Daily News Brief, August 8, 2016

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First Segment of FDOT Northeast Express Lanes Expected to Open in Early 2017

WJCT News (Jacksonville public media) reports that FDOT expects to complete the I-95 to Buckman Bridge segment of its Northeast Express Lanes project by early next year. FDOT says the variably priced express lanes will be the first in Northeast Florida.

Express Lanes Florida


TxDOT Cites Toll Collection System Improvements, But Many Customers Are Disenchanted

Houston Chronicle reports that TxDOT believes its toll billing and customer service systems have improved, which is the reason it’s about to lift an eighteen-month moratorium on assessing penalty fees for overdue toll payments. However, as the newspaper notes, “During those 18 months . . . skepticism and frustration [have] set in with some drivers regarding tolls. From billing woes to bad customer experiences to higher tolls, many are starting to lash out.” A TxDOT spokesman says the agency has still not fully accepted the problem-plagued toll services system it outsourced to Xerox in 2014, but final improvements are expected over the next two months.

Customer Service Experience Texas


Texas Man Gathers 10,000 Signatures for Petition Targeting "Major Toll Fees"

KXAN-TV News (Austin) reports that a Texas man who was charged with $150 in toll fees “which ballooned into a $4,000 lawsuit which he lost” has gathered more than 10,000 signatures for an online petition that, among other things, calls for a single, statewide tolling agency and no new toll roads. The report adds that “the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation has already agreed to meet” with the petition author, who is also seeking appointments with state lawmakers.



Texas House Committee Studies Toll Elimination and Design-Build Requirements

The Herald Democrat (Sherman, TX) features a column by State Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) on the House Transportation Committee’s summer session agenda. Among other things, the committee is examining ways to reduce or eliminate tolled roads, and the “statutory and budgetary requirements for design-build contracts, including cost and quantity restrictions, and . . . the effect of removing those restrictions.”



Key Contributor to Google Self-Driving Vehicle Project Resigns

The New York Times reports that Chris Urmson, “roboticist and crucial member of the team that created Google’s self-driving car is leaving the company, the latest in a string of departures by important technologists working on the autonomous car project.” The Times adds, “The departures come after Google’s decision last year to hire John Krafcik, the former president and chief executive of Hyundai America, to be chief of the car project, as part of a plan to spin the effort out as a stand-alone company under the Alphabet umbrella.”

Self-Driving Vehicles


Hundreds Comment on SCDOT's Proposed I-73 Project

The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC) reports that today is the deadline for submitting comments to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) on its evaluation of SCDOT’s environmental mitigation plan for the proposed I-73 project. The 900 letters ACOE has already received show that both project boosters and environmental activists have been busy soliciting public input. Tolls are being discussed as one source of project funding. SCDOT obtained an I-73 tolling traffic and revenue study earlier this year.

South Carolina


I-405 Accident Rates Fluctuate Following WSDOT Express Lanes' Opening

KOMO News (Seattle) reports that “accidents along that I-405 corridor were up 55 percent since the new express lanes were implemented last year” according to WSDOT data. The station adds that “most of the collisions happened right beside the express lanes in regular freeway lanes” during peak-use periods and 80 percent were “fender-benders.” A WSDOT official tells the station that bad weather conditions during the first three months of express lane operations contributed to the spike in accidents, and accident rate has dropped since then.

Express Lanes Washington State


Mackinac Bridge to Accept Credit Card Toll Payments, Warily

MLive.com reports that MDOT expects motorists to be able to pay Mackinac Bridge tolls by credit card before the end of this year. However, “We’re still going to encourage customers to use cash or toll cards whenever possible because it is still the fastest option,” a department spokesman tells the site. “One of the concerns we have is the credit card processing times at peak traffic periods could result in backups on the bridge. . . .” During peak hours only one toll lane in each direction will process credit card payments.



Two Members Reappointed to the "Mighty Mac" Authority

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced earlier this summer that he has reappointed Barbara Brown (a retired judge and assistant attorney general) and Patrick “Shorty” Gleason (legislative director for the Michigan Building Trades Council) as members of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Their new terms will expire in 2022.

Appointments-Promotions-Retirements Michigan


VDOT's I-66 HOT Lanes System Will Challenge DC Motorists

In The Washington Post, Dr. Gridlock posts another report on last week’s ceremonial start-up of VDOT’s I-66 inside-the-beltway HOT lanes project. He notes that Arlington County leaders, “who might have been expected to shun a project that would do anything other than close the interstate,” are actually supporting these HOT lanes, in part because the state agreed to finance programs “to help commuters leave their cars behind.” The doctor also discusses the complexity of introducing metro DC drivers to an express lane system that differs from the ones on I-495 and I-95.

Virginia Washington (DC) Metro Region


DRJTBC Toll Rate Hearings Go Smoothly

Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA) previews the next two in a series of toll rate hearings the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission has scheduled. The commission is soliciting public comment on a proposal to increase tolls on pickup trucks with dual-wheel rear axles (“dualies”) and recreational vehicles towing a trailer or another vehicle. It is also seeking input on its proposal to toll the Scudder Falls Bridge replacement that is now under construction. Newspaper accounts of earlier hearings suggest that the proposals will not arouse much opposition or controversy.

New Jersey Pennsylvania Toll Rate Changes


Ontario Editors Back Toronto HOT Lanes Pilot

The Hamilton Spectator editorial board writes, “Ontario’s move to add HOT lanes to the QEW next month will be controversial, as always, but the pilot program is overdue and worthwhile.” Still, the editors have some questions about HOT lanes, the biggest of which is, “Who benefits? . . . The government, to be sure, will have some extra income. But is it only those who can afford the HOT pass, as some charge, or does everyone benefit from getting vehicles into other lanes or off the road altogether?”

Canada Express Lanes Ontario


Privacy Advocates Eye Mass Pike Gantries Data Collection

Boston Globe reports that gantries installed along the Massachusetts Turnpike in preparation for the fall start of all-electronic tolling “are already quietly capturing and storing information on how fast you’ve been driving.” MassDOT officials “say the data need to be gathered for the new toll system to work properly” and that they have no intention of using data to enforce speed limits. “But,” the report notes, “privacy advocates worry that the state could change its mind someday. They are also concerned that data captured by electronic tolling could, regardless, wind up being used against drivers. . . .”

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Massachusetts


In Ohio: So Much Work. Not Enough Detour Signs.

The Akron Beacon Journal editorial board writes, “Of all things, a shortage of detour signs is holding up work on Akron’s central interchange, where Interstates 76, 77 and state Route 8 come together.” In short, the contractor ran out of signs and, as the newspaper adds helpfully, “There is no state warehouse of used signs that can be tapped.” The editors also note that bonds backed by Ohio Turnpike revenue are partially funding a $6 billion state transportation initiative.