How to keep population growth from taking toll on roadways

State and local departments of transportation throughout the United States are constantly looking for ways to develop their road networks and other transport links to meet their economic, political and social needs. In some jurisdictions this will mean building brand new roads.  In others it will mean focusing on refurbishing, widening and extending existing roads.

According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, travel delays due to traffic congestion caused drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and kept travelers stuck in their cars for nearly 7 billion extra hours- 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. The total nationwide price tag was $160 billion- $960 per commuter. Solutions to this increase of hours and dollars must involve a mix of strategies, combining new construction, better operations and more transportation options. One of those transportation options is toll roads.

Turnpikes were the earliest forms of toll roads. In 1792, the first turnpike was chartered and became known as the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike in Pennsylvania. It was the first road in America covered with a layer of crushed stone.

As more Americans became dependent on vehicles for transportation it was clear that a nationwide interconnecting system of highways was necessary. The Federal Highway Act of 1921 provided financial assistance to the states to build roads and bridges. The building of highways, bridges and tunnels became constant, especially in the larger cities such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Tolls were used on many roads, bridges and tunnels to help pay for this building boom, but the days of tossing change in a toll basket or paying a booth operator so they would lift a barrier slowly became obsolete.

By the 1980s roads and highways were starting to show their wear and tear from increased road travel. The demand to fix and build these paved-connections for the public was slowing and the need for toll roads began to re-emerge. The way toll road drivers pay also got an upgrade. Highway authorities in various state governments had begun to discuss the possibility of replacing metallic toll tokens with electronic transponders.  In 1989, the Dallas North Tollway in Texas became the first highway in the U.S. in which drivers had the option to use electronic transponders instead of cash to pay the tolls.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a report called Beyond Traffic 2045,” which highlights transportation challenges the Unites States will face over the next three decades. The report states that over the past 30 years the American population has increased 35 percent- from 230 million to 320 million. By 2045, the population is expected to increase by 70 million.  That will surely cause more congestion on the roads

The report listed several policies that could potentially reduce traffic and preserve quality, affordable and accessible transportation for everyone. One of those options is to lift the federal restriction on the tolling of interstate highways. The federal gasoline tax, which is currently at 18.4 cents, has not changed since 1997. This amount no longer raises enough money to pay for federal infrastructure spending.

Public-private partnerships (P3/PPP) with toll roads may be a better route to get roads constructed and maintained at a faster rate. A successful toll road project can be built with virtually any mix of public and private financial sponsorship. Several prototypical models have developed, incorporating increasing amounts of private involvement along with non-governmental funds. As the private sector contributes more equity financing and assumes more risks, the partnership develops more characteristics of full privatization.

Many cities and states have struggled to raise revenue for transportation projects. Historically, the country’s infrastructure is financed through state and local governments using a mix of their own revenues, federal highway aid and issued bonds.

But public-private partnerships allow private firms to bid on transportation projects, build and maintain the project for a set amount of time, and recover costs through tolls or set state payments. President-elect Donald Trump has said he will invest $1 trillion in fixing and building roads, bridges, water pipes and other infrastructure. This investment means using massive tax breaks to convince private investors to spend the money.

One of several states that has already invested in the P3 concept is Florida. The I-4 Mobility Partners (I-4MP), a public-private partnership rebuilding Interstate 4 through Central Florida, earned the Envision Platinum award for its ongoing programs to minimize environmental impacts. This  includes recycling 99 percent of the concrete and steel removed from roads and bridges, relocating protected wildlife, using efficient machinery, controlling stormwater runoff and planting non-invasive vegetation.  The project also facilitates the use of alternative transportation by integrating rail projects and improving pedestrian crossings and connections with bike trails.

Several industry leaders formed the I-4MP team to design, build, finance and operate the project through a 40-year P3 concession agreement with a total design and construction cost of $2.32 billion dollars.

Also in the driver’s seat with a P3 opportunity is Virginia who is building high-occupancy tolling (HOT) lanes outside the I-66 Capital Beltway. Construction is set to begin in the fall and the four HOT lanes could be put into operation in the summer of 2022.

The business partner is responsible for all costs to design, build, operate and maintain the HOT lanes, without any upfront public contribution.  The private partners will give the state a half-billion dollars at the financial close this summer as a concession fee and will contribute $800 million over 50 years to build and operate those transit projects. They will also give $350 million over the same period to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for congestion-easing projects.

Kentucky and Indiana collaborated in a P3 with an engineering group to build the Lewis and Clark Bridge. The bridge opened in December and provides improved highway accessibility and connectivity in the Louisville metropolitan area.

The cable-stayed bridge features a pedestrian and bicycle path, over 8 miles of new highway and twin tunnels under the historic site.The Lewis and Clark Bridge Project is part of a $2.3 billion Louisville Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project.
This project uses electronic tolling on the Lewis and Clark Bridge, the Abraham Lincoln Bridge and the improved I-65 Kennedy Bridge. A River Link E-Z Pass local transponder will ensure the lowest toll rates, according to the project’s engineering consultant.

Studies have shown that the implementation of electronic toll collection systems decreased congestion at toll plazas. Another benefit to the transponder systems is a reduction in accidents because drivers aren’t repeatedly stopping and moving to pay a toll. But, getting toll systems throughout the U.S. to become interoperable is still ongoing. This achievement would allow drivers to establish a single toll account that would allow for payments on U.S. toll facilities.

The MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, enacted in July 2012, established new Federal legislative language regarding Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) interoperability.  Section 1512(b) Electronic Toll Collection Interoperability Requirements states that, “Not later than 4 years after the date of enactment of this Act, all toll facilities on the Federal-aid highways shall implement technologies or business practices that provide for the interoperability of electronic toll collection programs.”

Today, there are several large regions of interoperability (e.g. E-ZPass and SunPass) in which groups of toll agencies have adopted common standards so that all of the agencies within that region have ETC systems that talk to each other and recognize customers. Efforts are still underway to get interoperability throughout the nation.


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Data sensors, out with the old and in with the new 

Sensors of the past that are still put to use today are often always on, and it can be challenging to collect, store and interpret the tremendous amount of data they create. The Internet of Things (IoT) is making it easier for information to be collected and analyzed. The IoT is an interconnection via the Internet from computing devices which are embedded in objects so they can send and receive data.

The sensors of today come with an analytics system which can help by integrating event-monitoring, storage and analytics software. The system on a data sensor has three parts: the sensors that monitor events in real-time, a scalable data store and an analytics engine.

Sensors have improved in capability, efficiency and cost and this allows organizations to be more aware and empowered and to intelligently react to factors such as past performance metrics, configuration and calibration conditions, input-to-output rates, predicted failure intervals and environmental impact.

In several cities throughout the U.S. this technology is playing an important role in improving the quality of life of citizens, enhancing government transparency and trust and improving environmental and economic sustainability. This is particularly true in cities where budgets are constrained and population growth rates continue to rise.

The city of Las Vegas is installing a traffic-monitoring system that uses technology to help determine how well vehicles are moving and monitors the state of traffic signals. Sensors will be installed at 2,300 intersections and across the region’s multi-jurisdiction corridors to provide the city and drivers a better perspective on traffic.

The city will be able to monitor sensors from their traffic control center where engineers can change traffic-signal timing, check various streets and intersections and analyze trends in real-time. The sensors are also equipped to communicate with autonomous cars. These vehicles will have access to real-time traffic light data so they know when to stop or slow down. The system can also tell cars and drivers the best speed along a stretch of road to ensure that they can proceed through the maximum number of green lights.

While Las Vegas attempts to ease traffic, Chicago is calculating its rainwater through a new pilot project that combines sensors and cloud computing. Sensors are already in place at three locations to measure rainwater running downhill.

The tool is aimed to reduce urban flooding and prevent millions of dollars in subsequent property damage. These sensors can record, among other things, precipitation amounts, humidity levels, soil moisture measurements, air pressure levels, and chemical absorption rates. Planners and engineers in Chicago hope to collect data that will help them produce and manage green infrastructure.

Texas is also keeping track of its water levels to better manage the flood plain along the Colorado River basin. The Lower Colorado River Authority built a network of 275 connected river sensors, called Hydromet. The sensors provide near-real-time data on stream flow, river stage, rainfall totals, temperature and humidity.

In July, LCRA received a $650,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to investigate better sensor technologies and software needed to relay information and alerts during a flood. The goal is to find high-tech sensors at a reasonable cost that can be rugged enough to last in outdoor conditions.

Another goal for LCRA is to have sensors that might be able to help emergency responders geo-target the smartphones of Texans who live in areas where flooding is likely to occur.


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National resiliency initiatives announced

The White House has announced new resiliency initiatives based on the findings of the 2016 National Preparedness Report, released in March by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The report identified vulnerabilities and areas for improvement in the country’s ability to respond to and recover from natural disasters, technological hazards, acts of terrorism and other threats.

Federal agencies are declaring new actions to help build the capacity of state, local, tribal, territorial, private sector and nonprofit agencies to recover from future disasters.

September is National Preparedness Month
September is National Preparedness Month

The Economic Recovery Training For Emergency Management and Economic Development Practitioners program will provide $1,506,000 for state, local, tribal and territorial emergency managers and economic development professionals to identify and undertake economic recovery and resiliency initiatives. The program is Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The Leaders in Business Community Resilience initiative, administered by FEMA, the U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will provide guidance for state-level engagement with the private sector. The initiative creates a platform for businesses to be recognized for building community resilience. FEMA, SBA and Commerce will convene events across the country over the next year to support local efforts to create preparedness partnerships between the private and public sectors.

The Built Environment Resilience Gateway has been added to the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit by the National Institute of Standards and Technology-sponsored Community Resilience Standards Panel, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Forest Service. The gateway is dedicated to community resilience measures for urban communities and infrastructure. Areas of focus include buildings and structures, disaster planning, energy, water and wastewater, social equity, planning and land use, transportation, communications and related topics.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s initiative to Enhance Situational Awareness of Energy System Status enhances the real-time monitoring and predictive capabilities of the Environment for Analysis of Geo-Located Energy Information (EAGLE-I) system.  EAGLE-I will become the authoritative source supporting state and local agencies to track the status of energy systems nationwide. The system will help target and mobilize public and private sector resources during post-incident recovery.

DHS will establish a National Network of Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Resources. The network will consist of trained  infrastructure recovery and resilience experts who can provide assistance to communities in disaster-impacted areas. The network will assist with rebuilding following the August flooding in Louisiana and with future events upon request. Contact IDR@hq.dhs.gov for more information.

FEMA has launched the Community Recovery Resource Portal. The portal will help community leaders access post-disaster recovery resources.

The Support Homeless Persons in Pre-Disaster Planning, Response and Recovery program, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, offers a toolkit focused on the needs of homeless populations before, during and after disasters.

New training to help cultural institutions in disaster preparedness is also available from the Heritage Emergency National Task Force and the National Endowment for the Humanities. A webinar series will provide training and guidance to emergency managers and cultural stewards on how to strengthen disaster preparedness in the cultural community.


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USDA awards $18.9M for research facilities

Historically black land-grant colleges and universities will be able to build or improve agriculture and food science research facilities with $18.9 million in grants. The awards were announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture this week. The awards were made through the 1890s Facilities Grants program.

“These awards help colleges and universities make improvements that support cutting-edge academic research and foster 21st-century innovation that will shape the future of American agriculture,” said Dr. Joe Leonard, Jr., USDA Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.

Among the recipients was Tuskegee University. The Alabama university received $952,989. The school will use the funds to help construct a red meat slaughtering unit; a poultry research, teaching and outreach facility; and an integrative agricultural research, extension and teaching complex.

Florida A&M University was awarded $917,871. The funds will be used to help renovate two teleconference centers, one of which is located at the research and extension center at a farm in Quincy, Fla. The centers will be upgraded to support audio-visual aids to improve presentations.

About $1.2 million was awarded to Missouri’s Lincoln University. Funds will be used to construct a 3,000-square-foot addition to an existing research center and build a 2,400-square-foot greenhouse. An 8,000-square-foot satellite extension office is also planned.

Details on the awards can be found here.


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