Surface Transportation Newsletter #182
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Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation Newsletter #182

Progress on toll-financed Interstate reconstruction, insuring automated vehicles, examining how Uber and Lyft impact traffic fatalities, and more.

In this issue:

Indiana Retains Lead on Toll-Financed Interstate Reconstruction

Last year I reported that Indiana “sets the pace on toll-financed Interstate reconstruction.” That assessment was based on the legislature funding a large-scale tolling feasibility study by HDR. It assessed the potential toll revenues that could be generated to fund the widening and reconstruction of all the state’s long-distance Interstate highways. The results were positive enough that this year the Legislature authorized a follow-on study, won by HNTB, to develop a Statewide Interstate Tolling Strategic Plan. That document was released at the end of November, and it keeps Indiana in the lead on this critically important topic.

While the report notes that no decision has been made to actually implement such a program, the report makes a persuasive case for the benefits of doing so. First, it includes a realistic projection of the likely decline of total fuel-tax revenue beginning around 2024, which would increase the difficulty of funding the series of mega-projects needed to rebuild and widen the state’s Interstates. It explains that any tolling implemented would be 21st-century, all-electronic tolling, not cash-based, labor-intensive 20th-century tolling. And it recommends that all tolled corridors become part of the 16-state E-ZPass system.

It also points out benefits to those who operate vehicles on Indiana’s Interstates. Tolled Interstates have higher maintenance standards than non-tolled ones, because they have a built-in revenue source and because those who buy toll revenue bonds insist on proper maintenance to keep the tolled routes attractive to vehicle operators. As for toll rates, it calls for them to be comparable to those on other tolled Interstates in the Midwest, with the usual much-higher rates for heavy trucks (typically 3 to 4 times the car rate per mile) in view of the pavement wear caused by those trucks. Importantly, it recommends that the toll rates be adjusted regularly for inflation—correcting a long-standing problem with nearly all fuel taxes. And in fairness to all users, it calls for the same rates to be charged to in-state and out-of-state vehicles.

Consistent with the users-pay principle, the report calls for the Interstate replacement program to be funded entirely by the toll revenues, preserving the state’s limited fuel-tax revenues for the remainder of its highway system.

In addressing the 1956 ban on using tolls on Interstates that were originally paid for (90 percent ) by federal highway funding, the report cites the federal Section 129 program that permits replacing non-tolled Interstate bridges with tolled bridges, as already used for the Ohio River Bridges project in southern Indiana. And it notes that “INDOT has confirmed with the Federal Highway Administration that Indiana has federal authority to toll existing Interstates under the Section 129 program. INDOT would use this program as the backbone for a statewide Interstate tolling program.” It also points out the tolling potential of two other federal programs, the three-state toll-financed Interstate reconstruction pilot program and the Value Pricing Program.

With all those excellent points, in a few aspects the new report leaves some things to be desired. First of all, both the title and the general emphasis are on the tolling rather than the reconstruction and widening. To gain the broader public (and trucking industry) acceptance of such a major change, the first emphasis needs to be on the necessity of rebuilding and modernizing Indiana’s aging and inadequate Interstates to cope with current and projected car and truck traffic. Tolling is not the end; it is the only realistic means to the end of replacing the worn-out 20th-century Interstates with a 21st-century system.

Second, the report is too pessimistic about the cost of collecting toll revenue using today’s all-electronic tolling. A footnote to Table 3-2 says collection costs could consume 10 to 20 percent of gross revenue, which is a backward-looking rather than a forward-looking number. A 2012 Reason Foundation report estimated that with a streamlined business model and very high use of prepaid transponder accounts (as opposed to license-plate-based billing), collection costs could be reduced to 5 percent of revenue. And a 2015 Reason study found that trucking companies using systems provided by Bestpass and PrePass Plus are getting toll billing services costing between 1.67 percent and 2.5 percent of revenue.

Third, even though Indiana has considerable experience with long-term public-private partnerships (P3s), the report only discusses possible use of design-bid-build and design-build but ignores the significant risk transfers made possible via design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) procurement, which is especially important for mega-projects.

Those are points that should be discussed and debated as the Legislature considers next steps. Any such action in the 2019 session must contend with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s announcement in response to release of the HNTB report that “he has no plans to move forward with . . . tolls on Indiana roads.” Observers point out that Holcomb will be seeking re-election in 2020, and may be more open to toll-financed reconstruction after he is safely into his second term.

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Virginia’s Flawed Plan for I-81 Modernization
By Baruch Feigenbaum

Late to the party to rebuild and modernize its Interstates, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has developed a toll-based plan to improve I-81, a major north-south truck route. Understandably, the state wants to lay out a vision that can be implemented in the near future. But this plan is more of a band-aid than an actual solution.

The plan would make a number of small changes to I-81. It widens small sections of the highway from 4 to 6 lanes around Christiansburg, Roanoke, Lexington, Staunton, and Harrisonburg. It adds truck climbing lanes in a few sections and straightens curves in others. It adds intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to help with non-recurrent delays such as accidents. Yet the sum of improvements is underwhelming, considering the $2 billion cost.

VDOT officials argue that the most acute problems on the highway are incident-related. In a presentation, VDOT explained that the majority of delay on most Virginia Interstates, 72 percent, is due to congestion (recurring delay). In contrast, on I-81 a slight majority of delay, 51 percent, is due to incidents (non-recurring delay). As a result, the plan improves the sections of I-81 with the most crashes. The focus on incidents is leading VDOT to devote resources to ITS features. Travel crashes cause major delays not to mention pain and suffering. ITS features are a cost-effective way to improve the roadway.

But the targeted improvements the plan makes don’t solve the underlying problem. I-81 is more than 40 years old in most sections and close to 50 in others. The roadbed is wearing out and costs of maintaining the road will grow annually. I-81 was built for a planned average annual daily traffic of 25,000 vehicles. Today’s traffic volumes range from 45,000-60,000. I-81 was built for an annual truck share of 10 percent; today trucks can make up 50 percent or more of the vehicles on the road. The use of both passenger vehicles and trucks is forecast to grow significantly, with truck traffic more than doubling in the next 30 years. Clearly, I-81 was not built for the volume of traffic and the type of vehicles that use the roadway today, not to mention the future. The entire highway needs to be replaced and widened. That includes rebuilding the structure from the roadbed up, widening the facility to 6-8 lanes, extending acceleration and deceleration lanes, and adding truck climbing lanes.

Looking at Virginia’s peer states, Georgia and North Carolina, shows how VDOT’s plan is misguided. All three states have similar populations and geography. Politically, all are purple states nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Georgia and North Carolina have both worked to rebuild and widen their Interstate highways with daily traffic over 40,000 to six or eight lanes depending on the section. This rebuilding has replaced the underlying roadbed, straightened curves, extended merge lanes and widened the highway. Georgia has rebuilt and widened all of I-75 (except a small section around Macon) and I-95 to at least six lanes, and is in the process of rebuilding and widening I-85. North Carolina is completing the final link in rebuilding and widening I-85 to six-to-eight lanes between Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham area. The state has plans to rebuild and widen I-95 to 6-8 lanes but a backlash over tolling has delayed that project.

By contrast, Virginia’s plan is a piecemeal approach. We don’t use a piecemeal approach in other areas of society. Imagine the road is a broken arm. Yet because it costs more money and more time to actually fix a broken arm, the doctor merely stabilizes the arm in a sling instead of setting the bone. Is that how anybody fixes a broken arm?

The piecemeal approach creates new capacity problems. Unlike in northern Virginia in which widening eastbound I-66 between SR 267 and Fairfax Drive targets the biggest chokepoint on the highway, I-81’s proposed widenings solve just four out of 20 chokepoints. These widenings aren’t going to reduce congestion; they are going to move it from one place to another.

The proposed implementation of tolling is problematic as well. The six toll gantries will be mounted 55 miles apart from each other, allowing knowledgeable travelers to divert onto US 11 or other local roads to bypass the tolls. Trucks must pay for every trip, but cars are allowed to buy a $25 annual pass. Consider that in northern Virginia it costs $3.50 to travel 15 miles on the Dulles Toll Road, which equates to 23 cents per mile. Yet a toll of $25 for the entire 325-mile I-81 equates to less than 8 cents a mile for just one trip in one direction. Many residents in the corridor commute 25 miles per workday each direction on I-81. Assuming 250 work days, those commuters will pay a toll rate of 0.2 cents per mile (2/10 of a cent per mile). Most trials of per-mile user fees find 1.5 to 2.0 cents per mile to be a fair charge. Yet “frequent users” could pay only 10 percent of that fair price. This toll rate is far too low; a more realistic rate would allow more improvements to be paid for.

VDOT conducted similar visioning exercises for I-81 in the past and came up with better long-range solutions. The best approach would be to modify the 2003 STAR Solutions public-private partnership (P3) proposal to widen the roadway to eight lanes. Two lanes in each direction would be truck-only, preparing for a future in which more than half the traffic is expected to be trucks. The other two lanes would be reserved for cars. The original plan tolled trucks only. For equity reasons and to raise sufficient revenue, the revised plan should toll both cars and trucks. This approach also shows the advantage provided by a P3: innovation of the truck toll lanes and lower overall project costs. Recall the I-495 express toll lanes were built for 25 percent less than VDOT’s project estimate. Imagine how many more miles of I-81 could be improved if costs were reduced by 25 percent.

If VDOT’s current plan is rejected, the minimum acceptable solution would rebuild and widen the roadway to 6 lanes with additional truck climbing lanes where necessary. To stretch resources, the plan could delay improving the section between Abingdon and Wytheville, as that section does not have current capacity problems (although it does have geometric design shortcomings). The bottom line is that all of I-81 needs to be modernized and this VDOT plan is simply not good enough.

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What Insurance Actuaries Need to Know About Automated Vehicles

Far too little attention is being paid by AV developers and transportation policymakers to the changes likely to occur in insurance markets, as automated vehicles enter the fleet in significant numbers. So I was pleased to see that the Society of Actuaries (who help insurance companies assess various risks) commissioned a report on the subject. The November 18, 2018 report, Market Framework and Outlook for Automated Vehicle Systems, was written by Richard Mudge, Alain Kornhauser, and Matt Hardison, a very knowledgeable team.

The report provides a clear and hype-free assessment of coming mobility changes involving automated vehicles, mobility as a service, and shifts in various aspects of transportation from the public to private sectors. And while it avoids making projections of when specific capabilities will be available in what volume, it does lay out a set of 11 trigger points that actuaries and insurers should watch for, since each would likely affect which capabilities will be in operation when.

To begin with, the authors avoid the somewhat unclear five levels of automation set forth by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE Levels 1 through 5). Instead, they adopt Kornhauser’s more-straightforward three categories, as follows:

  • Safe-Driving: in which the driver is responsible for driving tasks, but the vehicle has various built-in, automatic safety features, such as automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warnings/control. These technologies are increasingly available on new vehicles and have significant safety benefits.
  • Self-Driving: in which the vehicle can handle specific driving tasks under defined road or weather conditions. These technologies are starting to be offered and their safety impacts are as yet unclear, in part because the driver will have to take over vehicle operation in circumstances beyond the capabilities of the automation.
  • Driverless: in which the vehicle is responsible for all driving tasks—initially in limited locations and during favorable weather conditions, but potentially later applicable to all roads and all weather. These vehicles are still under development.

The authors suggest that Safe and Driverless are the most relevant for the insurance industry since they will have the largest impacts on safety and will frame the array of potential changes that will affect the industry. The impact of these technologies will eventually affect all vehicle insurance, by changing vehicle types, ownership, operation (e.g., total vehicle miles of travel), etc.

While not making specific projections, the authors suggest some overall trends:

  • Safety will improve quickly but incrementally.
  • Federal and state regulation will be important but is hard to predict.
  • Early Driverless vehicles will be limited in space and by weather conditions, but at some point may expand quickly.
  • Various functions (e.g., connected communication) will migrate from the public to the private sector, as may various transit operations.
  • Fleet ownership will be a key factor once Driverless vehicles are on the market at affordable cost.
  • As per-mile costs decrease, travel will increase, meaning growth in VMT.

It’s good to see the insurance industry getting sensible advice.

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More Solar Roadway Boondoggles

Last month I presented data suggesting that much-hyped “solar roads” would have very high costs and would not produce much usable electricity. In response, a newsletter reader pointed me to another article that reached similar conclusions.

In a piece at The Conversation (“Remember Solar Roadways? We Finally Have Data on Whether They Actually Work”), Dylan Ryan first explains the inherent problems. Solar panels lying flat are not at the optimum angle to receive maximum solar input, and given the extent of shading likely on a real road (from vehicles and from adjacent buildings and trees) their ability to produce electricity will be further limited. The panels will get coated with dust and grime and would need thicker glass for strength (which also absorbs some of the solar input).

Ryan then points to data from a prototype solar road in Tourouvre-au-Perche, France. Its intended power output was 420 kW, and its 2,800 square meters cost €5 million, which works out to €11,905 per KW. The expectation was that it would generate 800 kilowatt-hours per day, but actual output was 409 kWh/day. And its capacity factor—the ratio of average power output to potential maximum (if the sun shined 24 hours per day)—is just 4 percent. Ryan compares this with a nearby solar power plant near Bordeaux, with a maximum power output of 300,000 kW and a capacity factor of 14 percent. As he summarized the comparison, “At a cost of €360 million or €1,200 per installed kW, it is one-tenth the cost of the solar roadway and generates three times more power.”

Ryan also reviews a project of a company called Solar Roadways, which has installed a solar road in Sand Point, ID. It is supposed to use the solar power it produces to operate LED lights along the road, to heat the pavement in winter, and to sell surplus electricity. But this road’s numbers are even worse than the French example. Its cost was €27,500 per installed kW, more than 20 times that of the solar power plant near Bordeaux. Running the LEDs takes 25 percent of the electric output, and using solar energy for heat would take more than the roadway produced, especially when it is covered with (melting) snow.

These examples are small stretches of roadway, but the inherent inefficiencies would hardly be improved by building larger and longer solar roads. The idea simply makes no sense and would be a large waste of resources if pursued.

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Bizarre Critique of Musk’s Chicago Tunnel Proposal

The early September announcement that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will not run for re-election unleashed a flurry of news articles and commentaries suggesting that without Emanuel as its advocate, Elon Musk’s contract to develop and operate a high-speed tunnel connection between the Loop and O’Hare International Airport might never happen.

My colleague Baruch Feigenbaum expressed some technical and economic concerns about Musk’s proposal in the June issue of this newsletter, and I share those reservations. But some of what has appeared in the media is ill-informed or just plain wrong. A case in point is Emma Fitzsimmons’ article in The New York Times (Sept. 16, 2018): “Elon Musk’s Chicago Tunnel: A Breakthrough or a Pipe Dream?”

To begin with, the piece is somewhat math-challenged. It says that the train will “hurtle beneath the city at 150 miles per hour.” Without blinking an eye, the author notes the distance as 17 miles and the planned trip time as 12 minutes. A few seconds with a pocket calculator yields an average speed of 85 mph, not 150 mph. Later on in the piece, she tries to portray the express tunnel project as elitist, contrasting Musk’s proposed 16-passenger vehicles with a 1,000-passenger conventional train. This despite an illustration in the article showing dozens of 16-passenger vehicles arrayed at the downtown station, awaiting entry into the tunnel. Let’s assume there is a demand during peak periods for 3,000 express passengers per hour each way between downtown and O’Hare (probably an over-estimate). That demand could be met by three 1,000-passenger trains, leaving every 20 minutes. Alternatively, it could also be met by 180 16-passenger vehicles, leaving every 20 seconds. If you needed to go to O’Hare, would you prefer a waiting time of 20 seconds or 20 minutes?

Fitzsimmons also seems a bit technology-challenged, quoting the mayor as saying that, “The biggest challenge is coming up with the software” for the driverless vehicles. I guess neither Emanuel nor Fitzsimmons has ridden driverless shuttles at numerous airports, including Dallas/Ft. Worth, Orlando, and Tampa. She also seems to assume that the obscenely high cost of tunneling in New York City will face Musk in Chicago, when her own New York Times has shown that New York tunneling costs three to five times more than in London, Paris, and Tokyo, due to regulations and ridiculous union work rules.

Perhaps the worst paragraph in the story is Fitzgerald’s elite-bashing comment that “some have knocked the high price that riders would be charged, saying that the line would cater to the wealthy.” This is a high-speed express “train” to the airport, not the Blue Line transit train that stops at numerous stations along the way and takes nearly an hour. A premium service is intended to be different than a transit line that the poor can afford—and that transit line would still serve O’Hare from downtown for those whose time value did not warrant paying the additional costs to go express. Besides, why shouldn’t Chicago have a nonstop express train to the airport, like London, Stockholm, and Vienna have (all three of which I’ve ridden)?

Fitzsimmons is billed by the Times as a transit reporter, but she clearly did not do her homework on this story.

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Do Uber and Lyft Cause More Fatalities?
By Baruch Feigenbaum

A recent working draft from the University of Chicago Boothe School of Business claims that ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are leading to more fatalities in places where they operate. The paper uses a “difference in difference” model to find that ride-hailing is associated with a two-to-three percent increase in fatal crashes. As written the paper has some significant flaws. Fortunately, the authors are soliciting comments and I am hopeful that they use that feedback to revise the paper.

Joe Cortright of City Observatory wrote one of the best study critiques. I will start with the points he raised and then add a few of my own.

The authors compare the dates and fatality rates from the time that Uber and Lyft launched service in several cities with today. They note an increase in fatalities and determine that ride-hailing services are the prime cause. That approach shows correlation but not causation. There is a correlation between the introduction of ride-hailing services and the fatality rate increasing. However, that does not mean that an increase in ride-hailing caused the increased fatality rate. That increase could have been due to increased vehicle miles traveled or more driver distractions. Nowhere does this study show that ride-hailing is the cause of increased fatalities.

Vehicle miles traveled have been increasing nationwide since the Great Recession. The growing economy, lower unemployment rates, easier access to vehicles and lower gas prices all play a role. Logically, even if the fatality rate holds constant, the more miles driven, the more fatalities will occur. Yet the study neither adjusts for the increase in miles driven (by using fatality rate instead of total fatalities) nor takes any of the other economic factors into consideration.

Since ride-hailing services operate in primarily urban areas, if Uber/Lyft are the primary cause of additional fatalities then urban fatality rates should increase compared with rural fatality rates. Yet the opposite is true. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) data show that while overall fatality rates per hundred million miles increased from 1.10 to 1.18, rural fatality rates increased twice as fast, from 1.82 to 1.96 (7.7 percent) as urban rates, which went from 0.74 to 0.79 (3.9 percent). Nowhere does the study address this issue or seek to explain these contrary results.

The overall research approach of the study seems weak. Since the authors were unable to obtain the number of drivers, riders, or rides given per city, they used the volume of Google searches related to ride-hailing to determine the amount of ride-hailing activity. This is a strange way of estimating ride-hailing. For example, choosing Lyft is one of many travel options. A commuter could research the price of a Lyft and, depending on price, could decide to drive his own car or take transit. The link between researching Uber’s price and taking a ride-hail vehicle is not that strong. Another problem with this method is determining the specific times ride-hailing trips are made. Such trips are not evenly distributed.

Even without trip data, the authors could have built a database using the publicly-available variations in ride-hailing activity over time. Susan Feigon wrote a five-city study for the Transit Cooperative Research Program that the authors could have used. Since we know the date, time and location of a crash as well as the time and location of ride-hailing, the authors could have studied the correlation between ride-hailing and crash deaths by block and by day. Obviously, this is more accurate than aggregating the crash data at the city level by year.

If the authors had used time of day and location data, safety researchers could have determined whether ride-hailing is at fault. Ride-hailing is concentrated in urban areas and around airports and on Friday and Saturday nights. If the increased accidents occurred on Tuesday mornings in suburban areas, we could then accurately state ride-hailing is not the primary cause.

Given that these researchers work in the University of Chicago Business School, they are not likely to be transportation experts. However, they could have worked in a cross-disciplinary team with other researchers in Chicago. Partnering with a researcher at Northwestern University’s transportation engineering program or the University of Illinois at Chicago’s transportation planning and policy program would have provided the benefit of seasoned transportation researchers who could have pointed out methodological flaws and suggested better data sources.

I believe Uber and Lyft have increased mobility and economic activity in urban areas. This increased economic activity has its downsides, including increased congestion. Most studies have found that distracted driving is the main cause of additional traffic accidents. I’m skeptical that ride-hailing services play a significant role. Regardless, this study has failed to demonstrate what it claims to have shown and needs significant revisions.

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Upcoming Transportation Events

Note: We don’t have the time or 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.

NCSL Fall Forum, Dec. 5-8, 2018, Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, Washington, DC (Adrian Moore speaking). Details at: http://www.ncsl.org/meetings-training/forum.aspx

Team Florida Annual Meeting, Jan. 24-25, 2019, Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport, Orlando, FL (Robert Poole speaking). Details from: http://www.teamfl.org

Texas Association of Business Annual Meeting and Policy Conference, Feb. 7, 2019, Hilton Downtown, Austin, TX (Robert Poole speaking). Details from: https://www.txbiz.org/annual-conference

Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association Annual Convention, Feb. 17-19, 2019, Margaritaville Beach Resort, Hollywood, FL (Robert Poole speaking). Details from: https://www.wtba.org/event/2019-wtba-annual-convention

CEI Summit, Feb. 21-24, 2019, Perry Lane Hotel, Savannah, GA (Robert Poole speaking). Details from: https://cei.org/content/cei-summit-savannah

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News Notes

Record Private Equity Being Raised for Infrastructure This Year 
Although 2018 is not yet over, the Wall Street Journal reported on October 8th that infrastructure investment funds are raising record sums to invest. The article cited data from Preqin that during the first three quarters such funds had raised $68.2 billion, up 18 percent from the same period last year and surpassing the $66.2 billion they raised during all of 2016. While most such equity is being invested overseas, the funds would invest far more in U.S. infrastructure if more such projects were available for such investment. One reason for the lack of projects is that fewer than a dozen states have workable laws for long-term infrastructure public-private partnerships (P3s).

Road Diets Kill?
Evacuation from the small California city of Paradise, which was essentially wiped out by the massive Camp Fire, was hindered by “road diets” that had been implemented by the city, with funding from the state DOT, Caltrans. The result was massive traffic jams as 27,000 people got stuck in traffic trying to evacuate on short notice. As the Los Angeles Times reported (Nov. 20), “Some died in their cars when the fire roared over them.” Evacuation routes such as Skyway had been narrowed from four lanes to two and bike lanes added. The Times report added that a large portion of the population lived north of the downtown lane restrictions, which people had to traverse to reach evacuation areas to the south.

Major Tunnels Under Way in Chile and Norway
World Highways reports that financing has been secured for a $1.5 billion, 15 km tunnel between Argentina and Chile. The two governments are splitting the cost in proportion to the mileage on each side of the mountainous border. Norway is now under way on the world’s largest and deepest highway tunnel, passing beneath a deep fjord on the country’s western edge. The new tunnel will be 26.7 km long, and up to 392 meters below sea-level. Each of the twin bores will carry two lanes of traffic. This tunnel is one of a number of tunnels and bridges being added to the E39 highway, at a total estimated cost of $47 billion.

Brightline Will Extend Florida Rail Line to Tampa
In response to Florida DOT’s request for proposals for a privately financed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, the only submission was from Brightline, which is soon to begin construction of the second phase of its higher-speed rail line, this link going from West Palm Beach to Orlando. The company will now seek to negotiate rights of way, mostly alongside I-4 and under control of either FDOT or the Central Florida Expressway Authority. In mid-November, Brightline announced a strategic partnership with Virgin Group under which the Brightline service will be renamed Virgin Trains USA.

Asset Recycling of Toll Roads Continues in India
Three major companies are in the running to acquire existing toll roads in the second phase of the National Highways Authority of India’s asset recycling program. Atlantia (Italy), Brookfield Asset Management (Canada) and Macquarie (Australia) are seeking 586 km of existing toll roads under what NHAI calls its toll-operate-transfer program. Macquarie was the winner in the first round, bidding $1.46 billion for 700 km of toll roads in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The government is using the proceeds to upgrade other portions of India’s highway network.

Does Light Rail Reduce Traffic Congestion?
The most careful study I’ve seen on this subject appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Transfers, a new publication on California transportation research. “Does Light Rail Reduce Traffic? The Case of the LA Expo Line” was researched and written by Genevieve Giuliano and Sandip Chakrabarti. They found that the new line had only modest and highly localized impact on peak-period roadway traffic, and that “even if all Expo Line riders were previous car users, it is unlikely that the reduction in traffic volume would translate into specific improvements in speed and travel time within the highly congested corridor.”

Pennsylvania Seeks P3s for Truck Parking
In a Request for Information released on November 19th, Pennsylvania DOT seeks interest from potential providers of additional overnight parking for commercial trucks. The RFI is the first step in assessing the level of interest of private-sector companies in developing and operating such facilities, given that “truck parking in Pennsylvania is lacking in available capacity, poorly located” or with “information about open spaces unreliable.” Shortfalls in capacity along heavily traveled corridors may be three times the amount of available parking space, the RFI notes.

Eurovia to Develop Express Toll Lanes in North Carolina
North Carolina DOT has awarded design-build contracts for two corridors to Eurovia, a subsidiary of Vinci Concessions. One project involves adding 16 miles of express toll lanes in each direction on I-485. The other project will widen a highway in Winston-Salem to six lanes. The value of the two contracts totals $480 million.

Ryder Orders 1,000 Electric Trucks for Fedex
New-entrant EV producer Chanje will provide 1,000 electric-powered delivery vans for use by FedEx. The package delivery company will acquire 100 itself, while Ryder will lease the other 900 to them. The van can haul up to 6,000 pounds and up to 675 cubic feet of cargo. It can go 150 miles on a charge, which is a good fit for local package delivery.

Ending Clean-Air Vehicles’ Free Rides in Express Lanes
The reality that low- and zero-emission vehicles are clogging Bay Area express toll lanes is finally leading to change. The Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority has announced that when its extension of the SR 237 ETLs is opened to traffic next summer, those formerly exempt vehicles will pay a variable toll (though probably only half the regular rate). The San Francisco Chronicle (Nov. 27, 2018) reports that similar changes are being considered for the region’s expanding network of ETLs.

I-710 Tunnel Officially Killed
The proposed tunnel to close a 60-year-old gap in the I-710 freeway, long opposed by officials representing South Pasadena, CA, has been given its death knell. California Secretary of Transportation Brian Annis held a news conference with a state legislator from the area on November 29th to announce that the toll-financed deep-bore tunnel, has been rejected. The only remaining step is passing a bill to formally delete the gap closure from the state’s streets and highway code.

Illinois Tollway to Deploy EV Charging Stations
A 22-mile stretch of heavily travelled I-294 in the Chicago suburbs will be equipped with charging stations for electric vehicles, the Illinois Tollway has announced. The move follows a similar announcement by the Ohio Turnpike (I-80/90). Because those toll roads were grandfathered into the Interstate system, they are exempt from the 1956 federal ban on offering commercial services at Interstate rest areas. Until that ban is repealed, electric vehicles using the vast majority of Interstates will have to get off those highways to find a charging station.

A Thoughtful Case for “Subsidiarity”
The idea that many contentious policy issues could be resolved more amicably if they were no longer fought out on a national, one-size-fits-all, basis was presented recently by urban geographer Joel Kotkin. In his Aug. 24 piece on NewGeography.com, Kotkin argues that more local control would enable citizens and policymakers to get to yes on many questions, including land use and transportation, that lead to divisive battles in Congress. This is a thoughtful argument and is well worth reading and pondering.

Intriguing Thoughts on Land-Use Impacts of Robocars and Air Taxis
Brad Templeton, a Silicon Valley commentator, was one of the first to set forth the potential of robotaxis as a new form of urban mobility. His blog, BradIdeas, is always interesting. In a lengthy recent piece, he makes a provocative case that the emergence of robocars and autonomous air taxis (which he terms flying cars) could have profound effects on where people live.

Hurdles En-route to Mainstreamed Driverless Cars
Innovation advisor Chunka Mui has a three-part series on Forbes.com called “15 Hurdles to the Industrialization of Driverless Cars.” They are organized into four broad categories: scaling up to become a serious industry, earning trust from customers and policy-makers, developing viable business models, and dealing with secondary effects such as increased congestion and job losses. Well worth reading.

Feds May Repeal Ban on Proprietary Products for Highways
FHWA last month issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would ease or repeal the 1916 ban on state DOTs using patented or proprietary products in any highway project that uses federal funds. FHWA notes that without the ban, “state DOTs may implement material selection procedures that ensure fair and open competition while allowing for, and encouraging, innovation.”

New Report on Value-Capture for Transportation Projects
The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has published a “Guidebook to Funding Transportation Through Land Value Return and Recycling.” Even though many transportation projects increase the value of nearby land, very little of that value has been used to help pay for the projects. The report is NCHRP Research Report 873 and can be previewed on the Transportation Research Board website.

Feedback on Hyperloop Article
Last month’s article on the questionable feasibility of the proposed Hyperloop project between Kansas City and St. Louis generated responses from several readers. One pointed out an error in one of the calculations, which should have estimated 80 to 255 one-way trips per day. A reader who grew up in St. Louis pointed out that the trip between the two at 170 mph would require over an hour to traverse the 238 miles between the cities, not the study’s claimed 30 minutes. And it would probably take longer than that since the urban area portions on either end would be operated at a lower speed.

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Quotable Quotes

“We can protect privacy with a road user fee system, recording only distance by highway type and time of day, dumping those data periodically after computing your road use fee. The mileage charge would replace the motor fuel tax, not sit on top of it. But be forewarned—it is likely to grow over time, something the gas tax should have done all along if our political leaders were honest with us about the true cost of providing transportation infrastructure. Those mileage fees would be fair—pay for what you use—and fees collected on busy roads would show decision-makers where the market is and where new investments may be needed. . . . When serious discussion begins, remember that a mileage-based road user fee is not a new charge for what had been free. It is a different, better, and more-efficient way to pay for what we have been secretly charging you, for at least 90 years. The inescapable fact, testified to by crumbling bridges and congested highways, is that drivers have not been paying the true costs of their roads. There is no such thing as a free highway, and there are better ways to pay for them.”
—Joseph Schofer, Northwestern University, “Mileage Fees for Illinois Highways: Setting Aside the Politics,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 30, 2018

“Some jobs could be made a lot easier by artificial intelligence. One example is truck-driving. Some fear that truck drivers will be replaced by autonomous vehicles. But maneuvering a truck around busy streets is far harder than driving down the motorway. So the driver could switch into automatic mode (and get some rest) when outside the big cities, and take over the wheel once again when nearing the destination. The obvious analogy is with jetliners, where the pilots handle the take-off and landing, but turn on the computer to cruise at 35,000 feet. Using AI may prevent tired drivers from causing accidents.”
—Bartleby, “Artificial Stimulant, The Economist, Sept. 15, 2018

“The Gateway [project in New York] has been labeled the “most important project in America,” primarily by the New York press and the DC press. Interestingly, when I travel around the country [I find that] the most important projects for people tend to be more local. But what makes the Gateway project interesting is that it is massively important. Also it builds a conversation around who should pay for which component when you have a project that has local benefits, state benefits, regional benefits, and national benefits. We [the White House infrastructure team] think the best answer is to figure out who is benefiting from it, and then if it’s affordable, let the beneficiaries pay for the share that they’re benefiting from. So if it’s primarily a local project, then it should be primarily locally funded. But that is not the level of debate right now. As a result, this extremely important project is just stuck in a process that doesn’t have much hope of concluding any time soon.”
—D. J. Gribbin, in “Improving U.S. Infrastructure: Getting Past the ‘Coupon Effect,’” Knowledge at Wharton, Oct. 22, 2018

“It’s been clear for years now that bullet-train planners cannot deliver the project voters were promised a decade ago. Nor do they have close to the necessary funds to build even a scaled-back system. Now a long-awaited state audit released last week finds that poor management has contributed to construction delays and billions of dollars of cost overruns And inadequate contract controls left the auditor unable to determine whether the state received the quantity and quality of work it has paid for thus far. . . . For a decade now, state officials have misled Californians about the cost of high-speed rail. We were sold a bill of goods with Proposition 1A in 2008. It’s time to demand an end to this. If Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom won’t apply the brakes, voters should step up with an initiative in 2020. Let’s stop this waste of scarce public money now.”
—Editorial, “State’s Bullet Train Constructed with Foundation of Deceit,” San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 21, 2018

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