[beta] TRN Weekly Review: Week of June 19-25, 2022

PA Turnpike Progressed From One Major Project To Another

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Pennsylvania Turnpike preparations for the opening of the final section of the Southern Beltway (Turnpike 576) and lessons learned over the course of the project. While all turnpike lanes are accessible as of Friday, work will continue until August as crews complete the widening of I-79 where it meets the beltway. Turnpike officials are moving on to the final and most challenging phase of Mon-Fayette Expressway (Turnpike 43) construction. “The first contract . . . should go out for bids around October with contracts awarded by the end of the year.”

Houston Metro Announced A Trial Weekend Opening Of Express Lanes

Community Impact Newspaper reported, Houston METRO’s board has agreed to permit weekend use of five HOT lanes on a test basis. The reversible lanes are normally open only during weekday peak periods. Under the pilot project approved last week, the lanes will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from July 2 through Labor Day. Board officials said they took the action to increase capacity, encourage carpooling and give drivers an opportunity to become familiar while they are less crowded. METRO awarded TransCore, its toll system vendor, additional compensation to cover its extended operations.

Tampa Could Get I-4 Express Lanes

WTSP reported on Florida DOT’s planning of I-4 corridor improvements around Tampa, part of the Tampa Bay Next program. The department’s goal is to “make the drive easier for a 22.1 mile section of the interstate from east of 50th Street in Hillsborough County to the Polk Parkway in Polk County. Options include everything from widening I-4, to adding two separate tolled express lanes in each direction” in the manner of Orlando’s I-4 Express. WTSP noted that the project’s construction schedule remains to be determined.

A Bay Area Express Lanes Authority Launched A Toll-Funded Equity Program

San Mateo Daily Journal guest column looked at the newly launched US 101 Express Lanes Community Transportation Benefits Program. The authors, two members of the express lanes authority board, call it “the first express lanes-funded choice-based [transportation] equity program in the United States.” Income-eligible residents of San Mateo County, California, can obtain a transit fare card with a preloaded value of $100 (an annually renewable  benefit) or a FasTrak transponder with a $100 balance (a one-time benefit). Enrollment is administered by community organizations  that serve the county’s low-income population.

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.

Litigation Over Maryland’s Express Lanes Project Is Expected

Maryland Matters reported, Maryland stands a good chance of receiving a federal record of decision based on its recently submitted I-495 and I-270 express lanes final EIS, but that doesn’t mean the project is out of the woods. “[Environmental lawsuits] are considered a certainty,” and even if unsuccessful threaten to consume the time lame-duck Governor Larry Hogan has left to put the project on a firm footing. A lawsuit over the award of the project’s predevelopment agreement to Accelerate Maryland Partners is another potential obstacle to progress.

Florida Paid More Than $134 Million To Settle With Garcon Point Bridge Bondholders

Pensacola News Journal reported, under the terms of a settlement agreement released Thursday, Florida DOT was required to pay defaulted bondholders a lump sum of $134 million in order to resolve a lawsuit and acquire clear title to “the long-controversial Garcon Point Bridge over part of Pensacola Bay.” In addition to the lump sum, FDOT is obliged to pay over by the end of July “previously unremitted tolls or revenues collected for use of the bridge through the lump sum payment date.” The parties agreed that the payments will constitute “full and complete satisfaction” of all amounts owed the bondholders and their trustee. FDOT noted that it has incurred years of operating, maintenance, repair and insurance costs that it could not begin to recover until the bonds were fully paid.

Report: A Proposal To Extend NCDOT Express Lanes Is In Stasis

According to WBTV, an unsolicited private proposal to extend I-77 express lanes from their terminus outside Charlotte to the border between the Carolinas is in limbo. North Carolina DOT presented the outlines of a plan to Charlotte’s MPO in March, maintaining the confidentiality of details and the proposer’s identity. The MPO board reportedly punted the concept back to NCDOT for “more work.”  Now, a department spokesperson says the agency “isn’t evaluating the proposal until it gets clear direction” from the board, many of whose members are opposed to it.

Report: Neglect Of Repair Recommendations Led To Pittsburgh Bridge Collapse

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article detailed the City of Pittsburgh’s failure over many years to follow recommendations for the maintenance of the Forbes Avenue bridge that collapsed in January. According to the newspaper’s analysis of state records dating back to 2005, “[y]ear after year, inspectors urged the same repairs, and every year, the city failed to follow the recommendations in a cascading series of lapses that would doom the bridge and jeopardize the safety of thousands of motorists who crossed it each day.” Response to the article by public officials and the firms hired to conduct inspections was limited due to the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

AASHTO Chief Said Inflation Is Causing IIJA Benefits To Evaporate

Associated Press reported, “Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects across the U.S., driving up costs so much that state and local officials are postponing projects, scaling back others and reprioritizing their needs. The price hikes already are diminishing the value of [IIJA’s recent boost to infrastructure funding]. . . . ‘Those dollars are essentially evaporating,’ said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. ‘The cost of those projects is going up by 20%, by 30%, and just wiping out that increase from the federal government that they were so excited about earlier in the year.’”

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

IFM May Bide Its Time On Making An Atlas Arteria Takeover Offer

The Australian Financial Review has an update on IFM Investors’ potential takeover of Atlas Arteria, the toll road operator in which IFM recently acquired a 15-percent stake through a combination of stock purchases and swaps. Atlas’ major investors are so far backing management’s cautious response, but they reportedly see IFM as a credible investor that should be respected if it tables a formal offer. According to AFR, “Because of its deep pockets, IFM can afford to be patient and take its time before making any further moves on Atlas Arteria.” The article looks at the effect of a potential takeover on the price of Atlas shares.

Industry People Made News

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he has nominated engineer Tony Tavares to serve as director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Tavares was director of the department’s District 7 (Los Angeles and Ventura Counties).

Atkins, part of the SNC-Lavalin Group, announced that Rosa Rountree has joined the firm as National Operations Director for the Tolls Sector of the Department of Transportation Business Unit. Rountree was formerly CEO of Egis Projects and led Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority from 2005 to 2008.

Lichfield Live reported, Midland Expressway LTD has chosen Michael Whelan to be the general manager of M6toll. He is charged with implementing the RoadAhead initiative, which “will see the introduction of new [tolling] technology to improve the experience for road users and boost numbers using the M6 link.” (Whelan was previously a Transurban senior executive, working on projects in Australia and the US.)

AASHTO Journal reported that the association has chosen Malcolm “Mack” Long, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, as chair of its Committee on Construction. “Long — appointed Montana DOT’s director in January 2021 –spent his 25-year career in construction; work that encompassed airports, highways, and utilities.”

Safety Experts Pushed For Vigorous Enforcement Of Traffic Laws

WJLA reported, prominent highway safety experts claim that stricter enforcement of road rules is the solution to the recent upsurge in traffic crashes and deaths, and the results of a Maryland DOT pilot project support their position. So, where do police agencies stand? WJLA contacted a suburban Washington, DC, force that said its “staffing is down, while 911 calls are up. So right now, they’re prioritizing emergency calls over making traffic stops.” (The Governors Highway Safety Association recently issued news releases on the Maryland pilot and the benefits of “high visibility enforcement” of traffic laws.)

Creating Good Jobs Can Help Agencies Land IIJA Grants

In a contribution to Route Fifty, Karla Walter of the Center for American Progress noted that US officials are judging IIJA grant proposals in part on the efforts they reflect to create high-quality opportunities for workers. “While many cities and states already uphold high standards on publicly funded work, there is still room for improvement. As detailed in a new report [issued by the center], policymakers should adopt four proven strategies to improve the lives of local workers — expand opportunities for women, workers of color, disabled workers and LGBTQI+ Americans — and increase their community’s shot at winning competitive IIJA funds.”

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

Bangladesh Will Open Landmark Toll Bridge Tomorrow

The Financial Express (Bangladesh) reports, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will preside over tomorrow’s elaborate opening of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, and officials expect a “huge public gathering — likely to be a million people” to attend the day-long ceremony. Completion of the 6.15-kilometer (3.8-mile) toll bridge, a matter of national pride, is expected to stimulate economic activity in southern districts that previously lacked reliable transportation and communication links to the rest of the country.

The Business Standard reports, the government will suspend tolling of more than a dozen bridges on Saturday to ease vehicle traffic to the opening event.

New Age reported in April that the government awarded a five-year maintenance and toll collection system contract to a Korea Expressway Corporation and China Major Bridge Engineering Company. The contract’s value was put at 692.92 BDT (approximately 74.6 million USD). China Major Bridge Engineering was the bridge’s principal contractor.

The Daily Star and The Hindu look at the long and controversial history of the bridge construction project.

Arizona DOT Will Use Thermal Cameras To Improve Wrong-Way Driving Alerts

Fronteras Desk (via KJZZ public radio) reports, “In an effort to help police officers zero in on wrong-way drivers, the Arizona Department of Transportation says it’s expanding the use of thermal cameras,” although it currently has no timeline for installation. A spokesperson says ADOT won’t rely on the cameras to prevent wrong-way driving, but they have other valuable functions. They can help alert law enforcement officers, and thus improve response times, and allow for the faster display of warning messages on roadside electronic signs.

Planners, Engineers And Drivers Are Split Over Fixing US Transportation

Route Fifty reports on a new study that reveals the depth of disagreements among transportation planners, engineers and the general public over fundamental transportation topics, especially those involving automobile travel. The authors suggest that the differences in attitudes and beliefs contribute to the slow pace of US infrastructure development and account for public skepticism about proposed solutions for transportation problems.