks and short-haul tractors. The proposed regulations are now open for public comment. The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association appears supportive of the new rules but hopes to work with EPA on the details.

Correction Regarding TET Coalition Truck Projects
Nina Elter of EROAD wrote to explain that the Coalition’s 2020/21 truck pilot did not employ a weight-based rate structure, but the motor carrier working group did conclude that rates based on registered truck weight would be the best approach for the 2022 truck pilot. Also, the research done on the International Fuel Tax Agreement and the International Registration Plan showed enough promise that an interface with IFTA is being set up for the 2022 pilot. I greatly appreciate these corrections.

Correction Regarding Gondola News Note
John Charles from the Cascade Policy Institute wrote to explain that the gondola in Portland does not cross the Willamette River. It goes from the South Waterfront area on the river’s west bank up to the OHSU medical complex, crossing over I-5 on its way. Thanks to John for this local knowledge.

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Quotable Quotes

“[T]he [DOT] Secretary does not have much leeway to disapprove projects unless he finds that a project violates a specific federal law. Had the FHWA [guidance] document been phrased differently, using much of the same substance without cutting and pasting directly from the House Democratic bill that never became law it wouldn’t have drawn much attention. But the direct quotes from the rejected Democratic bill needlessly inflamed things, to the point that if and when Republicans take back the House of Representatives next year, here is what’s probably going to happen. The House version of the fiscal 2024 DOT Appropriations bill will include general provisions nullifying the FHWA policy document or denying funds for US DOT if they use any of that language in NOFOs [notices of funding opportunities] or regulations. Then, depending on how the Senate elections go, those House riders may get the support of a narrow majority of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in which case the Biden Administration would have to trade hundreds of millions of dollars in real money, or a policy limitation in another area, to get those riders out of the appropriations bill.”
—Jeff Davis, “Sec. Buttigieg Defends DOT’s Implementation of Infrastructure Bill Before Senate,” Eno Transportation Weekly, Feb. 28, 2022

“The IMF, in a report published in September 2021, found that fossil fuels are still receiving [annual] subsidies of $5.9 trillion, or $11 million a minute. So the same governments signing pledges to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the framework of the Paris agreement, as witnessed at the COP26 summit in Glasgow are, in the same breath, actively promoting the use of carbon to support the unsustainable growth of our economies.”
—Andre Hoffman, vice chairman of Roche in “Subsidies to Fossil Fuels,” Letters, The Economist, March 12, 2022

“I do believe that overall, toll payment will become more seamless and less explicit for the end user. Toll will not be collected directly by authorities and road agencies any longer, but increasingly via service providers which offer toll payments as one element of their mobility services portfolios. Those service providers may be vehicle manufacturers, fleet service providers, insurance companies, MaaS providers, or today’s toll service providers who will evolve into broader mobility payment service providers.”
—Peter Ummenhofer, GO Consulting, in “Tolling Industry Discussions, Toll Insight, March 22, 2022

“We want government to invest in infrastructure that gets a high utilization (as opposed to roads to nowhere). If they built a new airport runway and it filled up with flights, people would sing the praises of such a great investment. Yet if we invest in additional freeway capacity and it fills up, it was wasted money? How does that make sense? It means the government built mobility infrastructure exactly where people needed it—where there was unmet demand—and isn’t that exactly what we want them to do as taxpayers?”
—Tory Gattis, Urban Reform Institute, email to Robert Poole, March 9, 2022

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