Friday, 6 July 2012

News briefs - Canada, Italy, Namibia, Spain, Uganda, USA (3 states)

Connecticut

Tri-State Transportation Campaign reports that Connecticut is engaging a US$1.4 million study of congestion pricing along the I-95 corridor between Greenwich and New Haven. An additional US$800,000 study will examine road pricing along I-84 in Hartford. Both studies, funded by the federal government, will take approximately 18 months to complete and will look at congestion pricing in the two corridors, which is expected to focus specifically on the feasibility of high-occupancy tolling (HOT) lanes.

The Milford-Orange Bulletin reports on some interesting background to tolling this stretch of highway:

Connecticut abolished its tolls in the 1980s, in part as a result of a horrific 1983 crash on I-95, in which a truck plowed into a line of cars at the Stratford toll station, killing seven people. The federal government also threatened to withhold transit money if the state did not remove the tolls.

Commuters who pass through the Interstates 91 and 95 interchange in New Haven experience a total of 5.7 million hours of delay per year, while commuters who pass through the Bridgeport-Stamford corridor suffer 16 million hours of delay per year, (Bureau of Policy and Planning Bureau Chief Thomas J.
)Maziarz said.

The average length of the southbound I-95 traffic congestion at 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, which the DOT has identified as the peak time for traffic, is 20.3 miles, he said. Congestion is defined as an area where traffic moves at 30 mph or less. 
 
Just another Interstate highway which might get tolls introduced to provide a congestion free option, with additional revenue.

Italy

Dow Jones reports that toll road operators Atlantia has said that highway traffic on its Italian toll-road network declined 8.7% in the first three months of the year from the same period in 2011.

Namibia

The Namibian Economist reports that the Namibian government now has the facilities to collect road user charges at its national border crossings.   Why is this interesting?  Because Namibia has a VMT (vehicle mileage tax) system, or rather a weight-distance road user charge for all vehicles over 3.5 tonnes.  The rates are here.   Starting at N$0.07 per km (US$0.009) it appears to work by prepaying in 100km increments, correlated to odometers.  All of the revenue is dedicated to a roads fund which is required to prioritise spending on maintenance and renewals above everything else.

Nevada


The Las Vegas Sun reports that the state is considering options to allow toll lanes and roads. This includes "added lanes in Clark County on Interstate 15 from Sahara Avenue to Rancho Drive at an estimated cost of $400-$500 million".  These would be toll lanes, with existing lanes remaining untolled. Bill Hoffman, assistant director of engineers for the Nevada State Transportation Department said "allowing a private firm to do this project could cut the cost by $100 million, create 4,100 construction jobs and get the project completed more quickly. He said firms that design, build and maintain projects due a better job since they know they are on the hook for the maintenance costs."

Orange County, California

The LA Times reports that operators of toll roads in Orange County are planning to convert to fully electronic free flow tolling in the next 16 months.  The plan is for all users to have accounts, either with tags or number plates, with occasional users having to pay within 48 hours of usage or face being fined.   The roads affected are route 73, 261, 241 and 133 toll roads.

Toll prices were increased on 1 July already, and the drive to eliminate manual tolls is intended to reduce operating costs, as well as improve flow by eliminating stopping at tolling points.

Spain

Spanish toll road operator Abertis is interested in new PPPs with the Spanish government as the latter seeks private sources of finance to kickstart new infrastructure projects due to a lack of public funding. An article from Reuters make a number of interesting points about the presence of Abertis in the tolling market:

- There appears to be low interest in refinancing debt stricken toll roads in Spain as “Chairman Salvador Alemany played down the possibility of extending its Spanish motorway concessions -- two of which expire in 2019 and 2021 -- in exchange for helping the government resolve highly indebted Spanish toll roads”;

- The US, Brazil and Mexico are key target markets for growth;

- Portuguese operator Brisa is no longer a strategic asset, but Abertis will “not sell at current market prices”.

It is undoubtedly a difficult time for any investor in toll roads in the south of Europe, but also an opportune time to diversify, as long as there are decent prospects for growth, a steady core business and a stable business environment.

Toronto

The Star reports that the Toronto City Council has voted to “develop a long-term funding strategy" that would outline “a diverse array of public and private revenue tools” to finance rapid transit expansion.” This includes the role of tolling including options to introduce road pricing on existing roads.

In parallel, “Metrolinx, the province’s regional transportation authority, is also working on a strategy to pay for a massive public transit expansion throughout the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton… Metrolinx has until June next year to develop a funding framework. Options under study include road tolls and other forms of congestion pricing, a levy on commercial parking spaces, a regional fuel tax, express lane fees and a regional sales tax.

Here is hoping that it takes a wide strategic view of how to proceed, because for people to accept any form of road pricing on existing roads, they tend to need to see that at least part of the money goes on roads or offsets other taxes.  However, it's clear that one big issue will be governance.  What happens if the city and Metrolinx want conflicting approaches?

Uganda

China Daily reports that the Chinese Government is providing a four year loan for a 37km highway (with a 13km spur) from Entebbe Airport to Kampala that is estimated to cost US$350 million to build. It is described as a “world class superhighway”, and will have manual tolling. One criticism has been the condition that construction contracts be granted exclusively to Chinese companies. The existing route is regularly congested.
Vancouver


According to North Shore Outlook North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton supports introducing road pricing as a sustainable source of future income to replace property taxes:

Tolling stations, Walton said, could be located every five kilometres — not just at bridges — or at highway onramps and offramps. And incentives can be built into such plan. For instance, trucks transporting goods over the Port Mann Bridge after 10 p.m. could be exempt from any charges, therefore making night travel more attractive and lessening traffic congestion during the day.

It would take, Walton admits, some time to implement a comprehensive road-pricing arrangement and motorists would need time to make any alternate plans.

But it could mean a move away from using property taxes as a way of funding transit shortfalls, a crutch mayors are clear they will not entertain any longer.


Of course it raises the wider political issue as to whether motorists are happy paying a charge which is used to subsidise alternatives. I would argue strongly that if it is about replacing existing taxes and also helping to fund at least maintenance of the roads concerned, then it will be far more acceptable.  

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