September 25, 2009

WashDOT's Paula Hammond: Tolled Express Lanes Key

Matt Rosenberg

Corridor-length Approach Is Favored; I-405/SR 167 Seen As Model

Reporter Newspapers covers East and South King County, and has produced a lengthy special section - also available online - delving into the region's surface transportation challenges. In an in interview for "Navigate King County's Future," Washington Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond talks about funding, with an emphasis on beginning to to add variable-rate express toll lanes for the full length of major highway corridors such as I-405/SR 167. She also alludes to the next-generation approach of charging vehicles for all miles driven, with on-board units.

In the future, you could be paying for your right to use roads the same way you pay your utilities — a bill based on exactly how much you use. According to Paula Hammond, secretary of transportation, and the state’s highest transportation official, the technology to do that isn’t that far down the road. “It’s 10 to 15 years out,” she said, noting that kind of direct-user fee could be part of the equation for future transportation funding. 

But in the meantime, there is a complex – not to mention expensive – series of transportation needs that the Puget Sound area has to resolve, or at least come to terms with. Traffic congestion; freight issues; super-efficient hybrid vehicles slowing the state’s gas tax to more of a trickle: all of these elements are adding up to a Gordian’s Knot of worries on which the state is working to get a handle.

...Hammond called attention to one of DOT’s latest projects: high-occupancy tolling lanes, or HOT Lanes. It’s a concept allowing non-carpooling drivers to use the HOV lanes, by charging them for the privilege. For more than a year DOT has been operating a test segment of State Route 167 in South King County.

And it’s working...Given the promise of HOT lanes have shown, DOT is working to expand HOT lanes on more of Puget Sound’s clogged roadways – starting with I-405, where road-expansion work is ongoing, and HOV lanes are already present....“But we’re looking at the entire (405) corridor. And as it comes through the 167 interchange and carries down there as well.”...The concept of paying as you go, to fund specific projects like the HOT lanes, is gaining serious momentum as a payment solution for transportation issues...Hammond said drivers investing directly in the roads they use is a critical part of the equation...

(Full article)

(Reporter Newspapers Transportation Special Report: "Navigate King County's Future")

WashDOT Slideshow: "Moving Seattle Forward," (based on state plan, "Moving Washington Forward').

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 7:34 AM |
August 12, 2009

Eastside Corridor Tolling Meetings Next Week

Matt Rosenberg

As part of its Eastside Corridor Tolling study of I-405 and SR 167, WashDOT will hold public meetings next week on Aug. 18, 19 and 20 in Auburn, Bellevue and Renton. Due to increased population and employment over recent decades, the north-south highway corridor of I-405 and SR 167 serving suburban cities south and east of Seattle already suffers major peak hour congestion which would worsen without intervention as growth continues. Up to two (electronic, variably-priced) express toll lanes in each direction are being contemplated for I-405 along with the addition of another lane in each direction to SR 167, each of those likely to be similarly managed.

Continue reading " Eastside Corridor Tolling Meetings Next Week " »

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:57 AM |
June 4, 2009

Talking Corridor Tolling With Dori Monson, On KIRO-FM 97.3

Matt Rosenberg

The first thing you need to know about KIRO-FM 97.3 News Talk host Dori Monson is that when he says he's "filled full of Diet Coke, caffeine and righteous rage," he's not kidding. Okay, maybe he's exaggerating a bit, showman that he is. Let's just say he's a high-energy guy and a strenuous advocate of fiscal accountability and limited taxes, as I was reminded yesterday in an hour-long session with Dori and some of his many listeners. We were discussing a proposal for a seamless system of tolled express lanes on the Puget Sound region's highways and major state routes, that I outlined in a piece recently published at Crosscut, titled, "Flexible Tolling: The Key To Solving Our Congestion." It was then highlighted again, the day before yesterday, in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article by their transportation reporter Aubrey Cohen. (Note the comments from State Treasurer Jim McIntyre, among other things, in Cohen's piece.)

On the show I outlined why we at Cascadia Center believe a connected system of tolled express lanes on major highways and state routes is one key part a of a future-facing strategy to help ensure regional mobility, transportation choices and economic security, as Central Puget Sound's population continues to grow - by about 40 percent over the next 30 years.

Here's the MP3 file of the hour; and here's the full transcript. For now, I'll leave you with my closing thoughts to Dori after what diplomats would call "a frank exchange of views." This has to do with the distinction between tolling only a few specific facilities, such as bridges and tunnels, versus a more comprehensive approach based on highway corridors.

Are bits and pieces better? Or is the seamless approach better? Remember the old HOV lanes? They'd end, and you'd be frustrated. Well, if we're going to have tolled express lanes, it should be in a continuous, seamless system. We'll get more bang for our buck, and better service.

Thanks, Dori.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 1:20 PM |
June 2, 2009

Tolling Taking Center Stage?

Mike Wussow


Will more Washington roads take their toll on drivers? That's the question posed in the headline of an article written by Aubrey Cohen of the today, and which quotes my colleague, Cascadia Center Senior Fellow Matt Rosenberg extensively.

Discovery Institute Founder and President Bruce Chapman comments on the issue over at Discovery Blog under the post "For Whom the Highway Tolls."

The country needs a general upgrade of infrastructure. Billions are now available through the stimulus bill, but still not enough. The emphasis on "shovel-ready" projects in the stimulus package, though understandable as a recession-fighter, is unhelpful when the need is for serious long term planning.

The story quotes heavily from a recent Rosenberg article about tolling in Crosscut.

Posted by Mike Wussow at 3:58 PM |
May 19, 2009

A Seamless Automated Tolling System For Central Puget Sound's Highways

Matt Rosenberg

Article as published at Crosscut

Population in the four counties of Central Puget Sound will have grown from the 2008 total of 3.6 million by another 1.4 million in 2040. Jobs will increase by 1.1 million, and - based on the region's collective proclivities to date - total vehicle miles travelled (VMT) by more than 40 percent. Barring some big paradigm shift, the percentage of daily "passenger" work trips (freight vehicles not included) which occur on transit will grow from 8 percent of the current (2006) total to only 9 percent in 2040. For far more numerous non-work passenger trips, the transit market share stays at a scant 2 percent between 2006 and 2040, according to recent modeling. The vast majority of daily passenger trips occur in cars now and then. For work it's more than four of five, for non-work, about nine of ten. (The rest are split between transit, walking and biking.) On the upside, there's a lot more ride-sharing for non-work trips; plus, per-capita VMT will continue to stay flat; and we can shave a bit off the expected growth in total VMT by meeting (elusive) regional growth strategy targets.

These are some of the conclusions in a March 2009 background paper that's part of the Puget Sound Regional Council's "Transportation 2040" planning effort. Future projections may change slightly under new computer modeling in a draft environmental impact statement due out at month's end. But you get the idea. The PSRC's 2040 picture begs a huge question: what to do about it all. And, as we'll see in a moment, it turns out that, away from the big transportation headlines it made last session, the state legislature has some ideas of its own.

My own take: A comprehensive approach to managing peak-hour highway capacity in Central Puget Sound should be launched by bravely establishing - and soon - a seamless regional system of variably-priced, automated and ultimately, corridor-length tolling on highways and major state routes. This must be folded into a broader plan to develop stable long-term funding for the region's surface transportation network.

Continue reading " A Seamless Automated Tolling System For Central Puget Sound's Highways " »

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:00 PM | | Comments ( 1 )
April 22, 2009

Bay Area Looks To Future With Regional HOT Lane System

Matt Rosenberg

Slight decreases in traffic congestion due to the economic downturn are no reason to curtail aggressive transportation planning for looming population and employment growth in major metro regions. Despite the most fervent wishes of some planners, metro region growth in coming years will continue to be more away from, than to, high-density urban neighborhoods. This is due to due to several factors. For one, first- and second-ring suburbs have become regional employment centers, and cities in their own right. They are where people increasingly work, shop, play - and if finances permit, live. Examples in Central Puget Sound include Bellevue and Redmond to the east of Seattle, and (more affordable) Kent and Federal Way to the city's south. Second, there are still better housing values in mid- and outer-ring suburbs that lie beyond these locales. Value for money in housing has always been a big factor - even more so now. Third, suburban public schools are in a number of important ways less problematic compared to their urban counterparts.

For these and other reasons, central cities are no longer economically and culturally dominant. They will become even less so as population continues to move outward. One result is that daily travel patterns for the majority of a region's residents are - if not already a complex mosaic, or multi-stop "trip chain" - at least a far cry from the old school "hub and spoke" commuter routes going from suburbs to central city and back five days a week.

Advanced forms of ride-sharing aided by networked information systems are gradually coming into play, and telecommuting, one hopes, will become more widespread. But the future of highways and arterial roads in growing metro regions looks very busy. It could be said that ultimately the question is how best to modify behavior enough at the margins to stretch finite road capacity further. Because it is ultimately impossible, not to mention unthinkable, to enforce old-regime Soviet-style authority directing where people will live and work, and how and when and by what means they will travel, we are left instead with free-market incentives.

For signs of an enlightened modern approach beginning to emerge, look no further than the San Francisco Bay Area. It seems to get that while road capacity is not an unlimited resource, the region still must robustly address increased pressure on highway systems in years to come.

A related, and sweeping legislative proposal has been introduced in the current session of the California General Assembly. It stems from the earlier adoption by a regional agency of principles for a wide network of booth-less, cash-less electronically tolled express highway lanes. These would be free to transit and ride-share vehicles and available to solo drivers for an account-billed variable fee, based on real-time congestion levels.

An important marker on the pathway to implementing this system of "High Occupancy (and) Toll" lanes (HOT lanes) was adoption by The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the nine-county Bay Area regional transportation planning organization, in July 2008 of its HOT network principles. (See p. 3 for map).

The principles answer the question of why a region would consider such a plan, which involves converting existing carpool/transit-only or "HOV" lanes to more flexible HOT lanes, plus building new HOT lanes, while drawing upon the revenue raised by time-variable tolling of solo drivers. The MTC's stated principles are:

  • More effectively manage the region's freeways in order to provide higher vehicle and passenger throughput and reduce delays for those traveling within each travel corridor;
  • Provide an efficient, effective, consistent, and seamless system for users of the network;
  • Provide benefits to travelers within each corridor commensurate with the revenues collected in that corridor, including expanded travel options and funding to support non-highway options that enhance effectiveness and throughput;
  • Implement the Express/HOT Lane Network in the Bay Area...using a rapid delivery approach that takes advantage of the existing highway right of way to deliver the network in an expedited time frame;
  • Toll revenue collected from the HOT network will be used to operate the HOT network, maintain HOT system equipment and software, provide transit services and improvements in the corridors, finance and construct the HOT network, and provide other corridor improvements.
  • Those principles gave rise to legislation, now pending. The MTC provides this important analysis of AB 744 to "authorize a Bay Area express lane network to deliver congestion relief and public transit funding with no new taxes," introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont (pictured, right). The bill would authorize the MTC's corollary agency, the Bay Area Toll Authority, to finance, construct and operate a complete, seamless regionally-managed express lane networks on major highways. The system would:

  • convert 500 miles of existing or fully-funded HOV lanes to express HOT lanes;
  • build 300 miles of new express HOT lanes (180 miles to fill gaps, 120 miles to extend the system outward);
  • maintain free-flowing traffic for carpoolers, buses and toll-payers by adjusting tolls as congestion fluctuates;
  • yield $13.7 billion in revenues over 25 years, fully paying for its $7.6 billion cost, including construction, operations, maintenance, and enforcement, and providing an additional $6 billion for further transportation improvements in the highway corridors, including public transit;
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 million metric tons, versus the traditional HOV lanes approach;
  • boost the value of worker productivity by $100 billion by reducing highway delays.
  • According to the MTC analysis, AB 744 has some additional safeguards. It requires that 95 percent of the net revenue raised in each corridor be spent in that corridor for transit or emission reduction projects, and that the decisions about what such projects to implement be based on a bottom-up planning process giving ample voice to local input.

    The MTC analysis also takes aim at a common canard that priced express lanes are "Lexus Lanes" mainly for the well-off. Nationally, the MTC reports, only 25 percent of priced express lane users are classified as high-income; and a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo study of SR 91 express lane users in Orange County found usage more closely tied to travel conditions and trip needs than income.

    The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board writes of the AB 744 plan:

    Bay Area transit planners have relatively limited options in trying to keep traffic moving in a region where growth continues to outpace the ability to build freeways or expand mass transit. Their challenge is to find ways to make better use of the transit and roadways we have. One such alternative is to create a seamless regional network of lanes for buses, carpoolers - and drivers willing to pay a toll.

    We can certainly understand the instinctive groans at the concept of what transit planners call "high-occupancy toll" (or HOT) lanes - and critics deride as "Lexus lanes" that allow drivers with the means to pay a fee to glide past traffic. However, on closer review, the congestion relief produced by an enhanced network of express lanes would offer benefits to bus riders as well as drivers in the free lanes.

    Marin County's elected board of supervisors has voiced opposition to the regional approach embodied in AB 744; they want local say-so on turning Route 101's HOV lanes, in Marin, into HOT lanes. The Marin Independent Journal in an editorial, disagrees, saying HOT lane policy is a regional matter. They are right. If every municipality or county that would be affected by tolled express lanes were given veto power, a piecemeal and politicized approach would result within contiguous, vital regional corridors and throughout the regional highway system. In the long run, traffic congestion would only spiral. The greater good requires a comprehensive plan, building upon the HOT lane projects already planned or underway. In the Bay Area, these include I-680 over the Sunol Grade, and I-580 in Alameda County plus SR 85 and US 101 in Santa Clara County.

    Torrico's AB 744 is wending its way through the state legislature. It is too early to say how it will fare. It would not be shocking if such a comprehensive and bracing approach failed to gain full traction early on.

    Cascadia Center does not endorse or oppose this bill. Our interest is in identifying surface transportation best practices, and ventilating related issues. Generally speaking, regional express lane systems are in our view a smart way forward. Especially considering the cost of failing to implement this approach.

    Greater Portland, and Central Puget Sound will want to be considering very closely what's being pursued for the Bay Area.

    UPDATE, 4/23/09: It should be noted that although the regional HOT lane plan is a major step in the right direction, some healthy debate is warranted over the spending priorities in the MTC's larger, $218 billion, 25-year "Transportation 2035" plan, approved yesterday by the planning body. It's reported that of the $218 billion in anticipated revenues, some $142 billion would be spent on expansion, operations and maintenance of transit; $66 billion for street, road and highway maintenance; and just $11 billion for expansion of roadways. The "Transportation 2035" plan, including amendments approved yesterday, can be found here. Further analysis of this broader 2035 plan will need to be of the gimlet-eyed variety. It should include comprehensive review of costs and benefits of the transit versus roadway expenditures, plus scrutiny of fiscal assumptions and strategies, versus fiscal best practices.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 1:48 PM | | Comments ( 1 )
    March 11, 2009

    Include I-205 In I-5 Columbia Crossing Mobility Council Planning

    Matt Rosenberg

    Columbia River Crossing is the $4.2 billion project to replace two old, crowded and dangerous bridges connecting Washington and Oregon on Interstate 5 (pictured below left, courtesy of KATU-TV Portland). The old structures (one goes northbound-only, the other southbound) are to be supplanted with a new, two-way variably-tolled bridge, that will also extend Portland's light rail system to Vancouver, Wash., add bike and pedestrian pathways across the river, and fix six devilish bridge corridor interchanges near the crossing.

    It's been announced recently that the bridge will be 12 lanes total, then the highway will narrow back to six. The wider bridge will be built to help handle crossing volume fed by longer-haul traffic and also by local and regional drivers, a goodly portion of whom may not travel great distances on I-5, but need to access the bridge, from safer new merge and exit lanes, to get between Clark County, Wash. and points south, in Portland and environs. Yet the bridge lane count is prompting considerable worries among some critics that the new facility will encourage more vehicle use, suburban residential development, and greenhouse gas emissions.

    Another, but somewhat contradictory argument is that the 12 bridge lanes aren't going to be needed because more and more people will be taking transit - witness the slight increase in transit use nationally last year, and slight drop in vehicle miles travelled.

    Let's back up for a quick minute. First, it's great to see more people using public transit. That's been encouraged by the gas price run-up of last year, the faltering economy, and growing concerns about greenhouse gas emissions. Metro region transit systems are in a good position to increase their market share, except that they're now scrambling to make up for sharply declining sales tax revenues which may force cutting routes that carry fewer passengers, at higher costs.

    But even assuming transit systems successfully re-tool, and even with a slight drop-off last year in vehicle miles travelled, the nation's roadways are still strained after decades of explosive growth in use, while maintenance lagged. We can all agree - or should - on the need to create more incentives to expand ride-sharing, transit and tele-work. Yet the private vehicle is here to stay and to plan metro region transportation systems based on a hope against hope that auto usage will go into significant decline, is just plain....not smart.

    Improving fuel efficiency, and in coming years, mainstream market penetration by electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will help keep cars in heavy circulation. So too will the current daily realities of the driving life, for people who have pressures of limited time or longer distances to travel, or spread-out daily "trip chains."

    There's hope, though, that Columbia River Crossing can be completed in a timely manner while successfully addressing mobility and environmental concerns. Now likely to be deployed on all lanes of the new bridge is electronic time-variable tolling - which rewards carpoolers, van-poolers and transit vehicles with free passage, but charges tolls to solo drivers, on a sliding scale determined by time of day or real-time congestion levels. (Lower tolls when traffic is lighter, off-peak; higher tolls when it's heavier, at peak hours.) Time-variable electronic tolling will help fund the project, and can help produce effective limits on peak-hour solo trips and congestion.

    Last week, the CRC Project Sponsors Council approved a "mobility council concept" that paves the way for a high-level advisory body to help direct management of the new, tolled bridge and quite possibly, the parallel I-205 bridge to the east, across the Columbia.

    That last part will be important because the two form a natural two-pronged highway corridor running north-south across the river, connecting Washington and Oregon. From the north, I-205 branches off from I-5 in Clark County, Wash., north of Vancouver and about six miles from the river, and then proceeds southeast across the river, parallel to I-5, but some four-plus miles apart from it, to the Oregon side. From there, I-205 connects with key arterial roads, and state routes, running approximately 24 more miles south, and finally back west before it rejoins I-5.

    Joined At The Hip With I-5

    Serving as a gateway to populous suburbs, plus commercial, business and leisure destinations, and providing an oft-utilized workaround to snarled I-5 in Portland, I-205 is literally joined at the hip to I-5. They can't be considered as anything less than a single corridor - where peak-hour solo driving must be priced and rationed, and transit, ride-sharing and tele-work further encouraged. If one bridge is tolled, but the other isn't, then there's great potential for exponentially more traffic diversions from one to the other. Corridor management is where things are headed in surface transportation, and defining corridors the right way is essential.

    Here's the background to last week's action. The "locally preferred alternative" for Columbia River Crossing, set last July, established that the new bridge would replace, not augment the current I-5 bridges; and that design and planning should facilitate use of the bridge by light rail, bus, high-occupancy vehicles and bicycles while also taming "one of the most significant chokepoints" for traffic in the "nationally significant" West Coast trade and commerce corridor.

    The mobility council concept agreement approved last week by the Project Sponsors Council represents part of the plan to make those aims reality. The agreement notes some important points of consensus as the project moves through the final phase of the Environmental Impact Statement and into design:

  • The replacement bridge will be constructed with adequate width to accommodate six lanes in each direction to provide for safe operations between interchanges and efficient movement of people and goods.
  • This project is consistent with the regional plans that call for three through lanes in each direction on I-5 within the metropolitan area.
  • The finance plan will include tolling options to not only repay debt and ongoing operations and maintenance, but also to help manage the travel performance of the Columbia River crossings.
  • The project will create predictable and reliable trip durations for freight and other high priority trips moving through and within the corridor, and help maintain regional trips on the facility, rather than spilling over to local collectors and arterials due to congestion.
  • At its meeting this coming June, the sponsors council will create a technical group to develop performance measures and initiate public dialog on tolling strategies. This work will serve as at least a partial template for the mobility council, when it sets to work. Once formally seated, it would advise the two state transportation departments and local and regional transit agencies on how best to manage the 1-5 bridge and possibly also the I-205 bridge with tolls and other policies.

    While the CRC Project Sponsor Council's mobility council concept does not specifically mention including the I-205 bridge in performance management corridor, a corollary resolution approved a week earlier by the Portland City Council does. The city resolution and an "attachments" backgrounder can be viewed here (click on the magnifying glass icon for each to access the MS-Word documents). The city resolution states, in part:

    ...the Columbia River Crossing is a project of great importance and unprecedented magnitude in our region, with far-reaching benefits for the city of Portland and the city of Vancouver; and...the physical capacity of a new bridge is inextricably linked to the issue of how it will be managed over time...the City of Portland supports the concept of performance-based management to maximize freight and personal mobility through the I-5 and I-205 Columba River Crossings using performance standards....the City recommends that a new bridge be built to accommodate up to three add/drop lanes and three through lanes in each direction, but that use of these lanes will be actively managed over time to get the right mix of tolling, HOV or HOT lanes, vanpools, and transit fare programs to reduce vehicle miles traveled and pollution...the City of Portland supports the formation of a Columbia River Crossing Mobility Council...

    The Mobility Council would have a chairperson jointly appointed by the governors of both states, and one non-elected member serving a three-year term appointed by each of the two state DOTs, the two states, the two cities (Portland, and Vancouver, Wash.), the four designated transit or planning agencies, and the two ports. The two DOTs would provide staff to the Mobility Council, and the council would every year develop a Columbia Crossing Mobility Operations Plan on tolling, transit service, vehicle demand management and related measures, which the two DOTs and two transit agencies would then either accept or reject. Parts of each yearly plan could be rejected with comments, for re-submission. Stalemates would be broken by a meeting of the mobility council's chair with the chairs of both state transportation commissions or both transit agencies. The two DOTs and the transit agencies would retain the right to act without recommendation of the mobility council if deemed necessary, and the DOTs could also raise toll rates at a faster than recommended schedule if needed to satisfy bond obligations, including maintenance and operations costs.

    Those seem reasonable caveats. Given the political and economic stakes, it would be mistaken to assume the mobility council would be just another paper tiger. Policy experts and everyday users alike will be watching the corridor closely to see if traffic flow and environmental objectives can be met. One thing is certain. The complex juggling act is one faced by scores of other major metro regions, on the West Coast and across the U.S. And at the root of it all are two clear realizations. Free peak-hour highway lanes for solo drivers carry huge social and economic costs, and failure to develop robust road pricing systems and better mobility choices will hobble surface transportation and the economy.

    RELATED: "States Agree To Build 12-lane Columbia River Bridge," The Oregonian, 3/6/09

    "Advisory Panel Gives Its Blessing To New 12-lane I-5 Bridge; Group Also Plans To Recommend Funding Tools And Management Committee," Portland Tribune, 3/6/09

    "Wide Bridge Would Have Watchdog," The Columbian, 3/7/09

    "Council Votes For 12 Lanes For Columbia River Crossing; Formation Of Mobility Council Would Provide Project Accountability, Says Metro President," Daily Journal Of Commerce (Oregon), 3/9/09

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 4:43 PM |
    November 11, 2008

    Try This On: Variable Tolls For SR 520 And I-90 In 2010

    Matt Rosenberg

    The State Route 520 Tolling Implementation Committee's "November Scenario Evaluation" document released yesterday shows that the most robust regional financing for replacing the dangerously sub-par 520 bridge comes from time-variable tolling on it starting in 2010 and tolling the parallel I-90 span across Lake Washington, starting in 2010 or 2016. Tolling in this key east-west corridor would be done on the fly, electronically, with vehicle windshield transponders and overhead gantries; no toll booths. Tolls that vary by time of day are likely, though flat rates are also an option. Special lanes that would be free to buses and ride-sharers could be made available to solo drivers, for a price.

    The committee's members are WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond (pictured, left), Puget Sound Regional Council Executive Director Bob Drewel, and Washington State Transportation Commission board member Richard Ford. This latest analysis, along with public comment, will inform a January, 2009 final report from the committee to the state legislature, which is then to approve a tolling plan for the SR 520 bridge and perhaps the I-90 bridge as well. Then, specific toll rates would be set by the state transportation commission and approved by the legislature, with construction of pontoons for the new 520 bridge beginning later in 2009 if all goes as envisioned.

    The weary and crowded 1963-vintage 520 bridge connects Seattle with Eastside job centers such as Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland but is at major risk of catastrophic failure in a 70 mph windstorm, or earthquake. At the same time, growing regional traffic congestion has prompted a public warming to expansion of regional transit, and bettered the odds for a system of electronic, time-variable tolling on major highways and state routes across metro Puget Sound. A priced-lanes pilot project for carpoolers and solo drivers is already underway on SR 167, and flat-rate electronic tolling in place, to rave reviews, on the new southbound span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

    The 520 tolling committee's latest report reveals that:

  • Starting tolling in 2010 instead of at bridge completion in 2016 would pry loose an additional $400-$500 million, lowering the costs of bond borrowing for construction, which is to be repaid by tolls;
  • The most revenue toward completion of the $3.7 to $3.9 billion project comes from tolling both the SR 520 and I-90 bridges starting in 2010 ($2.4 billion, Scenario #9) or 520 in 2010 and I-90 in 2016 ($2.4 billion, Scenario #4);
  • One-way tolls on both bridges would range from 75 cents off-peak to $2.95 at peak hours in Scenario #9, and from 75 cents off-peak to $3.25 at peak in Scenario #4;
  • Tolling 520 alone starting in 2010 (Scenario #7) would cut peak-hour traffic volume in the vicinity of 17 to 26 percent while peak-hour flow would rise three to seven percent on I-90;
  • Tolling both 520 and I-90 starting in 2016 (Scenario #9) would deliver peak-hour volume cuts of 10 to 11 percent on 520 and 12-16 percent on I-90, as commuters shift travel times or use transit;
  • Time-variable tolling increases peak-hour speeds on 520 by 13-16 mph, nearly double the speed gain from flat toll rates.
  • The committee will continue to get an earful at public hearings this week and next from tolling opponents who somehow imagine they are a due a free ride because the construction, maintenance and operations costs of Puget Sound roads and bridges, as population continues to swell in coming decades, can somehow all be covered by the incredible shrinking gas tax and.......what? More sales tax hikes or vehicle fees?They're nice if you can get 'em, but the well only runs so deep.

    Pay as you go is the way to go in this day and age - coupled with cost-saving, performance-based consortium contracting to design, build, operate and maintain surface transportation facilities and systems.

    The four-lane SR 520 bridge across the lake is to be replaced with a six-lane structure. Current plans call for two "general purpose" lanes and one high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction, the former would be tolled either via either a flat or time-variable rate if a plan is adopted. This is confirmed by WSDOT, though it can get a bit confusing because one doesn't necessarily think of general purpose lanes as being tolled. On the I-90 bridge, the agency also confirms, tolling would be on all general purpose vehicle lanes, except under one scenario that exempts eastbound traffic from Mercer Island. On both bridges the possible HOV lane could be designated a High Occupancy and Toll (HOT lane), free to transit and ride-share vehicles, but also available, for a toll, to solo drivers.

    The more time-variable tolling, and the sooner, the better: it will further drive alternative choices such as ride-sharing and telework, and raise more money for regional surface transportation needs, transit included.

    The policy decisions to come on tolling the SR 520 bridge, and perhaps the I-90 bridge as well, are an important turning point for the state and region. Going forward, a broad regional plan to implement time-variable tolling on several highways and major state routes is needed. That would allocate scarce peak-hour capacity, ease congestion, and help pay for billions more in needed safety, repair and mobility improvements on I-5, SR 99, SR 704, SR 509, US 2 and I-405/SR 167.

    The question is, how serious are we about doing this? The legislature will provide the first piece of the answer when it next meets.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 2:08 PM | | Comments ( 1 )
    November 4, 2008

    En Route To A Bay Area HOT Lane Network

    Matt Rosenberg

    Construction began last week on a High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lane to serve carpoolers, transit and - for a price varying by miles travelled and time of day - solo drivers, on a 14-mile stretch of southbound I-680 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The highway connects the jobs-rich Silicon Valley region with populous East Bay communities to the north. Electronic tolling will be employed, using transponders and overhead gantries. Carpoolers will cover their onboard transponders to avoid being charged. Some commuters are expected to save 30 minutes in the express lane, while congestion will be eased in the general use lanes as well. It's all part of a much broader, 25-year, $6.1 billion toll-financed plan to build, operate and maintain a Bay Area HOT lane system. The plan was developed by the nine-county Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The aim is creation of 800 miles of HOT lanes on the region's highways to make driving and bus transit more predictable and reliable, while encouraging alternatives to peak-hour solo drives. As Gary Richards of the San Jose Mercury-News reports, the initiative is seen as a real game-changer:

    Traffic officials described the Bay Area tolling plan in no uncertain terms: revolutionary, dramatic and bold. "The entire nation will be watching," said Gene Fong, the California chief with the Federal Highway Administration, referring to transportation officials' interest in the potential for widespread use of toll lanes. Added John Ristow, lead highway planner with the Valley Transportation Authority: "It'll have as big of an impact as building BART in the '60s. There will be such a dramatic change in the way people get around."

    HOT lanes are an example of what is called "congestion pricing," which includes not only variably-priced lanes, but variably-priced highways and urban core parking. The road-pricing strategy continues to gain currency in the national media for its transformational potential. Last week, New York Times syndicated columnist David Brooks, in a widely-read piece titled, "A National Mobility Project," wrote:

    Americans now spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, a figure expected to double by 2020. The U.S. population is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 42 years. American residential patterns have radically changed. Workplaces have decentralized. Commuting patterns are no longer radial, from suburban residences to central cities. Now they are complex weaves across broad megaregions. Yet the infrastructure system hasn't adapted. The smart thing to do is announce a short-term infrastructure initiative to accelerate all those repair projects that can be done within a few years. Then, begin a long-term National Mobility Project.

    Create a base-closings-like commission to organize federal priorities (Congress has forfeited its right to micromanage). Streamline the regulations that can now delay project approval by five years. Explore all the new ideas that are burgeoning in the transportation world - congestion pricing, smart highways, rescue plans for shrinking Midwestern cities, new rail and airplane technologies. When you look into this sector, you see we are on the cusp of another transportation revolution.

    The Bay Area has already taken this kind of thinking to heart. This July, 2008 "principles" document from the MTC says the system will utilize existing rights-of-way and focus on corridors and so-called "commute sheds," while reinvesting revenues where they're raised and directing spending not only to system operations and maintenance, but also "non-highway options." These are to include transit, and easing traffic bottlenecks for carpoolers and buses on arterial "collector" routes. The plan will be refined and overseen by the region's Congestion Management Agencies (CMA), Caltrans, California Highway Patrol, and the Bay Area Toll Authority.

    In addition to the work starting on I-680, HOT lanes are already being built on I-580. Among other planned projects in the network are HOT lanes for the I-880/Highway 237 interchange, the length of Highway 85, and Highway 101, from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto.

    The Oakland Tribune's editorial board explains why they think it's all a ripping good idea:

    Toll revenues would pay for construction of additional HOT lanes so that they would be available to motorists almost anywhere in the Bay Area. Today, carpool lanes often end near intersections and are missing altogether on many stretches of highway. Perhaps even more important than building new HOT lanes, the MTC's plan would construct and improve key highway connectors throughout the Bay Area. All too often today, traffic bottlenecks occur near intersections where there are not enough lanes to accommodate carpools.

    Another part of the MTC plan is the creation of an express bus system that would significantly enhance mass transit in many parts of the Bay Area. One of the major problems with bus transportation today is the lack of a continuous carpool or HOT-lane system. As a result, buses are forced to slow down to a crawl in many locations, especially at intersections of major highways. Also, there are not enough express buses. Most of them make so many stops along their routes that they are not useful for longer commutes. Express buses on a continuous HOT-lane system would be a great improvement and are likely to attract far more riders than they have today.

    A full-on regional "system" approach is the way to implement HOT lanes, with an accent on better service delivery for transit, ride-share vehicles and solo drivers. It's encouraging that HOT lanes are already implemented in a score of different locales across the U.S . and that more are coming.

    Major metro regions that step up to the complex mobility challenge will reap economic benefits that laggard competitors won't.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:15 AM |
    October 23, 2008

    When "Lexus Lanes" Aren't

    Matt Rosenberg

    The Washington State Department of Transportation last spring began a four-year pilot project to see how High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes would work on a nine-mile stretch of State Route 167 in the near-south suburban part of the Seattle region, from Renton to Auburn. Carpoolers and transit use the fast lanes for free, solo drivers pay a sliding-scale fee based on current congestion. It's all electronic, with gantries and transponders, not a toll booth in sight, thank goodness. Prices can range from 50 cents to $9 on SR 167's HOT lanes, but have tended toward the lower end of the scale so far. The aim is to keep traffic flowing at 45 mph or higher at least 90 percent of the time. HOT lanes are one form of a broader strategy known as congestion pricing that can also be applied to all lanes of a highway, and (theoretically) to all roads and streets in a metro region through the use of GPS devices on vehicles. The higher the demand at a given time, the higher the charge, is the basic idea.

    The big knock on HOT lanes by critics nationwide has been that because of those tolls for solo drivers, they are really so-called "Lexus Lanes," amenable only to the rich and privileged, who are more likely to drive luxury cars. Those driving Fords and Chevys would be priced right out of the HOT lanes, according to this argument.

    But the chart below, presented yesterday by WSDOT to the Washington State Transportation Commission, shows the opposite. From May through July, 2008, the vehicles most often using the SR 167 HOT lanes were.......Fords and Chevys. By miles. Followed by Toyota, Honda, Dodge and Nissan. Luxury models are much lower.

    Some of this has to do with the auto demographics, if you will, of South King County. It's not Lexus-land by any stretch. Some of it may have to to do with the average price of the tolls in the SR 167 HOT lanes through September 25 of this year, a whopping $1.07, as reported by WSDOT here at this writing. Usage has been modest so far, between 1,100 and 1,300 drivers a day. Regionally, that will change, as more HOT lanes are built to accommodate growth and help fund projects. Adding to the 2000 population base of 3.2 million, another metro Portland worth of residents (1.7 million people) are projected to descend on Puget Sound in the next 32 years.

    If there were HOT lanes on SR 520 and I-90 - and that could be in the pipeline, as KIRO 7 TV reported last night - we'd see a somewhat higher proportion of luxury vehicles, higher trip totals than on SR 167 now, and thus probably a higher average price. But there'd still be plenty of Toyotas, Nissans, Fords, Chevys, Chryslers, Hondas and Subarus using those HOT lanes - because we all value our time.

    We can study the social equity implications further with detailed studies of actual income levels of HOT lane users, as opposed to vehicle types. Some jurisdictions might choose to offer discounts for lower-income drivers when charges exceed a certain level.

    But the time is ripe for a new moniker. "Ford Lanes"? "Chevy Lanes"? Or how about, "Everyman's Lanes?"

    Maybe state officials should get a suggestion on this from the Democratic Leadership Council. They're big fans of HOT lanes.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 9:51 AM |
    October 1, 2008

    HOT Lanes Advance In Houston On I-10 "Katy Freeway"

    Matt Rosenberg

    Working with federal, state and regional partners, the Harris County Tollway Authority this fall will begin the final stages of implementing a plan for a total of four fully-operational High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes, on both sides of a 12-mile stretch of the I-10 Katy Expressway. The highway section runs between central Houston and points west. The current, single, reversible carpool and transit, or HOV lane will make way for two managed HOT lanes in each direction. As is the case in all new tolling projects now, tolls will be assessed automatically, as traffic flows, without old-school tollbooths. Overhead gantries will electronically read transponders in vehicle windshields which are registered to drivers' accounts.

    The $2.8 billion project includes additional general use, or free, lanes, and was expected to take 10 years to finish after construction started in 2003. But it's now nearing completion after just five years thanks to a $500 million stake contributed by the county tollway authority, based on anticipated HOT lane revenues.

    Until next spring, the new HOT lanes will be open only to transit, motorcycles and "HOV2+" vehicles; then Harris County commissioners will likely set "dynamic tolling" rates allowing single-occupant vehicles to use the managed lanes during off-peak, and probably peak hours as well. Tolls for those drivers will vary according to lane usage levels and congestion; transit, motorcycles and high occupancy vehicles will continue to use the lanes for free.

    The goal will be to set prices for the solo drivers at a rate that keeps HOT lane traffic flowing no slower than 45 mph. I-10 runs 2,460 miles from Jacksonville, Fla. to Santa Monica, Calif., passing through New Orleans, Houston (pictured above, left), San Antonio and Phoenix along the way. The I-10 Katy Expressway HOT lane project in Houston is part of a larger regional mobility plan which includes more HOT lanes, and, it is hoped, a dramatic expansion of transit options including light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, multi-modal transit centers and park-and-ride facilities. Some funding challenges have been evident in the transit plan, though.

    In this slideshow, the Houston regional transit agency Metro details the supplemental HOT lane plan it is shopping to the community now. The proposal is to convert the single HOV lane in each of five highway corridors to a single HOT lane with minimum speeds of 50 mph. The corridors are IH 45, north and southbound, U.S. 59 north and southbound, and Interstate 290 - which currently has a reversible HOV lane.

    With strikingly affordable housing, a vibrant economy driven by the energy and medical industries, plus a major port, Houston is poised for continued growth, even in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Another one million residents are expected by 2015 and another 3 million by 2035. The current Houston region population is 5.5 million.

    To the east, the Atlanta region's leaders want to convert 44 miles of existing carpool, or HOV lanes on Interstate highways to HOT lanes. More here from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and in this presentation to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

    Variably-priced HOT lanes - free to carpoolers and transit and open for a cost to solo drivers - are already spreading in the West Coast Corridor, from San Diego and Orange County, Calif. to metro Los Angeles. Managed lanes with variable fees for solo drivers already have a foothold here in metro Puget Sound and are increasingly likely to play a role in the big Columbia River Crossing project linking Portland, Ore. with Washington state.

    Near the "other Washington," a major HOT lanes project is under development on the I-495 Capital Beltway in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. But continuity hasn't been secured as the road crosses into Montgomery County, Maryland. Some leaders - such as San Diego's - get something important about "managed lanes." For real benefits to accrue, the approach has to be extended to a region's highways system-wide.


    "Some Tips To Manage The Managed Lanes," Houston Chronicle, 8/17/08. (Incl. transition planning, timeline).

    Additional information on congestion pricing around the U.S. is in this topical archive from our blog. (Once in, please continue scrolling down).

    Cascadia Center's June 26, 2008 "West Coast Tolling And Traffic Management Workshop - Regional Perspectives," as broadcast on TVW, Washington state's public affairs channel. (Features speakers from San Diego, S.F. Bay Area, Portland, Puget Sound).

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:00 PM |
    July 24, 2008

    Highway Congestion Pricing Advances On West Coast

    Matt Rosenberg

    Proposals for highway congestion pricing and electronic tolling advanced this week in the San Francisco Bay Area, metro Portland and Seattle-Puget Sound. Here's a rundown.

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that in the Bay Area, the Municipal Transportation Commission yesterday approved a funding plan that would establish regional High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes on 800 of the region's 1,200 miles of highway lanes by 2025. Existing and under-construction carpool, or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, would be converted to electronically-tolled HOT lanes which would be free to HOVs, transit and motorcycles and also open to solo drivers for a fee that varies according to time of day and congestion level. In addition, new HOT lanes would be built, creating a seamless regional network. Free general purpose lanes on the affected highways would still be available for those who prefer to avoid tolls, though travel times would be slower than in the HOT lanes.

    The idea is to give drivers and employers an added incentive to avoid peak-hour solo vehicle trips if possible, but also to give drivers a guaranteed congestion-free option, for a price, if they have to drive alone at peak hours. The regional plan for the Bay Area would entail HOT lane charges in the range of 20 to 60 cents per mile at the outset, working up to as much as $1 per mile by 2030. Four pilot projects can advance now, but the state legislature must approve the whole regional plan. A bill is already pending in Sacramento. More on the plan here, from the MTC.

    In the Portland region, the last of six required agencies signed off this week on moving forward with plans for a new bridge across the Columbia River on Interstate 5 connecting Portland and Clark County, Wash., with congestion pricing, an extension of Portland's light rail system, and separated pedestrian and bike lanes. The Columbia River Crossing plan includes fixes to several problem interchanges north and south of the bridge that constrict traffic and reduce safety. The old bridge (actually two bridges) is a major choke point in the I-5 corridor. An application for federal funds can now proceed, while the Washington and Oregon transportation departments refine the project components and cost estimates. The preliminary price tag is $4.2 billion. There will be three through lanes and up to three auxiliary lanes in each direction. Preliminary estimates are that tolls would vary from $1.28 to $2.56 one-way.

    Washington Governor Christine Gregoire (right) and Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski last month reiterated they want to see tolling on the new bridge, and, in a specific reference to congestion pricing, "a finance plan that balances revenue generation with demand management." Other key political players involved with the project support congestion pricing, as well. Expect congestion pricing and electronic tolling to be applied to all lanes of the bridge, with HOVs and transit crossing free. A related issue is whether to toll the parallel Interstate 205 bridge across the Columbia, several miles to the east, in order to minimize diversion of traffic there from toll-evading drivers on the new bridge. That's a good idea.

    Cascadia Center last month contributed this Sunday op-ed to The Oregonian, describing how Columbia River Crossing could help drive a larger plan for increased transit and "greening" of vehicular travel in the Portland region. That theme was expanded upon in an Oregonian editorial shortly thereafter.

    Tolling was also front and center this week further north in Cascadia. In Central Puget Sound, a State of Washington report commissioned to help a special tolling committee and then the state legislature decide on toll rates and venues across Lake Washington was released yesterday. Lawmakers and the governor are already committed to electronically-tolled congestion pricing on the State Route 520 bridge across the lake. Legislation passed earlier this year has jump started the decision making process. One tidbit from yesterday's news: peak hour one-way tolls could range from $2.15 to $3.80, depending what's chosen. Off-peak tolls would be lower. The current 520 bridge must be replaced because it's unsafe in high windstorms or major earthquakes. The questions are when to begin the tolling, at what rates and, most importantly, whether to also toll the parallel Interstate 90 bridge across the lake.

    Legislators want $1.5 to $2 billion in toll revenues from cross-lake vehicular travel, to help fund the $4 billion SR 520 bridge replacement. That's prudent, to say the least, given declining federal aid and scant state funding for the project now. A memo prepared for the state shows the toll revenue target for the SR 520 project can't be met without tolling I-90 as well (see p. 2). The state treasurer has said that any acceptable SR 520 finance plan requires tolling I-90. Some lawmakers and others object, believing all tolls collected on a given highway should stay there.

    But metro region highways are part of wider or longer corridors which include other highways and transit. In Central Puget Sound three such corridors are 520 and 90 (east-west and parallel); I-5 and SR 99 (north-south and closely parallel); and the extended north-south corridor on the Eastside of SR 522, I-405 and SR 167. A more future-facing "systems" approach to surface transportation planning and tolling is best. Spend revenues raised in a corridor within that corridor, but understand the nature of the beast.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 2:52 PM |
    April 28, 2008

    Steady Progress On Congestion Pricing, Tolling

    Matt Rosenberg

    Suppose electricity was free, even at hours of peak usage. Think your power supply would be reliable, then? Exactly. Now apply the same common-sense approach to highway capacity.

    Or consider the Environmental Defense Fund's Transportation Director Michael Replogle, who writes in the Washington Post:

    Congestion pricing may be controversial to some people, but it's inevitable. Using tolls simply to build more roads is a costly way to end up with even more traffic and pollution....Done right, congestion pricing can boost the efficiency of our existing roads, raise revenue to invest in transit, and reduce pollution that causes asthma, cancer, heart disease, impaired lung development and global warming....In the long run, congestion pricing is the only effective and economically and politically viable solution to the chronic and growing gridlock in our nation's largest cities.

    Support for road pricing isn't isolated. At all. A "survey of surveys" published by Johanna Zmud in the scholarly journal Tolling finds broad support for congestion pricing. (See especially the summary chart on p. 33).

    Now the place that gave birth to road rage is getting in on the act. The L.A. Times reports the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will turn carpool lanes on the 10 and 210 freeways in the San Gabriel Valley into electronically-tolled High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes by year-end 2010, with tolls varying according to time of day and traffic levels. This is one example of so-called "congestion pricing," also known as variable tolling, or time-variable tolling.

    LA's commitment comes in return for $200 million-plus from the U.S. Department of Transportation for 60 high-capacity buses and improvements to light rail.

    It's part of the department's Urban Partnerships Program to encourage expanded transit and "congestion pricing," together.

    NYC's Loss Is LA's Gain

    LA's access to the federal funds came after the New York General Assembly sank a cordon pricing proposal from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    That would have garnered an Urban Partnerships grant of more than $300 million.

    More from The Times:

    "This is a great opportunity to think outside the box and to try something that has been tested around the world and has worked," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (ed.-pictured at right), a member of the MTA board.

    "Part of the reason that Los Angeles has not been able to grapple with gridlock is because we've been unable to make the tough decisions."

    More SoCal, Oregon, Washington State

    LA's decision to move ahead with its first attempt at pricing some of its highways comes only weeks after Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski announced he'd be pushing for congestion pricing in metro Portland as part of a comprehensive transportation package he'll present to the state legislature in January, 2009. A spokesperson for the Governor indicates the I-5 crossing of the Columbia River exemplifies where he'd like to see congestion pricing.

    Congestion pricing is already in place on I-15 and the South Bay Expressway in San Diego, plus State Route 91 in Orange County. Further north in the West Coast corridor, a four-year congestion pricing pilot project begins on a nine-mile stretch of State Route 167 in south suburban Seattle this week. The Seattle Times reports this morning that officials are also considering the possibility of eventually adding HOT lanes to I-90, I-405 and the I-5 express lanes. With the special lanes on 167 to open in six days, more than 9,000 motorists have already signed up for electronic tolling accounts. Tolls will range from 50 cents to $9 depending on real-time congestions levels. Buses will use the lanes free of charge, as will cars with two or more passengers (drivers will cover their transponders). The Times:

    Washington state's latest highway experiment can't begin soon enough for John Mastandrea, a real-estate developer who takes Highway 167 on his commute to Seattle. "When I leave in the morning, it's before 5 a.m., so it's about 25 minutes," the Auburn resident says. "But going home in the afternoon, it's an hour to an hour and a half. You can imagine the brain damage, sitting in traffic."

    ...As for the future, Paula Hammond, state transportation secretary, said she doesn't foresee another gas-tax increase, so more tolling will be needed to maintain or expand highways. A logical next HOT-lane extension would be I-405, according to Bruce Agnew, of the Seattle-based Cascadia Center think tank. Those lanes could connect to Highway 167 and generate funds that in turn could help pay for widening I-405, he said. "I suspect that people would be willing to pay top dollar to get through that choke point," he said.

    The SR 167 HOT lane tolling system will be de-activated between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., so solo drivers can use them free then without even worrying about covering their transponders. The Washington State Department of Transportation notes at its blog that it will be providing running updates at its SR 167 web site on average HOT lane speeds, usage and toll levels.

    There's more congestion pricing coming to Puget Sound. Pending expected state legislative authorization by September 30, 2009 of specific time variable tolls on the State Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, between Seattle and the Eastside business centers of Bellevue and Redmond, another USDOT Urban Partnerships grant will be dispensed. It will total $138 million for the new SR 520 tolling project and will spring loose another $3.5 million in U.S. DOT transit funds for the region. The SR 520 tolling project will not only tame jammed rush-hour traffic on the bridge, it is hoped, but also help fund a vital replacement of the aged and unsafe bridge, the true costs of which will likely exceed $4 billion. As SR 520 congestion pricing begins, it is likely the legislature will also authorize it on the parallel I-90 floating bridge.

    Fred Hiatt's Take

    The approach is rapidly becoming part of the national conversation on regional growth, traffic congestion and the environment. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, though also supporting federal gas tax hikes which others regard as low-yield and politically bedeviled, nonetheless highlights the viability of congestion pricing. Hiatt writes:

    The reality is that road pricing is inevitable. It won't be a panacea, and the administration has unfairly burdened a good idea by supporting it while refusing to increase other revenue sources for transportation. The D.C. study showed that road pricing doesn't necessarily solve the revenue problem. Tolls on Maryland's intercounty connector (ICC), for example, should keep traffic flowing, but they won't come close to covering construction costs.

    But congestion pricing is working in London, Stockholm and Singapore, and variable-rate tolls are coming to Washington on three projects already: new lanes on part of the Beltway in Virginia, new and converted lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 in Virginia and the entirely new ICC in Maryland. Tyler Duvall, acting U.S. undersecretary for transportation policy, experience shows that road pricing is far more popular once it's implemented than in anticipation, when many people just don't believe it can work. "This is not an easy idea to sell," he admits. "But it's so much better than the alternative." Something to think about while you're sitting, at no charge, on the Beltway tonight.

    Tolling, Regional Taxes & Pension Funds

    Hiatt is right that tolling and specifically congestion pricing will not alone address transportation funding needs. But federal and state gas taxes are increasingly ineffective sources, as related revenues flat-line and then drop due to increased fuel efficiency. And political prospects for higher gas taxes continue to shrink with the record run-up in U.S. gas prices. To supplement tolling revenue and get needed road, bridge and transit projects built, will require increases in state and especially regional taxes and fees, plus tolling and innovative financial partnerships. That could include coinvestment from union pension funds, now being eyed by legislators and Governor Rick Perry as potential backers of more toll roads to cut Texas-sized congestion in the economically-vibrant Lone Star State.

    Tolling & Transit

    Tolling revenues should never be used, even partially, to try to diminish a deficit in a state's general fund budget, as was proposed in New Jersey. Money raised via tolling must go back into transportation and transportation only. Road users expect no less, and they're right. But that doesn't have to mean roads and bridges only. In growing metro regions such as Puget Sound, some share of tolling revenues should definitely go to transit - in each case, within the same corridor where those tolls are collected. That's especially appropriate where new variable tolling strategies are being implemented, which allow transit and carpools to use priced lanes for no charge.

    Avoiding Pitfalls

    One other thing. Every now and then the idea surfaces - as in a recently completed, Puget Sound-focused study - that not only could major state and federal highways be tolled, but so too could major arterial streets in a metro region; or even every mile travelled by passenger vehicles, on any road or street. Cars would be tracked with dashboard-mounted devices, Global Positioning Systems and cellular technology. Some routes would cost more than others. This is a provocative idea worthy of discussion, but in the end it's simply too draconian to toll every mile driven, or arterial streets. Not because of privacy concerns, which can be overhyped, but because of the sheer overreach. Nothing like this is going to happen in Puget Sound for the next several decades, at least. Wherever officials advance what I'll call saturation tolling, they'd undercut public support for the more judicious approach now gaining traction - variable pricing on highways.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 8:41 AM | | Comments ( 6 )
    April 21, 2008

    Gov. Kulongoski Eyes Congestion Pricing In Metro Portland

    Matt Rosenberg

    In a recent speech to the Oregon Environmental Council's Business Forum, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (below, right) said the transportation plan he'll present to the 2009 state legislature will likely accent congestion pricing. It could also include a statewide low-carbon fuel standard in synch with California's, and incentives for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. More, first from from The Oregonian.

    Gov. Ted Kulongoski...said he will likely advocate for rush-hour tolling and other tough measures to control traffic congestion in his 2009 appeal to the Legislature. "In plain English, tolls that vary by time of day, by location, or by congestion level, so that those who are using the highway at the most desirable time are paying more to do so," he said. Kulongoski didn't say which highways might be ripe for "congestion pricing." But the proposed Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River is an example of what he has in mind, said spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor.

    ...For months, Kulongoski has said he will make his transportation plan a top priority when the Legislature convenes for a new session in January. He has called for improvements to highways and roads throughout the state, emphasizing the massive needs of a system that has failed to keep up with growth. And he has insisted that these improvements also answer concerns about global warming. He wants cleaner cars, more bicycle routes and more mass transit, among other "green" measures. "We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking transportation and climate change are conflicting policy priorities," Kulongoski said. He hasn't put a price tag on his plan, but admits a large new source of funding must be found.

    The Portland Business Journal also reported on the Governor's speech, noting his comments on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles:

    "We also need to find ways to make it easier for individual citizens to access and use plug-in hybrid and other alternative fuel cars so these become the vehicles of choice," he said.

    Increased incentives for telecommuting may figure in to his package of proposed legislation as well, Kulongoski indicated. The Oregonian's report mentions that Pat Reiten, president of Pacific Power, will head a committee for the governor, tasked with developing the broader package of transportation legislation by November.

    Gail Achterman, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission, in a brief paper published at the Web site of the Columbia Crossing I-5 bridge replacement project, states that tolling is a key component of controlling greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, as necessary large-scale infrastructure upgrades occur.

    On the transportation side of the equation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require us to consider two key policies: significantly expanding mass transit service, and implementing tolling to reduce demand on the highway system. The Columbia River Crossing would do both. In that sense, it is a major forward step in our regional effort to reduce the carbon footprint of our transportation system.

    What emerges from the '09 session remains to be seen, but Kulongoski is on the right track in highlighting congestion pricing, transit, and telecommuting, and especially in exploring how to move beyond oil in transportation.


    "Costlier Gas, New Hybrids Spur More To Go Green," Seattle Times, 4/21/08;

    "Biofuel Use, Growth, Limited By Costs, Technology," Seattle Times, 4/19/08;

    "Plugged In: The End Of The Oil Age," World Wildlife Fund, 4/2/08;

    "Metro Portland: The I-5 Bridge Tolls For Thee," Cascadia Prospectus, 1/23/08.


    April 8, 2008

    The Difference Between Cordon Pricing And Congestion Pricing

    Matt Rosenberg

    Sure, everyone called it a congestion pricing plan. But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ambitious proposal to charge drivers $8 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street during peak hours was more about cordon pricing, literally drawing a line around downtown. Singapore, London (see map, right) and Stockholm have implemented similar plans. In contrast, the typical congestion pricing project in U.S. metro regions doesn't impose downtown cordon fees for drivers, but focuses on specific crowded highways, with variable fees keyed to traffic levels, and thus higher charges at peak hours. A related strategy involves a split between free lanes which are often more congested, and electronically-tolled High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes allowing carpools, transit and for a variable fee, solo drivers to speed past traffic. Tolls are collected electronically by overhead gantries communicating with dashboard transponders.

    The difference between cordon pricing and congestion pricing is detailed in this primer from the Federal Highway Administration.

    In the Northwest online newspaper Crosscut Knute Berger today contends the New York setback could foreshadow growing opposition to expansion of congestion pricing in Puget Sound. Berger's certainly right that any type of new traffic-pricing scheme will provoke some degree of political resistance. However, metro Puget Sound is not considering downtown cordon fees, as New York was. More at issue here is how fast and far HOT lanes and possibly, broader-brush highway tolling strategies will grow, as the region experiences a projected 52 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2040.

    A related concern in Pugetopolis, admittedly also a part of the opposition to New York's cordon pricing plan, is how soon and how well transit choices can be improved so that commuters and discretionary intra-region travellers can get around quickly without driving. The current hub-and-spoke transit system centered around downtown Seattle does little to serve growing suburb-to-suburb transit mobility needs.

    So far, the biggest gripe here against congestion pricing has been that HOT lanes - coming later this month to a stretch of State Route 167 and within a year or two to the State Route 520 floating bridge and possibly the I-90 bridge as well - are really "Lexus Lanes" affordable only to the rich. In town last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters responded to the criticism. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported:

    ...Peters....called the "Lexus lanes" label "an urban myth that isn't exactly true." She said congestion-based tolls benefit lower-income drivers more than some with higher incomes. Lower-income people, she said, often must live in less-expensive housing farther from jobs and are more likely to be hourly wage-earners who will benefit more by saving commuting time.

    Nice sound bite. But is it actually supported by any sort of dispassionate analysis? Um, yes, actually. From The Democratic Leadership Council, the Washington Post and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

    Here's something else that's revealing: tolling, of which HOT lanes are one type, is growing so rapidly across the country that states in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. have adopted a common transponder and billing tool set for interstate drivers and commuters who may use more than one system on the same trip. It's called E-ZPass. The Toldeo Blade has more.

    E-ZPass itself is the trade name used by the Inter Agency Group, a multistate consortium that sets equipment standards, coordinates billing, and created the distinctive purple signs that identify electronic-toll lanes at members' toll plazas. Thanks to that cooperation, each toll authority's transponders work at everybody's tollgates, so there's no need to obtain a different tag for each.

    E-ZPass works in Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hamshire and Maine. The Cascadia Corridor will need a similar approach covering British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California. Particularly with more HOT lanes coming to Puget Sound, and a new tolled bridge planned across the Columbia River on I-5 between Washington and Oregon.

    As for the setback dealt to Bloomberg's cordon pricing plan, rest assured a revised proposal will be in the offing.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:49 PM | | Comments ( 2 )
    March 18, 2008

    Washington Legislature Advances Tolling For Puget Sound

    Matt Rosenberg

    In its election year "short session" concluded last week, the Washington state legislature took several important, albeit partial steps to advance tolling, commuter rail, passenger-only ferries and innovative transportation funding partnerships with non-government entities.

    Let's review some key '08 transportation bills that made it through both legislative chambers, and now await the signature of Gov. Christine Gregoire.

    ESHB 3096 (bill as passed - bill report - legislative history) has to do with the State Route 520 floating bridge connecting Seattle across Lake Washington to fast-growing Eastside business and residential centers such as Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond. The bill report reminds us that the bridge carries 115,000 vehicles and about 150,000 people per day; it is 1.5 miles long and 44 years old. It's been widely noted the rickety span could suffer a catastrophic failure in a severe windstorm or earthquake. So 3096 firms up the intent of lawmakers to toll State Route 520 to help pay for replacement of the current bridge. It creates an SR 520 bridge tolling implementation committee to guide coming decisions by the state transportation department and state legislature.

    The committee's charge includes making recommendations to avoid traffic diversion to other state and regional roads such as the parallel I-90. This could result in tolling on I-90 as well as 520. Tolling 520 and perhaps also I-90 would be a crucial second step toward regional tolling for Puget Sound - following on tolling which began last year on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the four-year SR 167 congestion pricing pilot project starting next month (SR 167 time-variable tolling sign, below right). While politically sensitive, regional highway tolling, and in particular congestion pricing to control peak hour flows, are crucial if we are to handle a projected 52 percent increase in population by 2040.

    The committee must consider technology, too. That means, in accordance with the current industry standard and tolling on SR 167 and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, that electronic transponders and overhead gantries will be prioritized over tollbooths. Additionally, the bill requires that the SR 520 tolling committee consider "partnership opportunities." This is a clear reference to possible alliances limiting taxpayer exposure if costs will ultimately exceed available public monies. Partners would be non-government entities, perhaps labor or public employee union pension funds. Private transportation investment funds also enter into a variety of partnership agreements with willing government sponsors, but it's best if the public entity retains ownership of the asset and toll rates.

    The 520 tolling committee must also consider input from the public and local elected officials, and report back to the governor and legislature by January of 2009. Then, the bill says, the state department of transportation may seek legislative approval for tolling the existing 520 bridge, and work with the feds to get around a generic prohibition of tolling on Interstates, barring a special agreement tailored to a facility. This is considered eminently do-able; and tolling on I-90 to limit traffic diversions is essential if tolling 520 is to work.

    As noted in this Washington Post story yesterday, Seattle is one of five regions nationwide to receive a special federal "Urban Partnerships" grant for innovative solutions to road congestion. Here, it is $139 million, to help pay for implementation of congestion pricing on the new SR 520 bridge and various transit projects including $3.5 million to help launch a new passenger-only ferry in the metro region's western reaches, between Kingston in Kitsap County, and downtown Seattle. But for Puget Sound to get this federal largesse, there's a hook: the grant requires that "variable" tolling, levied at different rates depending on time of day or road congestion level, be approved by the state by September 30, 2009 for the 520 corridor.

    To set the stage for that '09 legislation, state lawmakers in the recent session also approved E2SHB 1773, which sets a broader state policy framework for tolling (bill as passed - final bill report - legislative history). The bill states that the legislature must authorize any specific tolls; that tolls can be applied to bridges, highways, transportation corridors, approaches and bi-state facilities; and that the aims of tolling in Washington state will be to improve transportation system efficiency and provide funding, not only for construction but also for maintenance, operations and management. This last part represents an important acknowledgement that tolling is not just for getting things built; it is also now necessary for a big share of life-cycle costs. That's because federal and state gas tax revenues are in an irreversible decline as sources for construction and maintenance.

    Without specificly mentioning the word, the bill leaves open the possibility that with legislative approval some future tolling revenues could be used to help fund transit. This is something Cascadia Center supports, as our director Bruce Agnew tells the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this morning.

    HB 2730 (bill as passed - bill report - legislative history) advances regional passenger-only ferries, rescinding a state prohibition against their operations by port districts on Puget Sound. This bill is tailored to the above-noted Kingston-Seattle foot ferry route for which the Port of Kingston has received federal grant funding contingent on tolling of SR 520.

    The Eastside commuter rail line which Cascadia Center has championed as part of a rails and trails partnership will get a closer look, under HB 3324 (bill as approved - bill report - legislative history). It directs Sound Transit and the Puget Sound Regional Council to examine existing reports and possibly commission a new analysis of the proposed north-south commuter rail between residence-rich east Snohomish County and the booming Eastside business centers of King County, along the abandoned BNSF freight rail line. In any event, under the bill, Sound Transit and PSRC would report to the legislature by February 1, 2009 on the line's estimated ridership, potential station sites, best routing options, track condition, regional benefits including tourism, and adjacent trail costs. The legislature has appropriated $100,000 for the study effort, in the conference committee supplemental transportation budget bill, 2878--S.E. AMC S6122.3 (p. 29, line 34). And as the HB 3224 bill report immediately above notes, Sound Transit has indicated it is willing to contribute up to double that amount. As part of this larger effort, Cascadia Center has also discussed contributing an amount in the range of $20,000 to $25,000 for a ridership survey.

    Supplemental transportation appropriations via HB 2878, which cleared both chambers, provides an additional peek into the legislature's thinking on metro-region roads and transit (bill as passed - bill report - legislative history).

    Included in the bill are provisions which:

  • secure $300,000 for a consultant to devise a plan for co-development and public private partnerships at public ferry terminals (page 22, line 30);
  • direct WSDOT to analyze, and if found feasible, seek requests for distribution of alterrnative fuels along WSDOT rights-of-way (page 22, line 34);
  • underscore the importance to the $4 billion bi-state I-5 Columbia River Crossing bridge replacement project of fully assessing "opportunities for the joining of state and local government agencies and the private sector in a strong partnership that contributes to the completion of the project" (page 51, between lines 14-23);
  • direct that $8.5 million of the state's passenger-only ferries account is provided for "near- and long-term costs of capital improvements in a business plan approved by the governor for passenger-only service."
  • The state is getting out of operating passenger-only ferries, and local operators including King County, the Port of Kingston, Kitsap Transit and others are filling the void. Cascadia Center continues to advocate a voluntary interlocal agreement between ports, cities, counties, private boat operators, tribes, labor and others - coupled with combined funding for foot ferries and Puget Sound cleanup - to help establish a coordinated regional foot ferry system on Puget Sound.

    As a non-profit think tank, Cascadia Center does not lobby the legislature or advocate passage or rejection of any bill. However, we do try to advance solutions to a range of transportation problems via op-eds, papers, studies, conferences and this blog. So we're pleased that although possibilities for conclusive action were constrained in this year's session, significant progress continued on a number of issues important to us.


    February 25, 2008

    Tolling, Finance Innovation Vital For Infrastructure Growth

    Matt Rosenberg

    Implemented regionally, tolling and congestion pricing will be the key that unlocks the door to more efficient use of major highways in Puget Sound. Incentives for more telecommuting, carpooling, vanpooling and off-peak travel will grow substantially, as tolls and especially time-variable congestion pricing are instituted over the next few years. Tolling coupled with investment by public employee and labor union pension funds will also help close funding gaps on major road, bridge and transit projects needed to accomodate economic growth and environmental protection. Despite some political resistance, this paradigm will transform transportation infrastructure development across North America in coming years and decades.

    Let's once again take a partial and recent survey of the landscape, starting with Puget Sound.

    Just last week, the Washington State Transportation Commission set a range of tolling charges for solo drivers to use the new HOT (High Occupancy and Toll) lanes on SR 167 in south King County. Depending on traffic volume and congestion in the lanes at the time of use, the charge for solo drivers will be from 50 cents to nine dollars. KOMO-TV reports here. The commission's announcement notes this is a four-year pilot project, expected to launch this April and that transit buses, vanpools, two passenger-plus vehicles and motorcycles will be exempt from the SR 167 HOT lane tolls.

    Allocating Peak-Hour Road Capacity To Handle Growth

    The SR 167 HOT lanes - one in each direction, for now - are a good start. Roads and transit in central Puget Sound need repair, expansion, rational management and unified, accountable regional governance. Taking measures to allocate finite peak-hour road capacity is a baseline action for future problem-solving. The region will eventually need two HOT Lanes in each direction on all our interstate and major state highways including SR 167, I-405, I-5, SR 99, SR 520 (pictured, left, in all its rush-hour glory) and I-90.

    Taking The Long View

    Hover at 20,000 feet for a moment, looking down at central Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Regional Council in their draft "Vision 2040" report, projects that between 2000 and 2040, the four-county metro Seattle region is expected to see a 52 percent population jump. We're a land of opportunity. Plus kayaks, book lust, artisinal bread, and a relatively moderate climate. Really. People just can't seem to stop wanting to live and work here.

    But the accreting hordes will greatly tax our infrastructure, one way or another. Already, multi-billion dollar, safety-driven construction projects such as replacement of the decrepit Alaskan Way Viaduct on SR 99 and the disaster-prone SR 520 floating bridge beg the question of supplemental funding.

    That's because funds secured to date will fall well short of final costs - which keep growing due to project launch delays and tightening global competition among customers for transportation construction labor and materials. One example is a planned car rental center at SeaTac Airport, for which, the Seattle Times reports, costs have risen almost 30 percent in the last year. In the article, a Port of Seattle Commissioner attributes that to rising prices for steel and concrete.

    Additional funding for major road, bridge and transit construction projects would be delivered via tolling strategies including variable-rate congestion pricing; and quite possibly via investment from trade union and public employee pension funds such as that of CalPers - which has started its own infrastructure investment account. On a project basis, these investments could be supplemented by private transportation infrastructure funds such as those managed by Goldman Sachs and Macqaurie. To facilitate political cooperation, it's best if the public sector retains ownership of the assets, even if it leases them out over the long-term as part of a maintenance and operations agreement. The public sector should also have final say on setting and raising toll rates. There are other issues, such as whether new arterials or highways parallel to a tolled facility can be permitted and whether they should then also be tolled (probably, yes); and how all that affects revenue streams. No one is saying that any of this stuff is a snap. But we'll be seeing more of it.

    In each project where tolling and/or innovative finance strategies are employed to fund construction, the aim should be to ensure timely completion of the right design alternatives. These are the ones with the best life-cycle cost-benefit ratio in terms of congestion reduction, increased transit use and greenhouse gas controls, and surface environmental and economic benefits.

    This is especially the case in Puget Sound - on the replacement for the Viaduct on SR 99, going to and through downtown; and across Lake Washington on a rebuilt SR 520 bridge.

    WA State Legislature To Set Stage For More Tolling

    Establishing a policy framework for coming decisions on tolling, the Washington State House last week passed Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1773, now before the state Senate Transportion Committee. The bill anticipates action to set specific tolls on the SR 520 bridge, which has to be replaced before a storm or earthquake causes it to collapse, and for which a $138 million federal DOT Urban Partnerships grant has been made, contingent on legislative approval by September 30, 2009 of a tolling plan for the facility. The bill gives tolling authority to the state for all state roads and bridges, but allows local tolling, with state approval if there's judged to be a significant impact possible on the use of a state road or bridge.

    Smartly, the bill allows the potential use of tolls on a facility for transit - but only on the very same facility, and only if so directed by the legislature. For hard-core policy wonks, the relevant language is that such revenues can be employed to "improve, preserve, manage or operate" the facility; and that they can be used to "provide for the operations of conveyances of people or goods." Key Olympia sources confirm the transit-friendly meaning of these terms.

    Down the road, the trick will be dividing up toll monies between corridor reconstruction and maintenance on the one hand, versus transit on the other.

    The ESSHB 1773 vehicle must be approved by the Senate Transportation Committee by Monday March 3; approved by the full Senate by March 7; and then any Senate changes to the current House bill approved by the House before the legislative session ends on March 13.

    The looming legislation, though just a first step toward broader regional tolling here, comes as the stars are beginning to align. Friday's Seattle Times reiterates that Governor Chris Gregoire is warming up to tolling SR 520 to help pay for its replacement, and the parallel I-90, to prevent traffic diversion from toll-avoiding SR 520 commuters. In addition, a transportation budget bill passed by the House last week makes an important passing reference to "pre-construction tolling" on SR 520 - pocket-protector pals, please see page 49, line 4.

    Public support is solidifying for tolls in Puget Sound, as well. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial board reports a King County poll finds four out of five respondents prefer tolling SR 520 over increases in the license tab fees, or the gas or sales tax, to help pay for its replacement. And as we noted recently, the governor is also broadly hinting at the need for tolling to pay for a $4 billion-plus rebuild (including beefed-up corridor transit) of the badly-congested Interstate Bridge, connecting Oregon and Washington across the Columbia River on I-5. You know........the Corridor From Hell? Remember encounters with it on those trips from Pugetopolis to the mid or southern Oregon Coast - and how you then took the slow, scenic route along the coast on the way back, just to avoid it?

    In any case, Washington state isn't travelling by itself on the road to regional tolling, and the coming collaboration with Oregon on I-5 is hardly the only indicator. In recent days and weeks interest in new tolling projects has continued to grow across North America - driven by gaps in road expansion or maintenance funding, and worsening peak-hour traffic congestion.

    Toronto Regional Tolling Proposal Sparks Debate

    The Globe and Mail reports that a blue-ribbon panel comprised of business, labor and academic leaders has issued a report on how the financially-troubled city of Toronto can get its house in order, and a tolling proposal is one major recommendation. The report recommends the city add tolls to the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. Eye Weekly reports the 401 and 427 expressways ringing the city could also be included in the regional tolling plan, as well.

    The panel recommends that oversight of newly-tolled facilities be transferred from the city to either the province or Metrolinx, formerly the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority. Proponents say the move would save the city $20 million per year in maintenance costs, boost transit use and raise millions for new subways and light rail lines.

    Page 17 of the full report includes the tolling recommendations, which can hardly be considered the work of conservative business ideologues, given that they're followed by a call for a non-surface parking tax coupled with increased bike routes and car-free zones.

    Another recommendation - on page 22 - is for the city to look to partner with the private sector and the Canadian Pension Funds on major transportation infrastructure projects. Whaddaya know?

    The Toronto regional tolling recommendations are already sparking dialog.

    Last week, the reaction from Toronto Mayor David Miller (pictured above, right) was guarded; he said tolling must be applied regionally, if at all.

    But over the weekend, the Toronto Star reported he seems to be warming to the idea, and is now stressing the link between new tolling and generating more transit funding.

    "If you want to build in transit, which we'll have to if Toronto is going to succeed, you have to consider the way to finance it," he said. "I think it (road tolls) needs some serious consideration, very serious."

    The "Double-Taxation" Red Herring

    As this Toronto Star article notes, push-back can be expected on the proposed tolls from motorists invoking the hoary notion of "double taxation." That fails to recognize the unavoidable long-term decline in fuel tax revenues due to better mileage, and the political difficulties of raising a fuel tax, even as the cost of road maintenance ticks upward with each vehicle mile travelled. Fading gas tax revenues increasingly pose this very same challenge to U.S. states, as McClatchy Newspapers Washington, D.C. correspondent Les Blumenthal reported yesterday on the front page of the Sunday Tacoma News Tribune. Likewise for Canadian provinces with major metro regions and heavily used roads. Writing in the Financial Post Policy Analyst Benjamin Dachis of the C.D. Howe Institute likes the Toronto regional tolling idea:

    One of the panel's wisest proposals is to suggest that Toronto cede control of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkways to the province and have tolls placed on all GTA freeways. Toll revenues from these two freeways alone could amount to $7-billion over their useful lifetimes. Toronto's freeways, particularly the 401, offer a unique opportunity for a hybrid system of express toll lanes in the current middle lanes while maintaining free lanes in the right-hand collectors. Only those willing to pay for congestion-free travel will pay the toll. Buses could be given free access to these toll lanes to improve commuter bus service to surrounding communities when they would otherwise be stuck in traffic.

    More support for the tolling recommendations comes from the editorial board of the Toronto Star.

    Tolling Front And Center In Virginia Beach, San Francisco, Louisville

    Elsewhere, the Virginia Beach City Council will be getting a report examining whether to re-impose tolls on I-264. The tolls would cut congestion and help fund the concurrent $1.6 billion reconfiguration of problem interchanges on the highway, at a peak-hour cost of up to $2.85 on a key stretch.

    In the Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District is considering a $1 hike in tolls on its namesake, landmark bridge due to growing maintenance costs for that span and the bus and passenger-only ferry fleets it runs.

    Faced with dwindling prospects for full federal and state gas tax funding, Kentucky state legislative leaders of both parties and the governor agree that tolls will have to be a key ingredient in the state's $2.9 billion share of the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project connecting Louisville to Indiana. It would add two new bridges to those currently spannng the river (pictured above, left) to ease congestion. The project would also include re-engineering the city's "Spaghetti Junction" highway interchange.

    Oh, Edinburgh!

    Of course some locales, afflicted by perverse populism or voodoo economics, go further than merely declining to toll when feasible. They actually rescind existing tolls on busy roadways. Surprise! The rush hour lengthens considerably, as Edinburgh motorists travelling the Forth Road Bridge corridor are discovering. And those tolls, as it happens, paid for the bridge's maintenance.


    "Transportation Action Plan For Puget Sound," Cascadia Center.

    "Tolling, HOT Lanes Spread In U.S.; Creep Foward In Puget Sound," Cascadia Prospectus. (Incl. metro D.C., L.A., Orange County, Salt Lake City, PA, & the "Lexus Lanes" canard.)

    "Congestion Pricing, Tolls Loom For Puget Sound," Cascadia Prospectus. (Incl. San Diego, NYC/NJ).

    "Tolling Goes Mainstream," Cascadia Prospectus. (Incl. GA, VA, AL, ME, NC, FL).


    January 23, 2008

    Metro Portland, The I-5 Bridge Tolls For Thee

    Matt Rosenberg

    Have you ever seen a whole lot more of the mighty Columbia River and Portland's skyline than you really wanted to, because you were crawling on Interstate 5? C'mon, raise your hands. Well, good news. The government is here to help. And so are you and I. Probably. The Oregonian's Dylan Rivera reports today that at a meeting yesterday of the 39-member Columbia River Crossing Task Force, tolls emerged as a likely ingredient in the recipe to fund a fix for the badly-congested Interstate Bridge corridor on I-5.

    The early and perhaps rose-colored estimate is that tolls would range from $1.28 each way during off-peak hours to $2.56 at peak periods. They would be collected electronically, and provide an estimated one-third of the roughly $4.2 billion needed for a 12 lanes-with-transit bridge replacement, and related work to ease congestion at six I-5 interchanges.

    The current six-lane span (actually two side-by-side bridges built in 1917 and 1958) connects Portland and fast-growing Clark County, Washington. As part of I-5, the choked corridor also carries giga-loads (I believe that's the official term) of West Coast freight truck traffic. The slog on, and to and from the bridge within a five-mile radius, now lasts six hours a day, but planners say that would grow to 20 hours daily by 2030 if nothing is done, and as freight traffic doubles.

    You think groceries are expensive now? Just wait 'till we do nothing.

    As The Oregonian's Rivera reported last October, the Task Force is scheduled to make a final choice on bridge replacement configuration in February, but the likely selection is a 12-laner with light rail, preliminarily estimated to cost about $4.2 billion, including the above-noted interchange work. But that figure - and needed tolling revenue - could easily grow, as design engineering work is completed. The feds might provide up to 80 percent of the funding, or less. The Task Force, a conglomeration of elected officials, transit agencies, neighborhood and other interest groups, is to finalize a finance plan for the selected alternative by August, in time for Congress to appropriate funds for the project in 2009. The bridge is deemed a critical national project by the U.S. Department Of Transportation.

    Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and Washngton Governor Chris Gregoire recently visited the bridge and Gregoire confronted the tolling beast head-on, telling The Columbian:

    The interesting questions there are: Do we start tolling before we even begin construction on the bridge to make sure the tolls can be lower when it's ultimately opened? Do we do variable tolling to reduce congestion and give more choices to consumers? Do we have to toll someplace else because we're going to push traffic in a big way" to other bridges? In my mind, we are going to toll. How do we toll?

    In a very similar vein, Gregoire also recently made headlines by calling for tolling on State Route 520, and perhaps also on I-90 to help replace the unsafe SR 520 bridge which connects growing and job-rich Eastside communities such as Redmond and Bellevue with Seattle, across Lake Washington.

    The federal gas tax trust fund is likely headed for a deficit by 2009. In addition, Washington State's gas tax revenues are starting to come in at a rate lower than forecast, due to volatile world oil markets, hgher prices and better mileage. Major regional transportation tax packages, whether they rely on a portion of regional sales taxes, add-ons to the motor vehicle excise tax, or other taxes, will continue to face very tough sledding politically, across the Puget Sound region, and in many other metro regions nationally.

    Meanwhile, though we may have "already paid" for construction and even some expansion and upkeep of major highways and state routes with public monies, wear and tear take their toll (no pun intended), as do growth and congestion. Increasing transit market share is crucial, as are flex-fuel plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, ride-sharing and telework. After where, when, how and how much to toll, the next debate is whether tolling revenues can be used in part for transit. As noted in our Transportation Action Plan for Puget Sound issued after the defeat of Propopsition 1 last November, Cascadia Center supports regional High Occupancy And Toll (HOT) lanes on major interstate and state highways in central Puget Sound, with some share of the revenues dedicated to high-capacity transit such as express buses.

    In any case, the very real constraints on funding sources of old, means that in contrast tolls - and especially variable-rate tolls pegged to real-time congestion - begin to make more and more sense.

    How encouraging that the Cascadia region is starting to get that.

    UPDATE, 1/28/08: In a Sunday Jan. 27 editorial, The Oregonian strongly endorses time-variable electronic tolling - and sooner rather than later - on the Interstate Bridge. That's part of the above-referenced Columbia Crossing I-5 bi-state congestion relief project (which the paper's editorial board terms The Emerald Gate). The Oregonian stresses tolls on the bridge on an ongoing basis, rather than just for a limited duration, in order to help fund not only its replacement and related corridor interchange work, but also ongoing maintenance, and capacity expansion. That last is something which could be accomplished by adding even more transit after opening.


    January 11, 2008

    Gregoire Unveils Tolling Proposal For SR 520 Bridge, I-90

    Matt Rosenberg

    Washington Governor Chris Gregoire yesterday announced a proposal - which the legislature would have to approve - for tolling the S.R. 520 bridge starting next year, and also indicated preliminary support for tolling the parallel I-90 bridge across Lake Washington. All this could raise about $2 billion for replacement of the deteriorating SR 520 span, which could fail in an earthquake or severe windstorm. The Seattle Times reports. The total cost was estimated at $4.4 billion, though a new state estimate suggets the tab could be cut to $4 billion with a questionable single-pontoon design which limits future transit expansion. Some $2 billion in bridge rebuild funding is already secured.

    The new tolls would vary by time of day, higher during rush hours. This would qualify as congestion pricing, which is gaining steam across the U.S., as we wrote here earlier this week.

    Tolling the SR 520 bridge is a required condition of a federal grant which provides $138 million for the bridge rebuild and other projects. There've been some promising developments on tolling and congestion pricing in Puget Sound - which we noted in the above-linked post, namely on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge and a pilot project starting this year on SR 167. But we have a ways to go. While voters have approved two modest gas tax hikes in recent years and some city (Seattle) and county (King) taxes in 2006 for street maintenance and bus service respectively, a large, three-county roads and transit ballot measure (Proposition 1) tanked last November. Some say it was because road projects dragged down otherwise popular light rail, others because the price tag ($18 to $47 billion depending how you did the math) was too high and major priorities such as the 520 bridge and replacement of the crumbling Alaskan Way viaduct weren't allocated anywhere near the needed funds for completion.

    There are tens of billions of dollars worth of road and transit projects remaining in Puget Sound; and a bracing 52 percent population increase projected by 2040, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council. Prospects are dim for any major gas tax hikes. So tolling and congestion pricing are key, along with expanded transit which will actually make a sizeable dent in traffic.

    It's early yet in the political conversation about regional tolling and congestion pricing, but the Governor deserves some credit for broaching the subject with respect to the 520 bridge rebuild. However, the announced 2018 completion date is much too far off; hundreds of lives could be lost if the bridge fails. Is it a worrisome risk requiring strong leadership and timely action? Or not?

    A public-private partnership including union or public employee pension funds could be fashioned to generate more money for a better bridge and get it built sooner. If there's ever been a time to think big about delivering better transportation infrastructure while limiting taxpayer costs, it's now. SR 520, the Viaduct replacement, vital road projects in Pierce and Snohomish counties, and regional transit expansion are all cases in point.

    And while tolling I-90 would be essential to prevent traffic diversions from 520 motorists seeking to avoid the proposed new tolls there, it is the reversible express lanes of I-90 which should used for this purpose, and then, under a congestion pricing strategy. The toll revenues from I-90 would be needed to help pay for the SR 520 bridge rebuild, and a certain portion could be carved out to help fund additional express bus service on both bridges.

    The 60-day short-session in the Washington state legislature beginning next week will be an eventful one on transportation. Stay tuned.

    UPDATE, 1/14/08: Gregoire's announcement is earning positive feedback from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial board, the Tacoma News Tribune editorial board, and Seattle Times editorial page editor James Vesely.


    January 7, 2008

    Tolling, HOT Lanes Spread In U.S., Creep Forward In Puget Sound

    Matt Rosenberg

    Highway tolls to help raise maintenance and construction funds, and sliding-scale user fees to control peak-hour congestion are spreading across the U.S and creeping forward in central Puget Sound. In a year-end editorial, the Tacoma News Tribune highlighted the success of tolling on the new, second (southbound) Tacoma Narrows bridge (right side in adjacent photo), and the importance of tolling as a future transportation revenue source in Puget Sound:

    The greatest challenge facing the growing Puget Sound region is building and repairing transportation infrastructure to keep people and freight moving smoothly. But the region's voters in November soundly rejected Proposition 1, a massive and costly roads-and-transit ballot package that, among other things, would have extended Sound Transit's light-rail system all the way to Tacoma.

    Now state lawmakers must devise new approaches, including more emphasis on using highway tolls to pay for road repairs and construction. On the plus side, the new Narrows Bridge opened July 15, on time and under budget. More than 50,000 pedestrians packed the span from end to end for hours. Afterward, commuters marveled at the improved traffic flow. Complaints about the bridge toll dwindled.

    Narrows Bridge tolls are $3 for two-axle vehicles without a pre-paid account, $1.75 with an account - they do not vary by time of day or traffic loads, as is the case under so-called "congestion pricing."

    Narrows Bridge tolls can be collected on approach at booths off to the side, but there's been a run on electronic, dashboard-installed "Good To Go" transponders, which are read by overhead gantries as cars whiz underneath.

    Congestion Pricing Pilot Project In Puget Sound

    Also on the regional tolling roster in Puget Sound is a Washington State Department of Transportation pilot project to start later this year on Route 167 in South King County. It will convert the carpool lane in each direction to a High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lane open to carpoolers (two passengers or more in this case) for free, and to solo drivers for a sliding-scale toll set by real-time levels of road congestion. As for regular commuters on the southbound Narrows Bridge, transponders will be used. The higher peak-hour fees are offset by lower off-peak charges, which may compel shifting of some trips to those hours - or the forgoing of non-essential peak-hour solo driving.

    Regional HOT Lane Network Needed On Puget Sound Highways

    The SR 167 pilot project is a good first step, but part of what Puget Sound really needs to control traffic congestion as population grows robustly in coming decades is a regional network of HOT lanes on connecting highways; not just a few HOT lanes here and there. In addition, HOT lanes should number at least two in each direction, not one.

    The Domino Effect?

    Another possible tolling project in Puget Sound could have a domino effect. To qualify for a $138 million Urban Partnerships grant from the feds to help fund the financially-challenged SR 520 bridge rebuild, state legislators must approve tolling for that span. If they do that - as they certainly ought to - it will immediately raise the possibility of also tolling the parallel I-90 bridge across Lake Washington, in order to avoid undue congestion there from motorists seeking to avoid 520 tolls. Tolling these major east-west highways in turn cannot help but promote consideration of tolling our region's congested north-south highways, namely I-5, SR 99, and I-405.

    Legislature Seen Likely To Act

    With such considerations at top of mind following Prop. 1's defeat, the legislature is expected to develop a tolling bill in the upcoming short session.

    An Emerging Policy Priority Across The U.S.

    The action on tolling in Washington state comes against a busy national backdrop - and a growing awareness that highway tolling and highway congestion pricing are necessary in many urban regions.

    Car drivers aren't the only ones affected; truckers - and consumers - also have a big stake in congestion relief.

    In Forbes, logistics expert Robert Malone writes:

    There will be increased road congestion in nearly all urban areas in the U.S. in 2008. Delays in commuting and delivery of commercial loads continue to go up, and that means money wasted idling and just-in-time delivery threatened. Many lane miles will have to be added to the U.S. highway system just to keep up with traffic growth. There will be more calls, consequently, for congestion pricing, specifically in dense urban areas.

    Congestion pricing just adds one more cost to truckers or those using their services, and that will inevitably be passed on to the consumer....there are not a lot of choices: cut down on delivery (unsatisfactory), build roads (politically complex and expensive), or go congestion pricing and help some and alienate others.

    "Congestion Pricing Isn't Going Away"

    According to Forbes Small Business:

    ...congestion pricing isn't going away. U.S. municipalities including Dallas, Miami, Minneapolis, San Diego, and Seattle are expressing interest in the idea. Groups such as the AARP and the National Supermarkets Association back it...Recent studies estimate that traffic jams cost the U.S. economy a whopping $65 billion annually - and the figure is rising. Among the industries hardest hit: trucking, service and repair, wholesale trades, and construction. Gridlock costs New York City $4.6 billion in lost business revenue, estimates the Partnership for New York City, a group of 200 CEOs who support congestion pricing.

    The traffic crisis is spreading beyond the largest areas....Adam Madetzke, the owner of Salt City Couriers, says that northbound congestion on I-15 - Utah's most clogged highway - has hampered his delivery business: "During rush hour the heavy traffic drops our profits by 20% to 30%." While it debates congestion pricing, Utah hopes that a new commuter rail system set to open next spring will alleviate the problem....San Diego has been charging commuters a toll on an eight-mile stretch of I-15 since 1998, which lets those who pay use special lanes during peak hours. The charge varies from 50 cents to $8, depending on demand. Since the toll was imposed, usage of express lanes has nearly doubled, and the number of carpools has gone up more than 70%. Denver, Houston, and Minneapolis have similar toll highways....Minneapolis, which has suffered from heavy gridlock since the I-35W bridge collapsed in August, will raise tolls and partner with companies located along the interstate to encourage telecommuting.

    14 Miles Of HOT Lanes Coming to Capital Beltway

    One big HOT lanes deal announced recently is in the Washington, D.C. region and involves the State of Virginia and private partners. The Washington Business Journal reports that the U.S. Transportation Department, the State of Virginia, Fluor Enterprises, and Australia-based Transurban Group are partnering on a $1.9 billion public-private venture to add two new HOT lanes in each direction and one general use lane on each side of the Capital Beltway between Springfield, Virginia and the Maryland border. Virginia keeps control and oversight of the new HOT lanes while the private partners operate them and collect tolls to pay back a $588 million federal loan and $600 million in private-activity bonds issued on their behalf by the feds. Construction on the new lanes begins this year and is to be completed by 2013.

    Pennsylvania's Act 44

    Faced with an estimated shortfall of $900 million each year for road and bridge maintenance, Pennsylvania has passed Act 44, which will raise up to $116 billion over 50 years for roads, bridges and transit through new tolls on I-80, toll hikes on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the sale of revenue bonds. Turnpike Authority Vice-Chairman Timothy J. Carlson writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the added tolls and borrowing may be tough to swallow for some but are the right course - given pressing system needs, high gas prices and pinched pocketbooks.

    "Desperate" L.A. Seeks Congestion Pricing On 3 Highways

    In the Los Angeles Daily News, staff writer Sue Dolan notes L.A. has submitted a federal grant application for funds to convert HOV, or carpool lanes to HOT lanes on three area freeways, and comments:

    Some Californians have long believed in the concept of the free and open road, but with freeway speeds today crawling as slowly as 17 mph by 6 a.m., that free-spirited thinking could soon dead end in Los Angeles. And good riddance. While roads may be free today, they're simply not moving....It's gotten so bad that traffic dictates where we shop, who we date and how we spend our free time. And after grappling with bottlenecks during the week, many commuters feel too worn out on weekends to go anywhere. What a way to live.

    But transit officials hope to get certain freeway lanes moving along at 50 mph and say tolls could lead the way. Rates have not yet been set but would vary by the time of day - and solo drivers would pay more to use the lanes. "We're desperate," said Marc Littman, Metro spokesman. "We've reached a tipping point and have to come up with some solutions."

    Orange County HOT Lanes More Popular Than Ever

    South of L.A. in Orange County, what are perhaps the nation's best-known HOT lanes have become crowded at rush hour despite the costs. So Friday afternoon tolls will rise from $9.25 to $10 between 3 p.m. and 4 p,m, on the eastbound SR 91 Express Lanes connecting Orange and Riverside counties (right). Tolls are substantially lower at other hours, but some motorists are upset nonetheless. The L.A. Times reports:

    Express lane officials argue that the toll lanes are too popular, which slows travel for paying customers. By using so-called congestion pricing, they hope to persuade some commuters to travel during cheaper hours....Joel Zlotnik, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority, which owns and operates the express lanes....(says) raising the peak toll, drivers are encouraged to travel during off-peak hours....

    The OCTA isn't the only agency in the state to use a sliding fee scale....San Francisco has congestion pricing in place on several roads and is considering a plan similar to London's, under which motorists would be charged for entering the downtown area, or even for entering the city's limits.

    ...The higher toll rates indicate a demand for extra capacity, said Peter Samuel, who edits a Web-based news service specializing in toll roads. "They need to widen the 91 Freeway and look at a whole range of alternatives, including building a tunnel through the local mountains as was talked about," Samuel said. "The new toll is one of the highest in the country. But if you're reaching the saturation point with traffic, you've got to raise the cost, or otherwise the idea for having toll roads breaks down."

    The Times reports Riverside County wants the 91 Express Lanes extended into their territory, as well.

    The "Lexus Lanes" Canard

    The popularity of the 91 Express Lanes was already clearly evident in 2005, when the Washington Post reported:

    ...the most important lesson of these California roads -- sometimes derided as elitist, double-taxing "Lexus lanes" -- is that commuters will flock to them in large numbers, regardless of the price....ridership on the Express Lanes has surged -- from 10 million trips in 2003 to 11.2 million last year. (The Reason Foundation's Robert) Poole surmises that commuters view the tolls as "congestion insurance" -- costly, but essential to keep their lives from being lost in traffic. "I don't see any way around it," said Crystal Lee, a Riverside accountant and mother of two. Her ride home on the Express Lanes saves her 10 to 30 minutes, she estimates, and guarantees she'll be home in time to get her daughter to dance class. "I need the time," she said, "more than the money."

    The Democratic Leadership Council tackles head-on the class- and income-based "Lexus Lanes" claim.

    ...some oppose (HOT lanes) on equity grounds, claiming they would represent "Lexus Lanes" where commuters who can afford tolls receive an unfair advantage over their less-affluent fellow citizens (this is actually an argument against any toll roads, not just HOT lanes). But studies of HOT lanes have shown that a representative mix of commuters use them, not just the wealthy. Moreover, commuters in the regular lanes benefit from reduced congestion. And finally, it is low-to-moderate income commuters who most often encounter the kind of work or family emergencies that can be eased by the ability to occasionally buy a quick commute.

    Reviewing surveys of Orange County HOT lane users and conducting its own community survey on the upcoming SR 167 HOT lanes pilot project, WSDOT reached similar conclusions.

    Forbes Small Business notes:

    Despite opposition, congestion pricing may have legs politically. It's a cheap alternative to building new roads, and it can help cities reduce pollution. That makes it a natural for Democrats, with their base among big-city voters.

    The Road Ahead, In Cascadia

    Here in the Cascadia region including Washington and Oregon, the Seattle region is already instituting tolls and HOT lanes, with more likely to come, as detailed above. Down the road apiece, look for metro Portland to give serious consideration to tolling the replacement for the congested six-lane bridge across the Columbia River on I-5. The Oregonian reported the new 12-lane bridge will include special transit lanes (for either light rail or bus rapid transit), and the preliminary cost estimate is about $4 billion, emphasis on "preliminary." The feds want to help and are encouraging tolling as part of the funding mix.

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters visited Portland to endorse the Columbia River (bridge) effort and encourage private sector investment and tolling options. She suggested the federal government might pay as much as 80 percent of the project cost, but that is far from certain.

    A Common-Sense Tool To Help Fight Traffic Congestion

    The movement toward congestion pricing reflects rational valuation of a scarce commodity, road capacity. All of us in urban regions will have to adapt sooner or later. Businesses such as Microsoft Corp. have helped pioneer amenity-drenched private bus routes for employees, while Sun Microsystems in the Bay Area has taken the lead in encouraging remote work centers and telecommuting. With the gradual spread of tolling and especially higher peak-hour tolls through expanding regional HOT lane systems, expect more and more large employers to develop trip consolidation and trip reduction options, and embrace telecommuting on a larger scale, over time.

    Given advances in remote audio and video conferencing technology; ever-improving group software applications for sharing complex projects among a distributed workforce; plus heightened concerns about time lost in traffic and greenhouse gas emissions; and you've got a real harmonic convergence.

    The time for congestion pricing has come.


    November 19, 2007

    Congestion Pricing, Tolls Loom For Puget Sound

    Matt Rosenberg

    With the defeat by Puget Sound taxpayers of a multi-billion-dollar roads and transit ballot measure Nov. 6, momentum is growing for tolling and congestion pricing to help ease traffic congestion in the Seattle region, as this news and opinion round-up shows. In a Puget Sound Transportation Action Plan just unveiled, Cascadia Center also accents tolling and congestion pricing, along with centralized regional decision-making on transportation; more private investment in roads and transit; more bus rapid transit and commuter rail; an enhanced network of suburban park-and-ride lots; plus more government fleet purchases of - and fuel infrastructure development for - flexible-fuel plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

    Puget Sound hesitantly stands on the cusp of allocating more rationally its scarce road capacity. Tolling is a required condition for a federal grant of $138 million to help fund a $4.4 billion-plus replacement of the earthquake-and windstorm-prone State Route 520 Floating Bridge (a.k.a. the Evergreen Point Floating bridge). Tolling the 520 bridge intelligently will necessitate congestion pricing on that span plus enhanced transit options, and tolling the parallel I-90 to the south. The new tolled southbound lanes of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are proving popular, and a four-year congestion pricing pilot project is coming on State Route 167.

    The growing impetus for further tolling and congestion pricing in Puget Sound aligns with national trends.

    A privately-financed 10-mile toll road which runs north-south at the eastern reaches of San Diego opens today, as the San Diego Union-Bulletin reports. The South Bay Expressway will be operated by a unit of Macquarie Infrastructure Group, which assumed responsibility for a $635 million private investment to fund the bulk of the construction (total costs were $843 million) and operate the road, an extension of State Route 125. Tolls will range from $2 to $3.75, and will be levied via overhead gantries (above, left) communicating electronicallly with windshield-installed FasTrak transponders (below, right); and also via toll booths.

    Some 30,000 to 40,000 cars are expected to use the tollroad daily, and tolls are intended to allow the company to recoup its investment and make a profit. Elected officials say the road would never have been built without private investment. Under the current agreement, MacQuarie will turn the road over to the state transportation department in 35 years, though that could be renegotiated. The South Bay Expressway is expected to provide congestion relief for heavily-used I-805, a parallel north-south road to the west. The deal was inked in 1991, but environmental and legal challanges delayed a planned 1995 opening until today. Regional officials would like to renegotiate a so-called "no compete" clause, which requires them to pay MacQuarie if they open competing toll or HOV lanes; four HOV lanes are being eyed for I-805.

    This is not metro San Diego's first experience with tolling in recent years. The more dynamic form of tolling known as congestion pricing has been in place for almost 10 years on a major east-west Interstate in San Diego. CNN reports:

    San Diego has been charging commuters a toll on an eight-mile stretch of I-15 since 1998, which lets those who pay use special lanes during peak hours. The charge varies from 50 cents to $8, depending on demand. Since the toll was imposed, usage of express lanes has nearly doubled, and the number of carpools has gone up more than 70%.

    Back east, the New York Times reports (free reg. req.) the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is proposing to eliminate peak-hour toll discounts for transponder users, so that they would pay $8 peak tolls versus the current $5 (and $6 off-peak) tolls to use the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, and other bridges on Staten Island. Vehicles which meet low-emissions standards would only pay $4 at peak. The toll hikes, combined with proposed PATH commuter fare hikes, would raise an estimated $300 million per year to help finance a second commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River, to Penn Station. The port authority wouild spend $100 million to completely phase out tollbooths in five years, in favor of electronic transponders. Public hearings are planned on the entire proposal.

    A Hudson Valley daily - the Times Herald-Record - reports that the New York State Thruway Authority is being strongly urged by regional officials to institute congestion pricing for cars on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Currently, there's a frequency discount discount for cars, although trucks pay a congestion-based toll. Congestion-pricing for cars would help raise needed repair funds, the paper reports.

    The authority is being forced to adjust tolls again because volatile gas prices are slowing traffic growth, but it will need billions in new money regardless to fix the old bridge, the source of almost 20 percent of the revenue from the statewide system.

    Puget Sound has tens of billions worth of projected road and transit project needs in coming decades, as our burgeoning population grows still more; an estimated 52 percent by 2040, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council's projections. Increases in the motor vehicle excise tax, sales and gas tax can help fund some of these needs. But taxpayers are making it increasingly clear these sources are not an infinitely deep well; and alone will far from provide the bulk of needed transportation funding. A study done by the University of Washington and Booz Allen Hamilton earlier this year for King County Executive Ron Sims projected that system-wide tolling in Puget Sound could raise $1.1 to $1.6 billion per year, and about $36 billion over 20 years.

    That could fund a lot of new toll lanes, express buses, and commuter rail. IF Puget Sound and the state can muster the vision and accountability to make the investment.

    UPDATE, 11/20/07: Austin Jenkins, veteran statehouse correspondent for public radio's Northwest News Network, writes today in the online daily news magazine Crosscut that following Prop. 1's defeat, key state legislators are dusting off an early '07 tolling bill and passage of some version is likely in the '08 "short session" starting in January. The current bill, Jenkins reports, gives the legislature sole authority to impose tolls unless it grants exceptions; would permit "variable," or peak/off-peak pricing; details guidelines for the state transportation commission to follow in setting toll rates; and mandates that all tolls be used for the facilities or corridors from which they were collected. Unresolved now is whether tolls could finance transit. Tolling of SR 520 will likely be coupled with tolling of I-90, Jenkins reports.


    "Gas Tax Revenue Drop Will Hasten Tolling," Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Prospectus, 10/4/07.

    "Tolling Goes Mainstream," Ken Orski, Cascadia Prospectus, 10/3/07.

    "$6 Billion Columbia Crossing Bridge Project Will Require Tolling," Matt Rosenberg, Cascadia Prospectus, 9/17/07.

    "New Grant For Bridge Rebuild Prods Regional Tolling Debate," Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Prospectus, 8/15/07.

    "Viaduct Bypass, I-5 Expansion Should Be Linked," Bruce Agnew, Puget Sound Business Journal, 8/10/07.

    "State Treasurer Urges More Tolling For SR 520 Bridge Rebuild Tab," Matt Rosenberg. Cascadia Prospectus, 4/9/07.


    October 24, 2007

    Puget Sound Mobility Requires Public-Private Partnerships

    Matt Rosenberg

    The Tacoma News Tribune reports this morning that the crumbling, 94-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge has been ordered closed by State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, raising strong city council concerns about access to Tacoma's tidelands areas for medical or industrial emergency response. A 2004 estimate pegs rehab costs at $77 million, but only $25 million has been secured to date, the TNT reports.

    Current road and transit needs for the Puget Sound Region total $66 billion over the next two decades, according to a transportation governance commission created by the Washington State Legislature and Governor Christine Gregoire. Those needs are likely to grow. The population of four-county metro Seattle will rise from the 2000 U.S. Census level of 3.276 million by 52 percent, or 1.712 million - about as much as metro Portland today - to just shy of 5 million by 2040. This according to the Puget Sound Regional Council's new draft Vision 2040 regional update on growth, transportation and economic development. Additionally, roads and transit construction costs are rising ever higher.

    The upshot: A solid long-term transportation finance strategy is crucial. Our Cascadia Center's Director Bruce Agnew and Senior Fellow Steve Marshall argued in a News Tribune "Insight" section op-ed Sunday, October 21 that we're at a crossroads, and must move well beyond reliance on traditional funding sources to address current system maintenance and future system expansion needs. construction should be financed from tolls and private equity while federal Highway Trust Fund and state resources handle the maintenance of the existing system. Until now, large international construction firms and foreign banks have dominated the private sector partnership world. But today, local labor unions like the Northwest Building Trades and state public employee pension funds like the giant California Public Employee Retirement System want a piece of the action. The potential for funding alliances between public entities and labor unions or public employee pension funds is an important consideration in a state that has banned most public-private partnerships.

    We are not talking about foreign investors making huge profits and setting ever-higher tolls. Instead, the men and women who build the infrastructure would share in returns on the investment while the public retains control over toll rates. As former U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Gephardt noted earlier this year at our Cascadia Forum, "pension funds are patient funds, a 50-year return on investment" for union members and the public.

    A special state transportation performance audit prepared for the office of State Auditor Brian Sonntag recommends, among other things, that the legislature "review whether new legislation is required for public-private partnerships for transportation infrastructure and implement any necerssary changes."

    In California, interest in PPPs is also running high. Former Governors Gray Davis, Pete Wilson and George Dukemejian yesterday highlighted the need for private-public partnerships, in a Southern California newspaper op-ed, "California Infrastructure Needs 'Plan B.'" They wrote:

    It's clear we need a new solution, a Plan B, to ensure our state's future success. We can do so by creating "Public Private Partnerships" or "P3." Through P3, most of the highway, bridge, rail, water conveyance, public health and other facilities projects are paid for out of a combination of taxpayer supported bonds, private equity and debt, and fees charged to those who actually use or benefit from the infrastructure and services. One successful model in British Columbia created a "state enterprise agency" to identify P3 opportunities and then impartially evaluate private- or public-sector involvement while focusing on ensuring the long-term protection and benefit of the community.

    ...Sacramento needs to pass legislation enabling P3 to function in this state. Senate Bill 61 (Runner), supported by the governor, is a first step but is stuck in the Assembly because of opposition by public employee unions who believe their jobs may be threatened. What they don't understand is that without this Plan B, a lagging economy and dwindling state revenue stream will indeed threaten their jobs and retirements.....We need a fair, open process that clears the way to plan for major new infrastructure projects that attract private sector planning, management and financial skills, while protecting the long-term interests of the broader community.

    Thomas J. Donahue, president of The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, put it this way, in a recent Washington Post op-ed titled "Bridges To Somewhere":

    What must our nation do to meet the urgent infrastructure funding challenges? Where is the money going to come from? We can start by unlocking potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment just waiting to be spent on power plants; pipelines; shipping and hauling routes to railroads and airports; privately constructed and operated roadways; and more. The money is there if government regulators would get out of the way. Countries around the world use an array of innovative financing approaches and public-private partnerships to bring key projects on line quickly. It's about time America did the same.

    Transportation construction companies are taking the lead right now in public-private partnerships to build new infrastructure. One example is the new South Bay Expressway in San Diego. On a highway route initially proposed in 1959, the $635 million north-south artery built on the eastern edge of San Diego was financed by Macquarie Infrastructure Group funds based in New York and Australia, which will recoup their outlays via a 35-year tolling concession. Regular users can bypass tollboths, using windshield-installed tolling account cards which are automatically read by overhead transponders in the roadway. Depending on distance travelled, tolls for two-axle vehicles range from 75 cents to $3.50 for account-holders, nominally more for tollbooth customers. The toll is doubled for vehicles with three or four axles. The South Bay Expressway opens November 19.

    Cascadia Center is planning a luncheon forum on public private partnerships in transportation, during the week of Dec. 17, in Seattle. Stay tuned for more details.


    October 11, 2007

    State Auditor's Report Details Congestion-Busting Agenda

    Bruce Agnew

    A report issued yesterday by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag's office urges the state to more aggressively attack highway congestion, beginning with a formal declaration that congestion is a top transportation policy priority. The Seattle Times reported on the findings today. The transportation performance audit, prepared for Sonntag's office by Talbot, Korvola & Warwick of Portland, goes on to make more than 20 specific policy recommendations. These include urging that the state legislature should:

  • "empower a single body - either the Department of Transportation or a regional transportation entity for the Puget Sound Region - to allow for a more integrated approach to planning for congestion reduction:"
  • "choose/identify transportation projects based on congestion reduction rather than other agendas;"
  • "implement new legislation to facilitate the expansion of road pricing should the department's high-occupancy toll lane pilot project (on S.R. 167) be successful;"
  • and "review whether new legislation is required for public private partnerships for transportation infrastructure and implement any changes."
  • The transportation performance audit, authorized under Initiative 900, also recommends the department add new highway lanes.

    WSDOT observes in the audit report, correctly, with respect to new highway lanes and other capital-intensive proposals, that new state funding has been hard to secure over the years and much responsibility lies with the legislature.

    But as state legislators were recently reminded, state and federal gas tax revenues - a key funding source - aren't a good bet going forward. All the more reason for state lawmakers to explore and ultimately implement the report's recommendations, especially expanding opportunities for public private partnerships, building more HOT lanes, and implementing transportation governance reform to boost investment and accountability.


    October 4, 2007

    Gas Tax Revenue Drop Will Continue, And Hasten Tolling

    Bruce Agnew

    The Seattle Times has a story this morning about new projections of a Washington state gas tax revenue shortfall of $1.5 billion, and the added impetus this gives to tolling as means of funding crucial transportation projects. The story says the expectation of state forecasters is for continued high gas prices and constrained demand, and that although the revenue shortfall is relatively small now, it is a real problem in the long term.

    But that is only half of it. As we learned at our technology conference at Microsoft this year, the Prius is the fastest selling model for Toyota in the Northwest. On deck for Toyota, GM, Ford and other manufacturers are plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) which use electricity for their primary energy source and non-petroleum-based alternative fuels for back up. 2009 is the most likely date for mass market distribution for these vehicles - which coincides with the date the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to go bankrupt.

    With our commitment to renewable energy resources and tradition of hydropower, the Northwest could be the first area in the country to eventually power its transportation sector oil-free.

    So yes, by all means bring on toll roads and more HOT lanes and public-private partnerships to help fill the transportation funding hole that will continue to grow due to dwindling state and federal gas tax revenues. At the same time, flexible, fast and convenient public transit can help, such as bus rapid transit and - in locales like Puget Sound - cutting edge low-wake, high-speed water taxis. So can vehicle trip reduction strategies including employer-provided buses, flexible carpooling, and telework.

    Finally, let's acknowledge that scores of drivers and freight haulers are still going to be on the road, and help them "green the highway." In part, that means retrofitting park-and-ride lots with electric plug-ins; expediting government fleet purchases of PHEVs; and electrifying truck stops, port container storage yards, and rest areas on major Interstate highways such as I-5.


    October 3, 2007

    Tolling Goes Mainstream

    Ken Orski

    Approaching 2008, tolling has entered the mainstream and begun to influence transportation decisions throughout the country. At the same time - as Forbes magazine notes - transponder technology is enabling higher-speed, automated "open road" tolling, foreshadowing an eventual end to the era of tollbooths.

    Recent news reports underscore the increased momentum for tolling - although often the pathway to implementation is challenging, and some proposals pencil out while others ultimately do not.

    Let's survey the tolling landscape.

    With the state facing a projected 30-year, $74 billion shortfall in needed road funding, Georgia Board of Transportation member David Doss has unveiled a plan which includes a 10-year statewide one percent sales tax hike to raise $22 billion for transportation, and which calls for the infusion of private capital for a tolled east-west connector north of Atlanta and an eight-mile tolled tunnel to relieve downtown congestion.

    Near San Francisco, the (Silicon) Valley Transportation Authority is vetting plans to widen Highway 101 and add a High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lane that is free to some carpoolers but for which lower-occupancy vehicles would be charged. Conversion of current High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to HOT lanes that are open to toll-paying solo drivers is also being evaluated for other Bay Area highways, including portions of southbound I-680, I-580, I-880 and Route 101 in the North Bay.

    Installing more HOT lanes has increasingly become a priority for the federal Department of Transportation, which recently released $1.2 billion to agencies across the country willing to charge tolls...."The feds are looking for dramatic, dynamic ways to get big projects moving," said John Ristow, who is overseeing the VTA's toll plan for 85 and 101. "The huge piece is there had to be tolling involved. You see that in Seattle, in New York...That is where the trend is moving both on the federal and state level in a major way."

    Virginia is proceeding with plans to construct HOT and toll lanes on a 14-mile stretch of the Capital Beltway. Private firms will finance $1.3 billion of the $1.7 billion project, the state will provide the rest. The private partners will maintain and operate the HOT and toll lanes. Transit and commuter buses, plus vehicles with three or more passengers will ride free in the HOT lanes; vehicles with fewer than three passengers will pay a congestion-based fee to use the HOT lanes, typically five to six dollars.

    Alabama Governor Bob Riley has directed the state transportation department to evaluate the feasibility of private or public-private funding for toll roads on up to five key projects which can't be fully financed by the federal goverment or via a raised state gas tax, which is considered politically unviable. The projects include a southern bypass around Huntsville; an elevated roadway to skirt the congested intersection of two interstates in Birmingham; and a limited access road from Dothan to I-10 in Florida's Panhandle. Alabama already has four privately-operated toll bridges.

    Meanwhile, in Maine, The Kennebec Journal reported last week:

    The Legislature's Transportation Committee voted Wednesday to direct the Maine Turnpike Authority to study the feasibility of charging tolls on the Interstate. Just hours after the vote, Gov. John Baldacci released a strongly worded statement opposing new tolls. "I oppose the idea of adding tolls to Maine's existing Interstate highway system, and I can assure you it will not happen during my term in office," he said.

    Regardless of the governor's feelings, Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Boyd Marley, D-Portland, said the study will go forward. "I think it's irresponsible not to at least look at it," Marley said, adding that the state Department of Transportation is facing a funding crisis. "We're at such dire straits," he said. "The gas tax is flat, construction costs are out of control, we have 288 bridges in need of repair." The department is projecting a $2.2 billion funding gap over the next 10 years. The study will look at the feasibility of adding tolls to I-295 from Falmouth to Gardiner and I-95 from Augusta to Houlton.

    In North Carolina, regional planning officials have signed off on a state-backed plan for a $553 million 21-mile tolled bypass road running parallel to I-74 from Monroe to Marshville.

    Backers of an interstate highway forking together from the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts and then running through Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio to Michigan's Canadian border heard from U.S. Assistant Secretary of Transportation Tyler Duvall at a recent gathering. He said the multi-billion dollar proposal would certainly require extensive tolling, transponders instead of toll booths, and would would also greatly benefit from pension and hedge fund investment. Any interstate road projects costing more than $500 million will need to incorporate tolling, Duvall said.

    The Palm Beach Post reports that at Florida Governor Charlie Crist's urging, the state will closely examine possible privatization and new or increased tolls on four road facilities: "Alligator Alley," or I-75 running east-west between Naples and Fort Lauderdale; the Tampa Bay Sunshine Skyway Bridge; Pinellas Bayway in St. Petersburg; and the Bee Line Expressway in Orange County. Early indications are that management of I-75 may be best retained by the state.

    A combination of factors has helped to propel highway tolling into the mainstream.

  • Growing transportation budget shortfalls have been keeping the tolling option front and center before governors, state legislatures and state transportation officials. In a Washington Post op-ed, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters wrote:

    "A substantial increase in the nation's gas tax is ill-advised. Of far greater promise than traditional gas taxes is direct pricing of road use similar to how people pay for other utilities."

    Secretary Peters' skepticism about the potential of increasing the fuel tax is well founded. As the New York Times recently observed, "The mere mention of raising gasoline taxes remains almost tantamount to political suicide."

  • Private capital markets, especially institutional investors with long term investment horizons such as pension funds, have discovered transportation infrastructure to be an attractive investment opportunity. Toll facilities in particular, produce a steady cash flow that is relatively unaffected by economic downturns, and offer stable, long term investment returns with a relatively low risk. CalPERS, the nation's largest public pension fund ($246 billion in assets), may have been the harbinger of the new mindset when it announced in September that it was creating a $2.5 billion pilot infrastructure program and establishing a new asset class focused on investments in new roads, bridges, airports and other utilities. In announcing the decision, Charles Valdes, Investment Committee Chair, said "CalPERS could become a major player in solving some pressing public policy problems related to transportation."
  • State legislatures and public authorities have recognized the need for periodic toll increases to keep up with inflation, enhancing the attractiveness and popularity of toll road investments to private capital markets, which now consider toll roads a sound long-term investment.
  • The willingness of private toll concessionaires to accept availability payments and toll revenue sharing has contributed to the public sector's embrace of tolling, by allowing the state to retain the toll revenue. -- This arrangement is politically more defensible than letting a private concessionaire pocket the toll proceeds. Second, by tying payments to the volume of traffic, the state creates a profit incentive for the private concessionaire to manage the facility efficiently and attract a maximum number of customers. Third, the state owes money to its private sector partner only to the extent the facility generates revenue. If traffic is lower than forecast, the private partner bears the risk.
  • Unlike the politically unpopular private leases of existing public toll roads (as exemplified by the Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway deals), concession agreements involving new toll roads have received a positive reception.
  • Tolls may well assume a dominant role in the funding of new highway capacity as early as the next decade. This conclusion does not stem from an ideological preference for "privatization" nor from a libertarian impulse to seek a reduced federal presence in the nation's transportation program. Rather, it is grounded in the reality that every last cent we can raise through the gas tax will be needed to maintain and modernize our aging infrastructure.

    Resorting to tolls and private capital to help finance future highway capacity is not only the logical way -- it's the only way to ensure the growth and long-term vitality of our surface transportation system without imposing an unacceptable tax burden on the American people.


    September 17, 2007

    $6 Billion Columbia Crossing Bridge Project Will Require Tolling

    Matt Rosenberg

    An editorial yesterday by Vancouver, Washington's daily newspaper, The Columbian, celebrates support voiced during a Portland-region visit last week by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman, for the I-5 Columbia Crossing bridge improvement project. It's a major regional priority due to congestion and safety problems on the current I-5 Interstate Bridge connecting Clark County, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Columbia Crossing and other projects bundled into a three-state proposal from California, Oregon and Washington last week won a $15 million federal "Corridors Of The Future" grant, the bulk of which is essentially planning money for innovative approaches to financing the up-to-$6 billion cost of Columbia Crossing. Project options include replacing the current six-lane bridge with a wider one; adding a second bridge; and building in light rail or bus lanes under either scenario. One way or another, the thinking goes, this cross-border interstate chokepoint - and the tricky, tight interchanges and lane shifts north and south of the bridge that raise the corridor's accident rate - needs fixing.

    The Columbian editorial suggests it would be nice if Oberstar had a $6 billion sack of cash to meet the project's estimated cost, but that for now it's good news he realizes its importance. There is no mention of supplemental funding sources. A Columbian article Friday said local members of Congress are hoping the feds can provide half to two-thirds of the up-to-$6 billion cost. That's probably wishful thinking, but even so, could leave a gap of $2 billion or more.

    Enter tolling, or more specifically, congestion pricing, which helps pay for projects and regulate time-of-day use. It's something Washington and Oregon say they're interested in applying to Columbia Crossing. As Oregonian reporter Dylan Rivera last week noted in a blog post on Oberstar's visit, federal officials consider that important, and specifically say that's a key reason they awarded the "Corridors Of The Future" grant to the project. Rivera's Oregonian blog post notes:

    Ian Grossman, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, said the potential use of tolls, and the possibility of variable charges, helped make the Columbia River Crossing (grant application) stand out. Federal officials were especially interested that Oregon and Washington are willing to consider congestion pricing -- the practice of tolling a roadway and imposing higher tolls during peak traffic hours, the higher prices intended to dissuade use at certain times of day. "It's the innovative financing that we believe will have a real impact on relieving congestion," Grossman said.

    A recent $138 million federal grant to Washington state for rebuilding the congested, earthquake- and storm-prone, State Route 520 Floating Bridge across Lake Washington is tied to state imposition of tolls on the bridge.

    During his Oregon visit, Chairman Oberstar told public radio he's against congestion pricing. But congestion pricing, keyed to time of day and sometimes also to road traffic loads, is the fairest, most logical type of tolling. And in the end, some form of tolling will almost certainly prove necessary to fully fund the Columbia Crossing bridge replacement on I-5.


    August 15, 2007

    New Grant For Bridge Rebuild Prods Regional Tolling Debate

    Bruce Agnew

    News that federal DOT officials have accepted the offer by Puget Sound transportation leaders to toll a new State Route 520 bridge by September of 2009 in exchange for $139 million in new bridge-rebuild cash from the feds will accelerate a much needed debate about the eventual need for system-wide tolling here. This dialog is coming despite two state gas tax hikes in recent years, and a hard-to-get-your-mind-around $17.8 billion regional Roads and Transit vote on November 6. The new federal money for rebuilding the unsafe and congested SR 520 bridge - money explicitly conditioned upon supplemental tolling of the bridge - comes in response to a successful Urban Partnership grant application to USDOT from a team including WSDOT, the Puget Sound Regional Council and King County.

    Several developments would add impetus to the dialog on regional highway tolling for Puget Sound.

    First, the state legislature has to authorize tolls on SR 520 as part of the deal. Once that happens -- and given the inevitable backlash from some corners in the contentious local transportation scene -- the debate will start in earnest.

    Another key player is Governor Chris Gregoire, who did not assert a pro-tolling position in the unsettled examination earlier this year of how to pay for replacing the aged and unstable Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in Seattle. One major concern for the Governor was "leaking" revenue as motorists used other untolled routes versus a tolled Viaduct. Given that a valuable federal grant for the crucial SR 520 bridge rebuild is conditioned on tolling that bridge, the stakes grow larger. The Governor needs to make regional highway tolling a big deal in next year's proposals to the Legislature.

    In addition, local elected leaders who want to add a third major tax increase for transportation in four years to Puget Sound households (this fall's Roads and Transit ballot measure), need to be clear and honest about the inevitability of tolls and taxes. Study after study has shown that we will need twice as much funding as we have for safety, capacity and technology improvements to meet the twin challenges of more people and freight coming to our region.

    Environmental and other prerogatives add to the impetus for expanded transportation funding options, including regional tolling. The transportation system is moving inexorably to biofuels and electricity due to national security and global warming concerns. As a result, the gas tax will soon fade away as the chief funding source.

    So let's use the relatively positive experience from tolling on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge - and the current debate over SR 520 - to launch a much larger community discussion about system-wide tolling in Puget Sound.

    Highways in congested metropolitan regions need to be thought of as a scarce resource, and priced accordingly for single-occupant vehicles.


    "Highway Tolls Are Inevitable In Metro Puget Sound," Dean Paton, Crosscut;

    "Destination 2030 - Taking An Alternative Route," (regional tolling study prepared for King County Executive Ron Sims by Washington Transportation Research Center - University of Washington, & Booz Allen Hamilton);

    "Public-Private Partnerships For Toll Highways," Robert Poole, Reason Foundation (Congressional testimony);

    WSDOT news release on $138.7 million federal grant for 520 bridge rebuild;

    WSDOT's "State Route 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Project" Web page.


    August 13, 2007

    "Shadow Tolling" Eyed For I-595 Express Lanes In Broward County

    Ken Orski

    Add the concept of "shadow tolling" to the roster of innovative road financing methods. Introduced in the United Kingdom some ten years ago, the concept of shadow tolling has crossed the Atlantic and is being considered by the Florida Department of Transportation in its I-595 corridor project. The state is inviting the private sector to help finance, build and operate a 10.5-mile stretch of elevated toll lanes intended to relieve congestion in the busy I-595 corridor that connects I-75 with the Florida Turnpike and I-95 in Broward County. I-595 currently carries about 180,000 vehicles/day in the busiest stretch of the corridor, and the volume is expected to rise to 300,000 by 2035.

    The state is ready to commit $900 million to the project and is asking the private sector to finance the remaining $300 million of the $1.2 billion project as well as to build, operate and maintain the facility. But instead of letting out a toll concession wherein the private concessionaire would collect and pocket the toll revenue, the state proposes to collect the tolls and pay the private builder-operator a fee based on the number of vehicles using the toll facility. More here from Miami Herald reporter Larry Lebowitz.

    The $1.2 billion project would expand and improve the existing east-west corridor that currently supports close to 200,000 vehicles a day, and add three elevated, reversible, variably priced toll lanes (on I-595) from Interstate 75 and the Sawgrass Expressway in the west to U.S. 441 and Florida's Turnpike in the east.

    From the average commuter's perspective, the highest profile change would be the addition of the 10-mile tier of variably priced toll lanes -- charging real tolls, not spectral ones. The express lanes, which would be open eastbound in the mornings and westbound at night, are designed to enhance ''through'' traffic only. This means all traffic entering or exiting between the end points will have to use the at-grade ''free'' lanes. Toll prices would be posted on electronic message signs as drivers approach the elevated lanes and change every few minutes depending on how many cars are using the special lanes.

    The idea is pure supply-and-demand economics: promise motorists a theoretical 55 mph trip on the elevated pay lanes regardless of how congested the ''free'' lanes are moving below. The more congested the roadway, the higher the toll....this method has been used to finance major infrastructure projects in the United Kingdom, Spain and Australia, but never in North America.

    From the perspective of the state, shadow tolling has several advantages over a private concession.

  • First, it allows the state to retain possession and maintain control over collection of toll revenue, even as the facility is being managed by a private operator-- a politically more attractive option.
  • Second, by tying these "availability payments" to the volume of traffic, the state creates a profit incentive for the private operator to manage the facility efficiently and maximize vehicle throughput.
  • And third, the state owes money to its private sector partner only to the extent the facility generates revenue. If traffic is lower than forecast, the private partner bears the risk.
  • In another Miami Herald story earlier this summer on the I-595 elevated express lane plans, financing options took a back seat to the access and aesthetic concerns of some local residents.

    The state and a federal agency have approved the elevated express lanes after a public hearing in 2005. Since then, the municipalities of Plantation and Davie have come out against the elevated lanes. FDOT is trying to figure out how to pay for them.

    "When 595 opened, in a very short period of time it was already over capacity," said Alicia Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation. "We understand the residents may not see the value of improving this corridor with elevated lanes, but what good is looking out of their back door and seeing a parking lot called Interstate 595? We need to come up with an alternative for the next 30 to 50 years," Gonzalez said.

    Also, Gonzalez said, while Plantation wouldn't have an on-ramp for the express lanes, every car that gets on the special lanes in Weston is a car that Plantation residents wouldn't have to compete with on the main highway. As for appearances, double-deck expressways are widely thought of as eyesores. But FDOT is hoping to build a newer style of elevated lanes, built on a single row of pillars running down the center of the median. A similar design in Tampa drew little opposition once people saw the pictures, officials there said.

    A decision on whether to green light the "shadow-tolling" finance plan for the elevated express lanes on I-595 is due in early September. If the financing approach is approved, a contractor would be selected by late 2008, construction started in 2009, and completed in 2014.


    August 10, 2007

    Cascadia Unveils Tolling Proposal for I-5, & SR 99 Tunnel

    Matt Rosenberg

    In a Puget Sound Business Journal op-ed published this morning, our Cascadia Center's Director Bruce Agnew posits that tolling and private investment could pay for replacement of the shaky Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in Seattle - and for reconfiguration of badly-congested Interstate 5 in the city, as well. Neither are included in a multi-billion-dollar roads and transit ballot measure facing Central Puget Sound voters in November.

    ...two crucial transportation projects relevant to the Minnesota tragedy are partially on hold -- replacement of the central waterfront section of Alaska Way Viaduct on State Route 99, and full funding for reconstruction of the 40-year-old stretch of Interstate 5 from Northgate to Tukwila.

    ....any notion that the viaduct's 110,000 daily vehicle trips can be replaced by a series of transit enhancements fails to comprehend the complexity of moving freight in a constricted north-south corridor. Simply put, I-5 can't take any more traffic and freight can't take a bus. Solutions so far have been piecemeal and money is scarce.

    ....So we propose a bold -- some would say radical -- rethink. Our plan would consider both I-5 reconstruction and added capacity and replacement of the central section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, within the context of regionwide tolling and partnerships for private capital. A deep-bored tunnel through downtown to replace the viaduct, beginning at Sodo and splitting to either State Route 99 east of the Seattle Center or continuing to the Mercer/I-5 ramp, would segregate local traffic from through traffic, and would avoid the construction disruptions on the central waterfront that threaten businesses....

    A twin-bore tunnel is being built right now in Seattle, for light rail: more details in Agnew's op-ed.

    In addition to accelerating the reconstruction of I-5, our plan would redesign the reversible express lanes from Northgate to downtown...(with) additional "contra flow lane" in the opposite direction.

    This would allow the (I-5) express lanes to operate 24 hours a day in each direction and provide an additional through lane in the difficult downtown area, which currently has only two through lanes. Overpasses and ramps would have to be modified or removed, but a bottleneck of gigantic proportions would be eliminated, and it could be done on the existing footprint. For this premium service, a variable toll would be charged for the express lanes only; drivers could still access the regular lanes free. We'd dedicate a portion of the toll to expand bus rapid transit options as a supplement to current transit investments on I-5 and Highway 99.

    How do we pay for such a feat of engineering without added taxpayer exposure? Answer: In addition to tolls, union and public employee pension funds could be invested in these projects and would pay back a return over many years.

    In the op-ed, Agnew explains why this is not merely wishful thinking. He concludes:

    Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature should consider modifying state law to allow this partnership with union pension funds. And if the November ballot measure fails, (replacement of) the State Route 520 bridge should be added to the I-5/Highway 99 pilot project.

    Our failure to think big in the past is one reason we're in today's transportation mess. Let's start now to change that.

    Read the whole thing; and let us know what you think, in the comments section of this blog entry.


    August 1, 2007

    Congestion Pricing in Manhattan: What Comes Next?

    Ken Orski

    The New York State legislature has taken the first step toward the possible implementation of congestion pricing in Manhattan by voting to establish a "New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission."

    The bill establishes a rigorous timeline for the development, review and approval of a preliminary traffic mitigation plan advocated by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which would charge drivers entering Manhattan south of 86th Street an $8 toll between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, with much of the proceeds going to fund transit improvements. Under the new legislation, April 1, 2008 is the target date to give the City the green light to proceed with implementation of the traffic mitigation plan. The vote was 122-16 in the Assembly and 39-19 in the Senate in favor of the legislation.

    The establishment of the Commission marks an initial step in what promises to be a complicated and contentious process whose ultimate outcome is difficult to predict. The plan to implement congestion pricing in Manhattan has to clear two major hurdles. The first is to obtain a federal grant under the US DOT's $1.2 billion Urban Partnerships program. The state legislation stipulates that the program cannot proceed unless the City obtains at least $250 million in funding -- either in the form of a single federal grant of $250 million or with a federal grant of $200 million to be supplemented by a City commitment of $50 million. The federal grant must be in place by October 1 and the city commitment by December 31.

    The second hurdle is to obtain the blessings for congestion pricing from the 17-member Congestion Mitigation Commission and three separate politically elected bodies -- the City Council, the State Senate and the State Assembly. The bill, which uses the term "congestion mitigation" rather than "congestion pricing" in its title, empowers the Commission to come up with alternatives to areawide congestion pricing. However, the bill stipulates that the adopted congestion mitigation measures must produce at least a 6.3% reduction in average vehicle miles traveled (VMTs), as promised in the Mayor's original plan. Such a reduction might possibly be accomplished by tolling the East River bridges--- and do so with less disruption and at a lower capital and operating cost.

    Both challenges bear further scrutiny.

    The First Hurdle: Obtaining Federal Financial Support

    The U.S. Department of Transportation is now faced with a difficult decision. It must decide whether New York City has met the conditions of the Urban Partnerships program and qualifies for a federal grant under that program. The Department has stipulated from the very outset that applicants must show evidence of having the authority to move forward with their proposed pricing strategy. New York City currently lacks such authority. The City will obtain authority to act only if and when the City Council and the State Legislature approve the implementation plan recommended by the Congestion Mitigation Commission. The consent will come at the end of March 2008 at the earliest. By selecting NYC for an award despite its current lack of authority to act, the Transportation Department would open itself to accusations of favoritism, since it had disqualified other candidate cities, such as Los Angeles, precisely because they offered to "study" rather than implement congestion pricing.

    The quandary from the federal perspective comes from the fact that the NYC project offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate the concept of areawide (cordon) congestion pricing. It is generally agreed that New York City offers the most favorable venue for such a demonstration. A congestion pricing showcase in Manhattan could significantly enhance the political legitimacy of this concept and accelerate its public acceptance throughout the country -- an avowed policy goal of U.S. DOT leadership. We suspect there may also be some discomfort in denying an award to an important "client" such as New York City, although we think the Department would be on solid ground in defending a decision to turn the City down because of its inability to meet the program's eligibility criteria.

    A possible way out of this dilemma is for the Department to employ the mechanism of a "pre-implementation grant" under the discretionary Value Pricing Pilot Program. An award of $200 million in the form of a pre-implementation grant would enable the New York initiative to go forward without doing violence to the Urban Partnerships program's selection criteria. The proceeds of the pre-implementation grant could go toward providing financial support to the Congestion Mitigation Commission and funding the City's activities preparatory to implementing the Commission's recommendations ( as, for example, improving bus service.)

    So far, despite repeated press inquiries, the U.S. DOT has maintained silence as to its intentions. Its decision will be made known on August 8 when the Department announces the finalists in its Urban Partnerships program.

    The Second Hurdle: Preserving the Integrity of the Congestion Pricing Option

    The second hurdle facing Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal is of a more substantive nature. It involves (1) convincing the 17-member politically appointed commission that congestion pricing ought to be a key element of its overall congestion mitigation implementation plan; and (2) persuading three independent politically elected bodies -- the City Council, the State Senate and the State Assembly-- to adopt the implementation plan substantially as proposed by the Commission.

    At each stage of the process, opponents of congestion pricing will have an opportunity to challenge the Mayor's proposal, question his assumptions, offer amendments to his plan and propose other traffic mitigation alternatives, such as tolling East River Bridges.

    "Real questions are going to be asked and answered, whether the mayor likes it or not," said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a sharp critic of the Mayor's plan. Echoed John C. Liu, Chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, "Speaker Christine Quinn and I and our colleagues in the Council will be looking very carefully at the issues involved. We have local constituents who are very concerned about the impact that congestion pricing will have on their neighborhoods."

    The latest Quinnipiac poll tends to support the lawmakers' concerns. It shows NYC respondents to be against congestion pricing by a margin of 52% to 41% (Manhattan voters support it 59% to 37%).

    Challenges may be expected to many aspects of the Mayor's proposal. Among them are the proposed northern boundary of the charge zone (86th Street), the proposed schedule of fees, the number and nature of exempted categories of drivers, the nature and timing of transit service improvements, ways of handling traffic and parking at the periphery of the zone, methods of collecting fees from drivers that do not have E-ZPass, the ability of the trans-Hudson transit links to handle the extra commuters diverted from their cars, and the possibility of substituting a targeted tolling component (such as tolls on the East River bridges) for a citywide congestion fee.

    The Commission may also want to raise the larger question of the impact of congestion pricing on residents of other boroughs and of suburban jurisdictions. Finally, there exists the possibility of a lawsuit challenging the plan on the grounds it lacks an environmental impact statement (EIS), an eventuality that could seriously delay implementation..

    "I am afraid the final outcome may bear little resemblance to what Mayor Bloomberg had in mind," one local elected official who considers himself supportive of the Mayor's plan told us. What he meant was that a number of things could still derail or seriously modify the plan or delay the start of implementation. Adding further uncertainty is the fact that 2009 is a mayoral election year. Congestion pricing could well become a volatile electoral issue.

    Implementation Timeline

    July 26, 2007: The state legislature approves A9362, a bill to establish the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, a 17-member body appointed by the Governor (3 appointees), the Mayor (3), City Council (3), State Senate Majority Leader (3), State Assembly Speaker (3), Senate Minority Leader (1), and Assembly Minority Leader (1)

    By August 1, 2007: The Mayor submits a congestion pricing plan to the Commission. The Commission may hold hearings and consider a variety of options before producing an "Implementation Plan."

    August 8, 2007: US DOT announces finalists in the Urban Partnerships Program. US DOT must award New York City at least $200 million or the deal is off.

    By October 1, 2007: The NY State DOT and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority submit comments on the Mayor's plan, including additional capital required by the plan. US DOT must "commit" at least $200 million or the deal is off.

    By January 31, 2008: The Commission votes on an Implementation Plan.

    By March 28, 2008: The City Council votes on the Implementation Plan, and sends a "home rule message" to the state legislature indicating the outcome of its vote.

    By March 31, 2008: The New York State Assembly and Senate vote on the Implementation Plan.


    June 27, 2007

    Texas Rebuff Of Winning Toll Road Bid Raises Concerns

    Ken Orski

    By a vote 27 to 10, the North Texas Regional Transportation Council (RTC) recommended that the 26-mile SH 121 toll road project be awarded to the public North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) rather than to the private consortium of Cintra-JP Morgan Asset Management. The latter bidder had won the award in a competitive procurement process earlier this year.

    The RTC decision has been widely condemned by the transportation community as wrong on substantive as well as fairness grounds. (See, for example, "A Tale of Two Texas Roads," by Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation). A formal decision is up to the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) which will vote on the RTC recommendation June 28.

    The Commission will be faced with a difficult decision. The U.S. Department of Transportation has questioned the propriety of allowing a competing proposal from NTTA to be considered after the procurement process had been closed and the project was awarded to Cintra/JP Morgan in a fair and open competition.

    A letter from the Federal Highway Administration has warned that:

    "If the project were awarded to NTTA, FHWA would be legally compelled to withdraw all federal funding from the SH 121 project."

    In addition, as Robert Poole has pointed out, a decision to re-open the procurement process would send a message to the private sector loud and clear that there is a high political risk dealing in Texas. Poole writes:

    "And that might send private toll road companies and untold billions of private capital to other fast-growing states that know how to play by the rules of fair competition."

    The Texas Transportation Commission should take these arguments seriously to heart as it weighs the equities versus the political expediency of accepting or rejecting the advice of the regional planning body.

    Elsewhere, impetus for private operation of toll roads continues to grow.

    On June 20, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he had signed a bill that will allow private companies to build and operate toll roads. The measure passed 37-2 in the Senate and 68-49 in the House. The law will allow the state to enter into private concession agreements to operate existing toll roads (except for the Florida Turnpike) as well as build and operate new ones. Concessions will be limited to 50 years but could be extended to 75 years with legislative approval. The bill also permits automatic toll increases on existing and future roads to keep up with inflation.

    Infrastructure is viewed by a growing number of pension funds as a source of a "steady, if unspectacular, stream of income," reports the Wall Street Journal in an article titled, "Investing in the Fast Lane." The article quotes one pension fund official as saying that infrastructure should deliver "fairly predictable, stable returns." But, warned Mark Weisdorf who heads the infrastructure fund of J.P. Morgan Asset Management, there are political and regulatory risks.

    "Governments can change their minds about how and whether to proceed on deals with the private sector."

    Weisdorf here makes an obvious allusion to the shadow cast on public-private partnerships by the North Texas RTC recommendation to nullify the Cintra award of the SH 121 project. Tomorrow will tell whether the Texas Transportation Commission sets things right; or not.

    UPDATE, 6/29/07: Yesterday, the commission decided to affirm the reversal of the earlier decision to award the contract to the private partnership.


    June 11, 2007

    Regions And Feds Must Jointly Combat Congestion

    Ken Orski

    A new report by the Congressional Research Service notes that traffic congestion has reached crisis proportions in some places. But, the report notes, not everyone agrees that congestion is a major national problem warranting a federal government response. Because congestion tends to be geographically concentrated in major metropolitan areas, past Congressional action has tended to favor a predominantly state and local response.

    The report speculates that Congress may well decide to continue with this approach in the next reauthorization of the guiding federal transportation policy legislation, known as SAFETEA-LU, which expires October 1, 2009. States and localities that suffer major congestion would be free to focus their resources on congestion mitigation, while those who are relatively congestion-free could devote their resources to other priorities. However, should Congress conclude that congestion has become a problem of national significance, a congestion mitigation program would become a major focus of the next reauthorization, the report states.

    The question may already have been settled. The U.S. DOT, through its "National Strategy to Reduce Congestion," has made congestion mitigation a central element of the federal surface transportation program. Equally important, the need to eliminate truck bottlenecks and reduce congestion in heavily traveled interstate truck corridors has been recognized by the transportation community as a national priority. Indeed, if the second half of the 20th century was characterized by a national effort to create a continental highway system, the first half of the 21st century may become known as an era of a concerted national effort to prevent that highway system from becoming hopelessly gridlocked.

    Congestion Initiative Update

    Nine cities have been selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation as semi-finalists in the "Urban Partnerships" program. Thereby, the U.S. DOT is seeking proposals from metro areas to implement a comprehensive policy response to urban congestion, including demonstrations of variable tolling or congestion pricing, enhanced transit services such as bus rapid transit, increased use of telecommuting, and deployment of advanced Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technology. From the nine semi-finalists the Department plans to select up to five "Urban Partners," which it will support with financial resources, regulatory flexibility, and technical assistance. The nine semi-finalists are Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis-St, Paul, Miami, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. Winners will be announced in mid-August. The program commands significant discretionary resources. These include up to $100 million from the ITS Congestion Mitigation Operational Testing program; up to $30 million from the Value Pricing Program; up to $260 million in other Federal Highway Administration discretionary funds; up to $715 million in Federal Transit Administration discretionary funds; and $150 million in President's FY08 energy budget proposal -- for a total of over $1.2 billion.

    Of all the proposed urban partnership projects, New York's proposal to implement congestion pricing in Mid- and Lower Manhattan is attracting the most attention as the boldest and most challenging of the initiatives. Combining as it does "cordon pricing" (i.e. a charge for entering a cordon area, as in the case of Stockholm) and "area pricing" (i.e. a charge for moving inside an area, as in the case of London) it is more sweeping in its breadth than anything that has been implemented to date.

    The Mayor's proposal has been greeted with applause by some and deep skepticism by others. To many skeptics, the mayor's proposal seems more like a giant revenue raising scheme than a targeted congestion reduction initiative. The project would generate $380 million a year, to increase to $900 million/year by 2030, but it would reduce traffic within the charge zone by a mere 6.3 percent, according to Mayor Bloomberg's staff.

    Most polls show a majority of New Yorkers (but not residents of Manhattan) opposed. State lawmakers, who must approve the proposal before it becomes law, are reported to be undecided. Opposition to congestion pricing runs deepest in the Assembly, many of whose members from the boroughs outside of Manhattan and from the city's suburbs view congestion charges as just a commuter tax by another name.

    At a public hearing in Manhattan on June 8, state legislators gave a cool reception to Mayor Bloomberg's proposal. Assemblymen Herman Farrell, Jr. (D) and a dozen of his colleagues raised the familiar concerns such as the fairness of the congestion charge and its regressive effect on low income drivers, the ripple effect the program would have on neighborhoods just outside the charging zone and the threat to privacy inherent in having hundreds of cameras photographing license plates for billing purposes.

    Although the project has been represented as a three-year demonstration, lawmakers at the hearing pointed out that the Mayor would retain entire discretion whether or not to continue the project. Also controversial are the huge start-up costs which could eat up most of the anticipated $500 million federal Urban Partnership grant.

    Whether the legislature can act upon the congestion pricing proposal by the June 21 end of the regular legislative session is not certain. The city runs the risk of losing the federal grant if the mayor's plan does not obtain legislative approval by mid-August when the U.S. DOT plans to announce the winners of its Urban Partnership competition.


    April 26, 2007

    Electronic Tolling Comes To Washington

    Matt Rosenberg

    Yesterday was the first day for office sales of electronic toll stickers for use later this year by drivers on the new eastbound, Route 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge. State transportation officials by mid-day had sold or mailed out to customers 2,654 of the stickers, to be read by overhead transponders which automatically deduct toll costs from drivers' pre-paid accounts. (UPDATE: registrations had grown to 6,131 by mid-day today, but with some short-term DOT server glitches, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports). This DOT animation contrasts the more free-flowing "Good To Go" electronic toll lanes, and the slower toll booth lanes for single-purchase customers. The animation also demonstrates how overhead cameras will capture the license plate numbers of scofflaws, who will be issued fines of $40 plus thrice the unpaid toll, per violation. Passage west on the old Tacoma Narrows Bridge toward Gig Harbor and beyond will remain free of charge.

    Next year, DOT is expecting to begin a "HOT Lane" pilot project on a nine-mile stretch of SR 167 between Renton and Tacoma, a crucial north-south alternative for many drivers to congested I-5. The project will convert carpool/HOV lanes to not only free for multiple-occupant vehicles, but also available to solo drivers for a pre-paid electronic toll like that to be used on the eastbound Narrows Bridge. There's an added twist: Toll amounts will vary according to how much usage the HOT lanes are getting when drivers pass under the transponder.

    Tolls have of course been applied before on bridges here, but only the old-fashioned way, which if used as a blanket approach to tolling today would add greatly to congestion already making motorists gnash their teeth.

    "It's the wave of the future, as far as tolling in this state," said Janet Matkin, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation. Doug MacDonald, the state transportation secretary, has predicted that in a couple of decades, electronic tolling will be pervasive on Puget Sound-area highways. Recent gas-tax increases and proposed regional taxes fail to cover the price of highway megaprojects, so politicians are considering tolls, even at the risk of a public backlash.

    ...Even though Opening Day for the Narrows Bridge is a few months off, dozens of people lined up Wednesday in Gig Harbor to open their accounts, at a $30 minimum. Some paid $100. "We like to be ahead of things," said Patrick O'Dell of Port Orchard. It's fair to make users pay, he said: "We can't seem to come up with enough money to fix our roads. They've been doing it back East for years." The sales office resembles a small bank branch, with young women in teal polo shirts behind teller windows, a promotional video playing on a wall-mounted screen, and sign-up forms in the lobby. But most transactions will happen online...The goal is to have 50 percent to 60 percent of drivers equipped with a chip when the bridge opens.

    If you drive regularly across the Tacoma Narrows you're going to want one of these. The DOT "Good To Go" page, including an online purchase interface, is here.

    DOT and Sec. MacDonald deserve hearty congratulations for moving forward on the "Good To Go" Tacoma project and the SR 167 HOT lanes effort. With continued leadership from DOT, legislators and business, tolling can become widespread on Puget Sound highways within one decade, as opposed to several.


    April 17, 2007

    Toll Premiums = Congestion Insurance

    Matt Rosenberg

    In a Puget Sound Business Journal op-ed, Cascadia Center's Co-Directors Bruce Agnew and Tom Till make the case for regional transportation governance and tolling. They write:

    People in Puget Sound want politicians to solve the traffic congestion problem. They have supported two statewide gas-tax packages since 2003. While other regions fund transportation with a mix of public and private funding, our state has been reluctant to embrace such partnerships and tolling. Elected leaders are gun shy about too much talk of new tolls, except for those on the 520 bridge. Politicians risk being accused of bait and switch, however, if they promise to complete all the projects without the help of tolls.

    A new report to the state calls for tolls on SR 520 and I-90, sooner rather than later, and a statewide system of toll facilities. Are tolls such a tough case to make to voters? Even if you live in Marysville and never go to Seattle, you can understand why we all need to spend more on roads and transit. You see it in growing residential traffic and more trucks on the freeway carrying goods to stores. And it seems fair that the person who drives on a new 520 bridge or State Route 99 (or even the express lanes on Interstate 5 and Interstate 90) should pay a toll because they use it.

    A fair mixture of taxes and tolls also affords people a choice between time and money. If parents want to get to the Tacoma Dome for their kid's basketball championship, they'll pay a premium $10 charge to arrive for tip-off. It's called "congestion insurance," and it works.

    Imposition of such premium peak-hour tolls is an important objective, one which can earn support from both fiscal conservatives opposed to further transportation tax increases, and environmentalists supporting transit and telecommuting incentives. The first hurdles would be gaining state and federal support for tolling I-90, and then - to ensure regional and/or statewide coordination - establishing a toll-setting body. But already, prompted in part by the SR 520 project-financing concerns of State Treasurer Michael Murphy, the idea of distributed tolling to help pay for road and transit improvements in Puget Sound is gaining momentum. Joining the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Tacoma News Tribune today editorializes in support of tolling SR 520 and I-90 to close a funding gap in the necessary six-lane replacement planned for the dangerously storm- and earthquake-prone SR 520 floating bridge.


    April 9, 2007

    State Treasurer Urges More Tolling For SR 520 Bridge Rebuild Tab

    Matt Rosenberg

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Chris McGann reports today Washington State Treasurer Michael Murphy urges tolls on both the State Route 520 bridge and Interstate 90, to help fill a funding gap of at least $2.7 billion in the planned six-lane replacement for the former. The state has been considering 520 tolling to help pay for the bridge replacement, but not I-90 tolling; that would require federal approval. Currently, the state transportation commission oversees what very limited tolling is currently planned for implementation in Washington, and under proposed legislation, tolls would have to be approved by the state legislature. However, best practices might well suggest that regional transportation project funding decisions including tolling would be made by a regional transportation commission, if the legislature decides to allow its creation.

    Murphy's call for SR 520 and I-90 tolling is supported in a new study done for the state by Seattle Northwest Securities Corporation and Montague DeRose and Associates. The study notes:

    Without additional (state) funds, some tolling of both bridges will likely be necessary prior to completion of the project. Under the current assumptions, if only SR 520 were tolled, financing would fall 31 percent to 33 percent short of funds needed for the project.

    From today's P-I story (first link, above):

    Murphy said in an interview that he won't sell bonds for the project without the additional tolling because the state can't afford it under current finance plans. He says the tolls should be put in place before the new state Route 520 bridge is completed....."I will not authorize the debt to be issued for a project that can't pay for itself," Murphy said. "In order for the thing to work, both bridges -- period -- need to be tolled, not parts of bridges, not certain lanes."

    ....Murphy said it's time for lawmakers to face reality. "Now push is coming to shove, and decisions have to be made," he said. "I don't think anybody likes that idea of having to toll regionally as opposed to specifically. But the reality check is this: You can afford it, or you can't afford it. If you can afford it, how are you paying for it? Well, if we got a bunch of free money from the feds or we had a local tax that was put in place, but the revenue from the 9.5 (cent-per-gallon gas-tax increase) has already been allocated to other stuff. The only way to finance (the $4.4 billion project) is with revenue streams that are sufficient to pay back the people who buy our bonds. And as the treasurer of the state, I have to certify to the people who buy our bonds that I have looked at the numbers and the numbers work. If they come up with a plan that is 33 percent short, I will not issue the bonds."

    In a Seattle Times story today on the same topic, Murphy underscores the logistical as well as financial case for tolling both bridges, rather than just 520.

    Murphy reasoned that introducing a toll only on 520 would create problems by diverting about 30 percent to 50 percent of traffic onto the other floating bridge. "Then we get a parking-lot scenario on 90, and a financial problem on 520," he said.

    The preliminary 520 finance report to the state also recommends that it "consider establishing an independent tolling authority in the future to set and raise tolls and operate various tolled transportation projects throughout the state, similar to that which is done in other parts of the country." Generally speaking, that's a forward-looking recommendation. Our state must come to grips with the need for more tolling, more public-private partnerships and public contracting reforms to stretch the dollars that will pay for vital transportation infrastructure improvements. However, if such a state tolling body were created, its toll-setting powers might well need to be tailored so as not to pre-empt those of any regional transportation commissions, such as the one envisioned for Central Puget Sound.


    April 6, 2007

    Research Compendium

    Matt Rosenberg

    Last updated August 25, 2008

    The research, it just keeps coming. On this page, we'll compile links to key studies and reports on innovation in transportation.


    Cascadia Center Reports

    "Lessons In Public-Private Partnerships & Climate Change: What British Columbia Taught California, And What Washington Can Still Learn," 10/07.

    "A Tale Of Three Cities: How San Diego, Denver and Vancouver, B.C. Raised Major Regional Funds For Transportation," Doug Hurley, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 9/06.

    "Travel Value Pricing: Better Traffic Operations Management & New Revenue For The Puget Sound Region," John S. Niles, for Cascadia Center, 4/06.

    "Transportation Working Group Recommendations," Transportation Working Group, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 2/15/05.

    Transportation Working Group background, members, and resource book.

    "An Institutional Conundrum - A Simplified Overview Of Metropolitan Institutional Reform Applied To Transportation In The Puget Sound Region," Deb Eddy, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 2004.

    "How Do We Get There From Here? A Transportation Future For The Puget Sound Region," Bruce Agnew & Bruce Chapman, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 2003. View the video, as aired on Seattle Channel, 5/20/05.

    Other Reports

    "Just Pricing: The Distributional Effects Of Congestion Pricing and Sales Taxes," Brian Taylor, UCLA Institute Of Transportation Studies; Lisa Schweitzer, School Of Policy, Planning And Development, University Of Southern California, 5/08

    "Transportation For Tomorrow," National Surface Transportation Policy & Revenue Study Commission, 1/08.

    "Running On Empty - 2007 Annual Report," Washington Transportation Commission, 12/07.

    "Building New Roads Through Public-Private Partnerships: Frequently Asked Questions," Leonard C. Gilroy, Robert W. Poole, Jr., Peter Samuel, Geoffrey Segal, Reason Foundation, 11/07.

    "Review Of Congressional Earmarks Within Department Of Transportation Programs," Office Of The Inspector General, U.S. DOT, 9/7/07.

    "Case Studies Of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships In The United States," Aecom Consult Team, for U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, 7/7/07.

    "Case Studies Of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships Around The World," Aecom Consult Team, for U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, 7/7/07.

    Draft Vision 2040 Puget Sound Regional Council, 7/07.

    "Lake Washington Urban Partnership," Washington State Department of Transportation, 4/30/07.

    "Report On SR 520 Bridge Replacement And HOV Project Funding Alternatives," Seattle-Northwest Securities Corporation, Montague DeRose & Associates, LLC, 3/28/07.

    "Destination 2030 - Taking An Alternative Route," Washington State Transportation Center/Booz Allen Hamilton (For King County Executive), 3/05/07.

    "Overview Of National Strategy To Reduce Congestion On America's Transportation Network," USDOT, 3/07.

    "Public-Private Partnerships For Toll Highways," Robert W. Poole, Reason Foundation, Testimony To U.S. House Committee On Transportation & Infrastructure, Subcommittee On Highways & Transit, 2/13/07.

    "Report On The Transportation Innnovative Partnerships Program," Washington Transportation Commission, 1/07.

    "Regional Transportation Commission Final Report," Regional Transportation Commission (of Puget Sound), 12/31/06.

    "Washington Transportation Plan 2007-2026," Washington Transportation Commission, 11/06.

    "Reducing Congestion In Atlanta: A Bold New Approach To Mobility," Robert W. Poole, Reason Foundation, 11/06.

    "Public-Private Partnerships & The Development Of Transport Infrastructure: Trends On Both Sides Of The Atlantic," Benjamin G. Perez, PB Consult Inc., James W. March, Federal Highway Administration; 9/06.

    "Transportation Finance At The Ballot Box: Voters Support Increased Investment & Choice," Center For Transportation Excellence, 8/06.

    "Building Roads To Reduce Congestion In America's Cities: How Much & At What Cost?," David Hartgren, M. Gregory Fields & Robert W. Poole, Reason Foundation, 8/06; (WA state congestion analysis, from study).

    "Why Mobility Matters," Ted Balaker, Reason Foundation, 8/06.

    "Current Toll Road Activity In The U.S.: A Survey & Analysis," Benjamin Pereze, Steve Lockwood, for U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, 8/06.

    "Remarks Of Pat Jacobsen - CEO, Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority - To House & Senate Transportation Committees of Washington State Legislature, 1/19/06.

    "Traffic Congestion & Reliability: Trends & Advanced Strategies For Congestion Mitigation," Cambridge Systematics & Texas Transportation Institute (for Federal Highway Administration), 9/1/05.

    "2005 Urban Mobility Report," Texas Transportation Institute, 2005.

    "Unclogging America's Highways - Effective Relief For Highway Bottlenecks," American Highway Users Alliance, 2/04


    " Canada: A Macroeconomic Study of the United States' Most Important Trade Partner,"U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Updated 9/15/06

    Canadian Embassy State Trade Fact Sheet 2006, Canadian Embassy, 2006.

    Canada/U.S. Regional Economies, Canadian-American Border Trade Alliance.

    "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative: The Basics," U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    Resolution Of The West Coast Corridor Coalition, 11/03.

    "From B.C. To B.C. - And Beyond - the Story Of The West Coast Corridor Coalition."

    "Spatial Concepts & Cross Border Governance Strategies," Susan E. Clarke, University of Colorado, (presented to EURA Conference On Urban & Spatial Policies), 4/02.

    "The Character of Non-Governmental Transborder Organizations In The Cascadia Region of North America," Lawrence Douglas Taylor Hansen, Revista Mexicana De Estudios Canadienses, 2/02.


    Cascadia Center Reports

    "Testimony In Support Of King County Passenger-Only Ferry District," Matt Rosenberg, 11/13/07.

    "Alaskan Way Replacement: Alternative Approaches," Ove Arup & Partners, for Cascadia Center, 11/06.

    "A New Vision For Developing Transit For Livable Cities." Enrique Penalosa, former
    mayor of Bogota, Columbia speaks at a Cascadia Center co-sponsored event on implementation of Bogota's TransMileno Bus Rapid Transit system. Seattle Channel video, 9/27/06.

    "Statement of Tom Till to Washington Transportation Commission On Amtrak & Related Issues, Including Availability of Federal Funding," 1/18/06.

    Other Reports

    "King County Passenger-Only Ferries Project Briefing Paper," IBI Group, for King County Executive, 11/7/07.

    Puget Sound Regional Council Passenger-Only Ferry Study, 2007 (ongoing).

    Chapter 7, "I-405 Plan: Transit and HOV", in "I-405 Congestion Relief & Bus Rapid Transit Projects - Final Recommendations Report," WSDOT. (See "I-405 BRT Service").

    BNSF Corridor Preservation Study, Puget Sound Regional Council, 2/27/07.

    Statewide Rail Capacity and System Needs Study, Washington State Transportation Commission, 12/06.

    Columbia River Crossing Project Alternatives Page.

    Willamette River Ferry Feasibility Study, City Of Portland Department of Transportation, 2006.

    Waterborne Transit Policy Study, King County Department of Transportation, August, 2005.

    Rich Passage Passenger-Only Ferry Study, Phase I, WSDOT, Federal Transit Administration, 4/05.

    "Report Card For America's Infrastructure," American Society Of Civil Engineers, 2005.


    Cascadia Center Reports

    Speaker Presentations At Cascadia/Microsoft/Idaho National Laboratory "Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation" conference, 9/4/08 and 9/5/08, Redmond, Wash. (Topics included electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, renewable energy, traffic management systems and technology, transit. Many of these files are very large and may take several minutes to open/download depending on your internet connection).

    9/4/08 Presentations:

    Sharon Banks
    Scott Belcher
    Charlie Botsford
    John Clark
    June Devoll
    Rob Elam
    Dick Ford
    Jim Francfort
    Andy Frank
    Arti Gupta
    Jerry Hautamaki
    Craig Helmann
    John Horsley
    Cornie Huizenga
    Ron Johnston-Rodriguez
    Preet Khalsa
    Dave Kristick
    Felix Kramer
    Justin McNew
    Paul Minett
    Brian Mistele
    Tim Murphy
    Jack Opiola
    Syd Pawlowski
    Dick Paylor
    Ron Posthuma
    Matt Sheldon
    Jim Stanton
    Ed Stern
    Julian Taylor
    Michael Weick

    9/5/08 Presentations:

    Kevin Banister
    Rob Bernard
    Don Foley
    Paul Genoa
    KC Golden
    Paula Hammond
    David Kaplan
    Rich Laukhart
    Jim Piro
    Bill Rogers
    Jim Walker
    Brian Wynn

    "Greening The Highway From Baja To B.C. - A Discussion Brief," Matt Rosenberg, 9/19/07.

    "Replacing Oil With Electricity And Biofuels In Transportation: The Convergence Of Technology And Public Policy," Steve Marshall, 8/7/07.

    Speaker Presentations at Cascadia-Microsoft "Jump Start To A Secure Clean Energy Future" Conference on Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Alternative Fuels, 5/7/07

    Roger Duncan, Austin Energy/Plug-In Partners (4.78 MB)
    Mark Duvall, Electric Power Research Institute (1.13 MB)
    Andrew A. Frank, University of California/Davis (1.33 MB)
    K.C. Golden, Climate Solutions (1.81 MB)
    David Horner, U.S. Dept. of Transportation (700 KB)
    Michael Kintner-Meyer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (1.91 MB)
    Felix Kramer, (708 KB)
    John M. Miller, Maxwell Technologies (496 KB)
    Philip Mote, University of Washington (3.88 MB)
    Tim Murphy, Idaho National Laboratory (674 KB)
    Vic Parrish, Energy Northwest (494 KB)
    Bill Reinert, Toyota USA (2.00 MB)
    Bill Rogers, Idaho National Laboratory (1.05 MB)
    Greg Rock, Green Car Company (82.9 KB)
    Neil Schuster, Intelligent Transportation Society Of America (2.14 MB)
    Rogelio Sullivan, U.S. Dept. of Energy (1.08 MB)
    John Wellinghoff, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (4.23 MB)
    Nick Zielinski, General Motors/Chevy Volt (1.79 MB)

    Other Reports

    "Basic Research Needs: Catalysis For Energy," (report from U.S. Dept. Of Energy Basic Energy Sciences Workshop), 8/07.

    "Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles," Electric Power Research Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/07.

    " Joint Science Academies Statement on Growth and Responsibility; Sustainability, Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection, for G8 Summit, 5/07.

    "Fourth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change," United Nations, 4/07/07.

    Annual Energy Outlook 2007 - With Projections To 2030," U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2/07.

    Impacts Assessment of Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles On Electric Utilities and Regional U.S. Power Grids; Michael Kintner-Meyer, Kevin Schneider, Robert Pratt; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 12/06.

    "Alternative Fuels Study: A Report To Congress On Policy Options For Increasing The Use Of Alternative Fuels In Transit Vehicles," Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 12/06.

    "Intelligent Transportation Systems Regional Architecture", Puget Sound Regional Council, IBI Group, 8/21/06.

    "Future Visions," Washington Transportation Plan Update Process, WSDOT/Washington Transportation Commission, 6/17/05. (See pp. 27-34, "Intelligent Transportation Systems").

    GridWise Program Overview, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

    Technological Basis For GridWise, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

    Primer On Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration, Intelligent Transportation Society Of America.


    Welcome to the blog of the Cascadia Center, a Seattle-based transportation policy center.
    (The views therein do not necessarily reflect those of Cascadia Center)