- PIRG targets more “highway boondoggles”
- Lots of project finance available—for P3s
- The case for managed lane connectors
- Think tanks on next highways and transit bill
- Fixing what ails MPOs
- German tolling plan vetoed by European court
- Upcoming transportation events
- News notes
- Quotable quotes
Ever since 2014, the anti-highways Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has published periodic “highway boondoggle” reports. The fifth such report, “Highway Boondoggles 5,” was released last month. In 42 pages (with 186 endnotes) it reviews some of its previous targets and then critiques these nine new projects:
- Complete 540, North Carolina
- North Houston Highway Improvements, Texas
- High Desert Freeway, California
- I-75 Improvements, Michigan
- Tri-State Tollway Widening, Illinois
- Connecting Miami, Florida
- I-83 Widening, Pennsylvania
- I-5 Rose Corridor Widening, Oregon
- I-81 Widening, Virginia
The complaints about these projects fall into five main categories. I’ll briefly discuss those, followed by a review of the Miami project, since that’s the one I know the most about.
PIRG’s first point is that highway mega-projects “saddle states with debt,” and the report includes a graph showing state DOT debt nearly doubling from 2008 to 2015. But for most people, buying a house also saddles them with debt. In fact, it makes good sense to finance major projects and have people pay for them over the many years during which they enjoy the benefits. And PIRG fails to point out that projects done as toll-financed public-private partnerships (P3s) do not saddle the state with any debt—the P3 company is solely responsible for debt service on the toll revenue bonds.
A bizarre claim is that a “new roadway is expensive to maintain.” Compared to what—an old, potholed roadway? That is just silly. If highway projects are procured (as they should be) based on minimizing their life-cycle-cost, rather than on the lowest construction cost, our infrastructure would be more durable and would need less maintenance than traditional lowest-bid projects.
One of PIRG’s major complaints is that adding highway capacity doesn’t “solve congestion.” As evidence, the report cites the past 40 years of capacity expansion while noting, correctly, that congestion is much higher today than it was in 1980. That’s true, but our population is 44 percent greater, our GDP is nearly three times as much, and annual vehicle miles of travel (VMT) has more than doubled. Highway/freeway lane-miles have nowhere kept pace with this growth. The report also cites the alleged “fundamental law of road congestion,” which claims that any added capacity is quickly filled up and hence is self-defeating. I critiqued the much-cited paper on which this claim is based in my book, “Rethinking America’s Highways,” and will be glad to send that excerpt to readers on request.
Another complaint is that suburban highway expansion fosters “sprawl.” Well, it does provide the transportation access that enables people who prefer suburban living to get to and from other parts of the metro area. And as extensive research has demonstrated, allowing residential and commercial expansion at the urban fringe is the best recipe available for keeping a metro area’s housing costs affordable. (Compare housing costs in car-restricting Los Angeles and San Francisco with housing costs in suburbia-friendly Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, etc.)
PIRG also plays a bit loose with the facts in citing “our car-dependent transportation system” as the country’s “leading source of global warming pollution.” Yet it’s the overall transportation sector (airlines, trucks, buses, seaports, ferries, Amtrak trains, etc.)—not just cars—that contributes the largest share of U.S. CO2 emissions, which PIRG supposedly means. And except on page 15, PIRG largely ignores the significant trend toward electric propulsion, not just for cars but also for medium and heavy trucks.
Also in the report are: (1) the silly claim that if a freeway is eliminated, the traffic it formerly carried will just “melt away,” (2) false claims that P3 projects which entered bankruptcy were bailed out by taxpayers, and (3) out-of-date claims about millennials being in love with transit (rather than becoming the largest share of new-car buyers in recent years).
Now let’s look at the Connecting Miami project, one of PIRG’s 2019 boondoggles. The project aims to fix a horrendous interchange in downtown Miami where three expressways converge: the SR 836 tollway, the I-395 link to the MacArthur Causeway (to Miami Beach and the Port of Miami), and north-south I-95. This interchange handles 450,000 vehicles per day, far more than it was designed for. And when it was built more than 50 years ago, it bisected several low-income communities.
The purpose of this $802 million project is to fix both problems, relieving serious congestion and re-connecting those communities. It does this via a number of lane additions, double-decking a stretch of 836, and creating a signature bridge with an expansive park underneath to reconnect the formerly separated communities. PIRG’s report denounces the park as a scam and claims people will be “strolling just feet from high-speed traffic under I-395” when that traffic on is a several-lane off-ramp to Biscayne Boulevard (whose traffic will be waiting at a stop light much of the time, not whizzing past).
I contacted James Wolfe, the Florida Department of Transportation’s district director for the Miami region, who hadn’t seen the PIRG report. He was not amused, and commented, “I find it inconsistent [of PIRG] to criticize the original construction of I-395 in Miami for dividing neighborhoods in the ‘60s, but to oppose the current project that is reconnecting those neighborhoods. The pedestrian, bicycle, and public space features of the I-395 underdeck have been universally applauded by both the neighborhoods it serves and the city of Miami that will maintain and operate it.”
Here is an artist’s rendering of a portion of the planned park area. More views are available here. You can get a better idea of the project’s scope and traffic flow improvements by watching this video here.
Portion of New Park Beneath Rebuilt I-395, Miami
Source: Florida DOT
By the way, at the end of the report, PIRG provides a kind of scorecard on the current status of the 42 projects it defined as boondoggles in previous reports. Of that total, 18 have been completed or are under construction, 18 more are still under study or “being revised,” three are on hold, and only three have been cancelled.
I speak at many U.S. conferences on transportation and infrastructure. At those focused mostly on transportation, the common refrain is that there is so much need (e.g., for “rebuilding crumbling highways and bridges”) but so little funding. But when I attend or speak at infrastructure investment conferences, the message is just the opposite: the global infrastructure investment funds have raised tons of money, but can find only a handful of U.S. transportation projects to invest it in.
I have laid out some of the dimensions of this mismatch in a new Reason Foundation report: “Annual Privatization Report: Transportation Finance,” released last month. Here are some of the highlights.
First, the annual amount raised by infrastructure investment funds reached a new high in 2018—over $80 billion. Infrastructure Investor’s tabulation of the 50 funds that have raised the most money over the past five years shows a total raised just by these funds of $386 billion. There is no comprehensive dollar figure for the total raised by all such funds, but I speculate that it is well over $500 billion. Some of that gets invested each year, but as long as more keeps being raised, there continues to be a huge pot of money looking for financially sound infrastructure projects to invest in.
Nearly all these funds seek to invest equity (though there are some funds seeking to provide debt). Depending on the project, equity could range from as low as 5-10 percent to as much as 40-50 percent of a project’s total cost. Since it is not possible to invest equity in a public-sector airport, seaport, or toll road, what equity investors are looking for is either assets that are or about to be privatized (e,g., London Gatwick Airport) or in a great many U.S. cases, assets to be developed as long-term P3 concessions.
Public pension funds are a more-recent investor in these kinds of infrastructure, with the trail blazed by Australian fund managers such as IFM Investors and large Canadian pensions such as Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). In the past five years or so, large and medium U.S. pension funds, seeking to diversify their investment portfolios and increase their overall rate of return, have also begun to invest equity in private and P3 infrastructure. The largest of them, CalPERS, now owns 12.7 percent of London Gatwick Airport and 10 percent of the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co.
Infrastructure investors understand that greenfield projects (e.g., a new toll road) tend to be higher-risk than brownfield projects (reconstructing an existing Interstate highway). So the global infrastructure investment funds tend more toward greenfield projects while pension funds tend more toward brownfields. A table in the report shows the major U.S. transportation greenfield P3 projects over the last 25 years: $5.4 billion of equity invested in revenue-risk P3s and $1.3 billion in availability-payment P3s. Those amounts would likely have been much larger if more states had adopted workable P3 enabling legislation; 28 projects in just 11 states make up that entire table.
With all the discussion about the need to “rebuild crumbling infrastructure,” as well as the growing interest of pension funds to invest in relatively lower-risk brownfield reconstruction, state and federal policy should put greater focus on P3s for brownfield reconstruction, as has been carried out successfully in Australia via the policy I’ve written about previously, infrastructure asset recycling. There’s a discussion of that in the new Reason report, as well.
By Baruch Feigenbaum
Metro areas around the county are adding variably-priced managed lane networks. As a result of growing traffic congestion, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, South Florida and Washington DC are converting High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes and building new express toll lanes (ETLs) on their freeway networks. Commuters who use multiple congested freeways to travel to work benefit from a managed lanes network that provides an uncongested travel alternative for the entire trip. Commuters are less likely to pay a toll to use a managed lane on one freeway if they know they will have to sit in congestion on another freeway.
But while state departments of transportation (DOTs) are building managed lane networks, many of the new managed lanes (MLs) end before freeway interchanges, and others lack direct connectors to MLs on the next freeway.
When the managed lane on one freeway ends before the interchange with the managed lane on the second freeway, vehicles must merge from the managed lane to the general purpose (GP) lane, then exit onto the second freeway, and then merge from the GP lane back to the managed lane. One example is the I-95/I-595 interchange in Florida in which the managed lanes on I-595 eastbound end one exit before the I-95 interchange. To travel from the I-595 eastbound ETLs to the I-95 southbound HOT lanes vehicles must cross eight lanes of traffic, four (from left to right) on I-595 and four (from right to left) on I-95.
Another example is the I-105/I-110 interchange in Los Angeles, where the northbound I-110 HOT lanes do not connect to the I-105 HOV lanes. Therefore, to travel from the I-110 northbound HOT lanes to the I-105 westbound HOV lanes, vehicles must cross nine lanes of traffic, five on I-110 and four on I-105.
The decision to extend managed lanes and add direct connectors comes down to cost and right of way. Building the ramp for I-595 eastbound to I-95 southbound could cost $90 million. While the managed lanes tolls can fund some of the ramp costs, adding ramps for all movements can easily cost more than $300 million. If additional right of way is needed, that adds more costs. DOTs have the option of adding a fourth level of ramps to an interchange, but those have their own costs. As a result, it’s easy to justify not adding ramps for certain movements or to delay construction decisions.
But at almost every interchange, extending managed lanes or adding ramps passes the benefit/cost test. Completing the managed lanes increases the number of customers as well as the toll revenue. Similar to how toll-paying customers are less likely to use a managed lane that covers only part of the trip, customers are less likely to use the managed lane if they have to move into the GP lanes to exit or enter onto another freeway. Entering and exiting the GP lanes can add 15 minutes to a trip. And since customers must factor in unpredictable GP lane delay to their trips, the managed lanes have less value. As a result, DOTs receive less toll revenue necessitating more gas tax revenue to build and operate managed lanes.
Adding connectors and extending managed lanes has other benefits. It increases the frequency and ridership of express bus service. Transit agencies may start new bus rapid transit lines to take advantage of the improved travel time reliability. Customers will value the lanes more. A mother picking her child up from daycare late will appreciate not having to transfer back into the GP lanes. The lanes will improve economic development. Businesses may be more likely to move to or expand in the region if executives know their people can make it to meetings on time.
Further, extending managed lanes and adding direct connectors will eliminate the congestion and crashes caused by drivers weaving and merging across eight or nine lanes of traffic. This will benefit both GP and managed lane users alike. The merging reduces traffic speeds by 10-20 miles per hour near the interchanges. These lower speeds increase travel times and reduce the overall throughput of the expressways, exacerbating peak-period congestion. Interstate crashes are highest near interchanges and merging causes at least 50 percent of these accidents. In addition to property damage and a small number of fatalities, crashes increase congestion substantially.
Many DOTs have plans to extend managed lanes and add direct connectors. Georgia DOT is planning on adding connectors between managed lanes on I-75 and I-285 and those on SR 400 and I-285. Florida DOT has a long-range plan to fix the I-95 and I-595 interchange, and the Virginia DOT project to add managed lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway will include connectors to the I-495 managed lanes. Yet other agencies, such as California’s CalTrans, seem less concerned. No new infrastructure is cheap, but the improvement in mobility, choice, economic development and safety makes extending managed lanes and adding connectors a smart decision throughout the country.
Transportation analysts at two market-oriented think tanks last month released policy briefs on provisions they’d like to see in the upcoming reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program. Since both the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (EPW) and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (T&I) are already working on the bill—which supposedly must be enacted by Sept. 30, 2020—these briefs are timely. While they overlap to some extent, their focus differs somewhat.
Randal O’Toole’s Cato Institute brief, “Principles for the 2020 Surface Transportation Reauthorization,” advances three guiding principles:
- Pay as you go—in other words, spend only as much as comes in from transportation taxes;
- User fees—at both federal and state levels, strengthen the users-pay principle; and,
- Subsidiarity—stop spelling out how states must use federal highway and transit funds.
Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute urges Congress to:
- Restrict federal highway spending to major freight corridors (or at least allow more of the federal money to be spent on deferred maintenance of highways and transit);
- Establish a mileage-based user fee pilot program to research shifting away from fuel taxes;
- Eliminate federal tolling restrictions;
- Increase federal financial tools for infrastructure P3s; and,
- Eliminate cost-increasing federal regulations on highway and transit projects.
There are some commonalities in these proposals, despite their different emphases. Both, for example, urge Congress to scrap the 1956 restrictions on using toll revenues to finance the reconstruction of aging Interstate highways. And both would significantly reduce the 100-odd federal highway and transit programs, allowing state and local governments to decide for themselves how to spend the federal funds in those two categories. And both favor a transition from fuel taxes to mileage-based user fees, but whereas Scribner suggests a federal pilot program, O’Toole disagrees, seeing the shift from fuel taxes to per-mile charges as a state responsibility, with a potential federal role only in setting standards for things like inter-operability and enforcement across state lines (and I tend to agree). Scribner includes some thoughtful ideas on protecting privacy in MBUF systems.
O’Toole does not discuss expanding P3s to finance and manage highway and transit modernization, but that it one of Scribner’s priorities. He stresses the key role played thus far in P3 financing by tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds (PABs), which help level the financial playing field between state government toll finance and P3 project finance. He calls for eliminating (rather than just increasing) the federal cap of $15 billion worth of such bonds, a total that is close to being met. But he misses an equally important point: as currently authorized, PABs can be used only for greenfield projects. Yet the main infrastructure problem we face is not new capacity: it is refurbishing and modernizing aging existing capacity (such as the Interstates). Those are brownfield projects.
The 2018 White House infrastructure plan included not only removing the cap on PABs but also expanding their use beyond highways and transit and to encompass brownfield reconstruction as well as greenfield projects. As noted above, such P3 projects would be more attractive to public pension funds, since they are lower-risk than most greenfield projects. For my money, the two most important infrastructure reforms in the 2020 bill should be PABs expansion and eliminating the anti-tolls provision of the 1956 Interstate highways act. Together, these changes would open the door to toll-financed P3 Interstate reconstruction and modernization.
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) were established as part of the Federal Highway Aid Act of 1962 and strengthened under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 to improve regional transportation planning. However, as the country’s population grew and new metro areas formed, the number of MPOs multiplied. Rarely did MPOs consolidate, even as two metro areas merged to become one larger metro area. As of 2016, there were more than 400 MPOs, many of them local in nature.
For example, the Metro Atlanta metropolitan statistical area (MSA) includes 29 counties. Yet the MPO, the Atlanta Regional Commission, represents only 10 of them. Worse is the situation in South Florida. The Miami MSA includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Yet each of the counties has its own MPO. In fact, Florida has 27 different MPOs with many of them dealing with one county only.
To be effective MPOs need to be the same size as labor markets and commuter sheds. An MPO’s goal is to engage in comprehensive planning and undertake the benefit/cost analysis of potential projects to allocate scare resources to the most valuable projects. Yet many MPOs lack the geographic reach and financial resources to conduct this kind of analysis. In fact, many small MPOs duplicate the functions of county and city governments, wasting taxpayer resources.
Frustrated with the lack of consensus among the multiple MPOs in his home state of North Carolina, in 2016 then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx introduced a regulation requiring metro area MPOs to consolidate. The regulation aligned practice with the federal definition of MPOs. It required some MPOs to adjust their boundaries and others to merge. Some large MPOs could remain separate as long as they coordinated activities.
Unfortunately for Foxx, reaction from MPOs was largely negative. Some argued that the regulation transferred power from local officials to Washington bureaucrats. Others argued that it was a one-size-fits-all solution. The regulation was so unpopular that Congress overturned it in 2017, using the Congressional Review Act.
Yet most MPO leaders agree that regional planning needs improvement. With federal surface transportation legislation expiring next year, policymakers need to start developing a technically-sound, politically-palatable plan for MPO reform.
Some of the criticisms of Secretary Foxx’s rule were valid while others were excuses to protect the status quo. Creating a new approach requires separating the excuses from the valid criticisms and understanding those criticisms to effectively reform MPOs.
One common excuse was that MPOs are almost always the right size. In a 2016 op-ed for the Eno Foundation, Barry Seymour of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) argued that state-level planning is too big and local planning is too small. But by definition, then, county-level MPOs function as local planning entities so aren’t they “too small”? While DVRPC is a true regional entity, Forward Pinellas, (the Pinellas County, FL MPO) which covers less than one-third of the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area, is a local entity. A logical approach would keep DVRPC the same size, but consolidate the Tampa metro area into one MPO.
Another excuse was that small MPOs work well with each other. In a separate op-ed, Carl Mikayska of the Florida MPO Advisory Council argued that the South East Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC) is proof that MPOs can work together. SEFTC, which coordinates much of the transportation planning in the region, won an FHWA award for freight planning. But SEFTC, which is composed of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, is the ideal size for a regional MPO. And the fact that it conducts its own transportation planning shows the problems with county MPOs. Further, if SEFTC works well, why do we need county level MPOs that duplicate some functions of local governments? If local governments work so well together, we should eliminate MPOs altogether.
Another excuse was that county MPOs coordinate land uses, but in Florida other entities cannot. Yet, those same powers could be given to a regional MPO. Creating a separate entity for land-use planning is the kind of balkanization that MPOs are supposed to prevent.
But other MPO leaders, such as now-retired Steve Heminger of San Francisco Bay Area’s MTC, pointed out real problems with the 2016 consolidation process. The biggest was political. For MPOs forced to consolidate, there would be a loss of power for certain counties and elected officials. State governors would have been tasked with overseeing consolidation, creating political concerns. Finally, the rule was released on Secretary Foxx’s way out the door during a time of DOT transition to a new Administration. As a result, there was limited agency support and knowledge to implement the rule. The new Trump Administration was not going to use political capital to implement an Obama Administration rule.
A better approach would be to reform MPOs using carrots instead of sticks. DOT could encourage MPO consolidation by withholding 25 percent of some federal funds (both highway and transit) from MPOs that do not consolidate. DOT could redistribute those funds to MPOs in that comply.
Alternatively, DOT could use the Urban Partnership Program as a model. In that program, regions competed against each other to receive a small DOT grant to reduce congestion. The regions with the most innovative approaches received the funding. For MPOs, DOT could provide a small amount of funding for MPOs that focus on regional priorities, such as reducing congestion on primary arterials. Since regional MPOs have a track record of reducing congestion more than county MPOs, they would be more likely to receive the funding.
MPO reform needs to be a priority during the upcoming transportation reauthorization. Stakeholders must develop a regional planning process or be prepared to answer the question of whether MPOs are worth the money.
A plan to start charging all car users of the Autobahns (the equivalent of the U.S. Interstate highways) was shot down last month by the European Court of Justice. That court accepted the argument brought by the Austrian government that the plan discriminated against non-Germans. How so? While all drivers would pay the same charge to use the Autobahns, the German legislation authorized a cut in existing motor vehicle taxes (paid only by Germans) that would be “at least equivalent” to the amount of the Autobahn charge. EU rules prohibit discrimination on grounds of nationality, so the Court’s ruling was understandable.
Tolled motorways are common in only four European countries: France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Although most EU governments charge very high fuel taxes, the proceeds are general government revenue and bear no relationship to spending on highways. Hence, introducing tolls would seem to be a step in the direction of a fairer system, in which users would pay directly for the costs of the roads they use.
But the plan the court shot down was not really that. It came from the Christian Social Union (CSU), a populist/conservative party found only in Bavaria, and was focused on “making foreigners pay.” It was clearly at odds with EU transport policy, which calls for “fair and efficient pricing in transport.”
So what happens now? To get some perspective on this, I contacted Dr. Andreas Kossak, who was a scientific advisor to the Pällmann Commission, appointed in 2000 by the federal government to recommend a better way of financing the federal transportation infrastructure. Germany’s well-known truck tolling system (TollCollect) was intended by the commission as the first step in a transition toward users-pay/users-benefit for all vehicles, at least on all German federal highways. He assured me that the TollCollect system was not affected by the court’s decision since it does not discriminate against foreign truckers. And that system is still planned to be extended beyond the Autobahns to all federal highways.
He also reminded me that as a follow-up to the Pälmann Commission, he was asked by a subsequent commission to develop a “migration plan” to transition Germany to a mileage-based user-fee (toll) system, compatible with EU transport policy, for all vehicles and all roads, including urban roads. Alas, that plan was not followed, and it is not even not posted on the internet. Andreas told me it resides in the library of the Bundesrat, as an attachment to the report of the Daehre Commission, titled “Zukunft der Verkehrsinfrastrukturfinanzierung.” He sent me a copy of a presentation on it that he gave at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, DC. I hope German transport policy people will review this impressive document as they work to come up with a replacement for the failed “Bavarian foreigner toll.”
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.
Automated Vehicles Symposium, July 15-18, 2019, Orlando World Center Marriott, Orlando, FL (Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details here.
ARTBA P3 Conference, July 17-19, 2019, Grand Hyatt, Washington, DC (Robert Poole speaking). Details here.
Trucking Association Executive Council Annual Meeting, July 21-25, 2019The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, FL (Robert Poole speaking). Details here.
Brookings Autonomous Vehicle Conference, July 25, 2019, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC (Baruch Feigenbaum speaking). Details here.
NCSL Legislative Summit, Aug.5-8, 2019, Music City Center, Nashville, TN (Robert Poole speaking). Details here.
Florida Governor Signs Anti-MDX Bill
At the start of the July 4th weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill to dissolve the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and replace it with a politically controlled Greater Miami Expressway Agency, with mandated toll reductions and limitations on new bond issuance. MDX officials have filed for an injunction to prevent the takeover, and the bond rating agencies have already warned of rating decreases. The bill follows several years to legislative actions aimed at micro-managing the toll agency.
Wisconsin Governor Vetoes New Tolling Study
While approving the 2020 state DOT budget, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a provision that would have authorized a $2.5 million study of Interstate tolling and mileage-based user fees. In his veto message, he falsely claimed that “the motor fuel tax is the most effective way to approximate a user fee of roadway use.”
Remotely Driven Truck on Florida’s Turnpike
Within two weeks of Gov. Ron DeSantis signing new legislation to permit on-road testing of autonomous trucks in Florida, Starsky Robotics remotely drove a class eight big-rig over nine miles on the Florida Turnpike, maintaining a 55 mph speed, prior to exiting at an off-ramp. In this version of autonomy, there was no human in the cab, but the rig was piloted by a remote driver at a Starsky facility. The start-up company has a fleet of 36 conventional trucks, in revenue service, and three remotely piloted ones. For a video of this initial test on the Turnpike, go here.
Ohio Turnpike Opens First Two Electric Charging Stations
One of America’s major tolled Interstates has opened electric vehicle charging stations at two of its service plazas (Wyandot and Blue Heron) and announced that two more plazas will be equipped by the end of June. Unfortunately, this is illegal to do on about 95 percent of Interstate highway miles, due to a 1956 federal law that bans commercial services at Interstate rest areas. As states begin the toll-financed reconstruction of existing non-tolled Interstates, that archaic ban needs to be repealed.
PayTollo Offers Tolling App in Five States
Start-up tolling service company PayTollo last month announced that its mobile app enabling electronic toll payments is now available in California, Colorado, Florida, Texas, and Washington State. Based on the GPS information in the customer’s smartphone, the app recognizes the upcoming toll collection point and pays the toll. The company’s intention appears to be to offer nationally interoperable electronic tolling without requiring either (a) a 50-state transponder, or (b) retrofitting most toll collection systems to a common standard.
New York City’s Sky-High Infrastructure Costs Exposed—Again
Last year the New York Times ran a series of articles detailing how New York’s multiple bureaucracies and job-maximizing union work rules make the cost of building subways more than three times as high as comparable projects in major cities in Europe and Japan. Now New York magazine has done its own exposé, “Why New York Can’t Have Nice Things: It costs three times more to build a subway station here than in London or Paris. What if we could change that?” The new ground broken by this article is to discuss the “opportunity costs” of massively wasteful spending—namely, the other valuable transportation projects that are foregone because the boondoggles eat up all the available funds.
Charlotte Adding Tolled Highway Capacity
The past six months have seen two express toll lanes projects open in the metro area of Charlotte, NC. Many people knew of opposition to adding ETLs on 26 miles of I-77, leading into downtown, the first portion of which opened last month. There has been far less notice of the 18-mile Monroe Expressway which opened last November. It is a tolled bypass of congested US 74, making it the equivalent of express toll lanes added to that highway, except displaced a short distance away. That project, too, faced initial opposition, but according to a June 27th article in the Charlotte Observer, it is now a popular, time-saving “route to the beach.” North Carolina DOT is moving forward with a new Charlotte project, to add ETLs to I-485 between I-77 and US 74.
Oregon’s MBUF Program Expanding Statewide
After several years as a program limited to 5,000 participants, the OReGO program that allows motorists to pay a 1.7 cents/mile fee instead of fuel taxes has been opened to nearly all motorists. The only limitation is that the vehicles involved must get at least 20 miles per gallon—to avoid gas-guzzlers paying significantly less toward roadway costs. All proceeds of the per-mile charge are to be spent on road and bridge projects.
Vietnam Planning $5.2 Billion Investor-Financed Toll Road
The project is the long-planned North-South Expressway, at an ultimate length of 1,200 km. Inframation reported last month that 40 local and international investors have bought bidding documents for Phase 1 of the project, covering 654 km. It will be a P3 procurement, with the government putting up 47.5 percent of the cost and investors financing the rest. A short-list of qualified firms is promised by August, with the winning bidder to be selected by March 2020
Study Finds Ride-Hailing Has Increased New York City Congestion
A new study by the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission has found that average speeds in mid-town Manhattan have declined from 6.1 mph in 2010 to 4.3 mph in 2018, with the tripling of ride-hailing vehicles over this time period a contributing factor. The report estimates that these new vehicles are spending 40 percent of their time empty of passengers and cruising for business.
San Bernardino County Adding Express Toll Lanes to I-10
Financing has been arranged for a $929 million project to add ETLs to 10 miles of I-10, from the Los Angeles County line on the west to I-15 on the east. The project received approval for a federal TIFIA loan of $225 million in May. When the new lanes open in 2024, they will comprise another link in the emerging ETL network in the greater Los Angeles metro area. Riverside County is underway adding ETLs to north-south I-15, and San Bernardino County plans to extend those lanes northward from the Riverside County line in a future project.
Bestpass Expands Toll Coverage to South Carolina
Trucking service provider Bestpass, which offers weigh-station bypass and electronic tolling services, announced recently that it is expanding its toll services to South Carolina. That state currently has one toll road, the Southern Connector, but its legislature is looking into toll-financed reconstruction and widening of I-95, which would mean a much larger market for Bestpass’ toll services.
Hampton Roads, VA, Expanding Express Lanes Network
This busy metro area centered around Norfolk and its port system already has eight miles of express toll lanes in operation and another 22 miles under construction or in procurement, to open in 2022 (10 miles) and 2025 (12 miles). With another 15 miles under study, the overall network could be 45 miles. All the ETLs are being added to I-64 under current plans.
Paris Clamping Down on Electric Scooters
Reuters reported on June 24 that the city government has imposed legal restrictions, in response to 20,000 e-scooters from a dozen companies (and projections of 40,000 by year-end. There are now fines for driving scooters on sidewalks and parking them in inappropriate places such as doorways. Transport minister Elisabeth Borne told Le Parisien that the situation amounted to “the law of the jungle.”
Concession Company Repaves Indiana Toll Road
Engineering News-Record reports that the ITR Concession Company has recently completed a major pavement-reconstruction project on 73 miles of the toll road, at a cost of $220 million. It included upgrades of 53 bridges and nine interchanges, as well as the installation of a fiber-optic backbone for an intelligent transportation system (ITS). The project was carried out under a design-build contract.
Atlanta Express Lanes Gaining Respect
A news article on the expanding network of express toll lanes on the metro area’s freeways (June 17) made a number of important points. First, data show that corridors with ETLs are moving faster than before—in both the new lanes and the general-purpose lanes. Second, as Georgia Tech researcher Randall Guensler has documented, these are not “Lexus Lanes”—rather, Guensler told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “they are Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford F-150 lanes.” Third, the network of ETLs will provide the backbone for region-wide express bus service, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry told reporter David Wickert.
Managed Lanes Research in New TRB Publication
Issue 14 of Transportation Research Record 2672 includes papers dealing with toll lane access violations, the safety of various express lanes cross-sections, estimated incident clearance time, and other aspects of the design and operation of managed lanes. The journal is published by and available from the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies.
“A one-time [infrastructure] splurge of the kind being discussed is the wrong approach to these recurrent problems. Though it might forestall an imminent crisis, it would also encourage unnecessary projects, raise long-term maintenance costs, diminish the impetus for states to help themselves, and in all likelihood leave many vital-but-unglamorous needs unaddressed. By festooning the projects with federal red tape—such as ‘Buy American’ provisions and restrictive labor rules—it will also ensure that they cost more than they should.”
—Editorial Board, “Big-Bang Solutions Won’t Fix U.S. Infrastructure,” Bloomberg.com, June 10, 2018
“As for who bears the burden, tolls force drivers from other states to bear their fair share of the costs of using our roads. All other New England states (except Vermont) impose tolls on Connecticut residents when we drive on some of the major roads in those states. It’s only fair that drivers—especially heavy trucks from other states—should pay for the wear and tear that their driving causes to our roads. And because the nutmeg state is located between Boston and New York, out-of-staters are major users of our highways.”
—Ian Ayres, Steven Berry, Kenneth Gillingham, and Barry Nalebuff, “How We Learned to Love the Toll,” Hartford Courant, June 14, 2018
“Hyperloop can’t be a solution to any current transportation problem, as it doesn’t exist. This is like the Wright Brothers pitching airports before they’d flown an airplane—it’s a bit premature. Magnetic levitation technology has been around for years, and we’ve had pneumatic tubes since the 1800s. Putting these two technologies together doesn’t work at this time. There’s no reason public agencies should propose to build lines until they’ve built a test track that functions. Long tubes of metal are going to expand and contract. You can imagine shorter ones connected by rubber or something, but what’s the loss of vacuum? We don’t know. Nobody’s built one. Since they’ve never put a person in a hyperloop, they have no idea how people are going to react. In addition to not having technology, they don’t have a business case. How do they get the passenger flows that justify the cost? This isn’t faster than anything that has come before—we have airplanes. They haven’t come up with a market where this works better than anything we already have.”
—Prof. David Levinson, University of Sydney, “Hyperloop Is Not a Reality, and It May Never Be,” Transportist, June 11, 2019
“How do we actually make moving people around safer and more efficient? Buses are great, trains are great when there really is a concentration of where you want to go from and to, but it turns out we don’t live our lives mostly like that. We live our lives going from my house to my office, and there’s exactly one person who wants to make that trip every day. From my neighborhood to my office, maybe there’s a half-dozen people who want to make that trip. So I think it’s really about finding the right platform, the right vehicle, that optimizes how many trips we’re making so that it can be efficient. Where you’ve got a 50-passenger bus at 2 in the morning, and there’s a driver and one passenger, that’s incredibly inefficient. And similarly, one of the challenges with transit routes is where do you put the route, where does the bus drive. It’s also suboptimal for almost everybody, whereas if we could have, say, a four- or five-person transit vehicle that’s automated, because now we can actually go point to point to point, and then pull those people and take them where they want to go if it’s nearby, that now starts to become a really compelling transit option. And with this [AV] technology, I think you can do that in a way that’s cost-effective.”
—Chris Urmson, quoted in April Glaser, “How Close Are We to Self-Driving Cars, Really?” Slate.com, June 13, 2019
“At the beginning, [major] cities aren’t a good place for driverless vehicles. Cities have too much invested in their hopelessly poor, hopelessly bankrupt transit systems. No one working in any transit system dares to create a welcoming environment to a potential competitor. Communities, smaller cities, and transit deserts are the place to start. It is easier technologically and socially.”
—Alain Kornhauser, “Why Aren’t Cities Getting Ready for Autonomous Vehicles?” Smart Driving Cars, June 8, 2019