Tolling technology becomes more interoperable 

As tolls have become a more popular solution for transportation challenges in states and municipalities across the country, industry groups and citizens have been calling for more interoperability. Currently, drivers who use tollways operated by different agencies may have to acquire different transponders for each system.

As part of the Moving Ahead for Program in the 21st Century Act, congress called for electronic tolling interoperability. Industry groups like the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) have been working with the Federal Highway Administration to help develop an industry standard for tolling systems. The group plans to make a formal recommendation next year.

IBTTA officials call for a national toll system that allows drivers to establish a single toll account that would allow for payments on all US toll facilities. Officials presented the following statement before the US House of Representative’s oversight and government reform committee:

“We envision that a driver who has a valid registered account with any electronic toll collection (ETC) system (i.e. E-ZPass, SunPass, TxTag, FasTrak, etc.) can have their vehicle identified seamlessly in the electronic toll lanes of any other ETC system using a required National Toll Tag (which would also be associated with their existing account) and have the appropriate fees deducted from their account.”

A key goal of the electronic tolling interoperability effort is that the national toll protocol ultimately selected will be non-proprietary. No special licensing or fees will be needed for those manufacturing or acquiring such devices.

One system being tested is the  ISO 18000-6C radio-frequency identification (RFID) air-interface protocol. The protocol, referred to as 6C, was developed for systems focused on inventory management and asset tracking. A second finalist undergoing testing is the Open Standard Time Division Multiplexing protocol (TDM). Agencies in Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Utah and Washington use 6C.  TDM is used by 37 agencies in 16 states.

Transportation measures will total more than $175 billion on election day

Nov. 8 will be a big day for transportation officials across the country as well as those running for elected offices. Researchers at the nonprofit Center for Transportation Excellence (CTE) estimate $175 billion in transportation projects will be on the ballot in about 70 measures nationwide. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) estimates that total could be as high as $200 billion.

“Communities of all sizes are asking citizens to vote for initiatives that will determine their future,” said APTA Chair Doran J. Barnes. “These initiatives and referendums are critical to expanding mobility options and to increasing the economic vitality of their communities.”

One of the largest measures that voters will consider will take place in Los Angeles County, Calif. Voters will cast their ballots for or against Measure M, which would increase sales tax to fund $98 to $120 billion in planned transportation improvements. Taxes would generate about $860 million per year. Projects include street repairs, highway improvements and new rail construction, including lines in the Sepulveda Pass and Van Nuys and extensions to Claremont and West Hollywood.

“We know Measure M will be a game changer for Los Angeles and we’re excited about its potential to enhance quality of life for the people of our region,” said Phillip A. Washington, CEO of LA Metro.

Voters in Marion County, Ind., will also consider a sales tax increase to raise an estimated $56 million per year. Transportation officials plan to improve the Indianapolis bus system, IndyGo. The agency would run more buses with shorter wait times, longer hours each day and more connections. The measure would also fund the rapid transit Red Line and develop two other BRT lines in Indianapolis.

Two different sales tax increases will be considered in Atlanta, Ga. One measure would fund Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) service expansions to improve bus service, offer new streetcar lines and build infill stations. The other measure would fund non-transit projects like street improvements and bike and pedestrian projects.

“When people vote to improve or expand the local public transit system, they are voting for an improved quality of life and for the economic vitality of their region,” said APTA Acting President Richard A. White.

APTA officials said every dollar invested in public transportation generates about $4 in economic returns. They also point to a new study that correlates public transit with reduced risk of automobile crashes.

Road to Zero Coalition plans to end traffic fatalities

Federal agencies have partnered with the nonprofit National Safety Council to launch a program with a mission to end traffic fatalities within 30 years. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have created the Road to Zero coalition with $1 million per year in funding from the Department of Transportation.

“Our vision is simple – zero fatalities on our roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We know that setting the bar for safety to the highest possible standard requires commitment from everyone to think differently about safety– from drivers to industry, safety organizations and government at all levels.”

Agencies report that 2015 had the largest increase in traffic deaths since 1966 and the estimates for 2016 are already on track to surpass 2015. The coalition will promote proven strategies as well as develop a new vision on how to achieve their mission of zero fatalities.

Improving seat belt use, placing rumble strips and other successful tactics will continue to be priorities. However, it is the deployment of automated vehicles and other technologies that give coalition members hope that the goal of zero fatalities is achievable within the next 30 years.

“The “4Es” – Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Emergency Medical Services provide a reliable roadmap for driving down fatalities. Coupled with new technologies and innovative approaches to mobility, we may now hold the keys that get us to zero,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

The Road to Zero Coalition plans to focus on overall system design, addressing infrastructure design, vehicle technology, enforcement and behavior safety. One of the group’s guiding principles is to find ways to ensure human mistakes do not result in fatalities.

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Aviation trust fund keeps airport construction soaring

To date, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced $1.3 billion in grants to airports nationwide for Fiscal Year 2016 through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The program provides grants to public agencies – and, in some cases, to private owners and entities – for the planning and development of public-use airports that are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS).

The AIP is paid for by the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, w
hich is primarily supported by excise taxes on passenger tickets as well as cargo and fuel taxes. Congress recently reauthorized spending from the trust fund through the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016.

The Lake Charles Regional Airport in Louisiana will receive a $1.2 million AIP grant announced this week to update its taxiway lighting system. The airport will replace the outdated taxiway lights with LED lights and put wiring that is currently buried into conduit.

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport officials in Montana recently announced a $3.5 million grant to fix one of their airport’s taxiways and upgrade its lighting system. An additional $2.3 million has been allocated to construct a runway.

New York’s Syracuse Hancock International Airport will receive $2.4 million in two grants. The first grant of $1.9 million will be used to replace outdated passenger-boarding bridges in the airport terminal. The second grant of $500,000 will be used for design services to help reconfigure exit taxiways.

The Airport and Airway Trust Fund was established in 1970 to provide a dedicated source of funding for the U.S. aviation system separate from the general fund. The fund carried a balance of $14 billion at the beginning of the fiscal year.

AIP grants can be used for up to 75 percent of eligible costs at large and medium airports and up to 95 percent of eligible costs at small and general aviation airports. Eligible projects include improvements related to airport safety, capacity, security and environmental concerns. AIP funds are available for most airfield capital improvement projects if the FAA determines the projects are justified based on civil aeronautical demand. Qualifying airports must be publicly owned; privately owned, but designated by the FAA as a reliever; or privately owned, but schedules at least 2,500 annual enplanements.