Daily News Briefs, October 28, 2016

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Six Questions and Answers on Tonight's Mass Turnpike AET Launch

Associated Press poses six AET-related questions to Thomas Tinlin, the MassDOT highway director, starting with, “What happens Friday night when the changeover occurs and what should motorists expect?” AP’s article covers the waterfront, including the privacy issues that have been raised in recent months.


MassDOT Extends E-ZPass Center Hours as AET Goes Live

WCVB News reports, “The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is extending hours at E-ZPassMA service centers during the weekend after open tolling begins. Those extended hours are also intended to accommodate a weekend shutdown of the program’s website and customer service hotline, which is a scheduled part of the transition process.”

Boston Herald reports, “The state’s switch to all-electronic tolling gantries beginning [this evening, October 28] will cause ‘a little bit of pain’ as demolition begins on Mass Pike toll booths, with the MassDOT boss urging motorists to treat it like a snowstorm.”


MassDOT Grapples with Rentals, Leased Vehicles under AET

MassLive.com reports that MassDOT is grappling with the challenge of tolling rental and leased vehicles under its AET system, noting that, “Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said they’re looking at how the new system will work for those drivers and the department plans to speak with the state’s larger rental companies.” The website adds, “For companies handling leased vehicles, tolling can turn out to be big business.”

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Massachusetts Turnpike


VDOT's Layne Gives ERT a Deadline to Deliver a "Corrective Action Plan" on Billing, Customer Service Issues

WAVY News’ “10 On Your Side” unit uncovers new demands by state officials for Elizabeth River Crossings to correct billing and customer service deficiencies, and exposes the limitations on VDOT’s influence and control over the operation of Elizabeth River Tunnels. The station reports, “By Sunday [October 30], ERT must present a corrective action plan to Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, according to a letter obtained by 10 On Your Side. ‘This letter represents the second communication, in as many years, I have written regarding unacceptable deficiencies with your tolling solution,’ Layne wrote in late September. ‘As you are aware, the issues around the proper charging and billing of tolls are creating unnecessary burdens on our customers.’” The report adds that Layne’s letter delivers “one ultimatum within his power: improve, or the DMV will stop providing information linked to license plates. That would limit ERT to only charging customers with an E-ZPass transponder.”

Elizabeth River Tunnels Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)


Bridgegate: Closing Arguments "Inexplicably Delayed" by Meeting in Judge's Chambers

NJ.com reports, “Closings in the Bridgegate trial were inexplicably cancelled Thursday morning [October 27] after a long closed-door meeting between the judge and the attorneys in the case. ‘We have a legal issue to resolve,’ was all U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton told the jury, after a nearly one-hour delay. ‘Things have come up.’” The jury was instructed to return to court this morning.

New Jersey Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ)


Bridgegate, Take II: Lawmaker Wants to Recoup $8 Million Governor Christie Spent on Law Firm's Report

NJ.com columnist Paul Mulshine takes on the Bridgegate mess and notes that Senator Loretta Weinberg “proposes that the Legislature move to recoup the $8 million that Christie spent on the so-called ‘Mastro Report’ by the law firm of Gibson-Dunn. This report was a 137-page press release absolving Christie of any involvement in the lane closures. Page after page has been thrown into doubt by the trial testimony of Kelly and other witnesses, Weinberg said.”

New Jersey Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ)


IL Tollway Declines to Renew AECOM Contract, Despite Staff Recommendation, Strong Rating

Daily Herald reports, “Breaking with precedent, a majority of tollway directors ignored the advice of top staff and rejected renewing a contract with consulting engineers AECOM Technical Services [on October 27]. AECOM has worked for the tollway for more than five decades. The tollway’s engineering department had recommended approving a three-year $43 million contract with the Los Angeles-based firm, which also has a base in Chicago.” The report adds that the tollway board did not provide any explanation for the decision. “AECOM has been rated as ‘exceeds expectations’ in previous reviews, Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs said,” according to the article. Tollway chairman Robert Schillerstrom declined to comment on the ground that the procurement process for an engineering consultant is still open.

Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (IL Tollway)


CTRMA Is Enthusiastic about North MoPac's First Week

Austin American-Statesman covers a CTRMA staff report on the initial week of north MoPac express lane operations. Tim Reilly, the authority’s director of operations, told CTRMA directors, “I really don’t think it could have gone better.” Reilly added that the lighter traffic observed in segments of the expressway’s general purpose lanes resulted from a diversion of “up to 800 vehicles an hour into the added toll lane (at tolls that have remained at 53 cents or less). . . .” Staff also reported that the express lane segments still under construction should be open by the spring of 2017.

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) Express Lanes


TX 45SW Opponents Try Again to Enjoin the Project's Start

Austin American-Statesman reports that the coalition of environmental activists opposed to the Texas 45SW project filed a petition for an emergency injunction in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on October 26. According to the article, the coalition “asks the appellate judges to rule by 4 p.m. Nov. 7. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which would build and operate the four-lane tollway in Southwest Travis County, has said it will start clearing on the 3.6-mile-long highway path on Nov. 8.”

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


Peace Bridge Lane Closures Facilitate $100 Million Rehab Project

WKBW News reports on the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority announcement that the Peace Bridge will be reduced to two lanes from November 15, 2016, through May 15, 2017. “The lanes will be closed to help construction related to the $100 million Peace Bridge rehabilitation project.” The authority is requesting “sufficient Customs staffing levels” to keep traffic moving during construction.

Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority


Kansas Turnpike Honored for 60th Anniversary and K-TAG Campaigns

HaysPost.com reports that the Kansas Turnpike Authority received the 2016 Kansas Tourism Conference’s top award for “Community Awareness” for its 60th Anniversary Video “celebrating the good work, achievements and benefits of the Kansas Turnpike.” KTA also got an honorable mention in the “Integrated Campaign” award category for a campaign to encourage K-TAG use.

Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA)


Is NJ Flashing a Certain Hand Signal to the PA Turnpike for Its Crackdown on Toll Scofflaws?

Courier-Post (Cherry Hill) columnist Jim Walsh takes a light-hearted look at the fact that just under half of the top twenty Pennsylvania Turnpike commercial scofflaws are based in his home state. He notes, “Garden State firms took 10 of 24 spots on the turnpike’s tally of its ‘most egregious commercial toll violators’ — a category dominated by trucking firms. The Jersey contingent, including two local companies, represents a debt to toll takers of more than $1 million, the commission says. In a separate list, it notes Jersey drivers overall owe almost $7 million in tolls from more than 64,000 violations — ranking us second behind Pennsylvania.” Walsh goes on to quote PTC Chairman Sean Logan on the commission’s successful push for broader enforcement legislation and notes, “Lucky for Logan, he released that statement from the commission’s headquarters in Harrisburg. That’s too far away to see the gestures that were coming from New Jersey.”

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Scofflaws


Virginian-Pilot Columnist Takes on ERC Toll Relief Plan

The Virginian-Pilot’s Roger Chesley takes on Governor McAuliffe’s “modest” ERC tunnel toll relief measure, writing that he doesn’t want to be too negative before weighing in with, “I still felt a tad warm and fuzzy about the few quarters the poorest commuters would keep in their pockets; actually, in their E-ZPass accounts. Then I remembered what a disaster this tunnel deal is for Virginians, and how much ERC stands to earn, and my blood boiled again.” Negative? Naah. . . .

Elizabeth River Tunnels Virginia


Fitch Affirms Ratings of Virginia 95 Express PABs and TIFIA Loan, Upgrades Outlook

Fitch Ratings “has affirmed the ‘BBB-‘ rating on the 95 Express Lanes LLC’s . . . $242 million senior private activity bonds (PABs), issued through the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority.” Fitch has also affirmed its ‘BBB-‘ rating on 95 Express’ $321 million TIFIA loan. “The Rating Outlook,” Fitch announced, “has been revised to Positive from Stable.”

I-95 Express (Metro Washington, DC) Virginia Washington (DC) Metro Region