OH-NY truck tollway link "doesn't pencil out" - FHWA report - but...

August 14, 2011

A Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) study finds tolling of longer combination vehicles (LCVs) on a key link between the Chicago and Boston areas won't finance the project. The study finds that tolls on LCVs (mostly for long double trailer trucks) on a newly built truckway between the Ohio Turnpike near Cleveland and the western end of the New York State Thruway would not come close to being financially viable. And its estimate of total benefits (including external) also don't match the costs.

Although it's not made very clear in the text, this negative conclusion is based on projected tolls on the long combination vehicles alone - the focus of the study - and free rides for regular tractor-trailers. The study report is called "Longer Combination Vehicles on Exclusive Truck Lanes: Interstate 90 Corridor Case Study" and is dated September 2009 but was only released this month (August 2011.)

The study looks in detail at bridging the gap between the Indiana Toll Road and Ohio Turnpike of the mid-west - which have always run the long (2 x 48ft) doubles as well as triple short (3 x 28ft) trailers - and the great eastern tollways - the New York State Thruway and Massachusetts Turnpike which also run the long double trailer combinations (but not triple shorts.)

The Ohio Turnpike - New York State Thruway "Truck Tollway Link" (TTL) we'll call it - would consist of a separate roadway  of 2x2 lanes 128 miles, 206km long. It would head off from the Ohio Turnpike at MP180 south of Cleveland where I-271 crosses the Turnpike, but without an interchange (the connecting interchange is several miles east at OH8. The Truck Tollway Link use a new trucks-only interchange and would follow OH/I-271 a belt route around the eastern fringe of the Cleveland metro area.

That's an easier route to add the truck lanes than staying on OH/I-90 through the middle of Cleveland.

The Truck Tollway Link (TTL) would follow I-271 up to I-90 east of Cleveland, and then run along I-90 to the Pennsylvania border and through the narrow Lake Erie panhandle of Pennsylvania to the New York State line and the NYS Thruway (see maps.)

There would be five new staging areas, mostly at intersecting or joining interstates to allow the long doubles and triples to be assembled and dissembled for travel on local roads.

Very little new right of way would be needed, but the estimated construction costs are still considerable. The study assumes some stretches could be accommodated in the existing grassy median but that in other stretches existing general purpose lanes would have to be reconstructed outward to make space for the TTL.

The TTL would be built to full interstate design standards for a modern 2x2 laner with 12ft, 3.65m travel lanes and 10ft, 3.3m shoulders plus concrete barriers at the sides plus one dividing the two directions of traffic.

Project cost is put at $5.68 billion or just over $44m/mile and $11m/lane-mile.

They estimate, based on 30 years at 5% interest that debt service would average $366m/year and put maintenance and operations at $46m/year based on 0.5% of capital cost. That makes total annual  average costs of $412m.


Much effort is expended in estimating the proportion of single trailer truckloads (regular tractor trailer combinations) that will consolidate into LCV loads. The LCVs are assumed to have a maximum gross weight 127,000pds, 57.6t on their nine axles compared to the maximum 80,000pds, 36.3t weight of the standard 5-axle US tractor trailer.

Baseline truck traffic in the corridor is put at 7.1k/day in 2010 and 16.3k in 2040.

Experience in LCV states (MT, NC, SD, UT) is used in the study to suggest 10% is the "high scenario" for the share of LCVs in the overall truck traffic stream.

2% is chosen as the "low scenario" based on the LCV proportion on the western portion of the New York State Thruway.

The high scenario suggests 443 LCVs/day in the baseline year of 2010 and 963 in 2040, while the low scenario of 2% suggests 89 LCVs/day 2010 and 193 in 2040.

Not permitted on the eastern tollroads (Mass Pike, NYS Thruway) triple short combinations have less potential than long doubles 132 vs 311 in 2010, 288 vs 675 in 2040.

Diversion from rail is found likely to be small.  Rail is heavily involved in heavy cargo like coal and grains.

Three toll levels are modeled for the LCVs using the TTL: 30c, 60c and $1.00/mile.  Based on per-mile operating costs for LCVs $1.13 less than regular single trailer rigs the lower toll rates generate little buy-in at the high toll rate but considerable conversion and toll-paying at the lower rates.

60c/mile gets the highest toll revenue, 30c less, and $1.00/mile also less.

Toll estimates from new LCVs are all over the shop, but all are rather trivial given the low number of toll-paying trucks.

Average annual toll revenue over the 30 year period ranges between a low of $4.5m and a high of $30.5m. (The FHWA study expresses these revenues as "cumulative revenues" over 30 years.)

Against estimated total costs of $413m/year these LCV toll revenues are trivial, ranging between about 1% and 7.4%.

However the FHWA study suggests toll revenues could average $327m/year from regular tractor-trailers if they were tolled at 50c/mile in the Truck Tollway Link, making a high average annual toll revenue estimate of $357m single trailer trucks and LCVs combined. If costs are $413m then 86% are covered by tolls.

ANALYSIS: This is acknowledged to be just a "sketch level" study, not something you'd commit serious money with. The starting truck volumes look quite modest at 7k trucks a day, about a third of the trucks carried on the Ohio Turnpike and a half of those on the Indiana Toll Road. But the growth looks very optimistic - more than doubling in 30 years, an average annual growth of 3.04%.

Is FHWA betting on Rick Perry in 2012? And on a Perry president being capable of bring Texan sized economic growth to an area with flat business - and flat trucking activity - for the best part of a decade now?

Maybe, maybe not.

And 2x2 lanes seems a lot of capacity for just 7,000 or so trucks a day. That's about 20k to 25k car-equivalents, about half what is generally considered warranted for 4-lanes divided.

Bob Poole the leading exponent of truck toll lanes says that the private sector can usually come up with major savings compared to government standards. He cites as one example the way Transurban and Fluor are managing to build four extra toll lanes in the northern Virginia Capital Beltway at far less expense than Virginia DOT's original plans. Similarly on the LBJ Freeway Cintra managed by designing out a tunnel to make a viable project out of a too-expensive TxDOT toll lanes project.

On the cost side the FHWA study looks too high:

1. All-electronic tolling at six points or 24 lanes should, based on on recent contract prices, only cost in the range $40m to $60m not $140m FHWA quotes.

2. FHWA's study exaggerates the difficulty of building a truck tollway in two major segments:

- PA/OH state line to I-271, 55 miles is wrongly characterized as "Major Widening at High Capital Cost (Rural)" and quoted as $1,172m when in fact there is 12 miles (to Painesville) with an empty median of 150ft to 200ft designed to comfortably accommodate 2x2 lanes or 2x3 lanes extra. The remaining 43 miles mostly has median of 80ft to 100ft, tighter, but adequate for the extra 2x2 lanes. $900m?

- on I-271 the 13 miles from I-90 to US422/I-480 is called "Major Widening at High Cost (Small Urbanized)" and quoted as $1,072. This western belt route is already a generous 4,2,2,4 lanes in the south and then 3,2,2,3 lanes, divided between "Local" lanes with interchange connections on the outside and inner Express or Through traffic lanes. The inner 2x2 lanes are a readymade Truck Tollway. Already 12 and 10 lanes it is extravagance to be widening to 16 and 14 lanes. Perhaps these inner lanes could be beefed up for trucks with a pavement overlay, and perhaps some 4th laning in the 3 lanes sections of roadway would be needed along with taking the long-distance trucks out of local traffic to be acceptable to Cleveland motorists. Cost $400m?

- going south on I-271 where it is cosigned I-480 between US422 and the I-480E split, 5.4 miles should be relatively low cost too since the median is a minimum 120ft. $448m seems a high estimate of a simple 2x2 lanes, when no reconstruction of existing roadways is needed. $320m?

More savings

What we call a Trimmed Truck Tollway Link saves on reconstruction cost by initially building only what the median will accommodate. That means that in the eastern segment and the far western segments where the median is only 50ft to 70ft wide we build only 3-lanes to provide occasional passing lanes each direction and climbing lanes on upward slopes. That should reduce the cost of the eastern 46-mile segment in the Pennsylvania panhandle by about a third to say $769m from $1153m.  Save $385m?

Similarly in the western segment instead of spending $630m ti prematurely rebuild existing roadways to make central space for 2+2 lanes, build 3-lanes for now, save a third, $210m.

36% is trimmed from the project bringing the annual financing cost down to $235m/year from $366m. Maintenance and operations are slightly less on less roadway so overall annual costs are $276m vs $412m, a third lower.

At the lower cost the toll projection with all trucks tolled of $357m/year suggests the project could be viable.

Gov John Kasich of Ohio should approach his Pennsylvania counterpart, Gov Tom Corbett about jointly seeking proposals from investors to build the Truck Tollway Link under a longterm concession.

copy of the FHWA study:




TOLLROADSnews 2011-08-14

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