Surface Transportation Newsletter #183
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Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation Newsletter #183

The Future Interstates Committee misses an opportunity, Interstate reconstruction, complete streets, managed lanes and more.

In this issue:

TRB Future Interstates Report: A Missed Opportunity

Last month the Transportation Research Board’s Future Interstate Study Committee released its long-awaited report, Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future. At 649 pages, including 10 appendices, it’s more than one can read in a casual sit-down. But having read most of the main text, I have reached two conclusions. First, this is a very important vindication of what many of us have been saying for years: the Interstates are vitally important for 21st-century mobility but are wearing out and need what amounts to replacement. Second, the main recommendation—a 60 percent increase in federal fuel taxes to support a repeat of the original 90/10 federal/state funding match—is both highly unlikely and the wrong way forward.

Let’s begin with the committee’s very important findings. First, most of the system already has or soon will have exceeded its original design life and will need reconstruction. Probably a large fraction of this reconstruction will have to be full-depth pavement replacement, from the sub-base up—and yet there is no real data available on the extent of this need, and the federal Highway Economic Requirements System (HERS) system includes no unit costs (per lane-mile) for this most-expensive kind of reconstruction.

Second, contrary to the assertions last decade that the era of traffic growth had ended, we now have renewed annual growth in vehicle miles of travel (VMT), with truck VMT growing faster than passenger-vehicle VMT. The report uses a baseline figure of 1.5 percent for overall annual VMT growth, with lower and upper bounds of 1 percent and 2 percent. This supports the need for widening of many corridors, and to minimize inconvenience to highway users if a stretch of Interstate needs widening, it’s best to do this as part of the planned reconstruction process.

Dedicated truck lanes are mentioned, but assessed only on the extent to which they might reduce congestion, when their real value will be to (1) increase trucking productivity by allowing much greater use of longer combination vehicles (LCVs) in barrier-separated lanes, (2) reduce environmental impact by hauling more ton-miles per gallon of fuel and facilitating fuel-saving truck platooning.

It’s on the recommendations that the committee seems to have dropped the ball. Its analysis includes discussions of many factors that could have led to a bold proposal such as financing the needed replacement and modernization based on toll revenue. The report discusses the merits of tolling compared with the projected decline of fuel taxation as vehicle propulsion changes in coming decades. And it also explains the wisdom of financing large-scale, long-lived capital improvements to infrastructure. It discusses the need to shift from per-gallon taxes to per-mile charges, but never makes the obvious point that a per-mile toll is a mileage-based user fee—and that converting the Interstates to per-mile tolling would transition over 25 percent of all US VMT to per-mile charging.

To its credit, the report does recommend removing the 1956 federal ban on tolls on the Interstates (other than the few segments that were already in operation or under construction as toll roads). And it mentions the need, in coming decades, for electric vehicle charging stations “on” the Interstates, but never faces up to the federal ban on commercial services being provided at Interstate rest areas. The only way out of that conundrum would be to persuade somebody to install EV charging facilities at their own expense and then give away the electricity. Both of those bans should have no part in a 21st-century Interstate system. That would also permit next-generation “rest areas” to become full-fledged service plazas like those on existing toll roads, offering all forms of refueling, ample safe overnight parking spaces for heavy trucks, shops, and restaurants, etc.

I’m pleased to note that the body of the report cites Reason Foundation’s 2013 Interstate 2.0 policy study on toll-financed Interstate reconstruction and our 2012 study documenting the low cost of toll collection made possible by today’s all-electronic toll collection. It also mentions our proposal for fuel-tax rebates to those driving on reconstructed toll-financed Interstates, to alleviate motorist and trucker concerns about paying twice to use tolled highways. And it cites the very important findings of NCHRP Synthesis 377, which summarizes a decade’s worth of survey research showing that Americans would rather pay tolls to use specific highway improvements than to have any kind of tax (fuel tax, sales tax, etc.) imposed with a general promise that it will improve highways.

In short, the research results included in the committee’s report could have been marshaled to support a plan to accomplish two major goals in one overall program: launching the national transition to mileage-based user fees and replacing the first-generation Interstates with a much-improved second-generation system. The key to doing both would be to use per-mile all-electronic toll revenues to underwrite revenue bonds for reconstruction and selective widening of the existing system—and its possible extension to metro areas that have developed since the 1950s but have no nearby Interstate access.

The proposed 60 percent increase in federal gasoline and diesel taxes is highly unlikely to gain traction in Congress. And even if it did, it would be an unwise move for several reasons:

  • It is not sufficient to handle the widening needed if 2 percent VMT growth materializes (which is likely if truck automation leads to essentially 24-hour long-distance trucking and a large increase in trucking’s share of goods movement).
  • It does not include funding the replacement of the 100 largest interchange bottlenecks that are largely responsible for $74 billion per year in congestion costs to trucking alone.
  • It is only a temporary solution since nearly all projections show that fuel-tax receipts will soon begin a long decline over coming decades, due to ongoing changes in vehicle propulsion.

And most important of all, it is a pipedream to imagine that Congress would allocate all of the proposed near-term increase in fuel-tax revenues to Interstate reconstruction. The Highway Trust Fund supports 120 separate programs: 91 in FHWA and 29 in FTA. Every one of those programs has a constituency, and every one of those constituents will lobby hard for any increase to be spread proportionally among all 120 programs.

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Interstate Modernization Without Toll Financing?

If you want to understand why the vast majority of the aging Interstate system is neither being reconstructed nor widened, take a look at the difference between states with tolling and states without. Recent news reports have highlighted several such projects that are being done without tolling, including the following:

  • I-95 in South Carolina: the SC DOT plans to embark on a $1.2 billion project to widen the first 33 miles of I-95 to better serve truck traffic. But I-95 extends nearly 200 miles in South Carolina. Where is the rest of the modernization funding to come from, and how many decades from now will it be completed?
  • I-75 in Detroit: Michigan DOT has signed a 30-year $1.4 billion availability-payment contract to rebuild and maintain 5.5 miles of this aging freeway. Same questions as for I-95 in South Carolina.
  • I-81 in Maryland: Maryland DOT is under way on a 20-year, $291 million project to rebuild and widen all 15 miles of I-81, a major truck route. Being done in four phases, it will not be finished until 2033.

By contrast, take a look at the Interstates in Illinois. To be sure, the state is not known for lean, cost-effective government. But in the Illinois Tollway system, it has a powerful vehicle to finance major modernization of tolled Interstates. One current example is a $4 billion (fully funded) project to reconstruct and widen 22 miles of I-294, the Tristate Tollway. Construction began late last year and the entire project should be done by 2025, including the replacement of a mile-long bridge.

And the Tollway may be branching out to non-tolled Interstates. Serious discussions went on all last year about a highly congested stretch of I-80 near Joliet. Illinois DOT estimates that a $1 billion reconstruction and widening project is about 20 years in the future. So there is growing support from motorists and local governments to work out a deal with the Tollway to convert that 16-mile stretch to a toll road. I noted with interest that in a presentation last year to the Will County board, Tollway chairman Bob Schillerstrom told board members that “the highway would be fixed before tolls were collected”—a customer-friendly policy.

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Innovation and Customer Service in P3 Toll Projects
by Baruch Feigenbaum

Using a public-private partnership (P3) to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain a highway has at least five potential advantages compared with the traditional DOT approach. P3s deliver needed infrastructure sooner; they raise large new sources of capital; and P3s shift risks from taxpayers to investors. But the biggest advantages may be two others: P3s lead to innovations that a government agency may not have considered, and P3s provide better customer service through a more customer-centric approach.

State DOTs view travelers as “users”; the user pays roadway taxes or tolls and the DOT builds and maintains roads. Since a DOT has no natural competitor it does not need to provide exemplary customer service, merely service that is good enough. Without competition, a DOT is also not as focused on reducing costs via alternative technical concepts.

The private sector takes a different approach to building and operating roadways. Motivated by profit and accustomed to competition, private operators are used to innovating to please their customers. Transurban and Cintra, both P3 express toll lane developer/operators, show how the private sector is providing better customer service and more innovation.

Transurban sends out regular e-mail updates to its customers. Far more than marketing, the updates provide useful travel information. One e-mail focused on their expanded website, offering new services. Customers without an E-ZPass can make a payment online in lieu of receiving a violation notice. Travelers can determine the cost of their trip before they use the express lanes. Potential customers can learn how the express lanes work before using them for the first time. And travelers can find out about new roadway projects.

Another e-mail announced the opening of a new connector road in northern Virginia, the Jones Bridge Connector, allowing access from VA 123. This new access provides easier connections from shopping areas in Tysons Corner. It also allows customers exiting at SR 123 to use the express lanes. Previously, customers would have to use the general purpose lanes for this exit.

Consider how these e-mails improve the travel experience. Paying a toll online allows drivers from non-E-ZPass states to use the express lanes. Internet payments do include a small service charge but that is a much better option than receiving a violation notice. Determining the cost of a trip ahead of time allows customers to choose their route before they reach the express lanes, avoiding a last-minute decision in the midst of traffic.

E-mailing customers about a new exit is also helpful. Instead of stumbling upon the new exit on their own, customers can study it on a map. They can enter travel information into a map feature such as Google Maps to see how the new exit would improve their travel.

Transurban also made use of alternative technical concepts to reduce the I-495 Capital Beltway express lanes construction costs by 25 percent. Examples include building less-wide shoulders and using pylon separators instead of concrete barriers. These lower costs helped make the project financeable largely by toll revenues, enabling it to be constructed at least 10 years earlier that if the state had built it.

Cintra has made extensive use of alternative technical concepts in building various parts of the LBJ Express Lanes (Dallas) and North Tarrant Express (Fort Worth). TxDOT’s original plan for the North Tarrant Express Segments 1 and 2W with both general purpose lanes and express toll lanes faced a 10-year delay due to a lack of funding. To build it sooner, Cintra proposed and TxDOT agreed to defer the construction of the third GP lane in segment 1 and the third express lane in section 2. The company will build these new lanes when traffic conditions warrant.

The express toll lanes on the subsequent North Tarrant Segment 3 also benefited from innovative thinking. TxDOT’s original plan ended the express lanes at the I-35W/SH 121 interchange and did not include a connection between the highway and I-30. As a result, the project had a limited effect on traffic congestion. Cintra proposed extending the express lanes south of SH 121 to I-30 and providing a direct connector between the express lanes and I-30 east. Modeling showed these small improvements significantly reduced congestion.

Cintra also engaged in innovative thinking for the LBJ Express Lanes. Due to right-of-way limitations, the express lanes could not be built at grade level. TxDOT had proposed a bored tunnel beneath the freeway, but after consulting with TxDOT, Cintra decided to depress the express lanes below grade and rebuild the GP lanes cantilevered over the express lanes. Cintra was also concerned about four different travel levels for the LBJ project. By redesigning the ramps, the company was able to eliminate one level, reducing the cost and complexity of the project.

Other private toll companies have also introduced key innovations. The private company that developed the world’s first express toll lanes, on SR 91 in Orange County, CA, pioneered variable pricing that increases or reduces tolls based on demand. They also pioneered all-electronic tolling, which became standard on all future express toll projects nationwide.

Using P3s to build and operate highways includes many advantages such as tapping new sources of capital and shifting risk. Better customer service and design innovations might not be top of mind when researchers analyze P3s. But they can be two of the most important advantages of private sector construction and operation.

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Are There Measurable Benefits From “Complete Streets” Policy?

For more than a decade, the idea that residential and commercial streets should be redesigned to provide equal access to all forms of mobility has been trendy among urban planners and some state DOTs. Reconfiguring streets with wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and (often) fewer traffic lanes involves construction and operating costs (and potential costs to motorists such as increased congestion). There have been few attempts to measure benefits of Complete Streets, however, and that it the topic of a recent paper by economists Donald Vandegrift and Nicholas Zanoni in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

In their literature review, the authors critique previous research as likely to be flawed methodologically, because researchers do not account for the possibility that local governments that adopt Complete Streets are different from those that do not. In other words, that the “treatment” and “control” groups are already different before the former adopt the policy in question.

To assess the benefits, they used the common knowledge that better amenities are reflected in home values. Every real estate agent knows that houses cost more in areas with highly-rated schools, for example. So they set out to collect data to assess whether truly comparable sets of adopters and non-adopters end up with significantly different housing-value increases. In New Jersey, they found that 135 out of 566 municipalities implemented Complete Streets policies, as did 88 of 1533 municipalities in New York.

After adjusting the two sets of data to make them comparable prior to the time when one group adopted Complete Streets, they found that “Complete Streets policy has no effect on house prices, and therefore we are unable to find a positive amenity value from a municipality-level commitment to Complete Streets.” This is mainly because “Complete Streets policy adopters have characteristics that make them much more likely to adopt such policies.” Among those characteristics are larger population size, higher residential density, lower car ownership, greater urbanization, and larger commercial tax base. Complete Streets does not bring about these attributes; they are already there.

State DOTs should be far more cautious in agreeing to requests from municipalities to convert arterial routes to Complete Streets treatment. Most of the information provided by New Urbanists consists of anecdotes, rather than careful analysis such as Vandegriff and Zandoni have provided.

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What Does Transit “Access to Jobs” Actually Measure?
By Baruch Feigenbaum

A recent study, Access Across America: Transit 2017, by Andrew Owen and Brendan Murphy of the University of Minnesota, claims that accessibility to jobs by transit increased between 2016 and 2017. The study, which has been conducted for the past three years, has found increasing accessibility to jobs each year. Given declining transit ridership across the country, the study’s results seem surprising. But a closer look at the methodology shows that “accessibility to jobs” has little connection with actual transit ridership.

The study estimates accessibility to jobs by transit and walking for each of the United States’ 11 million census blocks in 49 of the 50 largest metro areas (Memphis is excluded due to a lack of reliable data). Travel times by transit are calculated using pedestrian networks and transit schedules during the morning rush hour period (7:00-9:00 AM). The calculations include all parts of a transit journey including “last-mile”, walking segments and transfers. Variations in service frequency are included as well. Rankings are determined by the weighted average of accessibility, with higher weight given to closer, easier access to jobs. Jobs within 10 minutes are weighted more heavily with decreasing weights given to travel times of up to 60 minutes. The analysis type is longitudinal, allowing accurate comparisons over time.

Based on the results, the 10 metro areas with the greatest accessibility to jobs are: New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Jose and Denver. The report also commends 10 metro areas with the greatest one-year gains in accessibility to jobs by transit. These are Kansas City, Charlotte, Austin, Columbus, San Francisco, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati.

While the larger metro areas generally have better accessibility, some smaller metro areas excel. Milwaukee, which is the 37th largest metro area, is 12th in accessibility. Meanwhile. Atlanta, at 8th in employment, is 32nd in access. While rail cities tend to rank higher, several bus-only cities rank in the top 20.

The report provides a good overview of “accessibility,” defining it as the number of destinations reachable within a given travel time. It describes jobs as the most significant non-home destination with economic accessibility as an important consideration in the attractiveness of a metro area. Footnoting a report from 2014, it mistakenly describes transit as the second most-widely-used commute mode after driving. While transit was second 2014, by 2017 working from home exceeded transit (5.2 percent to 5.0 percent). The report notes how transit share can vary widely, with New York City (31 percent) being the major outlier (compared with the national average of 5 percent).

But by calculating the number of jobs that can be reached by transit instead of the number of commuters using transit, the report provides an overly optimistic view of the mobility offered by transit. Given the growing economy, employment is increasing in almost every metro area. For example, according to the 2017 report, Washington DC has 2.939 million jobs and 2.776 million workers. This is an increase from the 2.895 million jobs and 2.727 million workers in 2016. Yet we know that in the same time period, the largest Washington DC transit agency—Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)—reduced train headways and bus service. A rail line catching fire, poor maintenance of the system, and continual system reconstruction led to lower transit ridership. Ridership decreased by at least 4 percent between 2016 and 2017, part of an overall decrease in ridership of 20 percent since 2011.

Since there is a higher amount of total jobs, there is also a larger amount of jobs that could be accessed via transit. But this increase is due to the economy, not to an increase in transit service. This report makes it appear that the increase in jobs has some relationship to transit service when data from Washington DC and many other metro areas show jobs and transit ridership moving in opposite directions.

A related problem with this approach is that all transit is counted the same. Certain types of transit, such as heavy rail and bus rapid transit, are line-haul services; they move riders relatively long distances. Local bus, on the other hand, is more of a local service moving riders short distances. Other services such as streetcars are not about moving people at all. Streetcars are constructed for economic development reasons; they operate at the same speed as walking. A transit customer expecting rapid transport from a streetcar will be sorely disappointed. Having a job located on a bus line near a heavy rail line is an accessibility advantage. Jobs located near streetcars do not have the same transportation advantage.

This study provides a snapshot of current conditions but does not answer the why or how of ridership. A more helpful study would examine not just the proximity to transit but its ridership as well.  It would examine whether new employees are using transit. It would study whether ridership is increasing or decreasing over time. It would examine the relationship between transit and land use. This study shows that employment in central cities is increasing. But given the current economy, that’s not exactly newsworthy.

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The Growing Divide Over Mobility As a Service

Some urban planners have latched onto the idea of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as a way to phase out personally owned vehicles. New Urbanist Peter Calthorpe, for example, was quoted recently in The New York Times calling individually owned vehicles, even if automated, “a bad thing.” He and colleague Jerry Walters point out that AVs will very likely increase total vehicle miles of travel if individually owned.

That also seems to be the view of the primary organization promoting MaaS, the Brussels-based MaaS Alliance. Its senior official Piia Karjalainen told Intertraffic World’s Michael Donlevy that, “The aim of MaaS is to provide an alternative to the private car that may be as convenient and more sustainable.” The Alliance website portrays private cars as the enemy and implies that MaaS is the key to making private cars obsolete.

Since I think that view is misguided, I was pleased to see the formation of a separate U.S. organization to work on MaaS—not as the replacement for private cars but as a way to improve mobility. It was founded last year by transportation industry veterans Jack Opiola and Tim McGuckin. Opiola sees an evolutionary path for MaaS that aims to gradually build seamless mobility choices, open to all modes of transportation using a single platform for people to figure out the best way to get from point A to point B for specific individual trips—including by private car.

In the Intertraffic World article, Karjalainen appeared to soft-pedal the MaaS Alliance’s hostility to individually owned vehicles. Opiola told reporter Donlevy that he was surprised by that, given the anti-car statements on the Alliance’s website. He defended the flexibility provided by such vehicles:

“[T]he car is the pinnacle of evolution in the transport sphere, because it brings everything down to the individual. It’s flexible—you can leave when you want to leave—and comfortable. It offers varies, flexible routing around incidents and accidents, so it’s more timely and personal than public transport. . . . [T]he decision to own a car is about more than just a commute—it’s about evenings, weekends, and holidays.”

In a follow-up email, Opiola pointed out that so far in Europe, MaaS is not working out as planned. In Finland, “the shining example of MaaS in Europe . . . private car ownership has increased, not decreased, since the start of MaaS. The Finnish Rail Service did not join into the MaaS arrangement,” because “cars are how rural people get to the train stations.” He added, correctly in my view, that “MaaS is an urban phenomenon, and it is difficult to see how it would actually work for rural populations.” And I would add, for most suburban and exurban populations, as well.

Since the large majority of Americans live in suburbs, exurbs, or rural areas, I’m glad the United States now has a separate MaaS Association to provide a forum for industry, government, and academia to work out how best to improve mobility by using all the new tools that technology is developing—but not linked to an anti-car ideology.

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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.

ASCE Transportation Committee Meeting, Jan. 16, 2018, WSP DC Office, Washington, DC (Robert Poole speaking). Details from: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=w6pvr9kab&oeidk=a07efyxjbbf35cc7183

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

2019 Purdue Roads School, March 5-6, 2019, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (Robert Poole speaking). Details from https://roadschool.purdue.edu/roadschoolprogram/schedule.html

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News Notes

$2.8 Billion Underground Interchange in Australia
As part of the $12 billion WestConnex tollway in the Sydney metro area, contractors John Holland and CPB Contractors will design and build the Rozelle interchange and tunnel. It is the most complex part of the larger project, comprising three levels of tunnels and scores of entrances and exits, plus a link to the planned $10 billion Harbour Tunnel. The interchange will be constructed beneath land that was formerly a railroad yard, and when completed will be covered by 25 acres of new parkland.

Contractor Selected to Replace Collapsed Bridge in Genoa
Construction companies Salini Impregilo and Fincantieri have been awarded a $228 million contract to replace the partly collapsed Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy. The bridge was part of a long-term toll concession held by Autostrade per l’Italia, whose concession the government is seeking to revoke, though as yet there has been no official determination of the reasons for the bridge’s collapse.

Three Teams Short-listed for Denver’s Jefferson Parkway P3
From the five teams that submitted their qualifications to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the 9.2-mile four-lane tollway, the Parkway’s board has selected three to develop and submit proposals. The Parkway will close the missing link in the Hwy. 470 beltway road around Denver. The teams are headed by ACS, AECOM, and Kiewit. The RFP is expected by early March, with proposals to be due by October.

Electric Car Subsidies Under Debate
The White House’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has called for the end of subsidies for electric cars, while various automakers (including General Motors and Tesla) are calling for them to be expanded. Current federal law provides tax credits of $7,500 per vehicle, but this applies only to the first 200,000 EVs that a manufacturer sells—which both GM and Tesla reached in 2018. If Congress takes no action, those credits would apply only to those selling smaller numbers of EVs, while bills were introduced during 2018 to either kill the program or to expand it. For a video raising questions about the equity of this subsidy, watch this.

Auto Companies Moving More into Electric Vehicles
Last month German automaker Daimler announced that it plans to buy $23 billion worth of batteries by 2030, to be used in mass production of hybrid and electric vehicles. And a September 2018 report from ClearBridge Investment provided statistics on growing EV sales and summarized various projections compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report is “Global Companies Driving Robust Electric Vehicle Adoption.”

McKinsey Forecasts Future for Autonomous Trucks
In “Distraction or Disruption? Autonomous Trucks Gain Ground in U.S. Logistics,” McKinsey analysts identify autonomous trucks (ATs) as a likely disruption of the freight logistics industry. Although “full autonomy is a long way off,” the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility has suggested there will be four waves of trucking autonomy, each of which will reduce operators’ total cost of ownership. These are two stages on constrained platooning (with drivers), constrained autonomy (with driver handling pickup and drop-off), and full autonomy (driverless).

Tolling All Vehicles Recommended in Connecticut
Despite Gov.-elect Ned Lamont having campaigned on paying for rebuilding and widening the state’s aging Interstates via tolls on heavy trucks (only), Lamont’s transportation advisory panel last month urged that all vehicles pay tolls since all would benefit from the improved highways. In response to the panel’s recommendations, Lamont said only, “Let’s start with tractor-trailer trucks,” and acknowledged that the legislature will certainly weigh in on this matter.

I-69 Bridge Over Ohio River to be Tolled
The I-69 Ohio River Crossing project team announced last month the preferred routing for the needed four-lane bridge across the Ohio River, as I-69 reaches Indiana’s southern border and crosses into Kentucky The $1.5 billion Central Corridor 1 was the least-costly alternative. The team has concluded that the bridge will be tolled to generate the revenues needed to finance it. If construction begins by 2021, the projected opening date is 2025.

High Driver Turnover a Major Trucking Problem
The American Trucking Associations reported last fall that annual driver turnover at large truckload carriers increased to 98 percent in the second quarter of 2018, the highest churn rate since 2015. In its annual survey of the trucking industry, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that motor carriers ranked driver shortage as their #1 issue; it ranked #9 among drivers. Drivers ranked newly enforced Hours of Service regulations as #1 and insufficient truck parking as #2.

Do Densification Policies Reduce Driving?
A premise on which California transportation and land-use policy is based is that the key to reducing transportation greenhouse emissions is reducing vehicle miles of travel—and that the key to reducing VMT is to mandate significant increases in urban area density. Economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner developed a methodology to crunch the numbers in order to estimate the magnitude of this effect. “The data suggest that increases in density cause [only] small decreases in individual driving,” they found. And they concluded that “plausible densification policies cause decreases in aggregate driving that are small, both absolutely and relative to what might be expected from gas taxes or congestion charging.” The study, “Urban Form and Driving: Evidence from U.S. Cities,” is in the November 2018 issue of the Journal of Urban Economics.

EU Agency Proposing Control of Car Speed
The European Transport Safety Council has proposed a regulation to mandate that motor vehicles be equipped with new technology that automatically adjusts vehicle speed to the local speed limit. Needless to say, ETSC calls the measure “intelligent speed assistance” (ISA). It is being opposed by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, which suggests that a “speed limit information” system would be a more customer-friendly use of connected vehicle technology.

Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge P3 Project Nears Completion
The innovative public-private partnership program to repair or replace 558 deficient bridges around the state neared completion in December, Pennsylvania DOT reported. As of November 30th, 511 of the 588 bridge projects were completed and open to traffic. Back in 2008, Pennsylvania had over 6,000 deficient bridges; 10 years later that number has been cut in half.

Congestion Costs U.S. Trucking $74 Billion per Year
Across the entire National Highway System, congestion (measured by wasted time and fuel) cost the trucking industry $74 billion in 2016, up 0.5 percent from the previous year, according to a study by the American Transportation Research Institute. ATRI found that nearly 87 percent of the congestion cost occurred on just 17 percent of NHS miles, mostly in urban areas. And a significant fraction of that occurs at the 100 largest interchange bottlenecks, nearly all of which are on urban Interstates. The top 10 states each experienced costs exceeding $24 billion, led by Florida and Texas, with over $5.5 billion each.

AAA Finds Smartphones Less Distracting than Infotainment Systems
Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that smart-phone apps like Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto are less distracting to drivers than built-in car infotainment systems. That’s because the smart-phone systems rely on voice technology, whereas the infotainment systems require the driver to focus visual attention on the in-dash screen, and some require multiple programming steps. Visual and cognitive demands were significantly greater with the infotainment systems.

New Report: Managed Lanes FAQs
Just released is a set of frequently asked questions about managed lanes, with a focus on priced MLs. The authors are my Reason colleagues Baruch Feigenbaum and Austill Stuart.

Unpredictable Interactions Between Pedestrians and AVs
Another thought-provoking post by robocar pioneer-thinker Brad Templeton is “The Dance Between Pedestrians and Robocars.” He raises a number of unsolved problems and potentially unexpected results, unless these issues are carefully researched and addressed.

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Quotable Quotes

“There is a number of fully-permitted and ‘shovel-ready’ but stranded (in some cases for more than 30 years) infrastructure projects. Yet, despite numerous proposals from firms with expertise and financial backing, the state governments would rather have the projects remain stranded for another 30 years than yield their ownership to a private entity. Privatization of infrastructure is a product of the evolution of our economic system and a historical inevitability. Nevertheless, the system has to overcome the government monopoly that created nearly insurmountable hurdles to private enterprise entering the field as owners and operators of the facilities. Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure by private enterprise could be the most brilliant political move of our lifetimes. However, given the current political environment, it will take time before this country is ready to usher in this multi-trillion-dollar frontier of capitalism.”
—Alex Markovsky, “Let Capitalism, Not Government, Build Needed Infrastructure,” The Hill, December 10, 2018

“If borrowing costs rose to 4.8 percent over the next five years, federal debt-servicing costs would more than triple, reaching $1.1 trillion in 2023. In that scenario, the cost of servicing the $7.5 trillion increase in the public debt incurred during the 2009-16 period alone would cost $362 billion—more than the current cost of servicing the entire federal debt.”
—Phil Gramm and Michael Solon, “The Debt Threat to the Economy,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2018

“As the smart-city movement has expanded, it has become more ideological—and more controversial. Earlier this year, for example, a group of nonprofits, governments, and firms released a list of ‘shared mobility principles for livable cities.’ To be sustainable, the group maintained, 21st century cities must be increasingly dense and should emphasize ‘walking, cycling, public transport, and other efficient shared mobility.’ Key to this agenda: a push to ‘discourage the use of cars, single-passenger taxis, and other oversized vehicles transporting one person.’ Eventually, cities should ban private cars outright, the group said, and instead sanction public fleets, shared by all city residents. Among the signatories to the plan, unsurprisingly, were ride-sharing firms like Uber and Zipcar.”
—Steven Malanga, “The Promise and Peril of ‘Smart’ Cities,” City Journal, Summer 2018

“Contempt for suburbia, so common among Democratic-leaning academics, planners, and media, could make appealing to those voters more difficult. Many party leaders support forced densification, anti-car strategies, and the annexation of suburbs—ideas that lack broad appeal in a country where most people live in single-family homes and rely on cars and roads to conduct their lives. It may not help that some leftists in California and Seattle are now attacking single-family homes as inherently racist and environmentally toxic.”
—Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox, “The Fight for Our Future Belongs to the ‘Burbs,” NewGeography.com, June 4, 2018

“Originally I had a dim view of the ride-hailing concept and equated it to disruptive jitneys early last century. . . . I now see it as a somewhat affordable, high-quality, demand-responsive service for the 99 percent-ers and most importantly for those who don’t have access to a car, for whatever reason. For many . . . the service-affordability-ease-of-use characteristics are so much better than the public transit alternative that their quality of life has been substantially improved. To make it affordable, yes, ride-hailing drivers make less than Silicon Valley and Wall Street banker types (and professors). For their contribution to society for being out there providing the service, they deserve our sincere thanks and appreciation. . . . These personal-revenue-generation opportunities so substantially alleviate pressures on public assistance that the public sector should certainly be tolerating, if not praising, but in no way should be taxing these mechanisms.”
—Alain Kornhauser, “MIT Study Shows How Much Driving for Uber or Lyft Sucks”[Not], Smart Driving Cars, March 8, 2018

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