[beta] TRN Weekly Review: Week of December 18-24, 2022

NJ Turnpike Agreed To Pay Billions To Finance Gateway Tunnel Project

NJ.com reported, on Tuesday, New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) commissioners unanimously approved an agreement to use toll revenue to pay the interest on bonds the state will issue to fund its share of the $16 billion Hudson Tunnel Project, a component of the Gateway Program. The payments will be made quarterly to the state treasurer in an annual amount not to exceed $124 million, commencing when the tunnel is completed — 2033 is the projected date — and continuing until the bond obligations are satisfied or another entity assumes responsibility for payment. Another part of the agreement requires NJTA “to contribute an additional $1.66 million monthly starting next year for the Gateway Development Commission budget.” NJTA chair and state transportation commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the Gateway Program will restore  facilities that are critical to the operation of New Jersey’s entire transportation system. She added, “Once again, the Turnpike Authority steps up and that is something it has had the economic power to do forever. As commissioner, I am very grateful to the Turnpike for helping us.” A representative of the National Motorists Association was critical of the agreement’s potential to affect toll rates. NJ.com first reported on agreement negotiations in January. At that time, the estimated cost of the tunnel project was $11.6 billion, and $81 million was the extent of the annual payments requested from NJTA.

FDOT Data Showed I-4 Express Lanes Are Speeding Travel For All Motorists

WESH reported, the I-4 express lanes Florida DOT opened last February in Orlando are improving travel for all the interstate’s motorists, according to department engineer Jeremy Dilmore. “We’re seeing about a 25 percent reduction in travel times for the people in the general use lanes, so we’re seeing it improving the trips for everyone.” Volume is also steadily increasing. “We’re seeing about 28,000 vehicles per day are using the express lanes, and we’re seeing a growth of about 50 vehicles per week of new users,” Dilmore says. The fixed, distance-based toll rates FDOT adopted at the facility’s opening remain in effect, but a transition to dynamic pricing will occur sometime in the first half of 2023, according to Dilmore.

New South Wales Accepted Transurban’s Proposal For A Major Widening Project

The Sydney Morning Herald reported, the New South Wales government has accepted a Transurban-led consortium’s unsolicited proposal to widen 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) of Sydney’s M7 motorway and build a new M7-M12 interchange. “In exchange for the [1.5 billion AUD, or approximately 998.5 million USD] project, the government will extend the tolling arrangements for the M7 by about three years to 2051, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.” The government said the project will provide a valuable connection to the toll-free M12, which is now under government construction in a fast-growing section of western Sydney. Transurban said its project, which is expected to take three years, will begin next year. The company will fund construction through the extension of the tolling concession and its receipt of additional revenue from a projected increase in traffic. The state government will contribute to the cost of the M7-M12 interchange.

These are some 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.

Virginia DOT Released An RFQ To Advance Its I-64 Widening Project

Daily Press (via Richmond Times-Dispatch) reported, Virginia DOT is moving forward with the first segment of a $750 million I-64 widening project between Williamsburg and Richmond. The department announced that it issued a Request for Qualifications for the first three segments of the “64 Gap” project on December 16. It expects to release a Request for Proposals for the initial segment in the spring and award a design-build contract in the fall. The state’s US senators recently announced that they secured $25,000,000 in federal funding for the project.

VDOT says closing “the gap” — that is, adding lanes to the last 29-miles of four lane divided highway between the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions — will alleviate “notorious” congestion and create economic development opportunities.

TxDOT And Local Officials Reached An Agreement On Huge I-45 Widening Project

Houston Public Media reported, “After months of legal wrangling and community push-back, an ambitious plan to expand Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston is closer to reality. The City of Houston and Harris County on [December 15] signed memorandums of understanding with the Texas Department of Transportation that could end delays that have included a lawsuit filed by Harris County and a federal civil rights investigation.” (Link inserted by TRN)

Houston Chronicle reported, the agreement, which includes a number of TxDOT design concessions, “outlines plans” for adding two non-tolled managed lanes in each direction to the interstate between downtown Houston and the Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8), a project estimated to cost $10 billion. “The agreement announced [yesterday] does not remove the pause the Federal Highway Administration placed on the project in March 2021. But with blessing of local, state and federal elected officials, it is likely TxDOT and the FHWA could come to a separate agreement and work could proceed, people involved in the deal said.”

Kapsch’s AET Conversion Of Lincoln Tunnel Completed PANYNJ Toll Systems Project

Kapsch TrafficCom announced that the recent launch of the Lincoln Tunnel’s cashless collection system marked the company’s completion of a six-year-long project to replace the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s legacy toll collection systems with Kapsch AET technology. “Kapsch installed new tolling sensors and equipment providing proprietary stereoscopic nVDC technology in order to create all electronic transactions,” according to the announcement. The Kapsch systems installed at PANYNJ’s toll crossings cover “four bridges, two tunnels, thirteen zones, two-way traffic with one direction tolled at reversible lanes and three plazas,” including the “toll point with the highest traffic volume and commercial traffic in the United States.” Kapsch also provides central host functionality with primary and secondary host server installations. Kapsch personnel will maintain the systems around the clock.

Colorado Express Lanes Project Reached Completion

The Gazette reported, Colorado DOT and Kraemer North America announced that the $419 million I-25 South Gap (Monument-to-Castle Rock) project was finished on time and on budget. The widening project’s 18 miles of new express lanes (one in each direction) were substantially completed and opened to traffic last December, but it took crews an additional 11 months to wrap up paving, striping, deer guard installation and landscaping work. Although the express lanes toll system is already in place, a CDOT spokesperson said testing continues and charging isn’t expected to begin until next spring. The Colorado Transportation Investment Office still hasn’t established a toll rate schedule for the facility. The Gazette notes, “Tolls . . . have been a sore point with some local residents and officials, who objected to what they claimed amounted to double taxation, since local taxes helped fund the project.”

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Michigan Bridge Restored By UBP Opened To Traffic

MLive.com reported, the rehabilitated Liberty Bridge opened to traffic on Thursday following a ceremony attended by local officials, Bay City Bridge Partners (BCBP) staff, construction workers, members of the community and, of course, Santa Claus. BCBP, a United Bridge Partners subsidiary, began extensive renovation of the bascule span last December under the terms of a lease deal with the City of Bay City that gives BCBP tolling rights. The company will begin collecting tolls electronically from non-residents of the city during the first quarter of next year. During yesterday’s ceremony, BCBP general manager Lynn Pavlawk praised the workers — most of whom belong to local unions — who restored and improved the bridge. “They accepted the challenges presented by a complex structure that was highly unreliable, gutted it, and replaced it within one year,” she said, adding, “They did it all during the most challenging supply chain period in history.” She also noted there were no safety incidents during construction.

Connecticut Mileage-Based User Fee For Big Trucks Will Take Effect January 1

CTNewsJunkie.com reported, on January 1, 2023, Connecticut will begin to collect a mileage-based Highway Use Fee on heavy trucks that was approved by lawmakers in 2021. Anyone who operates a Class 8 through Class 13 vehicle with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds or more on any state highway is subject to reporting mileage and paying a fee that ranges between 2.5 cents per mile (for trucks weighing between 26,000 and 28,000 pounds) to 17.5 cents per mile (for trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds). At the time the fee statute was enacted, state officials reckoned it would yield an additional $90 million a year for transportation projects.

GAO Decided An FHWA Policy Memo Is A Rule Subject To Congressional Review

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) last week determined that a controversial FHWA policy  memo on implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) constitutes a rule that should have been submitted to lawmakers for evaluation under the Congressional Review Act. The GAO rejected FHWA’s argument that the December 2021 memo fell under a statutory exception that exempted it from legislative review.

Immediately after the GAO ruling, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a statement that ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) intends to challenge the rule by introducing a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval. Several times this year, Capito and other Republican lawmakers have objected to the FHWA memo on the basis that it is inappropriately limiting state discretion on the use of IIJA funds.

Industry People Made News

Electronic Transaction Consultants (ETC) announced that Shannon Swank, a prominent figure in the tolling industry, has joined the firm as Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. According to a news release, Ms. Swank’s role will be identifying opportunities and developing “priority projects to meet long term goals for growth and profit including providing analysis of additional innovative markets for expansion.” Before joining ETC, Ms. Swank was co-founder and chief marketing officer for PlusPass, the Texas-based developer of toll and other in-vehicle payment applications.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) announced that Jannine Miller, Georgia DOT’s state planning director, will take on the additional role of executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), effective January 16. Kemp said he will also recommend that Miller be appointed executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL). Miller was appointed to and confirmed in her GDOT post in 2020. Her career has included service in the public and private sectors, including time as a USDOT deputy assistant secretary and senior advisor to former secretary Elaine Chao.

The New York State Thruway Authority announced that Frank G. Hoare, its general counsel, will serve as interim executive director and assume day-to-day management responsibility now that Matthew Driscoll has retired. Mr. Hoare, who has extensive prior experience as legal counsel for state agencies, joined the authority in 2020. Governor Kathy Hochul (D) will nominate someone for state senate confirmation as executive director after a search process already underway is completed. Joanne Mahoney, chair of the thruway board, praised Driscoll’s performance over his five-year tenure.

Tulsa World reported  on the death, at age 77, of engineer Gary Ridley, who, over a long career in transportation, served as executive director of Oklahoma DOT and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA), and as Oklahoma’s secretary of transportation. Ridley retired from the ODOT and OTA positions in 2013, but remained in Governor Mary Fallin’s cabinet as transportation secretary until 2017. KOKH and several other Oklahoma media outlets reported on reaction to the announcement of Mr. Ridley’s death.

The Australian Financial Review reported, IFM Investors designated Ken Daley as its candidate to join the board of Atlas Arteria and “keep an eye on” Atlas’ acquisition of the Chicago Skyway concession. IFM, Atlas’ largest shareholder, was displeased with the Skyway deal and the equity raising through which it was financed. Atlas’ agreement to nominate Daley for a board seat is expected to terminate IFM’s threat to call an extraordinary general meeting over the acquisition. A former Transurban executive, Daley is a special adviser to IFM and a director of toll road groups in which IFM invests, including the Indiana Toll Road Concession Company (ITRCC) and Aleatica.

Florida Politics reported that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) reappointed three men, James Neilson, Jr.Dewey “Parker” Destin and Kim Wintner, to seats on the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority board. Neilson, who has been on the board for 18 years, currently serves as chairman. The authority operates the Panhandle’s Mid-Bay Bridge and Spence Parkway, both of which are tolled.

A Global Survey Revealed Diminished Optimism For Near-Term EV Adoption

KMPG’s annual survey of automotive executives revealed reduced confidence in the rate of electric vehicle (EV) adoption worldwide, CNBC reported. While still anticipating overall market growth, respondents reported lower expectations compared to last year. Near-term headwinds such as supply chain challenges, inflation and recessionary fears are among the factors contributing to the change in outlook. Executives also expressed concerns about sourcing raw materials for EV batteries and the US government’s imposition of stricter requirements for tax incentives. “For the U.S., the median expectation for EV sales was 35% of the new vehicle market by 2030 — down from 65% a year earlier and significantly lower than the Biden administration’s 50% goal by 2030 that was announced late last year.” Apple climbed in a ranking of expected leaders in the global EV market, while General Motors was noticeably absent from the top 12 list.

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