TRN Weekly Review: Week of January 1-7, 2023

TxDOT Released Draft EIS For Austin I-35 Project

KXAN reported, TxDOT released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the proposed I-35 Capital Express Central Project. The department “identified three proposal options for the project: a build alternative 2 design, a modified build alternative 3 design or foregoing the project altogether.” The EIS expresses a preference for the alternative 3 plan that has an estimated $4.5 billion cost and involves the potential taking of 107 businesses, residences and other properties. TxDOT has scheduled public hearings on the draft for next month. Additional details about the project and its projected impacts can be found in TxDOT’s notice of the EIS draft’s availability.

FDOT Plans Second Extension Of Central Polk Parkway

new extension is being planned to connect Florida’s Central Polk Parkway (SR 570) in Lakeland with SR 60 in Bartow, WUSF reported. The connector would divert travelers from heavily trafficked local roads. “It is projected to reduce travel times to Tampa and Orlando, improve freight movements and relieve congestion on State Road 60 and U.S. 98.” Florida DOT proposes commencing the three- to four-year construction in 2025, with tolls ultimately covering more than $200 million in costs. This is the second of two proposed Central Polk Parkway extension projects.

Virginia And Transurban Actively Discuss Making 95 Express Bidirectional

Virginia Mercury reported, Virginia officials are actively considering the possibility of adding lanes to I-95 in suburban Washington in order to make 95 Express bidirectional. The facility now operates in reversible mode, even though interstate traffic typically remains congested in both directions throughout the day. “The Youngkin administration and the expressway operator, Transurban, have been considering the conversion of the three-lane 31-mile corridor for the past two months, according to Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller III.” A spokesman for Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) would only comment that the governor looks forward to the opening later this year of the southern extension of the express lanes around Fredericksburg. Transurban, the 95 Express operator, did not respond to the publication’s requests for comment.

Oklahoma Turnpike Issued An RFI Regarding Debt Collection Services

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) announced it is seeking information and ideas from qualified vendors of debt collection services on best practices and innovations that would allow OTA to maximize the collection of toll revenue from PikePass and PlatePay customers and violators. More information and a link to the RFI is available via CIVCAST. Responses are due by 2:00 PM (CST) on January 25, 2023.

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.

Florida Will Make I-4 Express Tolls Variable, Not Dynamic, This Summer

Spectrum News 13 reported, Florida DOT will modify I-4 Express tolling this summer, but it won’t immediately introduce a dynamic pricing system as it originally planned. Instead, the agency will adopt variable rates that are higher during peak-use periods in order to manage the volume increase that has occurred since the lanes opened last February. Dynamic tolling will eventually come, said district secretary John Tyler, but officials “don’t think it will be time for that just yet. That will probably be later in 2023, if not in 2024.” FDOT hasn’t announced what the new variable rates will be. It has charged the same fixed, distance-based tolls since the facility’s opening last year.

OK Turnpike Moved Forward On Expansion Program Despite Protests And Risks

The Oklahoman reported on the results of the January 3 meeting at which the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) board voted to ratify ACCESS Oklahoma program contracts approved at earlier meetings held in violation of state open meeting law. In addition to affirming its previous actions, the board awarded the engineering firm of Poe & Associates a new $6.15 million contract to help OTA manage ACCESS Oklahoma, which is currently in a state of suspension. Oklahoma transportation secretary and OTA chief executive Tim Gatz told reporters he is uncertain how long it will take to fully resume program activity and he “could not say” what OTA might do if the state supreme court denies a pending application to approve the sale of ACCESS Oklahoma bonds. For their part, opponents of two controversial expansion proposals said they will initiate legal action to recover $60 million in contractual payments already made to the Poe firm and other OTA vendors working on ACCESS Oklahoma.

Grants Reveal Biden Administration’s Support For Megaprojects With Bipartisan Backing

The Washington Post reported, “President Biden’s visit Wednesday to the Cincinnati area, where he announced $1.6 billion in funding for [the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project], marked an evolution in the rollout of federal infrastructure money. . . . Throughout the past year, the Biden administration has awarded hundreds of smaller grants that will help to shape streets and transit lines across the country. In announcing the latest round of grants, officials are betting on projects that are likely to be the core of the infrastructure law’s legacy.” The Post looks at four projects —  including Brent Spence, Louisiana’s Calcasieu River Bridge replacement and the Golden Gate Bridge seismic retrofit — that are emblematic of the administration’s support for megaprojects previously “out of reach of state governments and even existing federal programs.”

POLITICO noted that the president made a point of asking prominent Republican backers of the Brent Spence project, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), to join him in making the announcement. More than a polite gesture, the invitations “represented an early effort to signal the White House’s eagerness for cooperation ahead of a politically combative next two years. It was also an attempt at political inoculation,” in that it gave Biden the opportunity to portray the bridge project “as a bipartisan success story.”

Connecticut Truckers Objected To New Mileage-Based Use Fee

The News-Times reported, the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut continues to be critical of the mileage-based Highway Use Fee the state began imposing on heavy trucks this week. The organization’s president, John Blair, complains that the burden of paying the fee will rest primarily on his members because state officials haven’t adopted an enforcement regime adequate to ensure compliance by out-of-state truckers. Blair said the association is seeking legislative and regulatory changes to the fee statute. If unsuccessful, it will consider litigation.

Stricter Enforcement Measures Took Effect For Pennsylvania Turnpike Scofflaws

2022 law giving the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) more leverage in collecting unpaid tolls is now in effect, WNEP reported. Drivers with $250 or more in unpaid invoices can now have their vehicle registrations suspended — a threshold that was lowered from $500. The tighter measures are intended to help the state collect about $155 million in unpaid tolls on the now-cashless Pennsylvania Turnpike. (TRN reported on several additional aspects of the new law when it was approved in November.)

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Bestpass And Drivewyze Partner To Help Truckers Monitor And Control Toll Costs

Bestpass, the payment platform provider specializing in commercial fleet toll management solutions, announced Wednesday that it has entered a development partnership with Drivewyze, a transportation technology firm that operates the largest public-private weigh station bypass network in North America. According to a Bestpass news release, “The partners are aligning their offerings to streamline onboarding and support for fleets adopting weigh station bypass and toll management services. Both companies are also collaborating on the rollout of a Drivewyze toll trip report which provides highly accurate GPS-based toll event data. . . . The toll trip report will leverage the Drivewyze platform’s advantage in edge-processing, a technology used to create areas with more detailed GPS cookie data, to collect highly accurate toll road entry and exit events that fleets can use as a source of data when investigating violations, over-charging, and fraud incidents. With Bestpass’s industry-leading toll data collection, this toll trip report will give fleets unprecedented visibility and control to detect inaccurate tolling costs.”

TRB’s 2023 Annual Meeting Previewed

Transport Topics previewed the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, which runs from today through Thursday, January 12, in Washington, DC. A highlight of the agenda will be the Wednesday morning “Fireside Chat” during which USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm provide updates on implementation of the IIJA, with a particular emphasis on the work the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation is doing to promote vehicle electrification. Safety issues are prominent on Monday’s schedule, which includes a panel discussion of USDOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy. The presenters will include USDOT Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg, FHWA Deputy Administrator Stephanie Pollack, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Chief Robin Hutcheson.

Industry People Made News

Jannine Miller, Georgia DOT’s state planning director, was confirmed Thursday as executive director of both the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL)Capitol Beat reported. Governor Brian Kemp (R) nominated Miller for the positions last month, when he also named her executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), effective January 16. Miller succeeds Chris Tomlinson as the head of all three agencies; Tomlinson left the posts last spring to work in the private sector. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “Miller will keep her duties as GDOT planning director, which allows her to set priorities for transportation funding across the state. In that position, she is already one of the most powerful transportation officials in Georgia. Adding the other three agencies to her portfolio will increase her authority.”

The Conway Daily Sun reported that long-time New Hampshire DOT employee William Cass was confirmed as the department’s new commissioner last month. He will complete the term of former commissioner Victoria Sheehan, who resigned to become executive director of the Transportation Research Board. Prior to his confirmation, Cass was serving as assistant commissioner. He previously held several supervisory and management posts, including final design supervisor, chief project manager and director of project development. NHDOT announced that David Rodrigue was confirmed to succeed Cass as the department’s assistant commissioner. Rodrigue, who joined the department in 1991, had been director of operations since 2016.

Moe Jamshidi, Nebraska DOT’s deputy director of operations, will lead the department on an interim basis, The Lincoln Journal Star reported. Jamshidi, a 40-year NDOT veteran, was chosen by Governor Jim Pillen (R) as a temporary replacement for John Selmer, who retired as director on January 4. Jamshidi served as interim director once before, in 2015.

Virginia Has Acted On Lessons Learned A Year After I-95 Winter Storm Standstill

WTOP reported, Virginia DOT has rolled out an automatic phone alert system for drivers whose vehicles are stuck in severe transportation emergencies such as last year’s winter storm that left thousands of drivers trapped for up to 24 hours on a portion of I-95 in northern Virginia, near Washington, DC. The system was implemented as a solution to one of the failures in that emergency: Trapped drivers were unable to get information from VDOT about the situation. The new system will send alerts based on geographic location, and drivers will be able to communicate in a two-way exchange. (An August audit by Virginia’s inspector general cited communication as one of several points of failure in the January storm. The audit followed a 41-page after-action report on the incident that examined, among other things, how the state’s transportation and emergency management departments and the Virginia State Police could improve their responses to similar situations.)

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