Nev. tries to fatten the pot

May 21, 2010

Nevada’s young bridges might end up old and lonely.

The state department of transportation, which has spent much of the last two decades adding to its span network to help deal with a booming population, and in the process has earned a top ranking in the U.S. when it comes to bridge condition. However, a lack of funding is threatening to snap the growth spurt—and usher in an era of neglect.

“We are facing a deficit like a lot of states,” Nevada DOT Scott Magruder told Roads & Bridges. “We have seen a dip [in funding]. Car counts are down.”

Nevada’s young bridges might end up old and lonely.

The state department of transportation, which has spent much of the last two decades adding to its span network to help deal with a booming population, and in the process has earned a top ranking in the U.S. when it comes to bridge condition. However, a lack of funding is threatening to snap the growth spurt—and usher in an era of neglect.

“We are facing a deficit like a lot of states,” Nevada DOT Scott Magruder told Roads & Bridges. “We have seen a dip [in funding]. Car counts are down.”

In an effort to increase its dollar count the Nevada DOT, working with UNLV and the University of Nevada-Reno, is initiating a study on the effects of a vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fee at the urging of Congressionally chartered panel on infrastructure financing.

Sensors will be installed in vehicles during the three-phase research project, which has stirred a wave of privacy concerns from citizens and groups.

The Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union questioned the aim of the vehicle-miles fee, declaring that it creates a “perfect infrastructure for tracking citizens everywhere they go in their vehicles.”

The Nevada Motor Transport Association, which represents truckers, also is against such a system.

The vehicle-miles project also is losing support financially. Citing economic turmoil and limited tax dollars, the Washoe County and Southern Nevada regional transportation commission, which had already contributed a combined $160,000, pulled from the study.

Still, Magruder said all systems were go.

“We have an uphill battle with the vehicle-miles tax,” he said. “The big issue is [out-of-state fees]. If a motorist drives to San Francisco from Reno, and they have to fill up in California, are they essentially going to get charged twice? That is the thing we need to work on.”

Nevada tried to construct a pilot project that resembled a public-private partnership, which is illegal in the state. However, the plan was rejected.

“It did not get a vote, really,” said Magruder. “We wanted to do an 8-mile section where a company would come in and toll. It just did not take off here, but we may still go with it again.”

At press time Magruder and the Nevada DOT were getting ready for another public forum on the vehicle-miles fee. The first phase of the project is expected to cost $260,000 and should be complete by the end of 2010. Officials will then evaluate the technology before embarking on phase three, which is expected to take an additional two years.

Pa. must replace $472M or cut projects without I-80 tolls

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell was planning to convene a special session of the state General Assembly by the end of April to figure out how to make up $472 million the state will not be seeing because the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) again rejected the state’s request to place tolls on I-80. The FHWA decision was released on April 6, and it was actually the third time the agency had rejected Pennsylvania’s plan to toll I-80.

“We have to deal with the fallout of this decision; there is no way that we can just do nothing,” Rendell said. “I’m going to call a special session of the legislature to address our transportation challenges. We’ll look at every option on the table. This is a dire situation with significant consequences.”

Act 44, passed by the General Assembly in 2007, called for the tolling of I-80 and additional revenue from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a PennDOT statement said, to provide $532 million per year for road and bridge repairs and $414 million per year for public transit agencies across the state.

Without I-80 toll revenues, funding for roads and bridges will be cut by about $300 million per year. The consequence is that PennDOT will not be able to repair about 100 bridges and 300 miles of roads each year, PennDOT said. Funding for 73 public transit systems that provide more than 400 million rides a year to residents in all 67 counties will drop by $160 million per year. The drop will result in service cuts and fewer capital improvement projects.

The General Assembly declined to increase the state’s gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees, as was recommended in a 2006 PennDOT study. Act 44 was a substitute means of increasing transportation funding, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The FHWA said it rejected the plan “because the application did not meet the federal requirement that toll revenues be used exclusively for the facility being tolled.”

“The Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program requires that revenue from tolls be used only to improve the tolled facility,” the FHWA said, “and not be directed toward other state funding needs or transportation projects elsewhere in the state, as is the case in the Pennsylvania application.”

Despite record state and federal investments in highways and bridges in the past seven years, Pennsylvania still has approximately 5,600 structurally deficient bridges—the highest number of any state—and approximately 6,000 miles of roads that are in need of repair, PennDOT said.

A date for the special legislative session had not yet been set at press time.

I-80 tolls had been opposed by truckers, residents and businesses along the highway, and the rejection was greeted with cheers from the American Highway Users Alliance in Washington, D.C.

“The Highway Users applauds Secretary LaHood’s decision to keep Interstate 80 toll-free,” the organization said in a statement. “We agree with the secretary that federal law does not permit I-80 tolling plans to move forward.”

Construction spending still declining

Construction spending during February was estimated by the U.S. Commerce Department at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $846.2 billion, 1.3% below the revised January estimate of $857.8 billion. The February figure is 12.8% below the February 2009 estimate of $970.4 billion.

During the first two months of this year, construction spending amounted to $116.2 billion, 14.4% below the $135.7 billion for the same period in 2009.

In February, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $292.7 billion, 1.7% below the revised January estimate of $297.7 billion. Highway construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $79.8 billion, 2.1% below the revised January estimate of $81.4 billion.

Highway construction spending has now slipped from $90.2 billion in October 2009 to $85.7 billion in November 2009, $82.6 billion in December 2009, $81.4 billion in January and $79.8 billion in February. Those are all seasonally adjusted annual rates.

Calif. dispenses $706M to 121 road projects

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) has allocated $706 million to 121 projects statewide. The funding includes $479 million for 28 projects from Proposition 1B, a $19.9 billion transportation bond championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and approved by voters in 2006. The remaining $227 million in allocations came from assorted state and federal transportation accounts.

“When California voters approved Proposition 1B they wanted action, and we are delivering that action,” said Business, Transportation and Housing Agency Secretary Dale Bonner. “This funding will not only help relieve the traffic congestion that clogs our freeways, it will create jobs and help stimulate California’s economy when we need it the most.”

Nearly $5.7 billion in Proposition 1B funding has been allocated to improve California’s transportation system during the past three years.

Minn. unveils $1.3 billion 2010 highway program
Spring promises a good crop of orange barrels in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) has announced a $1.3 billion season of highway construction, bridge replacement, pavement replacement, safety improvements at railway crossings, improvements to airport runways and terminals and constructing and remodeling transit facilities.

Mn/DOT’s 2010 construction program will include 283 projects around the state, 217 of which are state highway construction projects including the Highway 169/I-494 interchange in the Twin Cities and bridge and pavement replacement on a section of I-35 in Duluth.

“Minnesota’s transportation system is a cornerstone to a strong and vibrant state economy,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. “Our administration has invested more than $5 billion on more than 1,900 projects since 2003 to battle congestion, improve safety and foster economic growth.”

Ala. bill would add $1B to highway program

A bill that would add $1 billion to Alabama’s transportation program has been approved by the Alabama House Government Appropriations Committee, according to an Associated Press story in

The bill, proposed by Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron, proposed to take $100 million a year from the state’s oil and gas revenue for the next 10 years and distribute it by a formula that ensures some money will go to every Congressional district and county in the state.

“It will create and maintain 30,000 jobs,” Barron told the Associated Press. “At no time in history have we needed that like we need it now.”

Some legislators objected, saying that the funds should be left untouched as a “rainy-day” fund.

Barron responded: “If that’s truly a rainy-day fund, it’s raining now.”

The bill contains a provision that would stop transportation withdrawals if the oil and gas account balance dropped below $2 billion. The account now contains about $2.5 billion.

Barron’s bill has already passed the state Senate and now goes to the full House for debate. The bill is an amendment to the Alabama constitution, so it would have to be approved by the state’s voters before it could take effect.

Va. roads could benefit from offshore oil

The highways of Virginia could benefit from a recent decision by the Obama administration concerning offshore oil drilling, the Suffolk News-Herald reported. President Obama’s announcement that he would allow oil drilling off the East Coast could mean a whole new revenue stream for Virginia, and a decision by the Virginia legislature—before anyone knew about the president’s announcement—means offshore drilling revenue would go mostly to fix the state’s decaying roads.

The legislature directed Gov. Bob McDonnell to divide revenue from any future offshore drilling licenses 80% to transportation and 20% to green energy research and development, the News-Herald reported.

O’Hare receives $410M from feds for completion

The U.S. DOT has issued a letter of intent to provide $410 million toward funding the completion phase of the O’Hare Modernization Program, Mayor Richard Daley, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced April 6 at a news conference held at O’Hare International Airport.

The funding will be used for construction of three OMP Completion Phase runway projects: new runway 9C-27C, new runway 10R-28L and the extension of runway 9R-27L. These projects are estimated to create about 13,000 jobs.

“This is a very substantial investment that shows how strongly the federal government supports the O’Hare Modernization Program,” said Daley.

Trade Shows
Bauma feels positive vibes despite volcanic ash

Show management at bauma 2010 in Munich, Germany, claims that this year’s attendance at the massive heavy equipment trade show marks a new beginning for the industry, at least in Europe.

“The mood in the industry shows that in Europe the bottom of the cycle is now behind us,” said Ralf Wezel, secretary-general of the Committee for European Construction Equipment. “The confidence has retuned.”

Even though the ban on air travel due to the icelandic volcanic ash kept many visitors and 50 exhibitors from attending, the mood was still positive on the show floor. Over 415,000 people from more than 200 countries attended bauma 2010. That number was down 17% from bauma 2007, but officials are hopeful that bauma China 2010 will carry show-record attendance numbers later this year. “Despite the many emergency measures implemented, in the second half of the week not all of the expected visitors from Asia, India and North America were able to make it,” said Klaus Dittrich, chairman and CEO of Messe München GmbH.

Sixty-five percent of the attendees at this year’s event were from Germany.

Bauma 2013 is slated for April 15-21 in Munich.

—edited by Allen Zeyher

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