[beta] TRN Weekly Review: Week of August 25-31, 2019

Texas Transportation Commission Kept Grand Parkway Projects in 2020 UTP

Houston Chronicle reported, “Southern segments of the [Houston] Grand Parkway are good to go again, after state transportation officials in Austin backed off plans to shelve the projects and remove them from Texas’ 10-year transportation plan” because they involve tolling. The article added, “Local officials cheered the decision and urged state officials not only to renew the project’s approval — for the state to proceed the project must be listed in the UTP — but expedite it.”

Alabama Governor Pronounced Mobile’s Bridge and Bayway Project “Dead”

AL.com reported, after meeting for more than four hours, members of the Eastern Shore (Baldwin County) Metropolitan Planning Organization voted almost unanimously to remove the $2.1 billion I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project from its TIP plan. According to the article, the MPO representatives “heard from 33 people who all blasted the plan to assess a toll to pay for” the replacement project. It added that a majority of the speakers said they would rather deal with the “consequences” of having no project than expose motorists to paying tolls.

These are just a few of the toll industry developments TRN covered last week. If you’re not a subscriber to Daily News Briefs, click here for a free, 14-day trial. Read the news as it happens every weekday morning.

WSDOT Announced November 9 Start Date for SR 99 Tunnel Tolling

The Washington State Department of Transportation announced that drivers using the SR 99 tunnel in Seattle will begin paying tolls on Saturday, November 9, 2019. “While the SR 99 tunnel has been a great success, we expect traffic patterns in Seattle will shift when tolling starts,” said Patty Rubstello, WSDOT assistant secretary of Urban Mobility and Access, in a news release. “We are giving as much advanced notice as possible to allow drivers plenty of time to get ready, which includes opening up a Good To Go! account.”

PANYNJ Said Goethels Bridge Will Convert to Cashless Tolling on September 4

SILive.com reported, “By this time next week, all four bridges connecting Staten Island to the outside world will be tollbooth-free. The cashless tolling system for the Goethals Bridge is scheduled to be activated on Wednesday, Sept. 4, providing a faster, more eco-friendly travel experience for Staten Island and New Jersey drivers.” According to PANYNJ projections, the implementation of cashless tolling at the Goethals and Outerbridge Crossing bridges will save drivers approximately 200,000 hours a year, reduce crashes by 7 to 10 percent and reduce emissions by 11,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

FDOT Launched M-CORES Task Forces at Tampa Event

Tampa Bay Times reported, “Florida’s transportation secretary told hundreds of people gathered in Tampa on Tuesday that creating more than 300 new miles of toll roads in the state is ‘a monumental opportunity.’ Secretary Kevin Thibault[‘s] remarks kicked off the first meeting of the three task forces that will decide where the roads should go and how they should be built.” The article notes, “Tuesday’s meeting was mostly for introductions and overviews of the state’s open meeting laws. But during the afternoon, some task force members questioned the need for the roadways, and whether they would indeed guarantee growth in rural parts of the state.” The members also reportedly heard from dozens of people who chose to speak during a public comment period.

100+ Caissons and Geofoam Are Required to Repair Colorado’s US 36

The Westminster (Colorado) Window reported, “Work repairing the failing southeast bound lanes of U.S. 36 will continue into October.” Crews have been rebuilding a segment of the highway that carries the tolled express lanes operated by Plenary Roads Denver since a “sinkhole” formed in mid-July, forcing the rerouting of Denver-bound traffic into the northbound lanes. According to the article, “The latest plan calls for crews to sink more than 100 concrete caissons to bedrock to support the road. Rather than soil, geofoam fill blocks will be placed along a retaining wall instead of soil.” (Link inserted.)

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Maine and Pennsylvania Turnpikes Expect Continued Rise in Traffic over Labor Day Weekend

Seacoastonline.com reported, “Maine transportation officials are anticipating more than 1 million vehicles will travel the turnpike from Friday through Monday. The Maine Turnpike Authority expects traffic to be up compared to last year’s Labor Day weekend, despite 2018 being a ‘banner year’ for MTA traffic. Year-to-date through July, traffic is up 2.66% compared to the same period in 2018. Through July, the MTA has recorded more than 51 million transactions compared to 49.7 million recorded through July 2018.”

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reported, this year’s summer traffic has been 1.5 percent greater than last year’s, and it anticipates heavy Labor Day weekend volume. The commission expects 3.6 million vehicles to use its system over the holiday period stretching from today through Tuesday, September 3.

Maryland Governor Firmly Backed Chesapeake Bay Third-Span Alternative

The Baltimore Sun reported, “While state officials consider proposals to relieve traffic crossing the Chesapeake Bay, Gov. Larry Hogan said he has already made up his mind. ‘There is only one option I will ever accept: adding a third span to our existing Bay Bridge,’ Hogan said. ‘While the federal process requires multiple proposals, the data is indisputable — this option would maximize congestion relief & minimize environmental impact.’” The article also sampled initial reaction to Hogan’s statement and MDTA’s announcement this week of four preferred alternatives for the crossing project.

TTI’s 2019 Urban Mobility Report Tracked a Dramatic Increase in US Congestion

The Wall Street Journal reported that growing highway and city-street bottlenecks are the price of the booming U.S. economy, and “Strong consumer demand and near-full employment are clogging American roads, with congestion up 26% since 2009, a report from Texas A&M Transportation Institute finds.”

Toll Cheating Dropped with Change in California Temporary Plates

The Mercury News reported, the number of Bay Area bridge toll dodgers has dropped dramatically this year, “reversing a decade-long trend in which $1 million in losses a month have been typical.” According to the article, bridge authorities say the rate of loss fell to $250,000 in May, an improvement they attribute to a change in state law that requires motorists to get a temporary, numbered plate instead of an unidentifiable dealer plate when they purchase a car.

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MTA’s Search for Congestion Pricing Technology Evaluated

City & State New York talked with experts, including HNTB’s Kevin Hoeflich, about the congestion pricing technology options open to New York City’s MTA and the impact the authority’s selection will have on the pricing scheme it ultimately adopts. The article notes that public disclosures about MTA’s congestion pricing RFP “could suggest” the authority “is leaning toward a more traditional approach like license plate cameras,” but it “hasn’t limited its search. This spring, the agency also put out a request for alternative technologies that could support a congestion pricing program, and even allow for more flexible pricing schemes.”

Industry People on the Move

The Dallas Morning News reported that Eric Johnson, Dallas’ newly elected mayor and a lawyer with experience in public finance matters, has become a partner of the Locke Lord law firm.

Orlando Sentinel reported, “Woody Rodriguez, who has been the lead attorney for the Orange County school district since 2010, has resigned to take the top legal job at the Central Florida Expressway Authority. Rodriguez replaces Joe Passiatore, who retired as the expressway authority’s general counsel. . . .”

HNTB named Heidi Katz, PE, its Oklahoma practice leader. The firm also announced that Kimberly Slaughter, its transit/rail practice leader and senior vice president, was appointed to the Business Council of the African American Mayors Association. HNTB’s recent hires included Mathew Antonelli, PE; Bernd Hagenah, PhDJanet Ungerer, PhD., PE; and Chris Masters, PE, and Chad Humphrey, PE.

Texas Approved Funding for San Antonio Projects Once Destined to Be Tolled

San Antonio Express-News reported that Bexar County officials are happy that $1 billion in local projects were approved in the state’s 2020 Unified Transportation Program. “This is doubly special,” retiring county commissioner Kevin Wolff told the newspaper, because, “First, these are marquee projects that we’ve been working on for years to get funded, and second, this is a good solution to the problem of how to build projects without toll funding that were once tolled projects.” Wolff specifically referenced the long-delayed Loop 1604 and I-35 expansion projects.

New York State License Plate Plan May Be Modified

New York’s Daily News reported, while Governor Andrew Cuomo blamed lawmakers for requiring the state to charge motorists who will replace their current license plates with new ones designed to be compatible with electronic toll collection systems, the head of New York’s vehicle registration agency promised “to work with lawmakers to come up with a new process for assessing aging plates.” Mark Schroeder issued a statement saying there is time for his department and the legislature to revise the plate replacement plan and minimize its cost for vehicle owners.

Thai Government Said It’s Evaluating P3 Models for $1.3 Billion Tollway Extension

Bangkok Post reported that the Thai government will choose one of two public-private partnership models as the framework for a proposed 40 billion baht (US$1.3 billion) extension of the Don Muang Tollway. The article added, “[A] market sounding process will be held, where businesses and prospective investors will be invited to give their ideas about the project,” and bids could be solicited as early as 2021.

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