[beta] TRN Weekly Review: Week of October 13-19, 2019

OR and WA Resumed Talks about I-5 Columbia River Bridge Replacement and Possible Tolls

The Columbian reported in-depth on the prospects of a renewed effort by Oregon and Washington State to replace the I-5 Columbia River Bridge. Although officials in both states “are striking a positive tone and avoiding past battles,” the newspaper suggested that “[l]urking beneath the veneer of tranquility are the same issues that polarized the region a decade ago,” including opposition to tolling. According to the article, the financing approach to the new project — one-third federal funds, one-third funding by the two states and one-third toll revenue — will be the same as that proposed for the Columbia River Crossing project abandoned in 2014.

FDOT Announced Next Public Meetings of Its M-CORES Task Forces

The News Service of Florida (via WOFL) reported, the M-CORES task forces studying proposals to build or extend Florida toll roads will hold additional public meetings this month. The Northern Turnpike Connector Task Force is scheduled to meet on October 22 in Lecanto, Citrus County. The Suncoast Connector Task Force plans to meet the next day at the same location. The meeting of the Southwest-Central Florida Connector Task Force is scheduled for October 30 in Polk County.

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.

Maryland’s Governor Directed MDTA to Expedite the Bay Bridge’s Conversion to Cashless Tolling

The Washington Post reported, “Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, ‘furious’ about the ‘sometimes unbearable’ backups on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge caused by repair work,” yesterday directed the Maryland Transportation Authority to remove Chesapeake Bay Bridge tollbooths and fully implement all-electronic tolling “as soon as possible.” While acknowledging, “There is no real positive solution to make these problems and traffic backups disappear,” Hogan said MDTA would take additional steps — for example, “exploring ways to accelerate work, such as by using faster-drying concrete”– to expedite completion of the bridge’s extensive redecking project.

Florida’s Turnpike Kicked Off Big Miami-Dade Widening Projects

Miami Herald reported, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise began a widening project along Florida’s Turnpike Extension/SR 821 on Monday. The article took an in-depth look at the coming improvements . . . and the pain motorists will have to endure during the months of construction.

NCDOT and Cintra Are Negotiating More Than an I-77 Express Deadline

Spectrum News Charlotte asked North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) whether NCDOT will grant Cintra’s request for a further extension of its deadline to complete the I-77 express lanes or instead impose contractual penalties for failure to meet the current deadline. Cooper responded that the parties’ talks have expanded to include other topics: a state proposal to open non-tolled, peak period travel lanes on I-77 and a possible transfer of the completed express lanes to NCDOT. “All of those efforts are in the works, and are a part of negotiations with Cintra right now. So, [the extension] is just another issue to add to the mix, but they’re weighing those options right now,” Cooper said.

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Revision May Have Undermined the Maryland Governor’s Express Lane Plan

The Washington Post looked into planning complications and congestion risks arising from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s decision to limit the initial objectives of his P3 plan to reduce suburban DC traffic congestion. Hogan reframed his original proposal for adding up to four toll lanes to both I-270 and the Capital Beltway to overcome political opposition. Now, according to The Post, even some people who share Hogan’s vision of congestion relief are worried that “[w]idening I-270 without first widening the Beltway and expanding the [American Legion] bridge will dump more vehicles into the Beltway’s same smaller funnel, adding to the notorious backups on both highways.”

NJ Governor Took Issue with Eliminating PANYNJ Toll Discount for Carpools

CBS News New York reported, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is phasing out a discount toll rate for carpools because its transition to all-electronic tolling will eliminate toll collectors who can verify the number of occupants in a vehicle. Although New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) consulted with the authority on its new toll plan, he now disagrees with the elimination of the discount. “Count me on the side of carpool, so the answer is that’s something we gotta look at,” Murphy told CBS. According to the article, it is unclear whether Murphy will formally ask the authority to restore the discount.

GDOT Said Procurement Delays Won’t Stop Progress of Express Lanes Projects

Atlanta Business Chronicle reported, Georgia DOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle assured the State Transportation Board last week that progress is continuing on the express lane projects the department announced it would repackage and delay. “One thing we’ve learned is metro Atlanta really likes express lanes. They want them, and they want them fast. We’re doing the best we can,” Pirkle reportedly told board members. The article noted that GDOT “was hit with a public outcry” over its decision to postpone I-285 toll lane work.

Washington State Obtained Data Showing HOT Lane Tolling Is Equitable

KOMO reported, Washington State’s transportation commission received a report on I-405 express lane pricing equity last week. It concludes, in part, that “high income households use the toll lanes more often, but all people of all income levels use them,” and “lower-income households benefit more per trip because they tend to use [toll lanes] more often during peak periods.” KOMO asked the lead researcher, Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, “Are the HOT lanes equitable?” Hallenbeck replied, “Our quick answer is, yes, they really seem to be.” (The same article noted that the transportation commission is preparing to study “ways to subsidize toll rides for low-income drivers who need to take toll roads but can’t afford the cost.”)

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MA Governor Baker Is Still Opposed to “Congestion Pricing” but Remains Open to “Managed Lanes”

Boston.com reported, although a Massachusetts legislative committee meeting last week revealed growing support for a Boston congestion pricing program, “the guy who would likely have to sign off on any such proposal, Gov. Charlie Baker, remains virtually unmoved on the subject.” During a radio interview Thursday in which he also questioned the success of London’s congestion pricing scheme, Baker reportedly “reiterated his belief that the idea unfairly hits those without flexible schedules, which he suggested tend to have lower incomes.” However, Baker also explained why he is receptive to the idea of creating managed (or “HOT”) lanes open to toll payers, carpools and transit vehicles, an option his administration is now studying.

Illinois Tollway Introduced Its Tentative 2020 Budget

The Illinois Tollway Authority introduced a balanced Tentative 2020 Budget on Thursday that includes $1.54 billion of revenue, $380 million for annual maintenance and operations and funds to support $1.46 billion in capital spending. The news release on the agency’s spending plan also announced a schedule of three public hearings in November to obtain public comment on the budget. Following revisions, tollway staff will submit a final budget for board approval on December 5.

RITBA Chief Buddy Croft Announced He Will Retire

The Newport Daily News reported, Earl J. “Buddy” Croft III told the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) board on Wednesday that he plans to retire around the end of January. Croft will have held the position for over 13 years. “During this period,” the article notes, “he [led] the organization through substantial changes, which included implementation of electronic tolling, E-ZPass and Open Road Tolling (ORT). He was a driving force behind the installation of a median barrier on the Newport Bridge,” and he recently presided over that bridge’s fiftieth anniversary commemoration. Croft’s career in public service received praise from Governor Gina Raimondo and RITBA board chair Stephen Waluk. RITBA will reportedly launch an immediate search for a new executive director.

Fitch Issued Its Latest Peer Review of Rated Toll Entities

Fitch Ratings, in a news release announcing the release of its latest Peer Review of U.S. Toll Roads, said, “Roadblocks will remain minimal for U.S. toll road performance in the coming months” and noted that it has taken “four positive rating actions, two negative rating actions, and revised three Outlooks to Positive since its last Peer Review.” Fitch spotlighted two recent rating upgrades — for Texas’ Grand Parkway System and E-470 Public Highway Authority bonds. It also noted that two of its rated entities — MDX and Dulles Greenway — continue to experience problems that affect performance.

India Continued Preparations for “Unified Electronic Tolling”

United News of India reported, at a conference in New Delhi last week, national and state highway officials signed memorandums of understanding that advanced the implementation of a single FASTag toll collection system across India. Another MOU signing paved the way for the integration of FASTag with the e-Way bill system of the country’s goods and services tax network.

The Indian Express featured a primer on the country’s new “One Nation One FASTag” program scheduled for implementation on December 1.

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