Daily News Briefs, December 19, 2016

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Lawmakers Endorse "Reset" on TBX, but Do Not Commit to Stopping the Project

Tampa Bay Times reports, “Lawmakers are doubling down on promises from the state to pause plans for Tampa Bay Express [link added]. But those same lawmakers have not made any moves to pull funding for the controversial toll road project. The Hillsborough legislative delegation was poised to spend much of its meeting Friday [December 16] discussing TBX, but that changed after Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold told a Senate panel earlier this week that he wants to ‘hit the reset button’ on the project.” The report adds that the chairman of the delegation, State Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon), “reiterated Boxold’s desire to re-evaluate TBX during Friday’s delegation meeting, calling the secretary’s comments ‘quite unusual’ and a ‘significant admission’ that the $6 billion plan to add express toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates needs to be revised.” Lee also said, “I don’t even suspect that this issue will come up during this current governor’s term in office,” according to the report.

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Tampa Bay Express


MassDOT Misses Out on $70 Million in Savings from Potential Bond Refinancing

The Boston Globe reports, “For months, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had been working to take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates to save nearly $70 million over the next two decades by refinancing hundreds of millions in bonds. But last week, just before the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate and bond markets continued to fluctuate, the agency was forced to halt its plans.” Officials cite two causes for the refinancing plan’s failure: the time needed to evaluate the impact of the turnpike’s transition to an AET collection system and the post-election interest rate change.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)


Wyoming DOT to Look at Adding Commercial Truck Toll Lanes on I-80

Billings Gazette (Billings, MT) reports, “Are extra lanes and tolls coming to Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming? That’s a $10 billion question. Or maybe a $6 billion question. But first it’s a $300,000 question, as the Legislature’s transportation committee learned [last week]. Wyoming Department of Transportation’s chief engineer Gregg Fredrick told the committee the main option being considered at the moment is building two new lanes[,] meaning three lanes running in each direction — and tolling commercial trucks that use those lanes. ‘What we are not going to do is toll existing interstate facilities,’ Fredrick said.” The joint committee was “noncommittal” on authorizing WYDOT to obtain an update of its most recent (2008) tolling feasibility study, but the co-chair, Senator Curt Meier (R-La Grange), intends to raise the issue again in January after several new members take their seats.

Wyoming Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT)


A $1 Billion Proposal to Add Toll Lanes to Loop 1604 -- San Antonio’s First Toll Project -- Gains Traction

San Antonio Express-News  reports, “The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority on [December 15] threw its support behind a proposal to add [managed] toll lanes to a heavily traveled section of Loop 1604 on San Antonio’s North Side, a move that could bring relief to drivers frequently stuck in gridlocked traffic. The plans, if approved, could widen a 23-mile span of Loop 1604 to eight lanes — four traveling in each direction — from Bandera Road to Interstate 35. That’s double the current capacity. . . . This would be San Antonio’s first toll project and construction could cost almost $1 billion.”

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (Bexar County TX) Texas


OH River Bridges' East End Crossing -- Now the Lewis and Clark Bridge -- Opens

WDRB reports that Indiana Governor and Vice President-elect Mike Pence issued an executive order naming the Ohio River Bridges Project’s East End crossing the Lewis and Clark Bridge. Governor-elect Eric Holcomb announced the name during the bridge’s opening ceremony yesterday afternoon, December 18.

Courier-Journal devotes a section to the bridge’s opening ceremonies, complete with Twitter updates and photo galleries.

Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges


Some RiverLink Customers Are Asking, "Where's my Transponder?"

Courier-Journal reports, “With the start of tolls just a few weeks away, many drivers who have purchased a RiverLink [E-ZPass] transponder have one question: Where is it? . . . Many drivers — some who ordered their transponders in the summer — have questioned when they will receive them and what the holdup is in getting them.” RiverLink spokeswoman Mindy Peterson tells the newspaper the devices “are being tested to ensure they can communicate with systems in other states and be able to transfer information and funds.” She added that transponder orders will be fulfilled before Ohio River Bridges tolling starts on December 30, but motorists should not expect delivery prior to their Christmas holiday travel.

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges


After Decades, Construction on PA Turnpike's $700 Million Southern Beltway Could Start Next Month

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, “Construction of the next phase of the Southern Beltway [link added] around Pittsburgh International Airport has been discussed for decades, but timing is everything. After that long wait, the highway’s construction couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The 13-mile, $700 million toll road project coincides with the construction of Shell Chemical Appalachia’s multibillion dollar petrochemical plant in nearby Beaver County, which will use ethane from wet natural gas to create ethylene to make plastic pellets. The road will offer an easier, more direct route from the airport to the chemical plant as well as the Southpointe complex in Washington County.” The report adds that construction could finally start by the end of January, 2017.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC)


More on IDOT's Plans to Add HOT Lanes to the Eisenhower

Chicago Sun-Times catches up on IDOT’s proposal to add HOT lanes to Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway (I-290). “The ‘HOT’ lane is key to providing reliable travel times on often-stalled stretches of the expressway, said Pete Harmet, the [IDOT] engineer heading the Eisenhower project. The lane would be open to cars carrying three or more passengers, buses and those willing to pay tolls that would rise and fall based on rush hours. Traffic would move 56 percent faster in the HOT lanes and shave 25 percent of travel times in the three standard lanes, Harmet said.”

Chicago Metro Area Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT)


Arlington County Board Changes Course, Supports I-395 HOT Lanes

The Washington Post reports, “The Arlington County Board is one of the big reasons the 95 Express Lanes stop just north of the Capital Beltway rather than continuing up I-395 to the Potomac River. The board’s response to the original plan for the high-occupancy toll lanes was a lawsuit. On [December 13], the 2016 version of the board voted 5-0 to give qualified support to the Virginia government’s plan to replace today’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in the middle of I-395 with HOT lanes, creating the northern extension of the HOT lanes.” Dr. Gridlock explains the major reasons for the board’s attitude change.

Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Washington (DC) Metro Region


WSDOT's RUC Pilot Draws Fire, but State Defends the Effort

MYNorthwest.com reports, “Washington state officials are experimenting with a pay-per-mile form of taxation to fund its roads, but the method is not sitting well with some residents who allege that it’s about much more than money. But Executive Director of the Washington State Transportation Commission Reema Griffith is defending the tests planned for the pay-per-mile idea.” [Link added.]

RUC & VMT Programs Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)


A Proposed Testing Site Could Make Ohio a Leader in Self-Driving Vehicle Technology

The Blade reports, “An ambitious plan to build a 500-acre specialty testing site in East Liberty, Ohio, for driverless cars and commercial trucks could go a long way toward cementing Ohio’s status as a key location for developing and proving the technology that looks to be a lock for the future of the automotive industry.”

Ohio Self-Driving Vehicles


HTA Goes Bollywood to Produce Holiday Card for Tolling Industry Partners

Highway Toll Administration (HTA) has some fun with its 2016 video holiday card. The HTA team produces and stars in “HTA in Bollywood”, posted to the company’s YouTube channel. The card also serves as a thank you note to HTA’s partners in the tolling industry. (The click-worthy video was shot in one day.)


PA Lawmakers Urged to Repeal Turnpike's $450 Million in Payments to PennDOT for Transit

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes a lengthy letter by Jim Mall, chairman of the Construction Legislative Council of Western Pennsylvania, who writes that lawmakers need to enact new legislation ending mandatory PA Turnpike payments of $450 million a year to PennDOT to fund mass transit. Mall cites the recent federal court case in which the American Trucking Associations successfully challenged the New York Thruway “practice of using toll revenues to support canal maintenance.”

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission


Journal-News Editors Press for Answers on Tappan Zee Replacement Financing, Toll Rates

The Journal News editorial board raises questions about the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project that cover everything from traffic patterns and project financing to the impact of cashless tolling on the New York Thruway’s bottom line. The editorial follows last week’s announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo that the soaring towers of the new bridge are just about complete.

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge (Tappan Zee Replacement Bridge) New York State Thruway Authority


OK Supreme Court Earns Editorial Praise for Upholding OTA Expansion Plan Financing

The Tulsa World editorial board applauds the Oklahoma Supreme Court for upholding a plan to “refinance state turnpikes and pay for several projects, including some that are critical to the Tulsa area.” The editors add, “The court’s ruling is not only legally correct, but in the best interest of the state. The ability of the turnpike authority to use its profitable roads — especially the Turner Turnpike — to help pay for other needed projects creates jobs and economic opportunity. It gets done what needs to get done and does it in the right way.”

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA)


Fitch Withdraws Rating on NTTA Commercial Paper

Fitch Ratings announced it has withdrawn the ‘F1’ rating on the North Texas Tollway Authority commercial paper notes series A. “The rating withdrawal is in connection with the substitution of the letter of credit that previously supported the bonds,” according to a new release. “Fitch was not asked to provide a rating on the replacement letter of credit.”

North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA)