TRN Weekly Review: Week of Mar. 26-Apr. 1, 2023

Tennessee Legislature Passed $3.3 Billion Transportation Bill With P3 And Express Lanes Authorizations

Tennessee DOT issued a news release heralding final passage of the Transportation Modernization Act proposed by Governor Bill Lee (R). The measure provides funding and authorizes public-private partnerships, tolled express lanes (“choice lanes”) and alternative project delivery models, all of which TDOT said it needs “‘to solve the state’s current and future mobility challenges.” Comments offered by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson were typical of Republican reaction to the bill’s passage: “This is a plan Tennesseans can be proud of. It is an innovative and fiscally conservative approach to modernize our transportation infrastructure without raising taxes. I appreciate Governor Lee and [TDOT] Commissioner Eley for their work to put together a solid plan to invest in the future of Tennessee, and I am proud to have been a part of it.”

WBIR reported, the measure is headed to Lee’s desk for final approval.

Bay Area County Resumed Express Lanes Tolling

The Alameda County Transportation Commission and the constituent joint powers authority that manages the I-680 Sunol express lanes announced that tolling of the lanes would resume on Friday, March 31. (Tolling operations were suspended in 2020 owing to expansion construction, and the lanes have been reserved for high-occupancy vehicle use since fully opening.) Between 5:00 AM and 8:00 PM, Monday through Friday, motorists using the lanes will have to have a FasTrak transponder. Solo drivers will pay a toll, but vehicles with two or more occupants and motorcycles will continue to use the lanes at no cost when equipped with a FasTrak Flex tag. The commission also announced that drivers of eligible clean air vehicles who obtain a FasTrak CAV transponder will receive a 50 percent toll discount when using both the I-680 and I-580 express lanes.

New Jersey Statewide AET Conversion Will Likely Advance This Spring (subscription required for full access) reported, the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA), operator of the Atlantic City Expressway, is close to launching a project that signals the beginning of the end of cash toll collection on New Jersey’s three major tollways. SJTA will accept bids on April 14 for the construction of toll gantries and the demolition of existing toll plazas on the expressway. An official said awards could be made as early as May, followed by issuance of notices to proceed in June. “This action,” noted, “will build on an earlier $159 million contract approved with TransCore LP of Nashville . . . to design, build, maintain and operate an [SJTA] all-electronic toll collection system.” Within days of that approval, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) awarded TransCore a $914 million contract to install and operate a turnkey AET system on the turnpike mainline and the Garden State Parkway. The Atlantic City Expressway AET conversion, projected to take place by May 2025, will proceed the start of a $180 million widening project now in design, as well as the conversion of the NJTA collection systems.

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.

Indiana And Kentucky Moved Ahead With I-69 Toll Bridge Project

The Center Square (Indiana) reported, “Officials from Kentucky and Indiana have signed off on an agreement allowing work to proceed on a new [toll] bridge connecting the two states. According to a release from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the states are moving forward with initial financial planning and development tasks on the second part of the Interstate 69 Ohio River Crossing that will connect Evansville, Indiana, and Henderson, Kentucky. . . . Work expected to be completed during this part of the project includes producing cost estimates, seeking funding sources and identifying ways to expedite the project’s timeframe.” The states are currently evaluating proposals for the necessary engineering services.

New Washington State Bills Would, If Passed, Authorize I-5 Bridge Tolling

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, bills introduced in the Washington State Legislature this week (SB 5765 and a companion, HB 1852) would authorize the state transportation commission to impose tolls on the I-5 bridge to help fund the proposed bistate project to  construct a replacement span. Before approving tolling, commissioners would need Washington State DOT’s certification that (a) sufficient federal, state and local funds are available to complete the project, and (b) Washington and Oregon officials have executed a project agreement. One of the bill’s sponsors commented that it aims to make grant applications more attractive to federal authorities. “Our ultimate goal,” she said, “is to do everything in our power to obtain the maximum number of federal dollars possible for the I-5 bridge replacement project.” The article noted, “Tolls factor heavily into the massive plans to replace the aging span. . . . Planners estimate tolls could pay between $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion of the project. The latest estimates, proposed at a March 21 meeting, project drivers could pay between $1.50 and $3.55 to cross the bridge. That toll could start around the time the replacement project begins, which could take near a decade to complete.”

Oregon Lawmakers Eye Plan For Funding I-5 Bridge Replacement

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, “Lawmakers in Oregon are looking to borrow $1 billion to replace the Interstate 5 bridge, a move that would match Washington’s pledge last year. State legislators propose issuing bonds backed against Oregon’s general fund and the highway user tax program used by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The details came in a policy draft sent out [recently] to members of the state’s Joint Transportation Committee. Some aspects of the document are still not final, according to lawmakers.” State Representative Susan McLain (D-29) (she co-chairs the transportation panel and a joint committee on the bridge project) said the financing plan won’t be finalized until April and it may include a project spending cap. (TRN Inserted a link.)

Mexican Agency Will Upgrade Toll Collection At Key Border Crossings

According to Border Report, “Mexico is planning major technology upgrades at [several of] its border crossings to improve security and facilitate lawful travel. The changes include more non-intrusive inspection devices to check vehicles coming into Mexico and automated toll collection for vehicles headed to the United States.” This month, the Chihuahua Border Bridges Trust will begin accepting applications for passenger vehicle tags that allow drivers to pay tolls electronically on the Zaragoza, Paso del Norte and the Tornillo-Guadalupe bridges. “The trust in the past few years has spent $10 million on license plate readers, 360-degree cameras, electronic messaging boards and 40 miles of fiberoptic cable feeding information into a control-and-command center operating 24-7 at the Zaragoza Bridge,” and that investment “is but a drop in the bucket compared to what is coming. The Mexican federal government is negotiating a $600 million contract with a U.S. provider to install automated systems — such as weight scales and truck axle counters — and non-intrusive technology for commercial vehicles on its side of the border. The point is to match technology being used at U.S. ports of entry, Mexican officials said.”

Sample Daily News Briefs, our weekday news report. A 14-day trial is free.

Report: MTA “Sweetens” Congestion Pricing Proposal With Environmental Mitigation Offer

According to Streetsblog NYC, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has informed FHWA it is willing to “spend tens of millions to mitigate possible air-quality impacts from congestion pricing in the Bronx and other neighborhoods.” The proposed “mitigation package” would cost $130 million over five years, nearly all of which would be provided by congestion pricing toll revenue. The measures are partially set out in a “a closely guarded document obtained by Streetsblog” that reveals “MTA is moving swiftly to address concerns from Bronx elected officials, as well as Mayor Adams, after the environmental assessment of the central business district tolling scheme predicted a slight increase in pollution in the Bronx and on Staten Island as some drivers and truckers seek to avoid the Manhattan toll.” One proposal involves “lowering overnight toll rates, and getting the city DOT to expand its off-hours truck delivery program, in an effort to encourage overnight freight delivery when there is less traffic.” FHWA would not comment on specific program concessions, stating only that it is “diligently working towards a decision” on the environmental assessment submitted by MTA last August.

Labor’s Win In New South Wales Election “Puts Brakes On” Transurban Expansion

The Australian Financial Review reported, “Billions of dollars of planned Sydney road projects will remain in [New South Wales] government hands if premier-elect Chris Minns sticks to his pledge to stop privatisation, curtailing Transurban’s expansion in Australia’s biggest city. Transurban, which already operates 11 toll roads in Sydney, has been eyeing further road contracts as it seeks to increase its dominance over Australia’s east coast toll road network,” but its plans will likely be thwarted under the new Labor government’s promised reform of privatization and asset recycling policies. Transurban has stated it looks forward to working with the new government “on toll fare reforms,” but it has also emphasized that “it will need to be compensated for any lost future income if fare structures are changed.”

Australian Associated Press reported, the New South Wales Labor Party scored a “convincing win” in the Saturday, March 25, state election. Its leader, Chris Minns and an interim ministry will be sworn in even as final vote counting in close races continues. Jo Haylen will become the new transport minister.

German Government Proposed Hiking Truck Tolls To Fund Climate And Infrastructure Programs

Bloomberg (via Yahoo! News) reported, the three parties within Germany’s coalition government have agreed on a “surprise increase” in truck tolls, with 80 percent of the revenue to be invested in railway network modernization starting next year. The rate increase proposal is part of a package of climate and infrastructure measures representatives agreed on Tuesday night after a tough negotiation session that began Sunday. The agreement resulted from the parties’ attempt “to put recent public squabbling behind them and push ahead with enacting policies that are important for Germany’s technological and environmental transition.”

In its report on the negotiated agreement, Reuters characterized the toll rate increase as “a carbon surcharge.”

Industry People Made News (subscription required for full access) reported, “New Jersey Turnpike Authority Executive Director John Keller, who managed the Turnpike’s largest widening project, surprised his colleagues [at Tuesday’s board meeting], announcing he plans to retire [on June 30] after a 25-year long career at the agency. In 2018, Keller, 58, became the first engineering department employee to be promoted from the ranks to executive director. He said he plans to take the summer off before deciding what his next career move will be. (TRN inserted a link.)

Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported, Wyoming’s governor recently named Darin Westby, PEinterim director of Wyoming DOT. Westby was formerly the director of the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources. He will lead WYDOT while the state transportation commission searches for a permanent replacement for Luke Reiner. (Cowboy State Daily reported earlier on Reiner’s retirement decision.)

Associated Press reported, “President Joe Biden’s choice to run the Federal Aviation Administration has withdrawn his nomination, a setback for the administration that comes after Denver International Airport CEO Phillip Washington appeared to lack enough support in the closely divided Senate. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed Washington’s withdrawal in a tweet Saturday night, calling him ‘an excellent nominee’ and blaming undeserved and partisan attacks. Washington led LA Metro for six years before taking the Denver airport job in 2021. Earlier in his career, he led President Biden’s transition team on transportation and Denver’s regional public transit agency. (KMGH reported on a statement Mr. Washington issued explaining why he decided to remove his name from consideration.)

Survey Indicates Remote Work Has Diminished Vehicle Miles Traveled In Maryland

Maryland Today (a University of Maryland publication) reported, “While most Marylanders continue to work remotely post-pandemic, those who brave the daily commute are overwhelmingly behind the wheel — even when the office is less than a mile away,” according to the results of the 2022 Maryland Commuter Survey of 651 adult workers conducted by the university’s National Center for Smart Growth for Maryland DOT. Survey data indicates that remote and hybrid employment “have made a significant dent in the state’s total vehicle miles traveled, . . . with a small caveat: Although hybrid workers go into the office less often, they tend to live farther from their jobs, meaning they still spend more time on the road, compared to in-person workers. . . .” The center’s report (at page 2) suggests, “If high rates of remote work continue as a ‘new normal,’ roadway congestion may be somewhat alleviated but revenues from tolls and fareboxes could diminish substantially. Changing commuting patterns may also affect other aspects of the transportation system, such as the modes used for non-work activities.”

Have A Question or Comment? Email Us!  For TollRoadsNews subscription information, please call 717-991-2823, email us or visit our website.