Skip to content

Posts from the "Tolls" Category

No Comments

Lautenberg Brawls With Port Authority Exec Over Tolling

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has been spoiling for a fight ever since the Port Authority raised tolls to cross into New York. And yesterday, he got it.

The Lincoln Tunnel helix in 1955. It hasn't been rehabbed since then. Photo: Wikipedia

Lautenberg invited Bill Baroni, the deputy director of the Port Authority, to testify at a Commerce Committee hearing that turned into little more than a showdown between the two men.

Lautenberg was commissioner of the Port Authority from 1978 to 1982, and he said that back then, the toll was $2, which would be about $5 in today’s dollars. “When it costs $12 to drive your car across a bridge in America, something is wrong,” Lautenberg said, adding that the decision to raise the rates was made “behind closed doors.”

Baroni countered that the Authority had actually held 10 public hearings on the toll increase, involving more than 1,500 people. He went through a list of crisis-level needs that necessitated the toll increase, from the Bayonne Bridge, which has to be raised to allow larger ships to pass under it, to the Lincoln Tunnel helix, which hadn’t been rehabbed in 70 years, to the George Washington Bridge’s suspender ropes, which need replacing.

But then he mentioned that Lautenberg, as a former commissioner, has a free E-ZPass, and that “it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.” The whole thing spiraled into a war of words from there, with Baroni at one point obliquely comparing Lautenberg to Joe McCarthy.

The shoot-‘em-up nature of the hearing may have been the most entertaining part, but amidst the political theater there were some meaningful comments on the utility of tolling: for example, Baroni’s insistence that more funds from drivers are needed to bring his agency’s infrastructure into a state of good repair. Barring an increase in the gas tax, tolling is the only way to raise that revenue and maintain aging roads and bridges.

Read more…

5 Comments

NJ Senator Lautenberg Introduces Bill to Limit Bridge and Tunnel Tolls

Last summer, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey raised EZPass tolls from $8 to cross a bridge into the city during peak hours to $9.50, with planned increases to $12.50 in a few years (cash tolls are increasing somewhat more). Tolls for five-axle trucks will rise as high as $125.

The hikes marked the first time the Port Authority had raised tolls since 2008, and the only the third since 2001. Nevertheless, congressional representatives from the area are making noise. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) teamed up today to announce a bill to increase federal oversight of road tolls.

The “Commuter Protection Act” would restore U.S. DOT’s power to determine whether tolls on interstate bridges and tunnels are “just and reasonable” and set lower maximum tolls if they deem it necessary. The agency had that power until 1987, when it was revoked during an era of deregulation. The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to produce a report on the “transparency and accountability” of how toll rates are set.

“When it costs $12 to drive your car across a bridge in America [the rate for cash tolls], something is wrong,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Commuters are suffering.”

Lautenberg has a strong pro-transit record, but in this case he may end up hurting transit by taking up the cause of constituents who drive into the city. For one thing, the tolls have led to a four percent drop in traffic across the Port Authority crossings, which is good news for bus speeds. Meanwhile, ridership on PATH trains has risen 3.7 percent.

It’s still an open question whether the final draft of the bill will consider transit a “just and reasonable” purpose for tolling funds. There is currently no legal definition of “just and reasonable.” Even if transit is covered, however, the bill could still do damage.

If the U.S. DOT were to actually intervene with the Port Authority, for instance, there would probably be less funding available for transit. Already, the Port Authority scrapped plans to build a much-needed new bus depot in Manhattan because Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo scaled back the latest round of toll hikes.

Read more…

2 Comments

More Election Results: Transit Wins Big

Out of 12 transportation-related measures that were voted on Tuesday, seven represented a victory for transit, three were losses to learn from, and two more aren’t really a win one way or another but are worth noting. According to the Center for Transportation Excellence, these numbers bring the year’s total to an impressive 79 percent win rate for transit. Especially impressive is the fact that most of these measures involved a tax of some sort, and people were willing to pay it if it meant better transit service – even in tough economic times.

Clark County's campaign to keep bus service won Tuesday, 54-46.

Angie has profiled the victory in Durham and the loss in Seattle. Here are the rest of the results:

In Montcalm County, MI, a proposed property tax hike to fund bus service failed 39-61.

A terrible idea failed to catch on in Cincinnati, but the closeness of the final tally showed there’s still work to be done. The proposal to ban any forward movement on building a streetcar system lost, but the vote was 49-51. Still, this loss was a big win for transit.

Bad news for residents of Trumbull County, Ohio: the property tax increase that would have saved their transit system failed 36-64. If the county is to be believed, this means the transit system will shut down entirely, a huge loss, especially for the county’s most vulnerable residents. According to a local paper, “In 2010, the transit provided 64,249 trips: 18,922 for senior citizens, 21,013 for the disabled, 16,131 for students, and 8,183 for other residents.”

The 54-46 passage of Proposition 1 in Clark County, Washington was a big win for transit. Residents of the Washington-side suburbs of Portland will pay another 0.2 percent sales tax in order to stave off harsh cuts to their transit service. Even the normally anti-tax local paper said the vote was essential to maintaining quality of life in the county.

The counting of the statewide initiative 1125 in Washington went into the next day, but we can say definitively now that this bad idea has lost – at last count, it had 48.44 percent of the vote. The measure would have put serious restrictions on tolling at a time when tolling is one of very few funding mechanisms available to states. Even worse, it would have codified a pro-roads bias by insisting that tolling revenues could only pay for roads. It also singled out light rail, banning it on the I-90 bridge.

* The proposal to increase the Lorain County sales tax failed pretty spectacularly — 32-68. Transit advocates took note of this one but aren’t counting it as a loss, since the primary focus of the campaign – and the primary destination of the tax revenues – was the criminal justice system, not transportation. The loss does, however, mean that the county will cut its contribution to the transit system in half, in order to have more money to pay for prisons.

Here are a few we didn’t mention Tuesday:

Read more…

7 Comments

Seven Transportation Improvements Everyone Can Agree On

The Reason Foundation, a free-market think tank, is not always a transportation reformer’s best friend. Its scholars gave Florida Gov. Rick Scott inaccurate advice he then used to justify killing high-speed rail in his state. They want to prevent the gas tax from funding “peripheral” programs like transit and active transportation. But Reason Foundation experts have teamed up with Transportation for America and Taxpayers for Common Sense to champion seven cost-effective and eminently “reasonable” strategies for improving transportation outcomes even in the midst of a budget crisis.

Can we agree to stop building towns that look like this? Photo: Newsdesk.org

Leaders of the three groups briefed an audience on Capitol Hill today about the points of unity among them. Obviously, there were many issues they couldn’t come to consensus on, but it’s worth spotlighting the things even these disparate groups agree on. And it’s worth asking: if they’re so non-controversial, why aren’t they happening everywhere?

The seven innovations being highlighted by Transportation for America, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Reason Foundation are:

1. Transportation scenario planning – Rather than planning for a future just like the present, metros and states can use a more dynamic planning process, often used by the military but increasingly adopted by policy-makers, which brings together a variety of community stakeholders to envision how the future could look under a variety of possible scenarios. They come up with a “preferred scenario” and set policies and goals oriented toward achieving that scenario.

2. High Occupancy Toll lanes – Sometimes derided as “Lexus lanes,” these lanes are reserved for carpoolers but are also open to those willing to pay for a quicker trip with less congestion. HOT lanes can use dynamic pricing to change the cost of driving on the lanes based on demand to keep congestion on those lanes low enough to guarantee a 45 mile-per-hour speed, according to Shirley Ybarra of the Reason Foundation, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation from 1998 to 2002.

3. Bus Rapid Transit – Latin America has pioneered a host of innovative ways to make bus service faster, more reliable, and more pleasant. The buses travel in their own designated lane, preferably physically separated from other traffic, to keep from getting stuck in the same traffic jams as everybody else. The stations often are more elaborate platforms, with fares collected at the station, to speed the boarding process. BRT is scalable, allowing cities to test the waters with a modest system and then improving stations, real-time bus tracking, fare collection systems, and lane separations as the system matures.

4. Intelligent Transportation Systems – Everyone seems to agree that E-ZPass (and even boothless “open road tolling”), traffic light optimization, electronic transit fare payments, and real-time transit tracking are improvements cities and states can make right now to get the most out of their existing capacity, potentially staving off the perceived need to expand. Despite the consensus on the utility of these tools, however, states are still slow to implement them, so let this be a tri-partisan push for them to get on it. A 2005 GAO report found that ITS reduced delays by 9 percent where it was implemented.

Read more…

1 Comment

Congressional Listening Tour Draws to an End in the Philadelphia Suburbs

Cross-posted with permission from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) wrapped up his nationwide tour of more than a dozen congressional districts Friday in King of Prussia, PA by listening to selected speakers from around the Greater Philadelphia region. Mica was joined by host Congressman Pat Meehan (PA-07) and Bill Shuster (PA-09) on the panel.

Reps. Mica, Meehan and Shuster at the final listening session of the T&I tour. Photo courtesy of Sarah Stuart.

Mica, who started the week in Afghanistan and Europe and the day in Scranton, PA, opened the session by stating that he wants to the next federal transportation bill to make proper choices about building infrastructure and the nation’s economy. He also said that he was done with extensions and was going to start drafting a bill in April. That bill, he said, will add in a rail component and identify where red tape could be cut.

The theme of the session was “how to do more with less.” That phrase was uttered over a dozen times throughout the two hours by members of Congress and the speakers. Mica stated unequivocally that the gas tax was not going to get raised, explaining, “It’s not just my position; it’s just not going to happen in the reality in which I live.” He stated that the goal was to find ways to raise revenue without raising taxes. But, to start, he asked the speakers directly, “What do you want changed?”

P3s, or public-private partnerships, were a hot topic. State Senator John Rafferty (44th District), who chairs the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee, spoke about his legislation to create more of these partnerships to raise revenue for transportation projects. Rafferty said states need more flexibility from the feds to toll. He was quick to say that the state needed $20-60 billion to maintain the existing transportation system but that P3s could help supplement.

Cecile Charlton of the Delaware County Transportation Management Association and Rob Henry of the Greater Valley Forge TMA said they already do more with less and work hard to promote all modes of transportation, especially SEPTA, the region’s transit agency. Given the growth of jobs and housing in the counties, having a strong transit system is critical, and Ms. Charlton urged the committee to include public transit as an important piece of the new bill.

Read more…

10 Comments

State Transpo Officials Push to Toll for Maintenance, Not Just Capacity

Last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told state DOT officials gathered at an AASHTO conference in Washington that he was all in favor of tolling – but only to add new capacity.

Iowa DOT Director Nancy Richardson says her state should be putting all of its funds toward stewardship. Photo: Iowa DOT

“We believe in tolling,” LaHood said. “You can raise a lot of money with tolls. If a state comes to us with good plans for tolling, yes, we’ll be responsive to that… as long as you’re building more capacity. That’s really what we’re going to look at.”

As state transportation officials struggle with state of good repair, they are beginning to chafe at the federal restriction that allows tolling only for new capacity – not maintenance or other needs.

“The argument always is, we shouldn’t toll for reconstruction because we’ve already paid for them once,” said Iowa DOT Director Nancy Richardson in an interview with Streetsblog. “But we’ve paid for them and we’ve used that value. Now it’s time to reinvest.”

She says maintenance, or “stewardship”, is a much higher priority for her state than capacity — to the point where she considers spending all of her funds on stewardship.

We probably have about 75 percent of our money going to that now. But our system has taken such a beating in the last five years because the weather has been so dramatic – both winters and flooding – so we’ve seen accelerated deterioration and costs over the past five or six years, without revenues going up significantly. Our bang for the buck is less. So we have to look, like all states, to see if we have to almost completely shift our funds to maintenance, or stewardship, as we call it, rather than capacity.

Secretary LaHood admitted, when asked, that the Federal Highway Administration had rejected tolls for Pennsylvania’s I-80 because the tolls were going to be used for “other things” besides new capacity.

Read more…