[beta] TRN Weekly Review: Week of April 25-May 1, 2021

CTRMA Kicked Off Construction Of The 183A Toll Extension

Community Impact Newspaper reported, Phase III construction is underway on the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s 183A Toll following Wednesday’s virtual groundbreaking ceremony. The $277 million project will extend the toll road by 6.6 miles from Leander to Liberty Hill. There will be two tolled lanes in each direction and an adjacent shared use path. CTRMA expects to complete the congestion-reduction project in 2025.

Maryland Launched A New, Improved Customer Service System

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) launched DriveEzMD, “the new home for all things tolling in Maryland,” on Thursday. DriveEzMD services – a  new website, a web chat feature, customer call center enhancements, new online toll payment choices and text notifications — were designed to make it easy for customers to travel the state’s toll highways and bridges. Following a brief transition from its former customer service system, MDTA last week reopened its EZPass Customer Service Centers and restored normal telephone and online operations.

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.

MassDOT Said It Will Launch A Huge Sumner Tunnel Project In 2023

The Salem News reported, “At nearly a century old, the Sumner Tunnel is set for a major facelift. . . . The renovation, which is scheduled to begin in 2023, will involve a complete rebuilding of the mile-long tunnel’s infrastructure and roadway, as well as technology upgrades to modernize the dilapidated gateway to downtown Boston. Transportation officials say the project will rival the Big Dig in size and scope.” (Link inserted by TRN)

PennDOT Unveiled An Alternative Funding Study Report

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Thursday’s third meeting of the Transportation Revenue Options Commission created by Governor Tom Wolf to study ways to cover a shortfall of more than $8 billion a year in PennDOT highway funding. The group received a presentation on PennDOT’s federally mandated Planning and Environmental Linkages report, which “puts in writing the reasoning PennDOT officials have been using since last fall to support bridge tolls and other funding options, such as tolls for express lanes and fees for traveling during rush hours.” PennDOT announced it is accepting public comment on the report through June 1.

Louisiana Will Seek More Federal Funding For An I-10 Bridge Project

KPLC reported that Louisiana’s transportation department is applying for a $100 million federal INFRA grant to help pay for its $1 billion I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge replacement project. LDOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said a grant award “will be used toward the public-private partnership to deliver the Lake Charles bridge that we are procuring,” and added that the state’s aim is to “[r]educe the cost that we are going to rely on the public provider and the public to finance and repay with tolls.” Last week, $30 million of federal COVID-19 relief aid was set aside for the project.

Maryland Lawmakers Pushed For An Interstate Toll Enforcement Agreement

WTOP reported, “Dozens of state lawmakers signed their names to a letter asking a group of Maryland’s top leaders, including the governor, to force the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) to enter into a toll [enforcement] reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania. The letter . . . is asking the panel to prevent MDTA from seeking out a private collection company to recoup unpaid out-of-state tolls unless the agency negotiates the agreement. Calling it a ‘common-sense approach,’ the legislators point out that Maryland is owed hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid tolls from out-of-state residents.” Pennsylvanians alone owe $20 million.

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Apple’s NC Triangle Campus Plan Prompted A Call For Transportation Investment

WRAL reported, the executive director of a transportation advocacy organization in the North Carolina Triangle said the region must “continue to make some critical investments in transportation and mobility” following this week’s announcement that Apple plans to build a new campus and engineering hub there. “Several approaches,” including highway upgrades and bus rapid transit lane construction, “will be needed to ease the potential traffic congestion,” said Joe Milazzo of the chamber-sponsored Regional Transportation Alliance. Milazzo also encouraged businesses to continue work-hour and workplace flexibility policies initiated in response to COVID-19.

NJ Turnpike Approved Billions For NJ Transit Over Objections About A Lack Of Transparency

NJ.com reported, “A landmark agreement was unanimously approved Tuesday to send $3.57 billion over the next seven years from the NJ Turnpike Authority to NJ Transit to help cover its operating costs. Both supporters and opponents criticized the authority for not making details of the memo of understanding agreement public before the meeting so they could make informed comments. A spokesman for the National Motorists Association told authority commissioners, “From the public’s perspective, we are hearing about this from news accounts concerning NJ Transit last month and from a state budget hearing last week.”

HCTRA Revenue Was Reallocated To Neighborhood Flood Control Projects

Houston Chronicle reported, on Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners unanimously approved the transfer of $230 million in surplus HCTRA toll revenue to the county flood control district to help make up a shortfall in the funding of street drainage projects. They also voted to allow another $315 million in toll road revenue, road bond revenue or other funds to be used to complete some of the projects if state-administered federal funding does not materialize. The toll money was made available through an HCTRA restructuring and debt refinancing initiative that was narrowly approved in a party-line vote last year.

Newspaper Cited Gains In Momentum For California’s SR 37 Project

Marin Independent Journal editors noted last week that the efforts of State Senator Mike McGuire (D-2) and hopes for passage of a federal infrastructure bill have reinvigorated planning of a solution for the congestion and flooding problems that plague California’s State Route 37 in the North Bay. Both short- and long-term fixes are under review, and construction of a four-lane elevated highway, “similar to the Davis-to-Sacramento causeway, appears to be a leading solution.” Because of the cost involved, tolling is considered a financing option.

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The Florida House Passed An M-CORES Repeal Bill And Sent It To The Governor

Tallahassee Democrat reported, the Florida House voted unanimously Tuesday to pass SB 100 and repeal the M-CORES Program law. The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis (R), originally a supporter of the M-CORES toll road construction initiative. If he signs the bill, it will take effect on July 1 and reallocate hundreds of millions of dollars in FDOT funding. It will also cause the department to study major revisions of two of the M-CORES highway projects.

News Service of Florida (via Citrus County Chronicle) reported that Governor DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a question about whether the governor will sign the bill.

Fitch: US Toll Road Traffic Remained “Robust” Despite Some Drops Linked To COVID

Fitch Ratings’ latest update of its US Airports and Toll Roads Traffic Monitor revealed that toll road traffic overall is “robust” but still below pre-pandemic levels. Fitch noted that 4Q 2020 data shows for the first time since the pandemic’s onset that “most Fitch-rated toll roads did not significantly outperform its projections. . . . ‘The recent new wave of coronavirus infections in certain parts of the country and the shut-downs that followed led to traffic slowdowns on some toll roads,’” according to Fitch director Henry Flynn. However, Fitch concluded the drop-off “may be short lived with toll road traffic recovery set to accelerate this spring thanks to increasing vaccination rates, warming weather and monetary and fiscal stimulus poised to boost economic output.”

Industry People Made News

WSP USA announced that Richard Chavez and Derek Messier have joined its leadership team for Southern California and Nevada. Chavez, an engineer, “will serve as the advisory and planning business line leader and Messier as the operations leader for the district,” according to a news release. Chavez spent 22 years with SANDAG, “where he worked on a variety of transportation infrastructure improvement projects, programs and planning efforts.” Messier most recently served as the chief operating officer for the Illinois State Highway Toll Authority.

HDR announced that Jason McGlashan, PE, has been promoted to the position of transportation program delivery services director.

Finley Engineering Group announced that Marsha Jungels has joined the firm as business development manager. Her initial responsibilities include “enhancing sales tools and processes, building marketing campaigns, and developing executive visualizations and dashboards.”

HNTB named Michelle Dippel president of the firm’s Mid-Atlantic Division. She previously served as office leader for HNTB’s South and Central Texas region in Austin. Austin Business Journal reported that Dan Kellerman, an HNTB vice president and long-time employee, will serve as interim head of the Austin office while the firm searches for a permanent replacement for Dippel.

Dippel replaces Diana Mendes, who was promoted last month to corporate president of infrastructure and mobility equity, a new HNTB position with responsibility for “shaping transportation and mobility equity policy through collaboration with federal, state and local agency leaders.”

ITS America Manifesto Describes Technology’s Potential To Transform US Transportation

Traffic Technology Today reported on ITS America’s publication of a “key policy document outlining how technology can transform the US transportation system. The publication entitled A Better Future Transformed By Intelligent Mobility – ITS America’s Blueprint for a Saver, Greener, Smarter Transportation System breaks the topic down into six main technology areas: Smart Infrastructure; V2X and Connected Transportation; Automated Vehicles; Mobility on Demand; Emerging Technology; and Sustainability and Resiliency.”

news release announcing the publication stated ITS America’s position that “developing and deploying transportation technologies provides the opportunity to alleviate many of the negative impacts of our transportation system while providing more equitable and accessible mobility without leaving behind the transportation workers who allow our transportation system to function.”

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