Los Angeles Times reported on Friday’s opening of new express lanes on the 405 — that’s I-405, the San Diego Freeway — in northwest Orange County after nearly five years of construction. The lanes were built by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) as part of a $2.16 billion improvement program aimed at easing congestion on one of the busiest highways in the US. According to the article, that program “also wrapped up one of the region’s last major freeway expansions as transportation officials move toward more sustainable and efficient investments.”
Heralding the opening, NBC News Los Angeles noted that the express lanes’ seven access points were selected so as to balance ample access to all interchanges and businesses along the corridor with minimal right-of-way impacts to local communities. On the revenue side, the article cites an OCTA fact sheet stating that “excess toll revenues beyond operational, maintenance, and financing costs” will fund additional improvements in the area.
LAist reminded readers that the express lanes were funded largely with $1.4 billion collected through the “Measure M” sales tax. The state chipped in $90 million, half of which was met by federal funding. The remaining $629 million came through a TIFIA loan that will be repaid with toll revenue.
Tampa Bay Times provided an update on the progress of several long-running Florida DOT highway projects. The “oft-delayed,” $600 million Gateway Expressway will be completed early next year “after six years of construction,” according to a November 14 briefing given to the Pinellas County Commission by FDOT district secretary David Gwynn. Although the department hoped to open the project’s two, four-lane elevated tollways (designated SR 690 and SR 686A) in January, Gwynn projected a February opening date and final completion in the spring. Fixed-rate tolls will be collected throughout every day. Gwynn also reported that the $865 million Howard Frankland Bridge rebuilding project remains on schedule. He said the “finishing touches” should be completed by the end of 2025, “in keeping with the timeline the state laid out when work began in 2020.” However, he expects traffic to begin flowing on the new span — which includes four tolled express lanes, general purpose lanes and a pedestrian-bike path — by late 2024. Gwynn’s presentation included updates on the planning of other local projects, two of which involve the construction of new I-275 express lanes. The Gateway and Frankland Bridge projects are components of FDOT’s Tampa Bay Next program.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced Thursday that it received “a detailed report produced by the Traffic Mobility Review Board recommending a tolling structure for Central Business District Tolling, New York’s congestion pricing program.” A copy of the report and a briefing video accompanied the announcement. MTA stated that its board will consider the recommendations at its December 6 meeting, after which the authority will conduct an extensive public review.
Gothamist obtained advance information about the board’s report, reporting that a once-daily $15 passenger car toll is suggested to be in effect between 5:00 AM and 9:00 PM. Additional recommendations involve a 75 percent overnight discount rate; rates for two classes of commercial trucks; taxi and ridesharing vehicle surcharges; credits against tunnel tolls paid during daytime hours to enter the congestion zone; and discounts for low-income drivers. The panel recommends few exemptions.
The New York Times also previewed the recommendations, provided insights on the Traffic Mobility Review Board deliberations and delved into the background of the congestion pricing program. A separate article reported on the harsh reception the review board report received from New Jersey state and federal officials who maintain that congestion tolling is unfair to their constituents.
These are a few 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.
The Davis Enterprise provided an overview of the Yolo 80 Corridor Improvements Project draft environmental impact report that Caltrans recently filed. The project could add approximately 17 miles of tolled express lanes to I-80 and US 50 from Davis east to parts of West Sacramento. The article noted that Yolo County and City of Davis staff are evaluating the document and the identified build alternatives ahead of a January 5, 2024, public review deadline set by Caltrans and its partner, the Yolo Transportation District (YTD). Yolo County Supervisor and YTD board member Lucas Frerichs told the newspaper, “The current state of this segment of the I-80 corridor is unacceptable and improvements are long overdue. There are managed lanes being constructed along I-80 in Solano County and throughout other parts of California. I’m not surprised that Caltrans is seeking to bring this tool to the Sacramento/Yolo region.” (To access the draft report, go to the Caltrans project website and scroll down to “Draft Environmental Document.”)
The News & Observer reported, North Carolina DOT and the state’s turnpike authority (NCTA) announced Monday the award and execution of the final contract for the Complete 540 (Triangle Expressway) Project. A joint venture composed of North Carolina-based S.T. Wooten Corporation and Virginia-based Branch Civil, entered a $287 million agreement to build the second, four-mile segment of the project’s last phase. (In late September, the state gave a Flatiron-Fred Smith Company joint venture a nearly $450 million contract to construct the other six miles of the missing section of the electronically tolled expressway that will eventually encircle metro Raleigh-Durham.) According to the article, “Work will begin as soon as next year, with the final 10-mile section of the loop scheduled to open in 2028. When that happens, the six-lane Triangle Expressway toll road will be complete from Research Triangle Park across southern Wake County to Knightdale.”
According to an NCDOT-NCTA news release, the state awarded the Wooten-Branch contract on October 31 and signed the agreement on November 21. The agencies noted, “All remaining sections of the 540 loop around Raleigh are now either under construction or under contract.”
Orlando Sentinel reported, “Perhaps prodded by voters,” Orange County, Florida, commissioners Tuesday voted 6 to 1 to reverse their 2019 endorsement of a Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) plan to extend the Osceola Parkway, which has been in CFX hands since it absorbed the former Osceola Expressway Authority. As detailed in the article, the project proposal has been mired in controversy for years because the preferred alternative crosses a 1.3-mile segment of Split Oak Forest , a 1,700-acre nature preserve within the boundaries of Orange and Osceola Counties maintained by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The alternative received a series of state and local agency approvals despite a 2020 charter referendum in which 86 percent of Orange County residents expressed disapproval of highway encroachments on the preserve. After CFX last year agreed to invest $13 million in long-term environmental mitigation, it appeared the project was on track for construction. Tuesday’s vote by county lawmakers occurred just days ahead of the state conservation commissions’ scheduled discussion of easements it must lift before the extension project can proceed. The Sentinel suggested the overwhelming public support for the 2020 referendum influenced the county commissioners’ about-face. Although the consequences of their action are not immediately clear, environmental advocates “were delighted with the board’s unexpected reversal” and expressed hope that it would lead CFX to change its plan. According to a CFX spokesperson, the agency is “still working to unpack what it means.” The extension project’s current alignment has the support of Osceola County officials and influential real estate development companies.
On the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s December 5, 2023, meeting agenda, the Split Oak Forest conservation easements are listed for consideration as action item 7 (E). A staff memorandum and an illustrated presentation on the easements are attached to the agenda.
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners announced Friday that fundraising for the strategy surrounding its “flagship global infrastructure equity fund,” Brookfield Infrastructure Fund V (BIF V), reached $30 billion upon closing. The Canada-based firm observed, “BIF V benefitted from strong investor support, with a diverse group of approximately 200 limited partners committing to the Fund. The fundraising exceeded Brookfield’s target of $25 billion and BIF V is 40% larger than its predecessor vehicle, BIF IV. The majority of the capital has been raised from existing investors, including public and private pension plans, sovereign wealth funds, financial institutions, endowments, foundations and family offices.”
The Financial Times reported, the Brookfield fund “is the largest-ever dedicated to investing in assets such as airports, toll roads, pipelines and natural gas export plants. It is also the biggest fund ever raised by Brookfield, which manages $850bn across sectors spanning real estate, credit and insurance, renewable energy and corporate buyouts. The record haul comes as other large asset managers including Blackstone and KKR, and specialised infrastructure investors such as Global Infrastructure Partners [GIP], have raised substantial new funds or are setting ambitious goals for new funds. GIP is targeting $25bn for its latest infrastructure fund, while Blackstone has set a goal to manage more than $100bn in infrastructure.” According to the article, major investors are currently drawn to “strategies they expect will benefit from higher interest rates and a shift away from globalisation.” The newspaper added, “Since last year, when central banks began to drive up global interest rates in an effort to tamp down inflation, many institutional investors have treated infrastructure as a haven from rising price trends. The assets often generate revenues indexed to inflation, even as they are financed with fixed-rate debt.” The article included comments by Sam Pollock, chief executive of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, who sees abundant opportunities to deploy BIF V capital in the US and elsewhere.
WEWS reported on the culmination of the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission’s toll modernization project. Commission CEO Ferzan Ahmed said equipment configuration is in final preparation for the launch of the new hybrid collection system. “We’ve got hundreds of pieces of equipment . . . that are looking at vehicles and classifying those vehicles by the number of axles, that is, looking at camera images, license plates, and with so many vehicles being at different heights, those cameras have to perform in an optimal way,” Ahmed told WEWS. “Once we have a certain comfort level that we are happy with the way the system is configured, with the way the cameras are pointing, how the software is capturing the image and transferring it, that’s when we’ll start phasing in the new system.” Ahmed observed that the forthcoming changes, which also involve a realignment of toll collection points, create an “interesting dilemma” in that they encourage E-ZPass use “that actually puts less money in our coffers. And the reason we are doing that is it makes travel more seamless and ultimately safer, and that’s our objective.” The article included a discussion of the reasons behind the commission’s adoption of a hybrid collection system when comparable agencies have converted to cashless tolling.
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NJ.com (subscription required for full access) reported, “Tolls for four major bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania could remain the same for a 13th consecutive year if the Delaware River Port Authority [DRPA] stays on track to approve its proposed budget.” An increase is not presently contemplated, but the agency’s board will review the 2024 budget, toll rates and PATCO transit fares on December 6. Officials tell NJ.com the agency is still facing reductions in traffic (about 10 percent) and transit ridership (about 50 percent) attributable to the pandemic. However toll revenue is currently on track to grow year-on-year because commercial vehicle traffic (and the higher tolls it generates) is offsetting the persistent loss of commuter traffic. According to NJ.com, toll revenues “increased slightly from $207.19 million between January and August 2022 to $212.76 million for the same period in 2023.”
The Australian Financial Review reported on the metro Sydney traffic mess that began with last Sunday’s opening of the Rozelle Interchange, the final piece of the huge WestConnex project. “The state and federal governments and Transurban” — it acquired the WestConnex network in 2018 — “have been promising Sydneysiders that the interchange’s opening . . . would reduce congestion and take traffic off local streets. But while driving through Transurban’s WestConnex tunnels, which are tolled, has been smooth, drivers on public roads surrounding the interchange have been stuck in long traffic jams after new bottlenecks were created by merging traffic.” The problem seems to originate in state modifications of nearby tolled and non-tolled routes, changes designed to ensure unhindered traffic flow out of the WestConnex tunnels into Sydney’s central business district. “Transurban declined to comment on whether its WestConnex contracts with the state government included clauses specifying priority access . . . for cars using the tolled tunnels.” A number of congestion relief measures are under consideration by government transportation agencies but they have little hope of immediately improving the situation. Transurban is said to be cooperating with officials and open to interchange modifications.
The Monroe Expressway, the 18-mile-long, electronically tolled facility southeast of Charlotte, North Carolina, has now been in operation for five years, WSOC reported. The road provides an alternative to US 74 between I-485 in Mecklenburg County and towns in neighboring Union County. “Not only does it provide a faster alternative for our residents to get where they want to go, it is taking through traffic off of U.S. 74, so it is easier for people to shop at businesses located on our community’s busiest corridor,’ said Pat Kahle, President and CEO of the Union County Chamber of Commerce.” (A 2020 assessment of the expressway’s performance was similarly favorable.) According to J.J. Eden, Executive Director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, expressway volume has increased by almost 40 percent since the 2018 opening. More than half of the drivers use an NC Quick Pass transponder to pay tolls.
TxDOT Picked Cavnue To Transform Tollway Segment Into “Smart Corridor” For Automated And Connected Trucks
Cavnue, the road infrastructure technology company formed by Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, recently announced that TxDOT has awarded it a contract to develop a unique “Smart Freight Corridor” along a 21-mile segment of SH 13o that is part of the Central Texas Turnpike System. The company will integrate “roadway and technology improvements that provide connected and automated trucks with key information about the road ahead, optimizing their performance and enhancing safety for all Texans.” According to a Cavnue blog post, the technology components consist of “a network of sensors, including cameras and edge computing infrastructure, that will monitor real-time traffic and roadway conditions, detect traffic incidents, and communicate advisories to vehicles on the road.” TxDOT selected the SH 130 segment and engaged Cavnue as its development partner through a competitive procurement process.
According to KVUE News, the new technology will be installed by mid-2024. A TxDOT spokesman stated, “We know the trucking industry is interested in self-driving infrastructure trucks, so TxDOT wants to be on the forefront of this technology.”
Empire Center for Public Policy, in its latest annual analysis of state government employment, reporteds that New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA) payroll costs dropped 16 percent between 2017 and last year, a 30 percent reduction when adjusted for inflation. In dollars, annual payroll expenditures — not including pensions and benefits for current and retired employees — went down from $152 million to $128 million. NYSTA cut nearly half its workforce over the same period as it replaced toll collection staff with a new AET system.
The Empire Center’s compilation of payroll data on 383 agencies is accessible at the SeeThroughNY.net website.
According to an IRU (International Road Transport Union) news release, there are three major problems with the increase in Germany’s truck toll rates that took Friday, December 1. The rate adjustment, one of a series the government is introducing pursuant to a European Union directive, increased tolls for heavy commercial trucks based on class-determined CO₂ emission volume. The aim is to make road transportation “greener” and to reward haulers that invest in converting to electric or low-emission vehicles. IRU claims the conversion incentive is hollow because there are currently too few eco-friendly heavy vehicles on the market, meaning “even if a transport company could afford to change its fleet in a matter of weeks or months, they have few possibilities to switch to affordable and easily usable low-emission vehicles.” The organization also complains that Germany — the first member country to implement the EU directive on CO₂ emissions — allowed companies too little time to comment on the rate hike and effectively doubled its rates despite having legal discretion to make moderate toll adjustments.
Toll Collect, the government-owned entity that administers the truck toll system, provides additional information about the December 1 rate change.