TRN Weekly Review: Week of February 5-11, 2023

Oklahoma Turnpike Converted Two Highways To AET

KOTV and KOKI reported that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) implemented cashless tolling of the Creek Turnpike around Tulsa on Monday. By Thursday, OTA also completed the AET conversion of the Cherokee Turnpike east of the city, according to Tulsa World. The highways are the seventh and eighth in OTA facilities to get new collection systems. Motorists without a transponder account pay considerably more to travel both highways. For example, a video tolling (PlatePay) customer’s cost to traverse the 32-mile Cherokee Turnpike is $5.70, compared with the $2.80 fare paid by users of PikePass and compatible transponders. OTA plans to complete the AET conversion of its entire network by the end of 2024.

Tennessee Governor Proposed $3 Billion Annual Budget For Highway Improvements

Tennessee Lookout reported, during his state of the state address on Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) repeated his commitment to making highway improvements a priority. He proposed budgeting $3 billion for state projects and injecting $300 million into a local highway fund. Lee wants the state program budget split evenly among Tennessee’s three “grand divisions,” or geographic regions. The governor referred to his previously announced strategic  infrastructure plan — it has managed lane, P3 and alternative project delivery components — without offering any additional details. He made a point of emphasizing that “toll roads are not on the table,” and compared his plan to initiatives “that have worked for states across the country, including our friends in Texas and Florida.”

California Agencies Partnered To Advance SR 37 HOT Lanes And Resiliency Projects

On Wednesday, the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) announced formation of a multiagency partnership to implement “near-term improvements” to State Route 37 while they pursue long-term efforts to preserve the highway, which faces inundation by the rising waters of San Francisco Bay. Under the terms of their partnership agreement, the agencies pledge to expedite the design, permitting and implementation of project that will add a general purpose lane in each direction of a 10-mile segment and convert the existing lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes to encourage transit and rideshare use. Toll revenue would be invested back into the highway’s improvement and as match for federal and state funds. The project will focus on reducing traffic congestion, restoring sensitive environmental assets and reducing flooding risks while planning continues on long-term projects to make the entire highway corridor climate resilient. In addition to CalSTA and MTC, the partnership includes the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the California Natural Resources Agency, Caltrans District 4 and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Press Democrat reported that the initial widening project “is expected to cost about $500 million and take about five years to complete,” according to MTC spokesman John Goodwin. Construction could begin as soon as 2027.

Michigan Lawmakers Expressed Skepticism About Potential Statewide Toll Program

Bridge Michigan reported, Michigan Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members reacted with interest but skepticism to a Tuesday presentation on a potential statewide program that would turn up to 1,200 miles of existing state highways into toll roads. Revenue projections included in the recently released program study might make tolling an attractive answer to declining roadway conditions and dwindling gas tax revenues, but the cost to Michigan residents is a stumbling block. Lawmakers pointed out that Michigan is not a traditional “pass through” state like its neighbors that use toll funding for road maintenance. That means residents would bear a comparatively larger share of the toll payment burden. The impact of toll diversion traffic on neighborhoods also surfaced as a lawmaker concern. The study’s authors acknowledged that implementing a statewide system would put Michigan “in uncharted territory nationally.” While a number of states are studying “the possibility of leveraging federal programs to put tolls on existing roads,” none so far has proposed implementing a statewide electronic toll system.

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.

NY State Comptroller Recommended Thruway Consider Alternatives To Hiking Tolls

The New York State Comptroller announced the release of an assessment report recommending that the New York Thruway Authority adopt “cost-savings and alternative revenue actions” in lieu of its proposal to raise toll rates beginning next January. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) said raising tolls “should be the last option” during a period of inflationary pressure on consumers, especially since the authority has other options, in DiNapoli’s view, for improving its finances. The report outlined several factors — including AET implementation, pandemic-related declines in traffic and revenue, and costs of Mario Cuomo Bridge construction — that have affected Thruway operations and expenses. DiNapoli suggested that several actions, such as resolving AET implementation issues and boosting non-toll revenue, need to be taken before officials contemplate a toll rate hike.

Spectrum News 1 and WGRZ covered the story. WGRZ reported that the Thruway Authority issued a statement that noted it is self-funded by toll revenue primarily, and it has operated economically for over a decade without raising rates. Given projected near-term declines in toll receipts, it said, a “modest proposal” to restructure rates is a way “to support the long-term financial needs of New York’s main transportation corridor and engine for economic activity.”

SRTA Posted Request For Discussion Of Customer Service System Procurement

Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) issued a Request for Discussion (RFD) in support of a proposed customer service system procurement. Inquiries and requests for one-on-one discussion must be emailed to by 12:00 PM EST on February 24, 2023. Written feedback submitted in accordance with the RFD instructions is due by 3:00 PM EST on March 1, 2023. SRTA invites vendors to participate in written feedback and one-on-one discussions to provide input on the topics presented in the RFD document. The one-on-ones are scheduled to be held virtually from March 6 through March 17, 2023. Solicitation documents are accessible at the SRTA procurement web page.

CDPQ Agreed To Buy Half Of Transurban’s Interest In Quebec Toll Concession

Transurban announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement to sell a 50 percent stake in the A25 toll road and bridge concession in Montreal to CDPQ (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec), the Quebec-based investment management group. Transurban said its gross sale proceeds would be CAD 355 million (about USD 262.7 million). According to Transurban’s news release, “This transaction will bring along a strategically aligned and well-respected Quebec-based partner with a track-record of working alongside Transurban in Sydney (via co-investment in WestConnex).” Financial close, which is contingent on customary closing conditions and the receipt of consents and approvals, is expected by March 31.

In a separate news release, CDPQ stated that the transaction will allow it “to acquire a high-quality asset that plays a central role in the transportation of residents of Greater Montréal, as well as for the movement of merchandise in Québec and Eastern Canada. With a 50% stake, the CDPQ will have co-control of the A25 Concession.” It added that motorists will not be affected by the transaction.

Kapsch Sees Free-Flow Tolling As A Gateway To Latin American Expansion

In a Q&A with BNamericas (subscription required for full access), Kapsch TrafficCom executive Samuel Kapsch discussed the firm’s launch of Brazil’s first open-road toll system and other operations in Latin America. Barrier-free tolling isn’t new to the continent; Kapsch installed the first free-flow system in Chile about 20 years ago. However, the Brazilian market opened to ORT just this year as a result of statutory and regulatory changes. Thanks to early implementation of the new BR 101 system between the states of  São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, says Samuel Kapsch, “[w]e’ve already received interest from other clients and there are also talks with [Grupo CCR, the BR 101 concessionaire, about additional conversion projects].” Kapsch added that South America is also shaping up as a lucrative market for Kapsch’s urban traffic management and ITS business lines.

Kansas Turnpike Launched Redesigned Website And KTAG Mobile App

The Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA) launched a new MyKTAG mobile app and redesigned website in preparation for its 2024 transition to all-electronic tolling. According to a news release, the free app’s “user-focused design . . . allows travelers to easily manage their K-TAG toll payment account or establish a K-TAG account for the first time. . . . [C]ustomers can: view trips, edit payment method or make a payment, order a new K-TAG, add a license plate and more.” The website’s new design improves navigation and makes it easier to find information about travel and the KTA organization. The authority used customer feedback to inform the redesign process.

TxDOT And Concessionaires Kept Dallas Express Lanes Closed Following Storm

CBS News Dallas-Fort Worth reported, TxDOT and the Cintra-led concession companies that operate and maintain metro Dallas express lanes decided to close the facilities during last week’s severe winter storms instead of treating them. Days after ice melted and relatively normal traffic conditions resumed, the managed lanes remained closed, leading to traffic slowdowns around the region and complaints from motorists. In response to CBS requests for explanation, TxDOT said it would only provide a statement “due to ongoing litigation and an ongoing investigation by the NTSB regarding the 2021 crash on I-35W in Fort Worth.” The department said the closures permitted crews to focus on clearing ice from general purpose lanes, and it took time to clear and inspect the managed lanes because they weren’t maintained for several days. CBS noted that the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, operators of extensive toll road networks, did not close any of their facilities for the duration of the storm.

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Alabama DOT Director Resisted Disclosure Of Bridge Project Communications reported, executive privilege has become an issue in the Baldwin County Bridge Company (BCBC) lawsuit against Alabama DOT and its director, John Cooper. Cooper is asking the state supreme court to protect text messages and other communications between himself and the governor’s office from discovery by BCBC on the ground that executive branch officials are privileged to withhold some internal, confidential communications from disclosure. Last month, a trial judge ruled that such a privilege does not apply under state law and Cooper must disclose the requested documents, triggering the high court appeal. BCBC sued in October 2022 when ALDOT decided to proceed with construction of a toll-free bridge across the intracoastal waterway in the vicinity of BCBC’s Beach Express toll bridge. The company claims that the disputed communications will support its claim that the public project is part of a deliberate effort by the state and Cooper personally to infringe on BCBC’s business. Cooper and the department deny the allegations and maintain that the suit is meritless.

Industry People Made News

Transurban Group announced that its CEO, Scott Charlton, 58, will leave the company at the end of this year. Craig Drummond, Transurban’s non-executive chair, praised Charlton’s vision, “strategic drive and outstanding leadership” over the past 11 years, noting that the company “has grown to become an ASX 20 listed entity, increasing its market capitalisation by more than five times to over $43 billion and has delivered Total Security Holder Returns of 289%.” Transurban said it has “strong succession planning” and has already begun the search for a new CEO with the supported of the Russell Reynolds recruitment firm. Charlton will retain his position until a smooth leadership transition takes place. The Australian Financial Review (subscription required) reported on the announcement.

Orlando Sentinel reported on the decision-making process that led the board of the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) to select Michelle Maikisch as the future replacement for retiring executive director Laura Kelley. Maikisch, CFX’s chief of staff and public affairs director, was chosen in December with “virtually no public notice that a selection would occur, without public comment and following governing board discussions that combined lasted less than an hour.” While there is general agreement that Ms. Maikisch is competent and qualified, at least one board member suggested that conducting an open search process would have been in the public interest. The article noted that Kelley had a long-standing succession plan that envisioned Maikisch’s selection as CFX’s next chief executive.

The Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) announced that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) nominated Christopher “C.J.” Maier, an energy company executive, and Rafael “Ralph” Martinez, an attorney, to serve additional terms on the CFX board. Both were first appointed by Governor DeSantis in 2021. The reappointments are subject to Florida Senate confirmation.

The Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) announced the results of its annual board officer election held during the February 9 authority meeting. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings (D) was unanimously elected chairman. Demings, a four-year board member, previously served as vice chair. Osceola County Commissioner Brandon Arrington (D) and gubernatorial appointee Christopher Maier were unanimously chosen as vice chair and treasurer, respectively.

HNTB announced that Martha Bogle, PE, has rejoined the firm as a vice president and project director in the New York office after a stint as chief of design for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). During her earlier HNTB career, Bogle served as deputy project manager for the firm’s consulting engineering engagement with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. In 2017, she was HNTB’s project manager for design and testing of emergency repairs to a major connector bridge co-owned by the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpike agencies.

“New Hampshire Business Review” profiled Bill Cass, the New Hampshire DOT veteran who was appointed commissioner in December after Victoria Sheehan exited the position to become executive director of the Transportation Research Board. Cass discussed the department’s current responsibilities and challenges, particularly working with a tight budget under inflationary conditions that have diminished the impact of the IIJA funding boost. Workforce evaporation (NHDOT’s job vacancy rate has doubled since 2020) and steadily dwindling fuel tax revenues are also major concerns for the new commissioner.

MTA Continued Its Crackdown On Persistent Scofflaws

NBC New York reported, “Five years into what’s known as cashless tolling . . . the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)] is battling a staggering number of what it calls persistent toll evaders. Upwards of five percent of drivers and commuters skip out on paying the tolls each day, according to the MTA.” The article looked at enforcement efforts undertaken by the authority, noting that over one 24-hour period last week, MTA police “stopped a staggering number of motorists for apparent toll evading: more than 32 cars . . . with at least 28 at the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. One of the alleged violators owed nearly $60,000 in tolls.” Drivers who were  stopped and had their cars impounded collectively owed MTA nearly $900,000.

White House Proposed New Build America, Buy America Implementation Guidelines

Reuters reported, in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Biden announced that the administration will introduce “new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America,” adding, “[O]n my watch, American roads, American bridges, and American highways will be made with American products.” The new guidance on Build America, Buy America Act requirements (Division G, Title IX of IIJA) is set out in a rule proposed by the Office of Management and Budget. According to a White House official, the rule “will strengthen implementation of domestic content standards” for a variety of construction materials, including, but not limited to, “plastic and polymer-based products, glass (including optic glass), lumber, and drywall.”

Brookings: Economic Conditions Impel Stakeholders To Focus On IIJA Implementation Strategy

A new research report by The Brookings Institution analyzes the potential reach and impact of IIJA and Inflation Reduction Act funding given current macroeconomic factors that affect infrastructure program implementation. Because the historic laws confer wide latitude in deciding how money is to be spent, Brookings suggests that state and local governments, along with private stakeholders, should urgently prioritize implementation strategy decision-making that takes inflation, declining state and local revenues, and the tight labor market into consideration. High-level recommendations made by the report’s authors include: 1) carefully prioritize eligible projects, 2) “prepare for different funding scenarios based on shifting economic conditions,” and 3) collaboratively and quickly address workforce development. The report emphasizes that, while construction projects funded today will be underway for years, the most impactful decisions in their implementation will be made in 2023. The in-depth report scrutinizes current economic conditions and is supported by data analysis and projections.

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