- Is reducing car travel a wise policy for GHG reduction?
- Express toll lanes back on Maryland’s agenda
- Miami toll road provider taken over by state
- A new metric for comparing transit project cost-effectiveness
- What electric vehicle chargers will cost America
- Amtrak’s costly climate alternative
- News notes
- Quotable quotes
California is one of a handful of states that have set targets for reducing the amount of driving, as measured by vehicle miles of travel (VMT). An Aug. 18 Streetsblog article headline put it this way, “Caltrans Carbon Reduction Strategy: We Must Drive Less.”
According to the California Transportation Carbon Reduction Strategy, the three “pillars” of this strategy are the shift to electric vehicles, encouraging “active” transportation (walking and biking), and investing more in mass transit. Widening highways is forbidden, even to add high-occupancy toll lanes or express toll lanes. The only way new HOT or express toll lanes will be allowed is if they convert existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes or general purpose lanes.
While California aims to cut vehicle miles traveled by 20% between now and 2030, several other states have adopted similar but less drastic goals: Washington state is aiming to reduce VMT by 16%, Colorado by 8%, Minnesota by 7%, and Massachusetts by 3%.
What is left out of these plans is how much bang for the buck VMT reduction would bring about and what kind of collateral damage these plans will bring about.
I addressed the first of these concerns in the July issue of this newsletter. The reduce-VMT-and-densify-metro-areas concept gained some national attention last decade via a policy paper called “Moving Cooler,” developed by the Urban Land Institute with strong support from mass transit groups. The assumptions made in that paper were so unrealistic that a large number of transportation experts and organizations asked the Transportation Research Board (TRB) to cover the same ground in a more rigorous study. Its “Driving and the Built Environment” (2009) found that even if a whopping 25% of a metro area were densified and had expanded transit service, there would be only a 1.5% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. And factoring in likely improvements in vehicle fuel economy (electric vehicles were not yet seen as a significant factor), the impact of vehicle technology improvements dwarfed those likely from vehicle miles traveled reduction and densification.
And who are the forgotten losers from VMT reduction policies? A new study by three urban planning professors makes the case that low-income urban residents without cars would suffer from these policies. A summary of their paper from the Journal of Planning Education and Research appears in the latest issue of Transfers magazine, edited by one of the co-authors, UCLA’s Michael Manville. “The Necessity of Cars,” co-authored with Michael Smart of Rutgers and David A. King of Arizona State University, is based on the premise that “America is built for driving. We should change that [in the long term], but in the meantime we should help low-income people drive.”
In the article and the journal article, they present detailed data showing that while the number of carless households has declined over time, those who live in such households have lower real incomes today than carless households on 1969. Less than 5% of all U.S. households don’t have a car but account for 41% of total Americans with no cars. (A large group of carless households are upper-income people living in dense downtowns like Manhattan.) They also present data showing that, in real terms, today’s cars cost little more than those of cars decades ago, despite being safer and having far more features.
As urban planning professionals, the authors acknowledge that we “have created a world that often demands a car, and that even as automobiles have become more necessary, they have not become less expensive. There are different ways to address this problem. In the long term, we should want a world more hospitable to other ways of moving around. In the short term, however, we should strive for universal auto access: helping low-income people get and keep cars.”
They note that “one obvious solution is to create more places like New York, where automobiles aren’t essential for economic success. This goal is undeniably important, but the built environment changes slowly, so it is also indisputably long term. Pursuing changes to the built form of cities offers little help to the many low-income households suffering from restricted mobility today. In the short term, the best approach is to help low-income people get and keep cars.”
While this approach may sound strange coming from urban planners, they are quick to point out a precedent. Reminding us that automobiles came on the scene around the same time as indoor plumbing, electrification, refrigeration, etc., these innovations typically began with the financially well-off and gradually became basically universal. The authors also note that these days “every state has programs to help low-income people maintain their access to these essential services.”
But not cars.
“The minority of Americans who can’t afford cars are rarely offered help getting them. Instead, they are offered public transportation, which in most places is a poor substitute for driving,” they write.
And anticipating objections from the transit community, they add, helping low-income people get cars “could further undermine transit, at a moment when transit is particularly vulnerable. But low-income people do not owe society a viable transit system. If a car is the best way for many low-income people to get around, . . . we should not begrudge low-income people the decision to drive.”
Five months after the public-private partnership toll road development team of Transurban and Macquarie threw in the towel on their planned $6 billion express toll lanes (ETLs) project, on Aug. 21, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore revived a major portion of the project—but to be paid for by tax money rather than being financed by toll revenues. The scaled-back project will include rebuilding the American Legion Bridge with added ETLs, extending those lanes onto I-495 but only to I-270 and then up I-270 to the northwest.
The good news for commuters, if this portion of the project finally gets built, will be much-needed congestion relief on those corridors but with potential bottlenecks where the revised project’s express lanes terminate on still-congested further stretches of I-495 and I-270. The added express toll lanes on those corridors will expand the Washington, DC, metro area’s ETL network, making possible faster and more reliable express bus service across the Potomac on I-495, something currently non-existent.
Most of the opposition—from landowners near I-495, from environmental groups, and from anti-highway groups—was focused on capacity expansion, not on the planned $6 billion toll-financed express lanes themselves or the public-private partnership procurement. Capacity expansion is what fueled challenges to the Environmental Impact Report and litigation. Ironically, Gov. Moore and Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld have retained the most controversial aspect of the project while scrapping the highly successful long-term design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) P3 model under which nearly all northern Virginia’s burgeoning ETL network has been financed and is operating.
Gov. Moore’s announcement said the state has applied for a $2.4 billion federal grant, but it’s not clear how much of the (not-disclosed) capital cost of the somewhat scaled-back project it will pay for. Maryland taxpayers will almost certainly be on the hook for a significant fraction of the cost, even if the federal government approves the requested grant.
Moreover, the abandoned long-term P3 would have included 50 years of guaranteed maintenance, as well as shifting the risk of cost overruns, late completion, and traffic and revenue shortfalls to the P3 entity’s investors (primarily Transurban, Macquarie, and the project’s revenue bond-buyers). Given the extent of traffic congestion in the DC metro area, the P3 would likely have been a good investment. Fitch Ratings last December confirmed BBB (investment-grade) ratings for Virginia’s I-95 Express and I-66 Express P3 projects.
Perhaps when the hard financing realities sink in, the Maryland Department of Transportation may reconsider the case for a long-term P3 procurement. MDOT Secretary Wiedefeld told The Washington Post that “the administration is not completely abandoning the possibility of partnering with the private sector as the project moves forward.”
After several years of litigation, the Florida legislature’s second takeover attempt of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) appears to have succeeded, based on a gimmick upheld last month by an appeals court.
The first attempt by the 2019 legislature ultimately failed, based on Miami-Dade County successfully defending its local toll agency by citing its home rule charter, which insulates it from various state intrusions. This time around, anti-toll Miami legislators figured that if the replacement state-controlled toll agency were a bi-county entity (and assuming no objection by the added county), Miami-Dade’s home rule charter would no longer be an obstacle.
The bill, by Sen. Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah Gardens), includes “a sliver of the northeast corner of [adjacent] Monroe County.” The only road there is County Road 9, a mostly gravel scenic route through Big Cypress National Preserve. It is not now, and never will be, a toll road.
This year’s Republican legislative majority passed the bill, and it was signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Although another appeal is being considered, the chairman of the MDX board sent an email to employees and managers telling them they would start taking orders from the recently appointed board of the state-created Greater Miami Expressway Authority (GMX).
The majority of the GMX board is appointed by the governor, and decisions on future capital spending (e.g., on the much-needed extension of MDX’s Dolphin Expressway) are subject to potential veto by the Legislative Budget Commission. I hate to think what GMX’s bond ratings will sink to under this new regime if Miami-Dade County cannot successfully appeal the new system as an illegal end-run around the county’s home rule charter.
I’ve been following this battle for more than a decade. It all began in 2010 when MDX began switching from barrier tolls on its five toll roads to all-electronic tolling (AET). With the prior system, more than half the daily users avoided the toll plazas and used the toll roads for free. While the per-mile rate remained about the same after conversion to all-electronic tolling, the former free-loaders created a talk-radio backlash, and their cause was taken up by a group of populist Republican legislators from the Miami area.
Nearly every year they have managed to pass some kind of anti-toll legislation: one year imposing a poison pill on the Florida Department of Transportation’s I-95 express toll lanes stating that for any period when traffic was not meeting the federal standard of at least 45 miles per hour during peaks, only the minimum toll (50 cents) could be charged. (The daily p.m. peak congestion occurs because of a bottleneck at the obsolete Golden Glades interchange, which was not the fault of the express lanes; what they needed there was higher tolls, not nearly zero tolls.)
Another year they tried to force Florida DOT to un-do the just-opened express toll lanes on the Palmetto Expressway—which led to a “compromise” in which one of the two lanes each way was converted back to a general-purpose lane. The takeover of MDX is merely their latest victory.
By the way, should a miracle happen and Miami-Dade County successfully appeal the state takeover, the Miami area’s toll road woes will not be over. Should Gov. Ron DeSantis succeed in his presidential ambitions next year, taking over as governor would be Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, formerly part of the Miami-area anti-toll legislative group. You can read some of this background by in a detailed Miami Herald piece by Douglas Hanks, who’s been following this saga for years: “Dems Blame ‘Grudge’ by Lt. Gov. Nunez for the Latest Takeover Bid of Miami Toll Roads.”
Last month, Eno Transportation Weekly’s Jeff Davis discussed several different metrics for measuring the capital costs for transit projects under construction. The article examined four heavy rail projects, one commuter rail project, 11 bus rapid transit projects, and three streetcar projects. I am going to address some of the extremes (high cost to low cost). You can find the full list of projects on the Eno website. The cost and daily ridership numbers come from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) project profiles for ongoing and pending Capital Investment Grant (CIG) projects.
Eno’s Davis notes that examining total capital cost only, the new Hudson River Tunnel heavy rail project would be the most expensive at $15.6 billion. However, that project, similar to most New York area transit projects, has a very high projected unlinked daily ridership of 189,000 to 210,000, or a cost per rider of $56,000.
Consider another heavy rail project, the San Jose Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Silicon Valley Phase 2 extension. It has a lower capital cost of $9.3 billion, so under conventional thinking it should receive funding priority. However, its projected daily ridership is a paltry 14,000. Therefore, the BART extension has a per rider cost of $656,000, or more than 10 times that of New York’s Second Avenue subway project.
Generally, bus rapid transit projects are cheaper, but there is a wide range of variation. The South Carolina Low Country Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) costs $625 million. That’s on the high end of projects, but what makes matters worse is it will only move 4,500 to 7,600 people per day. Its opening year cost per daily rider is $139,000. Denver has a planned BRT project which would cost $255 million but is projected to move 35,900 riders per day, for an estimated per rider cost of $8,625, making it 1/16 the cost of the South Carolina project
Finally, streetcars continue to be an egregious waste of money. A Los Angeles project would cost $296 million but move only 5,100 people for a $80,000 per rider cost. A Tampa project fares worse with a per rider cost of $98,000. Given that most people can walk faster than a streetcar, this might be the worst bang for the buck.
The data show some trends but also a lot of variation. Heavy rail projects, which must be grade separated, are more expensive than other types of transit. In most situations, they cannot be justified financially, but in a place like New York with very high ridership and a limited ability to build new infrastructure at grade, they could be a viable option.
On the other hand, in San Jose, which could have built a bus rapid transit line for a fraction of the cost, the BART line is simply empire building, expanding BART to a new county, when other transit options such as BRT traffic signal priority would be far more cost-effective.
Second, not all BRT projects are created equal. There are three types of BRT: heavy, lite, and freeway. “Heavy” have their own right-of-way for at least 50% of the corridors. “Lite” operate in mixed traffic with signal priority. “Freeway” operates on limited access highways, typically in managed lanes. Generally, BRT heavy projects are needed in only the most congested corridors. The Low Country heavy BRT project in Charleston uses a dedicated lane for 55% of its route. Yet, with its low ridership, a BRT lite project that uses intelligent transportation system features would seem to meet the needs of the community at far lower cost.
Similar to the Low County project, Denver’s Colfax Avenue BRT project has a dedicated lane for over half of its route. Yet, because it has much higher daily ridership, the Colfax project can be more easily justified as BRT heavy.
FTA has another complication when it evaluates projects. Some agencies provide wildly inaccurate cost and ridership numbers. All ridership projections are guesses, hopefully, but not always, educated by long-range transportation plans and land use projections. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ridership estimates could be off by huge amounts. After the pandemic you might have better success putting on a blindfold and picking a random number out of a bag than realistically predicting transit ridership in some areas. And valid data requires project sponsors to make good faith-estimates. For years, the assumption was that project sponsors would underestimate costs by one third. The career staff at the FTA would try to prevent these kinds of machinations, but if key political leadership really wanted to fund a project it might not matter.
What’s the best approach to selecting these types of transit projects? Assuming we continue to fund transit via the federal government, the FTA should prioritize capital cost per rider as a much better metric to use than overall cost. We’ve seen how high cost/high ridership projects can be a much more cost-effective option than medium cost/low ridership projects. But in order for that to be effective, FTA needs accurate data. The agency should go back and audit all of the transit projects it funds five years after the project’s opening to determine which agencies were realistic in projecting ridership and costs. To improve transit projects in the future, FTA needs a claw-back mechanism to reclaim funds from project sponsors that make extremely inaccurate ridership and cost projections to gain federal funding. Cost per daily rider is the best metric, but it needs to be accurate.
Personal vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks) generate a large share of U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, replacement of petroleum-fueled vehicles sounds like a good idea. But the Biden administration’s aggressive timetable for this replacement poses some serious cost and feasibility questions.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), based on an estimate of 30 million to 40 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads in 2030, estimates that it will cost $127 billion to add 28 million EV chargers by that time. A recent article in Utility Dive by Robert Walton broke this down into types, drawing on the NREL report’s mid-range estimate of 33 million EVs. That scenario would require:
|Level 1 and 2 ports at mostly residential locations:||26.8 million||$72 billion|
|DC Fast Chargers at commercial locations||182,000||$44 billion|
|Level 2 public chargers||1 million||$11 billion|
Alas, that $127 billion does not include either a major upgrade of the electricity grid, especially for the DC Fast Chargers, or a considerable expansion of electricity generation. Today the electric utility industry is worrying that coal-fired power plants (the largest source of reliable baseload power) are being retired too rapidly and replaced with wind and solar power that cannot provide reliable baseline electricity.
Remember that current NetZero plans call for phasing out all fossil fuel power by 2050 and at the same time adding huge amounts of electricity demand, e.g., replacing gas-fired heating and cooking in homes, replacing coke furnaces in steelmaking, and replacing petroleum fuel for all surface transportation—not just cars and trucks but also diesel locomotives for passenger and freight trains, diesel buses of all types, and many other current fossil-fuel uses. Replacing the current amount of electricity generation with non-fossil fuel sources by 2050 would be a huge challenge by itself. When you add to this a major expansion of electricity uses, the unrealism of this transition by 2050 becomes apparent.
Paying for the network of planned electric vehicle chargers is a long way from being figured out. The two current federal programs provide $2.5 billion in discretionary grants for chargers in cities and towns and a separate $5 billion for chargers along major highways. That’s trivial compared with NREL’s 2030 estimated need for $127 billion worth of chargers. The $5 billion program requires at least one fast charger for every 50 miles of highway. Of the 75,700 miles that the Federal Highway Administration has identified as “alternative fuel corridors,” about 70% don’t meet that requirement. The regions with fewest highway chargers are Appalachia, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountain states, according to James Bikales in “The Long Road to Biden’s Electric Car Dreams” (Politico, July 5, 2020).
The private sector is trying to expand commercial charging, with two recent developments gaining news coverage. First, Tesla scored a big win when six auto companies (Ford, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Polestar, Rivian, and Volvo) announced they would adopt Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS), so their EVs will be able to recharge at the company’s expanding network of fast chargers. And Tesla has also developed a Magic Dock Adapter, which EVs built with the CCS standard assumed in the federal programs can use to recharge at Tesla Superchargers. In addition, SAE International announced in June that it will put Tesla’s NACS through its standardization process. This does not bode well for the longevity of the federal CCS standard.
President Joe Biden and many members of Congress believe that an expanded passenger rail system would shift significant numbers of intercity travelers from greenhouse-gas-emitting airliners, intercity buses, and personal vehicles to fast, climate-friendly trains. But the reality is more complicated than that.
Amtrak was allocated $22 billion in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law. A Sept. 6 Politico article by Tanya Snyder reported that the agency plans to spend half of that sum on replacing its aging trainsets on the Northeast Corridor and the Pacific Northwest as well as completely replacing its long distance fleet of 800 passenger cars and diesel locomotives. Yes, Amtrak will continue to use diesel locomotives for the next 30 years on all its long-distance routes—not exactly a climate-friendly policy.
The Department of Energy’s 2022 Transportation Energy Data Book shows that in 2019, Amtrak reported 6.479 million passenger miles on routes between cities. Airlines handled 754,981 million passenger miles, so Amtrak was responsible for a mere 0.8% of what airlines carried. To be sure, because passenger trains carry a lot more people per propulsion unit, the carbon footprint of an individual rail trip is lower than that of a car or airline trip, at least for shorter trips.
The Union of Concerned Scientists back in 2008 analyzed the CO2 emissions (pounds) per trip for intercity travel modes. Here are their C02 emission numbers for a single-person trip.
|Trip length (miles)||Bus||Car||Plane||Amtrak|
Unfortunately, the Union of Concerned Scientists has not updated its numbers since 2008, so because of significantly higher federal miles-per-gallon requirements, the car trip would have a somewhat lower CO2 footprint today. Planes would be slightly lower than shown, due to newer planes with modest reductions in fuel burn per mile. Amtrak is likely unchanged since 2008, due to no changes in locomotives. The most climate-friendly mode remains intercity bus, by a wide margin. And it’s experiencing a growth surge, as reported in the August issue of this newsletter.
With Amtrak carrying such a tiny fraction of intercity trips, it’s not clear that the $22 billion windfall it received in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law will do very much to increase its passenger volume. Even doubling Amtrak’s market share would result in it being less than two percent of what airlines handle and its CO2 savings are limited to trips of less than 1,500 miles. Given multi-billion-dollar taxpayer subsidies to Amtrak, those are costly savings.
Denver I-25 Express Lanes Moving Forward
On Aug. 8, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $501 million ransportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan to Colorado DOT to help finance its $1.6 billion project to add 52 miles of express toll lanes to I-25, between Denver and Fort Collins. Express buses and HOV-3 vehicles will be allowed to use the new lanes at no charge; all others will pay variable toll rates aimed at free-flowing traffic during peak periods.
Seattle Support Grows for $1 Billion Deck Over I-5
The Seattle City Council voted in favor of a plan to deck over a stretch of I-5 through downtown Seattle, enabling an 11-acre park to be built over that portion of the freeway. The project has been advanced by a “Lid I-5 Steering Committee.” State Sen. Marko Liias told Axios that state officials support exploring a new I-5 deck as part of the master planning process for I-5 in Seattle. The city pioneered the idea of decking over freeways, creating the five-acre Freeway Park over another section of I-5 in 1976.
Texas Green-Lights Massive HOV Lanes Plan
With I-35 through downtown Austin overwhelmed with congestion, the Texas Department of Transportation announced it will launch its $4.5 billion expansion project in mid-2024. Because of the ongoing legislative moratorium on new projects involving tolling or public-private partnerships (P3s), the new capacity will be high-occupancy vehicle lanes each way, rather than the far more cost-effective variably priced express toll lanes, like those now operational on major freeways in Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Houston. Most of those projects were done as revenue-risk long-term public-private partnerships, with minimal TxDOT funding. With the ban on such P3s, TxDOT must commit $4.5 billion to the Austin project that could have required only 20% of that sum as a revenue-risk P3. That would have freed up $3.6 billion in TxDOT funds for projects statewide that will now go unfunded in 2024.
Higher Bridge Tolls for Bay Area Transit Are on Hold
A bill in the California state legislature to increase the toll rates on San Francisco Bay Area toll bridges by $1.50, with the new revenue to be used to bail out the region’s ailing mass transit systems, has not generated much support. A number of local leaders, some Assembly Democrats, and the influential Bay Area Council oppose the measure, arguing that the transit systems need to first focus on operational reforms. “We can’t continue to fund unsustainable transit operations that aren’t meeting the needs of riders,” Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, told the San Jose Mercury News.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells vs. Battery Electrics in California Legislation
PoliticoPro reported a contested bill in the California legislature (Assembly Bill 241) could be the “last gasp” for hydrogen fuel cells for passenger vehicles. The bill would reduce funding for hydrogen fuel cell refueling stations to free up more funds for recharging electric vehicle batteries. Sales of electric vehicles in California are 99% battery electric, so the change of focus for passenger vehicles makes sense. However, for heavy trucks hydrogen fuel cells are far more cost-effective than batteries, so one hopes that market does not get ignored going forward.
California May Ban Driverless Trucks
Despite the opposition of tech-friendly Gov. Gavin Newsom, a bill that has passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly, AB 316, would require a human driver to be aboard all heavy trucks on California roadways until 2030 at the earliest. The bill is strongly supported by California labor unions, and even if Gov. Newsom vetoes it, the legislature may be able to override his veto.
ATA Opposing Separate California Trucking Rules
The American Trucking Associations has criticized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for announcing that it would consider waivers from its 2018 decision that pre-empted California’s own set of rules for truck driver meal and rest-break rules. In an Aug. 11 news release, ATA called separate state rules “unnecessary and duplicative,” saying that this would create a patchwork of meal and rest-break rules across the country. It warned that it will “leverage all our Federation’s resources to stop this in its tracks.”
Seattle’s I-405 Express Toll Lanes Being Extended
Washington State DOT and Sound Transit have announced the award of an $834 million design-build contract to add a second express lane each way on the northernmost section of the I-405 express toll lanes. This will eliminate a bottleneck where the current northbound configuration shifts from two lanes to one. The contract was awarded to Skanska. The project includes other improvements to the corridor, including a new station for the I-405 Stride bus rapid transit service, which will use the expanded express lanes instead of the general purpose lanes.
Brightline Readies Start of Miami to Orlando Train Service
With its station at Orlando International Airport completed and ready to open, Brightline Florida has had to postpone the planned post-Labor Day launch of its long-distance service until (they hope) near the end of September. Final regulatory approval from the Federal Railroad Administration and final agreements with the Coast Guard on use of the railroad drawbridge across the St. Lucie River in Stuart are still being finalized. Brightline Florida also made The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 31) in an article about its use of the Starlink satellite constellation to bring much better smart phone/internet access to its rail passengers.
Contractors Selected for $3.1 Billion Brent Spence Bridge Corridor
The aging and congested bridge between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky, will be modernized and supplemented by a new parallel bridge, which will handle interstate travel while the refurbished bridge will be reserved for local travel. The project was held up for more than a decade due to political opposition to using toll revenue to help pay for it. The plan going forward is based on a $1.385 billion federal grant (about 45% of the total) and the balance from Ohio and Kentucky highway budgets. A Walsh/Kokosing joint venture will be the construction contractor, with AECOM and Jacobs handing design and engineering.
Illinois Legislature and Governor Expand P3 Options in Transportation
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker used his veto power to make small revisions in the public-private partnership legislation passed by the legislature several months ago. He left in place transportation P3 provisions that will allow Illinois DOT to accept unsolicited proposals, as a number of other states do. The revised bill will likely be passed in the upcoming “veto session” this fall.
I-77 Express Lanes Still on North Carolina Agenda
A joint team from the Charlotte Regional Transportation Organization and North Carolina DOT decided not to accept the unsolicited proposal from Cintra to add express toll lanes to I-77 between Charlotte and the South Carolina border. The DOT will continue studying whether the project should be done as a long-term DBFOM P3 (like the express toll lanes on I-77 north of Charlotte) or be done as a state-funded conventional project. The comparison is expected to be completed by spring 2024.
Rebuilding Aging Rural Interstates via Toll Financing
My Reason colleague Baruch Feigenbaum has written a policy brief examining using tolling to refinance the reconstruction of rural highways. The brief identifying 11 rural Interstate corridors that need reconstruction and widening and could be candidates. Given the high costs of reconstruction and expansion, and limited state transportation budgets, Feigenbaum suggests tolling and notes two provisions in federal law that would make this feasible and legal.
“The Department [of Transportation] estimates that its plan increasing passenger-car [miles per gallon] standards by 2% each year will reduce private welfare by $5.8 billion over the life of the cars. After accounting for alleged social benefits, such as reduced climate change damages in foreign countries, the standard reduces total public welfare by $5.1 billion. You should be relieved, though: The other ‘alternatives’ the Transportation Department is considering would have net costs of about $11 billion, so bureaucrats tell us they are exercising admirable self-restraint. By Washington standards, such candor is admirable. A former White House regulatory czar we spoke to couldn’t recall a proposal conceding that it would impose such enormous costs on society.”
—Michael Buschbacher and James Conde, “Shocking Candor on Fuel Standards,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 24, 2023
“A significant amount of environmental review occurs on those disruptive projects, and those [federal] requirements go along with the work on the Interstate system. I did not want any of that going on with our ‘bread and butter’ paving projects. We had been using federal funds for paving projects. I’m of the of the opinion it was costing us probably 30 percent more and a good amount of time to pull it through the federal processes. We turned and said we’re going to focus our state funding on paving projects and maintenance type projects and keep our federal funds focused on any kind of capacity projects.”
—South Carolina Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall, “Ahead of the Game,” Transportation Builder, July-Aug. 2023
“It is precisely because driving is so complicated that we cannot allow solutions for it to be invented by individual geniuses who make up their own rules for how its algorithms should work. Although there is no disagreement on the fact that robots are not sentient, no matter how artificially intelligent they are, driverless cars must replicate the mental and physical processes that humans perform if they are going to work at least as well as human drivers. In order to be reasonably certain that they do, there needs to be a set of standards that have been developed by experts in the fields of psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, vision, automotive mechanics, physics, and driving. Types and Systems need to be built into the standards for driverless cars and implemented by the developers. It will take them time to create the codifying structure because, as far as I know, it has never been done, not from both a mental and physical perspective. There should be no shortcuts, just like there are no shortcuts for obtaining a driver’s license, and there are both age and functional requirements for becoming a driver.”
—Michael L. Sena, “We Really Do Need Driverless Vehicle Standards,” The Dispatcher, Sept.-Oct. 2023