[beta] TRN Weekly Review: Week of March 28-April 3, 2021

TxDOT Opened Another Eight Miles Of SH 249 Tollway

Houston Chronicle reported that eight more miles of the Texas 249 tollway — also known as the “Aggie Expressway” — opened on March 26. “Tolling went into effect immediately along the new segment [designated 1B] from FM 1488 in Magnolia to FM 1774 in Todd Mission. The segment opening follows the August debut of the portion to the south from Pinehurst to Magnolia in Montgomery County, north of Tomball.” Another extension, from Todd Mission to Navasota, is underway but not due for completion until late 2023.

Construction Schedule For I-69 Toll Bridge Was Announced

WEHT reported on Thursday night’s virtual meeting to update the public on the status of the I-69 Ohio River Crossing (I-69 ORX) project. Spokesperson Mindy Peterson said the latest construction timeline calls for work on the new four-lane toll bridge to begin next year. The entire project (which includes rehabilitation of an existing bridge) will be completed in 2031. Peterson also discussed the project’s preferred alternative, some recent plan refinements and next steps in the environmental review process. The meeting kicked off a 15-day comment period that ends April 16.

These are 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.

A Key Official Signaled Support For Phase One Of Maryland’s Express Lanes Project

Maryland Matters reported, Maryland Comptroller (and 2022 gubernatorial candidate) Peter Franchot (D), “the likely swing vote on the state’s plan to widen two Montgomery County highways, signaled in a recent interview that he will support the first phase of the project when it comes for a vote [in the Board of Public Works] later this spring.” The first phase, which Franchot views as a “test,” includes rebuilding the American Legion Bridge and adding tolled express lanes to segments of I-495 and I-270. Maryland’s project predevelopment agreement with Transurban-led AM Partners requires Board of Public Works approval.

CTRMA Celebrated Two Major Construction Accomplishments

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board held a virtual ribbon-cutting event Wednesday to celebrate the recent opening of two facilities — 183 Toll and the 290/130 Flyovers. CTRMA’s $743 million US 183 South Project — the largest ever locally-led highway project in Central Texas — transformed a congested four-lane divided highway into “a modern expressway with three tolled and three non-tolled lanes in each direction. . . .” A TxDOT official called the flyovers project “a perfect example of the successful partnership between the Mobility Authority and TxDOT.”

KXAN filed a video report on the benefits to drivers of CTRMA’s work.

Washington Lawmakers Put I-5 Bridge Project Funds In Their Budget Proposals

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, on Wednesday, the Washington House Transportation Committee advanced a budget proposal that includes $1 billion — “the largest chunk of funding in a sweeping plan to invest billions in dozens of state projects over the next 16 years” — for the bistate, I-5 bridge replacement project. Although the state Senate approved a similar level of expenditure earlier this year, lawmakers still must determine the sources of revenue they will dedicate to the project. Oregon lawmakers reportedly welcomed the news as a sign of Washington State’s commitment to replacing the metro Portland toll bridge.

Oregon DOT Study Concluded Tolling Could Actually Reduce Diversion From I-205

Portland Tribune reported on an Oregon DOT I-205 Corridor User Analysis that shows interstate congestion “already increases cut-through traffic on local roads by as much as 20% to 30% a day — but tolls could prevent driver diversion by changing travel habits and offering a smoother commute for those who remain.” Conducted as part of ODOT’s I-205 toll project, the research tends to show that tolling the corridor would reduce rather than increase traffic diversion.

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Commentary: Tolled Express Lanes Ultimately Get More Cars Off Congested Roads

Palo Alto Online blogger Sherry Listgarten finds ample justification for the US 101 express lanes project in the Bay Area. The tolled lanes will “provide better value for transit and carpools, because the traffic keeps moving. They raise revenue that can be used to fund alternative transportation. They provide an express option for drivers that need it. And they reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from our highways.” She disputes the argument that pricing the lanes is “unfair,” noting, “You can think of tolled roads as fixing the way that we pay for driving, to better cover the costs and to do it more accurately (per-mile) and more flexibly (dynamic, targeted pricing). Discounts can be given to lower-income households to reduce the short-term increase in costs. . . . . Families with long commutes and/or inflexible work schedules, who are often lower income, may also see considerable benefit from these faster lanes if the prices are adjusted to be affordable.”

FHWA Removed A Roadblock To NYC Congestion Pricing Implementation

Silive.com reported, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on Tuesday advised New York transportation agencies including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to proceed with an environmental assessment of the proposed Manhattan congestion pricing program, which means the agency will not have to conduct a more complex environmental impact study to obtain the federal approval it needs to begin tolling traffic. MTA chief Patrick Foye issued a statement saying the agency “is ready to hit the ground running to implement the Central Business District Tolling Program.”

In an FHWA news release, acting administrator Stephanie Pollack said her agency “looks forward to assisting New York so we can arrive at a prompt and informed NEPA determination on this important and precedent-setting project.”

Support For The Concept Of User Fee Funding Grows In Ohio

The Blade reported, although privacy remains a concern, there is growing support in Ohio for studying road usage charging as an alternative to fuel taxes. “A $2 million federal grant to the Ohio Department of Transportation this month was part of an $18.7 million package of grants . . . for research to ‘explore innovative new ways to provide long-term support for the Highway Trust Fund.’” (Link inserted by TRN)

Several States, Including Maryland, Are Reevaluating Their P3 Laws

The Washington Post reported, “high-profile” problems with public-private partnerships to create  transportation facilities have led several states to “examine whether [their] P3 requirements sufficiently protect taxpayers.” The article focused on Maryland’s stalled Purple Line rail construction and concerns about the governor’s I-495 and I-270 express lanes planning, two projects that have lawmakers calling for reform of state P3 procedures. It also noted that “the change in White House administrations could make [P3 deals] arrangements less appealing for states, experts say. The Biden administration hasn’t taken a clear stance on P3s or the role they might play in its massive infrastructure plan reportedly worth trillions.”

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INRIX And OTA Data Revealed A Resurgence Of US Passenger Car Traffic

Associated Press reported, “The number of daily passenger vehicle trips has hit a major milestone, reaching pre-pandemic levels for the first time in a year, according to data provided to The Associated Press by the transportation analytics firm Inrix, with Americans driving more often and farther than at any time since pandemic lockdowns were invoked.” The article looks at data from a variety of regions across the US and notes that the largest travel increases have occurred in rural, suburban and smaller metropolitan areas.

Tulsa Public Radio reported, “If statewide toll collections are any indication, Oklahoma is emerging from the pandemic.”

S&P Joined Moody’s In Upgrading Its Outlook On Toll Roads

The Bond Buyer’s weekly survey of municipal bond market activity (subscription required) noted that S&P Global followed Moody’s in revising its outlook to stable from negative on toll roads, as well as states, local governments, school districts, charter schools, airports and mass transit. S&P also revised its outlook on Metropolitan Transportation Authority revenue from to stable from negative.

Industry People Made News

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board gained a new member this week when Heather Gaddes, a business executive and chamber leader, was sworn in as Williamson County’s representative. She replaces former Williamson County-appointed board member Mark Ayotte, who served two terms.

Mississippi DOT announced that Jeffrey C. Altman, PE, assumed the role of acting executive director on April 1. The state transportation commission named Altman to replace Melinda McGrath, who retired after 36 years of state service. The announcement added, “The commission will begin a nationwide search for a permanent executive director with the goal of having an appointment by April 2022.”

tapNpay, Inc., the Austin-based developer of mobile toll payment technology, announced that Travis Fustes joined the firm to head up its sales efforts. According to a news release, “Fustes has more than 19 years of tolling experience, most recently as the Chief Operating Officer at Cintra Toll Services for the last 10 years.”

The Philippine News Agency reported that the nation’s Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) has a new executive director, Alvin Carullo, President Rodrigo Duterte’s choice to replace Abraham Sales. Carullo promised to make internal improvements to the agency and expedite toll road projects and the review of applications for toll rate increases.

Jacksonville Business Journal interviewed Florida’s Turnpike CEO Nicola Liquori about highway transportation innovation and its manifestations in Florida, particularly around the expanding SunTrax test facility. Among other things, Liquori advocated for using information and communication technology to improve both safety and mobility.

Work Began On A Threshold To The WestConnex Project

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the major “surgery” needed to fix the most congested point in Australia’s road network. Work started last weekend on a three-year project to upgrade Sydney’s Warringah Freeway. It’s the overture to the multibillion dollar WestConnex road and tunnel project in Transurban’s hands.

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