- Michigan Interstate tolling study released
- Traffic congestion roars back, despite work from home
- Tennessee moving forward on P3s, express toll lanes, and MBUFs
- Unions oppose automated trucking legislation in California
- Seven new MBUF pilot projects announced
- Time to change the basis of truck user fees?
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
Last month the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) released the results of its two-year study on the potential of using toll finance to upgrade and modernize the state’s aging Interstate highways and other limited-access highways. After several rounds of screening, its strategic implementation plan focuses on eight initial corridors (called Tier 1) totaling 545 route miles, all but one of them Interstates. This is the fourth such statewide study, following earlier ones in Connecticut, Indiana, and Wisconsin. It was carried out by respected firms HNTB and CDM Smith. Having read the previous ones, I think this study is the best one to date. Some previous studies have focused mostly on the potential revenue that could be generated, rather than on the benefits of toll-financed modernization. The Strategic Implementation Plan, which is one of several outputs of the Michigan study, documents the investments needed for the eight Tier 1 corridors: $18.5 billion in road and bridge improvements. Moreover, contrary to fears of the trucking industry that states would start tolling immediately without guarantees of using the new revenue for modernizing their highways, the plan shows tolls being phased in as various Tier 1 segments are modernized (which I have referred to as value-added tolling).
I was surprised at first that investments for Tier 1’s 545 route miles included only 164 lane miles of new capacity. But Michigan is a low-growth state. A table of estimated state vehicles miles travelled growth rates that I obtained several years ago from an FHWA analyst showed Michigan’s light-vehicle growth rate at just 0.4% per year (though the heavy-vehicle growth rate was three times that at 1.2% per year). So the $18.5 billion capital spending for Tier 1 makes sense as being mostly for replacing or upgrading existing lanes and bridges.
The implementation plan estimates the costs of electronic tolling infrastructure and recommends going with the 6C protocol, which seems to be the emerging electronic tolling consensus. It presents a pro-forma financing plan, based on projected gross and net toll revenue, which the plan estimates would lead to the toll revenue bonds achieving a BBB (investment-grade) rating. The plan concludes that the modernized Tier 1 corridors would be fully self-supporting (capital and operating/maintenance costs) via the toll financing.
The study also reviews the available federal programs under which toll-financed Interstate modernization can take place. It rejects the never-used Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program since that allows a participating state to toll-finance only a single Interstate corridor. For most of the Tier 1 corridors, it recommends using the Section 129 Bridge & Tunnel program, with the Value Pricing Program recommended for two urban corridors where variable pricing would be used to reduce congestion.
Of course, this is only a study. Michigan DOT, I hope, will want to pursue implementation of it, but that will be up to elected officials—the governor and the legislature. If they decide to implement something along the lines of what these reports have identified as feasible, I can suggest several possible revisions.
While the plan to implement tolling as corridors are modernized addresses one of the highway user community’s concerns about tolling, the study ignores legitimate concerns about “double taxation”—paying both tolls and fuel taxes for the same corridor. The study acknowledges the coming need to replace fuel taxes with mileage-based user fees (MBUFs), but it ignores a key tenet of the ongoing state pilot programs: that the mileage-based user fee is intended to replace the fuel tax, not be charged in addition to it. What would fix this problem is to make the new Interstate tolls Michigan’s first MBUFs. That would mean providing refunds/rebates for fuel taxes incurred for miles driven on the newly tolled Interstates, demonstrating that MBUFs really will be replacing fuel taxes when implemented.
Michigan DOT and legislators might be concerned about the cost of providing fuel-tax rebates, but the study itself recommends devoting 5% of gross toll revenue to various kinds of toll discounts and rebates, some of them highly questionable. In a peer-reviewed study just published in Transportation Research Record (the journal of the Transportation Research Board), I used a detailed spreadsheet model to estimate the net present value (NPV) of fuel tax rebates to motorists and truckers driving on rebuilt, tolled Interstate corridors. The NPV of state fuel tax rebates over 30 years was less than 7% of the gross toll revenue.
And there would be another benefit of making the tolled lanes Michigan’s first large-scale conversion from per-gallon taxes to per-mile charges: less traffic diversion. The strategic plan estimates, by corridor, that diversion rates would range from 6% to 18%, based on light vehicle tolls of six cents per mile and heavy truck tolls of 24 cents per mile. For light vehicles, the state gas tax works out to 1 cent per mile. Since diversion rates are proportional to the amount charged, with fuel tax rebates, the “net” toll rate for cars would be five cents a mile, not six cents. Thus, diversion rates should be about 17% less than estimated on page 57 of the strategic plan, so they would range from 5% to 15% of the traffic. That would lead to increased gross revenue, as well as less diversion.
Another concern of mine is the projected cost of toll collection, at 13% of gross revenue, which strikes me as very high for a system designed from scratch to be all-electronic. The killer is the assumption that license-plate billing will be needed for about 20% of all transactions. That, in turn, requires a traditional back office to analyze video images, generate and send bills, and accept losses due to bills that end up being uncollectible. If the model for toll-financed Interstate modernization included making it Michigan’s first large-scale MBUF conversion, it would be worth considering designing it for 100% use of transponders with pre-paid accounts—or at least including video-tolling surcharges high enough to fully cover the costs of billing and collection. I note in passing that many express toll lanes do not offer video tolling, and, thereby, have much lower costs of collection, as low as 3.9% of toll revenue.
Finally, one other point. Although the study mentions long-term public-private partnerships (P3s), it does not recommend this approach for financing, developing, operating, and maintaining tolled Interstates. Instead, it calls for creating a traditional toll agency, something the state of Michigan has no experience with. While this could provide an opportunity to draw on newer toll agency models such as Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, it would be worth considering the experience of a growing number of state transportation departments with long-term design-build-finance-operate-maintain P3s, which have an excellent track record with revenue-financed express toll lane facilities across the country, nearly all of which have investment-grade ratings.
The 2022 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard was released last month, and it shows a strong resumption of metro area traffic congestion, despite the continued high level of telecommuting. The same pattern appears in major metro areas in Europe, Latin America, and South Africa.
The INRIX global top 25 most-congested metro areas table resembles the 2021 ranking, with London still in first place, Paris in third place, and Toronto moving up from 22nd to 7th place. The 10 most-congested metro areas worldwide had delays ranging from 121 hours per driver to 156 hours per driver in 2022.
For U.S. cities, Chicago moved up to 2nd from 6th place, Boston zoomed from 18th to 4th, and Miami rose to 9th from the previous year’s 32nd place. Other areas rising a lot included Los Angeles, up to 14th from 33rd, San Francisco, from 15th from 34th, and Washington, D.C., which went from 99th to now 20th.
The changes in congestion rank for U.S. metro areas were nowhere near as dramatic as the worldwide changes. Here are the key 2022 INRIX figures for the top 10 metros.
|2022 Rank (2021)||Metro Area||Avg. Delay (hrs)||Cost/driver||Cost per Metro|
|3 (1)||New York||117||$1,976||$10.2B|
|6 (6)||Los Angeles||95||$1,601||$8.6B|
|7 (7)||San Francisco||97||$1,642||$2.6B|
Many factors are responsible for these traffic congestion results, but let me suggest a few that might be relevant. First, despite much rhetoric arguing that traffic congestion is a byproduct of low-density sprawl land-use patterns and that higher density and mass transit are the answer, the top four U.S. metro areas are all characterized by high-density and high-transit mode-share, in comparison with lower-density, low-transit Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta.
Second, which of these areas have added express toll lanes to portions of their freeway systems? Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, Houston, and Atlanta.
One other point about density and transit as the long-term solution: urban agglomeration benefits. Extensive research shows that large metro areas are generally more economically productive than smaller ones because a lot more positive-sum transactions can take place in the former—assuming there is fast and reliable transportation from any origin to any destination (since both residences and jobs are spread out all over the landscape). (See Alain Bartaud’s excellent book, Order Without Design, MIT Press, 2018)
Less-congested freeways, due to variably-priced express lanes, contribute to employers having a wider choice of qualified prospective hires and workers having many more good employment options. The same is true, in theory, of a large transit network. Yet, a series of “access to destinations” studies by University of Minnesota researchers have shown that in most large metro areas one can get to nearly all the potential jobs in 30-45 minutes by car, but to very few via transit.
Some of the early pioneering states that used managed lanes and public-private partnerships (P3s), including Florida and Texas, have quit building projects in recent years due to political pushback. Politicians in these states have also pushed back on mileage-based user fee pilot programs due to concerns about how the technology would be implemented. At this time, only two states—Georgia and Virginia—are using public-private partnerships to build multiple express toll lanes and implementing an MBUF pilot and/or permanent program.
Fortunately, a new state, Tennessee, looks poised to join Georgia and Virginia in making major improvements to its highway system and funding stream. In his Feb. 6 State of the State address, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee highlighted an aggressive plan to build a network of choice lanes (managed toll lanes with better branding) in five of the state’s metro areas. All of the lanes would be built using toll concession P3s. And in a Feb. 1 hearing, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Becky Massey explored how an MBUF program would work in Tennessee.
This new attention to funding and financing highways is badly needed. Despite having one of the nation’s highest growth rates, Tennessee ranks last in the country in per capita transportation investment. Few of its rural Interstates have been widened to more than two lanes in each direction. And despite reaching the end of their 50-year lifecycles, almost none of the Interstates in Tennessee have been reconstructed.
The current plan is to add choice lanes to urban Interstates in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, as well as the Tri-Cities of Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport. Memphis and Nashville have poorly performing high-occupancy vehicle lanes that can be converted to choice lanes. For example, almost 80% of the vehicles in the Nashville I-24 high-occupancy vehicle lanes are cheaters; they don’t have the required two people. Finding a carpool companion in low-density metro areas built after World War II, in which people are traveling from many origins to many destinations, can be very challenging. Some of these drivers would gladly pay a small per-mile toll to have a more reliable commute. But today, they don’t have that option.
Many of the corridors in Memphis and Nashville are good candidates for new express toll lanes, but the most intriguing options may be in Chattanooga and Knoxville. I-24 in Chattanooga, between I-59 and I-75, is a critical bottleneck between Nashville and Atlanta. Bounded by the Tennessee River and mountains, I-24 could benefit from the innovative approach a P3 concessionaire brings to the table. The section of I-40 and I-75 that runs concurrently near Knoxville has the highest traffic volumes, and truck volumes in the state. Already with eight lanes, it is congested much of the day, seven days a week, with traffic volumes growing each year.
Tennessee is planning to build the lanes as toll concession P3s. Toll concession P3s have several advantages. The first is that the tolls provide a new revenue source. Tennessee has about $500 million annually for new capacity for the entire state. Clearly, that is not enough for a growing state of seven million people. Importantly, a toll concession model, in which the private sector takes the revenue risk, has a big advantage over a hybrid model, in which the state takes the revenue risk. Nobody could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, and hopefully, we won’t see another pandemic in the near future. However, states that used toll concession P3s that transferred the revenue risk to the private partner were in much better financial shape than states that kept the risk. States in the latter category had to delay or cancel other projects. In speaking with Tennessee officials, I learned that risk transfer was a big factor in choosing toll concessions.
Tennessee Department of Transportation leaders plan to make some other innovative delivery changes. Currently, Tennessee has a cap on the number of projects for which design-build can be used. The cap is in place because small construction companies were worried that they could not compete for DBs, and thus preferred traditional design-bid-build (DBBs). But transportation leaders spoke with these stakeholders and explained how in both P3s and DBs they could be subcontractors on large, previously unaffordable projects. This helped broaden support for both reforms.
Meanwhile, in the Tennessee General Assembly, Transportation Chair Becky Massey led a hearing on MBUFs. Trish Hendren of the Eastern Transportation Coalition and I testified on the advantages of MBUFs and conducting an MBUF pilot. I focused on the problems with the fuel tax, the advantages of MBUFs, potential pilot ideas, and funding sources for the pilot. I also detailed existing MBUF programs and pilots in the bordering states of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Trish touched on the importance of communicating the transportation funding problem, how MBUFs can benefit rural residents, and that the public does not understand how transportation funding works.
Senators asked questions and received answers about environmental challenges (there are not any more than with the gasoline tax), double taxation (MBUFs would replace fuel taxes), rural residents (rural residents would pay less in an MBUF than with a fuel tax), payment options (there are multiple types including GPS-based transponder, odometer reading, etc.), and payment timeframes (once per month, once per quarter, etc.). I’ve never seen a committee as legitimately engaged at a hearing. House Transportation Chair Dan Howell was also at the hearing and was very intrigued by the MBUF option.
The next step for the choice lanes and innovative delivery is for a bill to be introduced in the Senate. Analysts expect it to pass the Senate and House transportation committees and, given it is one of the top priorities of the year, pass the full bodies and be signed into law this year. While MBUFs are another key priority, there is more education needed before a bill for a pilot can pass the General Assembly. MBUF action is more likely in early 2024.
California was once at the forefront of automated vehicle (AV) policy. Driven by Silicon Valley developers outside the traditional automotive industry, the AV industry in the U.S. remains concentrated in the Golden State. California has authorized AV testing and limited deployments on public roads, but these have excluded heavy-duty vehicles. Regulators recently began considering authorizing heavy-duty AVs in the state, but union-allied politicians quickly introduced legislation that would ban the testing and deployment of heavy-duty AVs without human drivers present in the vehicle. This would effectively kill the business case for AV trucking, as well as the safety and consumer benefits that AV trucks could offer.
Despite California’s ever-tightening regulatory environment, automated vehicle developers in the early days were optimistic about making progress in the state. California’s first AV law, Senate Bill 1298, was even signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in 2012. Fast forward a decade, and California’s AV policy has fallen behind states such as Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, which lack California’s intensive permitting approach to AV testing and deployment.
While the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has allowed AV testing and deployments to take place on public roads, these operations have been strictly limited by DMV regulations to vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds. In January, the California DMV began considering updates to its AV testing and deployment rules that would end this arbitrary prohibition. It held a public workshop on Jan. 27 (video).
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents a small fraction of California truck drivers, had already begun whipping up opposition before the public workshop. On Jan. 26, California Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, with principal coauthors, assemblymembers Ash Kalra and Tom Lackey, introduced Assembly Bill 316, which would prohibit AVs weighing 10,000 pounds or more from being “operated on public roads for testing purposes, transporting goods, or transporting passengers without a human safety operator physically present in the autonomous vehicle at the time of operation.”
On Jan. 31, the Teamsters and California Labor Federation held a rally outside the state capitol in Sacramento with Aguiar-Curry, Kalra, and Lackey in support of their bill. While framed as supporting safety, despite poor human decision-making being a factor in nearly all vehicle crashes, attendees made clear they were really concerned about the potential for reductions in driver jobs—and dues-paying union drivers—that would arise from safer AVs. “Tech companies don’t talk about people. They don’t talk about families that depend on the jobs that you all rely on,” said Assemblymember Kalra.
AV opposition organizers also made clear that they believed that if California, under single-party control, couldn’t stop AV trucking, there would be no way to withstand the tide of transportation technology progress in the rest of the U.S. “So goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. If we lose this, we’re never getting them back,” Teamsters Vice President Lindsay Dougherty told the crowd, according to a Los Angeles Times report on the rally.
California does have an outsized influence on the national AV policy stage. Not only is it the largest state by population, but California is also home to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, two of the largest container ports in the U.S. This makes Southern California an ideal near-term deployment candidate for short-haul automated drayage operations as well as a hub for long-haul operations into the wider Sun Belt. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University engineers that was highlighted in the April 2022 issue of this newsletter found that AV trucking in the Sun Belt could impact 10% of nationwide truck operator hours.
But a lack of driver labor is a constant complaint from the trucking industry, with the American Trucking Association claiming that the U.S. was short nearly 78,000 drivers in 2022. A shallow pool of drivers exacerbated problems in supply chains that had already been strained by economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to unprecedented congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. President Joe Biden launched a Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force in June 2021 in response to this international logistics crisis. Importantly, the increased efficiency and flexibility made possible by automation could help prevent similar supply chain chaos in the future.
A.B. 316 already has the support of some in California State Assembly leadership, with Speaker pro Tempore Christopher M. Ward and Assistant Majority Whip Pilar Schiavo signing on as co-authors. A State Senate companion bill likely isn’t far behind. So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t weighed in publicly, but he may soon face a difficult choice between doing the right thing for his state and doing the wrong thing demanded by a small but powerful political constituency.
In the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress continued a modest federal program that offers states or groups of states the opportunity to get partial federal funding support to carry out pilot projects on how to implement a transition from per-gallon fuel taxes to per-mile user fees (MBUFs, referred to as road user charges—RUCs—in western states). Last month, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced the seven 2023 winners in the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives Program (STSFA).
Some of the projects are first-time statewide projects (Michigan and Oklahoma), while others are continuations of prior statewide projects (California, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Virginia). And one project is a continuation of multi-state efforts coordinated by The Eastern Transportation Coalition (TETCo). Both Michigan and Oklahoma will be designing and carrying out their first pilot project, recruiting volunteers to try out simulated per-mile charges as an alternative to the state fuel tax. Michigan will begin with a statewide survey of citizen perceptions of MBUF/RUC, which will help to inform the design and operation of the pilot test. Oklahoma’s voluntary pilot program will consider working with the state’s turnpike authority (due to its revenue-collecting expertise) and will partner with tribal nations (which may be a first for a state MBUF pilot).
The California Department of Transportation continues to build on what it has learned from previous pilot projects, with the new pilot focusing on methods of revenue collection and the behavioral changes that might result from two different rate structures. Hawaii DOT will build on its initial pilot that linked an annual RUC to annual vehicle inspections and vehicle registration renewal. The focus of Minnesota DOT will be on the potential of using built-in vehicle telematics as a way to collect mileage-fee revenue. And Virginia DOT will transition its initial voluntary MBUF program from a fixed fee to a per-mile charge.
In the largest of the seven projects, the TET Coalition will work with seven of its 17 member states (Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) to build on its several previous pilots involving both passenger vehicles and trucks, in a multi-state environment. This organization has worked extensively with trucking companies and organizations, for which inter-state travel is critically important. Among other things, the new pilot will work on equity concerns, compliance and enforcement questions, privacy issues, and harmonization among states.
Multi-state efforts such as those of the TET Coalition have brought in quite a few states that have not done their own state-specific MBUF/RUC pilots, thereby raising awareness of this subject in a growing fraction of all states.
“The Turner Proposal” sounds like a second-rate spy novel, but it’s the name of an alternative approach to the design of heavy trucks, and it could guide the design of future truck user fees.
Heavy trucks impose costs on the road system in three ways: in pavement wear due to weight; in capital cost for lane width, bridge and pavement strength, and intersection geometrics; and in congestion by using up capacity. States charge for these costs in fuel taxes and registration fees. The fuel tax is a proxy for a toll for capacity used. Registration fees based on gross vehicle weight (GVW) are a way of charging for roads strong enough to carry trucks.
But is gross weight the best measure?
The federal government long ago settled on the 80,000-lb. five-axle semitrailer as its principal unit of freight transport. Following the elaborate AASHO Ottawa Road Test of 1956‑60, the Bureau of Public Roads (predecessor of FHWA) adopted pavement designs anticipating an 80,000‑lb. truck. But truck traffic on the Interstates grew faster than anyone imagined. By the time the first Interstate pavements reached their 20-year design lifespans, pavement wear was becoming evident. One of the architects of the Interstates, Frank Turner, asked, Did we get it wrong? Are single-axle loads of 16,000 to 18,000 lbs. too heavy?
In 1984, Turner proposed a class of trucks with significantly reduced axle loadings, to reduce some classes of pavement wear and preserve the investment in the Interstates. Such trucks would be closer to Canadian and European designs, where 3-axle trailers are standard.
Since then, U.S. trailers have gotten longer, but there has been no movement toward alternative axle loadings. But the trends of worsening pavement condition, declining purchasing power, increasing truck volume, and replacement of diesel power with electric trucks mean it’s time to re-think truck user fees and truck design from the axles up.
More trailer axles could be mandated, but truck operators should share in the savings from pavement-friendly designs. States could keep their elected-GVW-based registration fee for standard trucks, but a fairer approach would be to reduce the usual fee if a truck operator uses a multi-axle trailer with less than the standard 16,000-lb. axle loadings—say, 13,000 lbs. or thereabouts. The reduced fee might be adopted simultaneously with an increase in other fees generally, as a means of mitigating the impact on highway revenues.
The new axle-weight registration fee could be administered under the existing International Registration Plan (IRP) with minor changes. (Under IRP, trucks in interstate commerce elect a maximum gross combination weight for every state and province they operate in, and pay each state’s weight-based registration fee, apportioned by miles traveled in each state, on a single tax return.) Jurisdictions would keep their schedules of weight-based fees, but trucks electing lower axle loadings would pay a reduced or “commuted” fee as if they were operating at a lower GVW. An 80,000-lb. combination with a multi-axle trailer might pay as if it weighed 54,000 lbs., or some other number. A color-coded plate and cab card would tell weight enforcers that the truck must be held to maximum axle loadings, in jurisdictions adopting this idea.
If a jurisdiction’s bridge designs allow it, legal gross weight might be increased while axle loadings fall, for greater productivity. A few states allow trucks over the 80,000-lb. standard. One state, Michigan, allows 11-axle combinations, often carrying 154,000 lbs. on eight 13,000-lb. trailer axles.
A shift to axle-weight-based fees could be part of changes to road-user charges generally. A growing number of officials expect the fuel tax to be replaced by a mileage-based user fee (MBUF) impelled by a shift to electric vehicles. If we change from charging by gallons to charging by miles, we could combine it with the registration fee, and eliminate one whole tax structure. For trucks, a single fee could be based on elected axle loading in each jurisdiction. Combining mileage and weight charges into a single fee would allow more headroom for a discount incentivizing light axle loadings. Current unique single-state taxes (in Oregon, Kentucky, and New York) are inefficient and objectionable to truckers, and could be rolled into the fee as well.
Work is needed to quantify the savings in pavement wear and determine appropriate fees. Truck cost allocation is a tricky problem that will not be made simpler by a range of axle loadings. It’s unclear how big a fee reduction would be needed to incentivize purchase of multi-axle trailers. But the exponential increase in some kinds of pavement wear with axle loadings is real, and it should be reflected in road charges.
Aarne Frobom is a policy analyst for the Michigan Department of Transportation. This article reflects his personal views and is not a statement by the department.
Colorado Rejects I-25 North Express Lanes Project
In November, the Colorado Transportation Investment Office rejected an unsolicited proposal from Roadis USA to finance, build, and operate long-planned express toll lanes on 21 miles of I-25 north of Denver. While few details were released, CTIO said that the proposal failed to be approved by the CDOT review panel. Public Works Financing (Nov. 2022) noted that the Colorado Transportation Commission in Dec. 2021 issued a rule capping GHG emissions in metro area long-range transportation plans, which has led to a number of highway projects being rejected. The rule also allows the state to reallocate federal IIJA highway funding to transit, bike, and walk infrastructure.
Charlotte Moving Toward I-77 P3 Decision
The Charlotte (NC) Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO), after having been briefed on the unsolicited proposal from Cintra to add express toll lanes to I-77 between the city and the South Carolina border, will vote on Feb. 15 on whether to ask NCDOT to proceed with a competitive procurement for the project. If it is approved, the project would add two express toll lanes each way on the 9.4-mile stretch of I-77, under a proposed 50-year P3 concession. Going forward with a P3 would lead to the ETLs being developed years sooner than if the state built them conventionally.
Louisiana P3 Toll Bridge May Break Ground Next Year
With the award of a $150 million Mega Grant announced in late December, Louisiana’s $1.5 billion I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge replacement is now expected to have its ground-breaking early next year. The state’s DOT shortlisted four P3 teams in mid-2021, but funding uncertainties have led to delays. The project is planned as a revenue-risk design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM), but toll revenues are unlikely to fully support the $1.5 billion cost. The $150 million federal grant plus $100 million in state money have put the project back on track toward issuing an request for proposals this spring and negotiating a long-term concession agreement with the winner.
Kansas Turnpike Rejecting Federal Funds
After considering federal infrastructure funds for two planned interchanges near Topeka, the board of the Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA) has rejected federal funds. FHWA told the agency that accepting federal funds would likely “federalize” the Turnpike, requiring KTA to adhere to various federal regulations and guidelines, might force the closure of its service plazas, and would impact Kansas DOT’s toll credits. KDOT and KTA are now working on plans to pay for the new interchanges.
Georgia Legislators Endorse MBUF Pilot Project
The legislature’s Joint Study Committee on Electrification of Transportation has endorsed Georgia DOT’s plan to conduct a pilot project to test mileage-based user fees in the Peach State. The report urged that the per-mile charge should produce revenue comparable to that of fuel taxes, were fuel tax revenue remaining at levels prior to the advent of electric and hybrid vehicles.
Washington Transportation Commission Endorses RUC Transition
The Washington Transportation Commission submitted a report to Gov. Jay Inslee and the legislature last month proposing a road user charge (RUC) to replace declining fuel tax revenue in coming years. The report recommended that WSDOT continue its current pilot-project efforts, providing information for many decisions that will have to be made, including how to measure and report miles in a manner that both protects privacy and is reasonably cost-effective to collect.
Kansas to Begin Construction of Its First Express Toll Lanes
U.S. 69 near Overland Park will be the first Kansas highway to be equipped with express toll lanes. The $572 million project will add two express lanes to the median of this congested suburban highway. The project, called 69Express, will begin construction this spring. Customers will be asked to use the KTAG electronic toll system already widely in use on the Kansas Turnpike, but the project will also allow license-plate tolling & billing, at a significantly higher cost.
Wyoming I-80 Toll Bill On Legislature’s Agenda
Wyoming State Sen. Cale Case introduced a bill to implement tolling on I-80, with the revenues used for needed improvements. SF 160 would create a state tolling program and a tolling commission. Cole introduced a similar bill in 2021, which passed the Senate but died in the lower house.
Nikola Announces Hydrogen Progress
Although also offering battery-electric versions of its trucks, Nikola is adding infrastructure and services to support its Tre hydrogen fuel cell trucks. Last month it unveiled its first 10,000 psi mobile fueler that will bring compressed hydrogen to locations where truckers can refill their trucks’ fuel cells. The mobile refuelers will supplement Nikola’s permanent hydrogen fueling stations, currently under development. On Jan. 31, Nikola announced its new brand, Hyla, encompassing all elements of its hydrogen fueling system. The company aims to have 60 hydrogen stations in operation by 2026, with some of the earliest ones planned for Colton, Long Beach, and Ontario, CA.
Fitch Reports Toll Road Traffic Fully Recovered
In a new report released in mid-January, Fitch Ratings found that average toll road traffic for third-quarter 2022 had reached 99% of third-quarter 2019 levels. The data are available from the company’s Traffic Monitor.
Syracuse I-81 Removal Still in Litigation
Although New York state awarded a $296 million construction contract related to the planned removal of elevated I-81 from Syracuse, NY, no work can be done because of an injunction imposed in December due to one of two lawsuits filed against the project. The other suit was filed in federal court, which is also likely to prevent deconstruction as long as it is being litigated. The state court suit argues that the environmental study ignored adverse traffic impacts on neighborhoods from current I-81 traffic that could not be handled by the replacement boulevard.
Four-Acre Park Opens Above Rebuilt I-70 in Denver
The $1.2 billion project that removed an aging elevated section of I-70 east of downtown Denver came with a bonus for the lower-income community that had been cut in two by the construction of the elevated eyesore 57 years ago. Thanks to the P3 project, the viaduct is gone, and that portion of I-70 has been rebuilt below grade. Above the new I-70, at ground level, is a four-acre park. In mid-December, Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado DOT celebrated the new park’s grand opening. Since I-70 is a major auto and truck route, there was no question of “replacing the viaduct with a boulevard.” Instead, traffic throughput has been improved, in part by the addition of an express toll lane each way, and the communities have been reunited.
Travel Centers Adding EV Chargers, Emulating Turnpikes
Travel Centers of America, which announced 30 new truck stop franchises last month, has also announced a joint venture with Electrify America to add 1,000 electric vehicle fast chargers to selected truck stop locations. Meanwhile, the Ohio Turnpike announced plans to add to its existing EV chargers at its service plazas, as other toll roads have also been doing. Toll roads that are also Interstate highways are exempt from the 1960 federal ban on commercial services at “rest areas,” so they can provide easier access to EV chargers, gas stations, and numerous food and other retail operations.
Recommended Reading on the “15-Minute City” Idea
Reason journalist Christian Britschgi does an excellent job of reviewing an idea beloved by some urban planners, the “15-Minute City.” Britschgi’s critique draws on an analysis of the concept by urban transportation expert Alain Bertaud of New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management.
People travel to improve their place-time personal utility (i.e., their quality of life). Unfortunately, conventional transit hasn’t found a way to provide a low-enough cost of service to substantially induce much demand for its services, whereas widening roads seems to be very effective at delivering additional improved quality of life since, as we are told, they fill up as soon as they are built.”
—Alain Kornhauser, Princeton University, email to transportation colleagues, Jan. 22, 2023 (used by permission)
“[Street] grids also allow for what Laurence Aurbach, a historian of urban planning, says is the most consistent rule of city design throughout history: functional traffic separation. That is, separation of pedestrians from vehicles; fast vehicles from slow ones; and through traffic from local traffic. Grids have networks of wide main roads and narrow side streets, with pavements and crossings for pedestrians. Faster traffic can be constrained to wider through-streets, where it has to stop less often, leaving narrower residential streets quieter and less polluted.”
—“Going Off Grid: The Sad Decline of the Oldest Form of City Planning,” The Economist, Dec. 24, 2022
“Apple has scaled back ambitious self-driving plans for its future electric vehicle and postponed the car’s target launch date by about a year to 2026, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The car project, called Titan inside the company, has been in limbo for the past several months as Apple executives grappled with the reality that its vision for a fully autonomous vehicle—without a steering wheel or pedals—isn’t feasible with current technology. In a significant shift for the project, the company is now planning a less-ambitious design that will include a steering wheel and pedals and only support full autonomous capabilities on highways, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.”
—Automotive News Daily Europe, Dec. 7, 2022 (thanks to Michael L. Sena of The Dispatcher)