Volume 7, Issue 48 - March 16, 2016
Roadway fee models other than toll roads?
Mary Scott Nabers, President/CEO, Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
For decades, toll roads have generated revenue for critical transportation projects. Now, however, toll roads have become controversial with a segment of the population, and some elected officials are vowing to ensure that new toll roads are not created. That, of course, begs the question of where revenue can be found for critical projects.

A number of states are experimenting with new roadway revenue models. Rhode Island, where 23 percent of the state's bridges are classified as structurally deficient, implemented a truck-only toll on bridges. The state's Department of Transportation justified the fee by explaining that 70 percent of damage to the state's roads results from tractor-trailers.

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Los Angeles may get $120 billion transportation vote
Ballot referendum would include dozen transit, roads projects throughout county
Image from Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Officials with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) are preparing plans for major highway and transit projects that could transform the Los Angeles metropolitan area's future.

LA Metro's board is considering adding a proposal to the November election ballot seeking to raise the countywide sales tax by a half-cent and extend an existing tax for another two decades. The ballot measure, which would need a two-thirds majority to pass, could raise $100 billion to $120 billion, to be spent on transportation projects.

The agency is planning about a dozen major projects to be built with the revenue generated by the taxes. They include rail lines through the San Fernando Valley and southeastern Los Angeles County, faster bus service on a number of major corridors and, potentially, a tunnel bored through the mountains that would allow the 405 Freeway to connect the city's Westside with the San Fernando Valley. The tunnel would serve a toll road and a passenger rail line.

Though the plan is not yet finalized and won't be released officially until Friday, March 18, some details have emerged. It would devote about one-third of the $120 billion into funding five new transit lines and six extensions of existing lines.

"In terms of the order of these projects, what's going to be at the beginning and what's at the end, and how it's all rolled out, that's all being finalized," said LA Metro's chief communications officer, Pauletta Tonilas (pictured). "There's been a tremendous amount of work that went into this, keeping in mind that this is a regional system for everyone in the county."

The county's voters have approved tax increases three times to pay for transportation projects, in 1980, 1990 and 2008. The funds from those increases have been used to build out Los Angeles's Metro Rail network.

The centerpiece of this latest long-term transportation plan is the Sepulveda Pass tunnel, linking the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. Cost estimates range from $7 billion to $9.5 billion for a project meant to alleviate traffic on one of the nation's most congested freeways, the 405. 
The project list, however, has been drawn up to appeal to the entire county, with construction and improvements planned for rail, buses, highways and major city corridors throughout the metropolitan area.

"What we've been saying is, everyone is going to get something, and no one is going to get everything," Tonilas said. "And not everything can be built in the next 15 years."

Among the other projects being considered for final inclusion are a $200 million station near the Los Angeles International Airport that would connect the Metro Rail's Crenshaw Line, currently under construction, to a proposed monorail-like system that will carry passengers to their terminals. As well, the list includes two projects that would directly benefit residents of the San Fernando Valley, a bus or rail line along Van Nuys Boulevard and upgrades to the Orange Line bus line. The Valley is home to 20 percent of Los Angeles County's residents.

The board for LA Metro will decide in June whether or not to place the tax referendum on the ballot.

USDOT names seven Smart City Challenge finalists
Cities competing for $40 million in federal funding for transportation projects
At the ongoing South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, last week, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the finalists for the inaugural Smart City Challenge. The competition targets mid-sized American cities and has as its objective the increased use of technology to improve the way transportation systems move people and products.

The idea was that city officials around the nation know best how to improve their own cities' transportation problems, and if the federal government can provide funding to help city leaders do so, then all the better. Denver Mayor Mike Hancock referred to the competition as the "Super Bowl of mobility." The USDOT pledged up to $40 million to the selected city to help "define what it means to be a 'Smart City' and become the country's first city to fully integrate innovative technologies - self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors - into their transportation network."

More than 75 cities submitted applications in December 2015, and the original plan had called for naming five finalists in March. Foxx announced seven last week "because of their outstanding potential to transform the future of urban transportation."

The seven finalists are Austin; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco.

Each finalist will receive a $100,000 grant to develop their proposals further and to add depth to their plans. The USDOT has encouraged the proposal writers "to think big, and to provide a detailed roadmap on how they will integrate innovative technologies to prototype the future of transportation in their city."

In announcing the finalists, Foxx said, "What this competition is about is urging our nation's incubators of ideas, our cities, to begin envisioning the future and deploying the plans we have ... where quality of life doesn't get worse, it gets better."

The transportation department will announce the winning entrant in June.

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New Castle pier project sent for another round of bids
Toward the end of 2015, city officials in New Castle, Del., solicited bids to build a pier on the Delaware River. The sole response to that request came in about three times higher than what the city can afford, according to City Administrator Bill Barthel (pictured). And so, the city has issued another request for proposals (RFP). The project calls for the construction of a lighted pier extending 170 feet onto the river from the concrete wharf at the foot of Delaware Street. Part of the problem, said Barthel, was the timing required in the original RFP. City officials wanted to begin the project in January because the federal government bars construction work on the river from spring until July. "A lot of companies said they just didn't feel comfortable that they could get in the water and meet the time requirements to start in early January," he said. The new request projects construction to begin in July. The previous pier was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The new one will be funded primarily by the state, though federal sources have contributed, as well. If the current round of bids does not come in closer to what the city expects, the project will not go forward.
Phoenix presents $118 million downtown park project
Interstate 10 travels through a tunnel for a portion of its route in downtown Phoenix. In 1992, the city completed construction of the 32.5-acre Margaret Hance Park atop the deck of the interstate. Last week, city officials revealed a $118 million plan to redevelop the deck park, a project that is expected to take about 10 years to complete. "The idea is to create a compelling regional destination in downtown that will serve the entire city for special events and serve as the outdoor space for downtown residents," said Marcia Karasek, executive director of the Hance Park Conservancy. The project will take place in phases, with the pace and order of each phase dependent on available funding. City officials will release a request for proposals (RFP) to prepare final engineering design and cost estimates in the fall. They have said that they will consider all available funding options, including issuing debt, private philanthropy and public-private partnerships (P3s). The first phase will include new entry points, an amphitheater and a skate park for the portion of the park running under Central Avenue.
Atlanta announces timeline for $6B airport expansion
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, is preparing for a $6 billion expansion and renovation project that will take place over the next 20 years. A $393 million terminal modernization project will continue through 2018 and include upgrades to the domestic passenger terminal and concourses. As a part of the terminal upgrades, the plan calls for the addition of two translucent canopies that will span several lanes of roadway and sidewalks outside the domestic terminal. The canopy will protect travelers from the elements "while making a memorable impression of the world-class stature of Atlanta," said Miguel Southwell (pictured), general manager of the airport. Other parts of the 20-year master plan will see the addition of a sixth runway and the construction of a new 400-room hotel. Construction of the new runway will cost $943 million and is scheduled to take place between 2023 and 2034. The airport handled 101.5 million passengers in 2015. 
NCDOT to fund Blowing Rock sidewalk project
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the city of Blowing Rock last week reached an agreement for the transportation agency to fund more than 80 percent of a $1.22 million project to build a sidewalk from Main Street to Bass Lake. Blowing Rock Town Manager Scott Fogleman said that the project originally was planned to be built in 2020, as a part of the third phase of bond projects. With the state funding now in place, that timeline moves forward significantly. "As a result of the approved grant funding, the town will be saving a total of $994,832 in bond proceeds, which may be allocated in the future toward another transportation-related project," Fogleman said. The project will build the sidewalk from an intersection downtown and follow U.S. 221 to the entrance of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and access to Bass Lake. More than 1,000 people last year signed an online petition in support of the project.
Dakota County anticipates $1B in transportation needs
Dakota County, Minn., in the suburbs south of Minneapolis-St. Paul, has a population of about 400,000, but its officials expect that to grow by about 20 percent by 2030. They are worried the county's infrastructure won't be ready. Those county leaders have begun efforts to convince the state legislature to direct transportation dollars toward Dakota County, which will need more than $1 billion to prepare for the incoming population rush. County officials estimate they will need about $500 million for county road projects and another $600 million for the county's state highways. "At this point, given current revenue streams, we wouldn't be able to do those projects," said County Engineer Mark Krebsbach.
Maine water district gets $3.2 million in federal money
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide $3.2 million in grants and loans to the Anson and Madison Water District. The funding will go toward repairing a 12-mile water transmission main in Somerset County, Maine. The project will replace four miles of the line. Water District Superintendent Mike Corson said the section was installed around 1948 and badly needs to be replaced. "It's really an old style of pipe and isn't very durable compared to the modern technology of making pipe," he said. "Over the past few years, we've started to see more breaks on this pipe, and we feel it is reaching its age limit." There have been five breaks in that section over the past two years. The USDA money includes an $800,000 grant and a $2.4 million loan. The USDA's Rural Development agency has awarded the funding through its Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program.
Scott County to build new sheriff headquarters
The Scott County, Iowa, Board of Supervisors has approved the budget for the construction of a new sheriff's department headquarters facility. The department moved into the current headquarters in Davenport in 1994 in what was supposed to be a temporary move. "It's been time for an upgrade for quite a while," said Scott County Sheriff Dennis Conard (pictured). "It's grown too small for our needs, it's not laid out efficiently for daily operations and those are the two main concerns." More than just an upgrade for the department's facility needs, the new location also will reduce the sheriff's department's response time in more rural areas, according to Conard. This project is expected to cost more than $5 million, and officials want construction to begin in the spring. The Board of Supervisors will issue bids for the project toward the end of March.
Schenectady train station bid comes in over budget
New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) planners and Schenectady city officials want to rebuild the city's rail station. "The train station is something out of the 70s. It's a rundown, less-than-glamorous facility," Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said. To that end, a project solicitation was issued seeking a developer that would build a temporary train station, demolish the current facility and build a new one. The goal was to do all of that for between $12 million and $15 million. Only one bid was submitted, and it was for about $10 million over that budget. "It's unfortunate that the bids came in considerably higher than what the budget estimate was," McCarthy said. "State DOT is running it. They're going to review that and make a decision fairly shortly in terms of rebidding it or modifying it in some way so the project can move forward." The city had hoped to have the new station operational by the fall of 2017, but officials have said that now could be delayed.
Rosemount to put new athletic facilities at Central Park
Rosemount, Minn., voters will decide the fate of new recreational facilities in May when a $15 million bond referendum will come up for election. The borrowed money would go toward the construction of a new ice skating arena and additional athletic fields throughout the city, as well as improvements for Rosemount's Central Park. City officials and residents have been discussing the recreational needs of Rosemount for about 18 months, and the projects on the ballot have been placed in the city council's 2016 Work Plan, which lays out the city's goals for the year. Of the proposal's four projects, the most expensive is the $8.7 million indoor ice arena, which would include room for expansion. The bond would also include additional baseball and softball fields at UMore Park, at a cost of $1.7 million, and new soccer, lacrosse and football fields at the Flint Hills athletic complex for around $2.6 million. The improvements at Central Park include an ice skating oval, fire pit and event plaza.
DeSoto County beginning major road projects
The DeSoto County, Miss., Board of Supervisors last week approved $1.7 million to go toward preliminary engineering services for an eventual $30-million-to-$40-million project that will expand Star Landing Road. The project will widen a six-mile stretch of the road from two to four lanes, divided by a  median. The intention is to spur economic growth along the corridor. The engineering work will be paid for with federal funds provided by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT). For its part, MDOT is planning to build an interchange at Interstate 55, a project that will coincide with the widening of the road. The board also approved a second engineering contract last week. That one will do preparatory work on a project that will build an east-west connector along Nail Road from Hacks Cross to Center Hill Road. It will be funded through the Memphis Urban Area Planning Organization. Tracy Huffman, an engineer with the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction, said that county officials are working to develop a plan to align the connector road. "The long-term goal is to have another corridor to give some relief to Goodman Road," he said.
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Judge: California high-speed rail allowed to go forward
In 2011, Kings County, Calif., and a group of landowners filed suit in hopes of stopping the state's efforts to build a bullet train via a public-private partnership (P3). They claimed the state's projections on ridership and costs for construction and operations were not accurate and that should block its ability to use public money for the project. A Sacramento County Superior Court judge last week ruled against the plaintiffs, however, removing a significant potential hurdle for the $64 billion project. Judge Michael Kenny (pictured) said the 2008 ballot initiative that began the rail project spoke only of the state's ability to issue bonds to build the rail system. Though voters were given plans for the train with those projections, the initiative didn't set those plans in stone, according to the ruling. The judge agreed that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has not shown the system to be financially viable or that it can meet the travel times voters were promised. But, "The authority may be able to accomplish these objectives at some point in the future. This project is an ongoing, dynamic, changing project," Kenny wrote.
Northampton approves bridge replacement project
The Northampton, Pa., County Council has approved a maneuver that will allow the county to take part in the state's Rapid Bridge Replacement program. That program uses public-private partnerships (P3s) to repair and replace thousands of aging and dilapidated bridges throughout the state. The council last week transferred ownership of 33 bridges to its General Purpose Authority so the bridges would be eligible for the four-year-old state program. County-owned bridges are not able to take part in the program. Once the projects are completed, ownership of the new and renovated bridges will be returned to Northampton County. The project is expected to go out to bid soon. County Executive John Brown projected the construction costs would be about $40 million and that construction would take about four years. The plan would replace 28 bridges and rehabilitate five others, including four historic stone bridges.
TxDOT finally reaches agreement on Texas 288 P3
Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) last week signed an agreement for the construction of two toll lanes on State Highway 288 in the Houston metropolitan area. This came more than one year after TxDOT selected a developer as its private partner for the project. The consortium will pay $27.6 million to the state for the concession rights, and TxDOT will contribute $17.1 million to the project. The private partner will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the 10.3-mile project, which will add two tolled lanes down the center of Texas 288 from U.S. 59 to the Harris County line, including direct ramps to the Texas Medical Center and an improved interchange at the highway's intersection with the Sam Houston Tollway. Construction will begin in late 2016, which will push back the opening to the spring of 2019, about six months later than originally planned. "This is a first for the Houston region and will bring much-needed congestion relief to the SH 288 corridor years ahead of what could have traditionally been accomplished," Texas Transportation Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Moseley said.
Moody's report finds that U.S. market for P3s growing
On the heels of an earlier report finding that U.S., state and local governments have plenty of capacity to handle the financial obligations of public-private partnerships (P3s), ratings service Moody's has issued another report on the financing model. This report stated that the P3 market in the United States is growing steadily and on the way to becoming the largest in the world. It noted that legislative and political support is firmly behind the model now, pointing to the passage last year of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and the recent creation of the Build America Transportation Investment Center (BATIC), which coordinates federal transportation expertise for state and local governments. "The need for more inter- and intra-government P3 best practice sharing remains key for the U.S. P3 market's long-term development," said John Medina, a senior analyst for Moody's. "But state-level P3 activity has risen over the last three years, and nearly all P3 projects have been completed early or on time."
San Antonio awards $165M Hemisfair P3 contract
The Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) received 11 responses to its March 2015 bid solicitation to become a part of a public-private partnership (P3) that will build a mixed-use development in San Antonio. It narrowed down that group, first to four and then to two candidates. Last week, the nonprofit selected its private partner to build the $165 million project, a joint venture of two local firms. The winning bid included 800,000 total square feet, with 380 residential units, nine acres of public green space, 75,000 square feet of retail, 70,000 square feet of office space, a hotel and public parking. The selection still needs to obtain final approval from the city council, but officials on both sides of the deal will begin negotiations to draft a final development agreement. "The grading was based on the best overall proposal based on suitability to the environment and park," HPARC CEO Andres Andujar (pictured) said. "Having locals on the project is an added benefit in these particular two instances, but the proposals came from across the country."
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