Daily News Briefs, November 18, 2016

This is a Subscribers-Only area. If you are a subscriber, please login. If not...

Become a Subscriber Today »

Who Wants to Be USDOT Secretary?

Donald Trump claims only he knows who the real finalists are for cabinet jobs, but that doesn’t stop TRN from passing along the rumors (garnered from various news outlets) about who the next USDOT chief will be: outgoing Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett (Tulsa World); recently defeated US Representative John Mica (R-FL) (POLITICO, The Hill, and anyone who’ll listen); James Simpson, former NJDOT commissioner and federal transit official (Observer.com and Philly.com); former NTSB chair and US Air Force officer Mark Rosenker (POLITICO); and Greg Hughes, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives (UtahPolicy.com).



AECOM Claims IL Tollway Directors Improperly Rejected Contract Renewal

Daily Herald reports, “The Illinois tollway’s longtime consulting engineer is protesting to state officials that the agency broke the rules when directors rejected renewing AECOM Technical Services’ contract. A majority of tollway directors in October ignored a recommendation from top staff to approve a three-year $43 million contract with Los Angeles-based AECOM, giving no explanation why they were severing a five-decade relationship.” The report adds, “Tollway directors showed a ‘blatant disregard of the law’ and some were ‘openly hostile,’ [AECOM] complaints to the state’s chief procurement officer and Illinois Department of Transportation stated.” Tollway Authority chairman Bob Schillerstrom is quoted as responding, “We followed the law.” The newspaper notes that AECOM has been rated “exceeds expectations” in tollway reviews.

Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (IL Tollway)


NY Comptroller Raises Red Flags on NY Thruway's Finances, Pushes for "Long-term Strategy"

WGRZ reports, “A state audit [released on November 17] again raised red flags about the Thruway Authority’s finances, saying the agency that oversees the 570-mile thoroughfare hasn’t planned a long-term strategy.” State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli stated in a news release that authority officials will consider developing a long-term, comprehensive strategic plan along lines DiNapoli recommends. The thruway’s full response is included in the audit report.

The Bond Buyer (subscription required) reports, “The New York State Thruway Authority is expected to face fiscal challenges with its current revenue structure and must implement a long-term capital plan to cover important infrastructure needs, according to a new audit released by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.”

New York State Thruway Authority


Mid-Bay Bridge Authority Lowers Bar for SunPass Discounts

Northwest Florida Daily News reports, “The Mid-Bay Bridge Authority voted unanimously [on November 17] to reduce the number of trips SunPass users must make to qualify for a discount. The action was in response to higher-than-anticipated revenues at the authority, as well as public requests for relief from toll charges.”

Florida Mid-Bay Bridge Authority


AET Continues to Spread Along East Coast

New Haven Register (channeling CTNewsJunkie.com) looks at the boom in AET and notes that Connecticut is now “sandwiched” between Massachusetts, where the turnpike has gone all electronic, and New York, where “beginning in 2017, automatic tolling is scheduled to begin at select bridges and tunnels run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. . . .”

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Connecticut


FDOT Lays Out Plans for Addition of I-4 Toll Lanes in West Volusia County

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports, “With Orlando already undergoing it’s ‘I-4 Ultimate’ makeover, West Volusia County might also one day see 10 lanes of Interstate 4 with the addition of four toll lanes. While Florida Department of Transportation officials don’t have a timetable for the expansion, they outlined a plan for extra lanes extending east to a point just beyond the State Road 472 interchange in the Deltona area to nearly 100 area residents at a meeting Wednesday night [November 16].” [Link added.]

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)


Poinciana Parkway Traffic Exceeds Projections as Second Segment Opens

The Ledger (Lakeland, FL) reports, “Traffic counts for the first five months of a new toll road in Poinciana have far exceeded expectations. Expect even more cars today [November 17] when the second phase of the Poinciana Parkway [link added] opens at 2 p.m. at the Marigold Overpass. ‘The need was desperate,’ said Atlee Mercer, chairman of the Osceola County Expressway Authority.” The report adds, “The $135 million road was completed in a partnership involving Polk County; Osceola County; the Osceola County Expressway Authority; Avatar, the developer of Poinciana; and the Florida Department of Transportation.”

Florida Osceola County Expressway Authority


ERC's Martin Luther King Freeway Extension at the "Finishing-Touches Stage"

The Virginian-Pilot reports, “The Martin Luther King Freeway Extension, a new elevated route to connect the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, is in the finishing-touches stage. Elizabeth River Crossings, the private entity that operates the facilities and manages tolling, gave tours to media [on Thursday, November 17].” The report adds, “Construction began in November 2013. The freeway was originally set to be tolled, but the state paid ERC $78 million in July 2015 to eliminate the tolls and provide relief to area commuters.”

Elizabeth River Tunnels Virginia


Indiana Lawmakers Likely to Consider Gas Tax, Tolling and RUC Next Year

The Times of Northwest Indiana reports, “The dilemma of how to fund Indiana’s roads and bridges for the next quarter century is likely to come down to whether anti-tax Senate Republicans can be persuaded the return on investment is worth making Hoosiers pay slightly more. At the center of that debate when the Legislature begins working in January will be state Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, who this week was appointed chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee.” [Link added.] The report notes that a legislative committee will issue funding recommendations early next month, and State Representative Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) tells the newspaper that “the recommendations will be diverse and likely to include a gas tax hike, automatic gas tax increases for inflation, more use of general state revenue, tolling and, someday, replacing the gas tax with a per-mile charge.”

Indiana RUC & VMT Programs


Mass Turnpike Toll Plaza Demolition Will Impact Thanksgiving Travel

State House News Service (via WCVB News) reports, “The tollbooth demolition and road reconstruction project on the Massachusetts Turnpike may affect travel plans for some of the nearly 1 million Bay Staters expected to hit the roads this Thanksgiving holiday. As local highways swell, road work will continue through lunchtime Wednesday [November 23].” The report adds that “Phase 2” of the tollbooth removal project (road reconstruction and drainage work) has begun at all 23 plaza locations.

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Massachusetts Turnpike


Alabama Toll Referendums Go 0-2, Despite the Fact that One Was, Kinda', Maybe Almost Approved

AL.com reports, “Both toll road amendments for Baldwin County were defeated by voters during the Nov. 8 general election, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday [November 17]. Neither one is expected to be approved after the state’s canvassing board meets Nov. 29 to certify the election results. And that includes a statewide amendment which had been widely reported as being approved when, according to Secretary of State officials, it was defeated.”



Free E-ZPass Accounts for PANYNJ Workers Rank High on "Coolest Benefits" List

“Money” counts among “some of the coolest retiree benefits offered” the free E-ZPass accounts that all current and former PANYNJ employees receive. The magazine notes that Governor Christie tried to eliminate the perk, but it was restored by retirees through litigation.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ)


RIDOT Marks a Banner Year for Projects, Truck Tolling Plan

WPRI reports, “The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is making good on a promise earlier this year to rebuild itself from the inside out, the department said [on November 17] — as the department has also been pushing itself into high gear on improving roads. As director Peter Alviti noted in a quarterly report ending September 30, the DOT put $174 million worth of contracts out for bid during the 2016 federal fiscal year, $60 million more than the previous year.” The agency is also touting its memoranda of understanding with federal highway officials on the RhodeWorks truck toll program.

Rhode Island


Canada's Debate Over Private Infrastructure Investment Heats Up as One Lawmaker Calls the Opposition "Short-Sighted, Stupid and Irresponsible." (Otherwise, It's All Good.)

The Canadian Press reports, “One of the architects of the Liberals’ proposed infrastructure bank says opposition to the idea is short-sighted, stupid and irresponsible. Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, says the whole idea of the bank is to make it possible for municipalities to leverage private sector cash to fund crucial projects that would otherwise be unaffordable.” The wire service adds, “Vaughan’s characterization of opposition to the infrastructure bank infuriated New Democrats, who demanded that the government denounce his ‘disrespectful’ statements. ‘Canadians who are concerned about tolls and user fees, he’s calling them stupid,’ NDP MP Rachel Blaney told the House of Commons on [November 17]. ‘Canadians who understand that private investors will only invest if they see a return, he’s calling them stupid.’”



Trudeau Pushes for Foreign Investment, But Interest May Be Limited to "Low-Risk, Existing Assets"

National Post columnist John Ivison looks at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s push for foreign investment in a national infrastructure bank and notes “there [remains] concerns about the web of regulations that prevent foreigners from investing in politically sensitive industries like telecommunications and broadcasting.” At a forum with “the heaviest of hitters in the pension and sovereign wealth fund business” earlier this week, Ivison notes, “Trudeau pitched Canada as an island of relative stability, as the government seeks to bolster the $35 billion it has committed to its nascent infrastructure bank with foreign investment. But it sounds like many of the investors are more interested in low-risk, existing assets over higher-risk toll roads and bridges.”



Fitch on Texas Transportation Commission Bonds

Fitch Ratings “has assigned a ‘AAA’ rating to approximately $760 million in Texas Transportation Commission . . . State of Texas general obligation (GO) mobility refunding bonds, series 2017. The bonds are expected to be offered by negotiated sale on or about the week of Jan. 16, 2017. The Rating Outlook is Stable.”