Daily News Briefs, September 21, 2016

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Bridgegate Trial: Fort Lee Mayor Testifies about Giants Tickets, Lunch at the Governor's Mansion and Then . . . Gridlock

NJ.com provides a wrap on day two of the Bridgegate trial, leading with the testimony of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who was being wooed by Governor Christie’s camp with, among other things, tickets to a New York Giants game. “And despite assertions by Gov. Chris Christie in the aftermath of the Bridgegate scandal that the mayor ‘was not on my radar screen,’ and that he had never heard Sokolich’s name ‘until all this stuff happened,’ [Sokolich testified] there had been a private lunch with the governor at Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton.”

According to the newspaper, Sokolich also testified he left voice mail messages (unanswered) requesting that PANYNJ officials call him as the bridge lane closures started to snarl traffic. In one message played for the trial jury, the mayor said, “I can’t get the kids to school. We’re in total gridlock. . . . I’m just trying to figure out who’s mad at me.”

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ)


WV Parkways Chief Says Converting Tollway to Freeway Is No Easy Lift

Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that West Virginia Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr told a legislative committee it will take two years of preparation to “de-toll” the turnpike and transfer its operation to the state highway department, and the process, if it is to take place, would have to begin in the summer of 2017. “Under current law,” the newspaper notes, “once the 30-year Turnpike bonds are paid off in 2019, the state Division of Highways is to assume operation of the 88-mile interstate if the road is in good condition.” Barr also told legislators he is concerned about how the state would make up the loss of the $85 million it receives annually from tolls to maintain the highway.

West Virginia Parkways Authority (West Virginia Turnpike)


NHTSA Regs for Self-Driving Cars Receive "Mixed Reaction" from Industry, Safety Groups

Bloomberg reports, “The new U.S. policy on self-driving cars received a mixed reaction from highway-safety advocates who acknowledged the life-saving potential though warned of a world of ‘human guinea pigs.’” {Link added.] The report adds, “At the same time, there’s a danger that untested technology will be foisted on unwitting consumers, said Jackie Gillan, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance that includes consumer, medical and safety groups, along with insurance companies.”

“Fortune” reports, “The Obama administration is proposing deeper government involvement in the design of autonomous vehicle systems and calling on manufacturers to share more information about how such systems work and why they fail.

The Detroit News also covers the September 20 release of the new policy.

Self-Driving Vehicles


TxDOT's I-35 Open House: Public Helps with Choice of Underpass or Overpass. Express Lanes Also Figure in the Plan.

KEYE News reports, “The public will help choose either an overpass or an underpass as TxDOT works to improve I-35 in Downtown Austin. The Texas Department of Transportation held an open house Tuesday afternoon [September 20] as it’s looking to improve I-35. In one of several projects TxDOT is seeking public input for, this section is from Hwy 183 to Riverside Drive, about a seven mile stretch. As with other regions, this would include adding variably tolled express lanes on the interstate.”

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)


First Responders to Receive Training for I-75 Reversible Toll Lanes

Henry Herald (McDonough, GA) reports, “Over the next three months, local first responders will undergo a series of training exercises preparing them for the reversible toll lanes on Interstate 75 that are set to open at the first of the year.”

Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT)


Preliminary Agreement on Houbolt Road Toll Bridge Announced

The Herald-News (Joliet) reports that a preliminary agreement regarding construction of the proposed Houbolt Road toll bridge is now under review. Concerns have been raised about a provision requiring the city to cover certain cost overruns. A trucking association and the Union Pacific Railroad have also expressed reservations. “The bridge,” the newspaper notes, “is seen as a way to relieve truck congestion on local roads by giving truckers at the CenterPoint Intermodal Center direct access to Interstate 80.”

Illinois P3 & Privatization


DelDOT to Wrap up 132-Day I-95 Bridge Project in 38 Days

The News Journal reports that DelDOT “will transform a 132-day project into one that can be completed in 38 days” by using prefabricated concrete bridge segments and ultra-high-performance concrete to repair a deteriorated I-95 bridge. The report adds, “The $4.7 million cost of the October project will be paid using federal funds and I-95 toll revenues.”

Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT)


Article on Mass Turnpike's AET Conversion Focuses on Privacy, Toll Rates and Payment Questions

Gloucester Times advances the Massachusetts Turnpike’s conversion to AET, slated for next month, focusing on privacy concerns, toll rates and “payment questions.” The report adds, “MassDOT’s board of directors is expected to vote on the proposed Turnpike tolls at an Oct. 6 meeting.”

AET (All-Electronic Tolling) Massachusetts Turnpike


PA Turnpike's Review of Construction Projects to Continue

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, “A reassessment of all Pennsylvania Turnpike improvement projects in the design and construction phases — including the proposed extension of the Mon-Fayette Expressway — will continue for several more weeks, the Turnpike chairman announced [on September 20] after a Turnpike Commission meeting. Turnpike Chairman Sean Logan said in a statement that the commission reviewed data about projects and asked for additional information from their engineering staff.” The project review was sparked by mounting debt due to annual turnpike payments to PennDOT for transit agencies.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC)


Conservative Think Tank Argues It's Time to Solve the PA Turnpike's "Financial Mess"

The Delaware County Times publishes an op-ed by Lowman S. Henry, Chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute, who tackles the PA Turnpike’s mounting debt and toll rate increases, which are due largely to state law that mandates annual payments to PennDOT for transit projects. In addition to the debt, Henry writes, “The legislative mandate is also having another impact: The turnpike is reducing planned spending on maintenance, improvements, and expansion. An ambitious rebuilding plan that includes expansion of the turnpike to six lanes in many areas has already been reduced by $1 billion over the next ten years.”

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC)


Dallas Columnist Is Haunted by Specter of Trinity Toll Road "Rising from the Grave"

Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze, archfoe of the Trinity toll road, writes, “The Trinity toll road project is attempting to rise from its grave once more. I don’t know how I know. I see shadows. I hear things – whispers in the wind. Last week the Greater Dallas Planning Council invited former Dallas City Council members Angela Hunt and Craig Holcomb to debate the project.”



More on a Potential Tolled, P3 Extension of I-49 in Arkansas

Associated Press catches up with the news that Arkansas officials are eyeing a tolled, P3 project to extend I-49, reporting that, “State highway officials estimate that the new 13-mile corridor would cost $380 million, which includes $110 million needed to build a new bridge over the Arkansas River.”

Arkansas P3 & Privatization


Collin County (TX) Commissioners Adopt 2017 Budget for Roads and Toll Authority

Community Impact Newspaper reports that the Collin County Commissioners Court has adopted an FY 2017 combined budget of $322.7 million, which includes road and bridge, and Collin County Toll Road Authority funding. Commissioners voted to cut the county tax rate by seven percent, according to the report.



KTA Announces Construction Schedule for Raising Ten Bridges

Kansas Turnpike Authority  has announced that construction to increase the vertical clearance of ten bridges crossing over the Turnpike/I-35, between south Wichita and the Oklahoma border, will run from September 19 through the late summer of 2017, weather permitting.

Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA)


China Toll Roads Report Losses of $48 Billion in 2015

China Daily reports, “China’s toll roads reported losses of 319 billion yuan ($48 billion) in 2015, more than double the loss made in 2014, due to a sharp rise in loan repayments, a report said [on September 20].  Tollgates nationwide posted a total revenue of 410 billion yuan last year, higher than the 392 billion yuan registered in 2014, according to a Ministry of Transport (MOT) annual report. However, any increase was dwarfed by expenditure, which stood at 729 billion yuan [approximately US$109.27 billion], in contrast to 549 billion yuan the previous year.”

Reuters also reports.