Daily News Brief, August 15, 2016

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SH 130 Concession Company Petitions Bankruptcy Court for Ownership Change

San Antonio Express-News reports, “The private operator of Texas 130, a high-speed toll road east of San Antonio, plans to give up on the debt-laden highway just four years after it opened. SH 130 Concession Co. [a Cintra-Zachry partnership] filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan Friday [August 12] that proposes transferring company ownership to its largest lenders, which include the Federal Highway Administration and a group of European banks. . . . The reorganization plan proposes that SH 130 Concession Co., under its lenders’ ownership, would continue to operate and maintain the road.” [Link added.]

Austin American-Statesman reports, “The southern 41 mile-stretch of the Texas 130 toll road is coming under new ownership, but it’s too soon to say whether drivers will notice any difference.”

P3 & Privatization Texas Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)


Opponents to Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Toll Hike Seize on Bonds

The New Orleans Advocate looks at criticism of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Commission’s vote to hike tolls to finance $130 million in safety improvements, reporting that, “[T]he most fundamental question raised by the critics concerns the original bonds that built the world’s longest bridge. The Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission still carries $43 million in debt, the oldest of which was incurred 60 years ago. If that debt were ever paid off . . ., the Causeway would revert to state control. The commission could be dissolved and the tolls removed.”

Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (Metro New Orleans) Toll Rate Changes


Retired Transportation Reporter Rips Lawmakers for "Feeding Off" the PA Turnpike

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes a letter from Joe Grata, the newspaper’s well-known and retired (but still paying attention) transportation writer, who takes on former Governor Ed Rendell and state lawmakers for “feeding off of Pennsylvania Turnpike revenues” for public transit funds. Grata reminds readers, “When the turnpike borrowed money for its first payment to PennDOT under the then new law, I wrote in my Nov. 16, 2008, “Getting Around” column in the PG about how things are done in Harrisburg: ‘Live for today, let somebody else put the screws to taxpayers tomorrow — plus interest!’”

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC)


CA Pilot Project to Generate Electricity from Roads. Will Toll Road Operators Become Electricity Sellers?

KCRA-TV News reports on a pilot launched by the California Energy Commission to test “piezoelectric technology” which involves “harnessing the power of millions of cars as they simply drive on the freeway using a sensor smaller than a quarter.” Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, who introduced the concept to the state, tells the station, “The toll roads could sell the power to houses along the toll roads. Caltrans could lease the freeways to power-generating utilities.”



Court Ruling on CTRMA's TX 45 SW and a TxDOT Project Expected Soon

Austin American-Statesman reports that a ruling is expected soon on a Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and TxDOT motion to dismiss the TX 45 SW lawsuit filed in February by environmental activists to stop the proposed construction of Texas 45 Southwest and a nearby TxDOT project called “MoPac Intersections.” In a court argument on August 12, the newspaper reports, lawyers for the transportation agencies said Texas 45 Southwest construction could begin as early as October 10, and the intersections project could start in December.

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) Texas Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)


Center for American Progress Assesses P3 Projects

Center for American Progress has issued a report “assessing claims” regarding P3 infrastructure projects that finds, “Provided that governments have the skill to negotiate effectively with their private sector counterparts in order to extract maximum value, P3s have a place in the U.S. infrastructure landscape. This will still leave, however, the politically challenging task of building support for the taxes and fees necessary to repay project debts, regardless of their source.”

P3 & Privatization


PANYNJ Crackdown on Scofflaws Continues

NBC News New York reports, “Port Authority police officers stationed at the George Washington Bridge engage in a game of catch-me-if-you-can every day with toll evading motorists, who go to great lengths to hide their vehicle’s identity while racking up thousands of dollars in unpaid tolls.”

Crime Beat Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) Scofflaws


Newspaper Takes a Run at Mass Pike's AET Conversion

The MetroWest Daily News political editor Rick Holmes isn’t a fan of AET, starting with the gantries: “I don’t see any signs telling drivers that money has just been sucked out of their accounts, let alone how much money is deducted at each gantry.” He takes note of privacy concerns, the “free rides” for some but not all motorists, and the fact that toll rates have yet to be established. (Otherwise, he’s on board with AET conversion.)

On MassDOT’s new “tollpayer advocate,” the person designated to address customer concerns about the toll system, the newspaper tries to add some detail to the so-far sketchy profile of Leonard “Cappy” Fournier, MassDOT’s choice for the position. Fournier, identified as “former owner of Stones Public House and one-time Turnpike Authority employee,” tells the newspaper “he was instructed not to speak to the press.” Jacquelyn Goddard, a MassDOT spokeswoman, only says, “The tollpayer advocate serves without compensation and advocates on behalf of tollpayers to ensure that their interests are fully understood and considered. . . .”

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Massachusetts Turnpike


IL Tollway Toll Plaza Crash Injures Three

The Courier-News (Elgin) reports, “An SUV collided with a semi at the Randall Road toll plaza in Elgin on Friday {August 12], leaving three people injured, two in serious condition.”

Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (IL Tollway)


TV News Takes a Look at MoPac Opening and Monitoring System

Fox 7 News (Austin) reports that part of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s MoPac Express Lanes will open shortly, adding that “17 cameras will monitor the entire length of the {MoPac] express lanes once construction is complete.” The report also quotes Tim Reilly, director of operations at CTRMA, who says, “All of those cameras are pan, tilt and zoom and so the reason those cameras exist is so we can see every inch of that project so we know how traffic’s doing. And so we know whether the toll rate is having the desired effect that we want.”

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA)


NY Thruway Toll Collector Leaves Them Smiling

WIVB News (Buffalo) profiles Andrea Howard, the “Toll Booth Lady,” who “gets people every time” with her signature line, “Hey Baby! How are you doing? Enjoy your day!”

New York State Thruway Authority


Texting while Driving? Steering Car with Feet? Perfect.

WPVI News (Philadelphia) reports that, “A woman was caught on video not only texting while driving, but steering the wheel with her feet on the Schuylkill Expressway.” The pictures are worth a click. In somewhat related news . . .

The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington) reports that distracted driving is becoming an “increasing problem” around the state and especially in Clark County, and notes, “Statewide, fatalities from vehicle crashes that involved a distracted driver grew 30 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.”

Washington State


Fitch on MDX Debt

Fitch Ratings “has assigned an ‘A’ rating to the $99 million senior lien 2016A revenue refunding bonds issued by the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority (MDX). Fitch has also affirmed the ‘A’ rating on MDX’s $1.49 billion outstanding revenue bonds. The Rating Outlook on all senior rated bonds is Stable.”

Florida Investment Ratings Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX)


Fitch Rates Riverside County, CA, Transportation Bonds and Loan

Fitch Ratings “has affirmed the ‘BBB-‘/Stable Outlook rating on the following Riverside County [California] Transportation Commission bonds:  — $176.7 million 2013 series A and Series B senior lien revenue bonds; [and] — $421.1 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan.” The bond and loan revenues are being used to finance the SR-91 express lanes project.

California Investment Ratings Riverside County (CA) Transportation Commission (RCTC)