Posts Tagged ‘highways’

Turnpike Won’t Go All Electronic Tolling for Now

June 29, 2020

The Ohio Turnpike does not plan to institute all electronic toll collecting or to end the use of human toll takers, at least for now.

Turnpike officials said they will continue to take cash, credit cards and E-Z Pass for the foreseeable future although the agency is undertaking a toll modernization project.

The modernization program, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, will allow for “open road tolling” in which motorists with an E-Z pass can travel the length of the 241-mile turnpike without slowing down.

Turnpike spokesman Brian Newbacher said use of the E-Z Pass in Ohio is not high enough to justify ending the ability to pay tolls with cash or credit card.

Cameras could be used to photograph license plates of vehicles without an E-Z Pass as they pass through a toll plaza with the license plate holder receiving a bill in the mail.

That is the practice on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which has also furloughed  its toll takers as it moved to an all-electronic tolling system.

The downside to that system is that not all motorists pay their bill and in some instances the toll can’t be collected.

On the Ohio Turnpike, more than 35 percent of users paid tolls by cash or a credit card, which netted nearly $90 million in revenue last year.

In Pennsylvania, about 20 percent of users paid by cash or credit in 2019.

Last November, 83 percent of Pennsylvania Turnpike users paid tolls with an E-Z Pass.

Of the 9 percent of users who had a photo taken of their license plate, 5 percent have yet to pay and 3 percent of the tolls were unbillable due to an obscured plate or insufficient address.

Newbacher said Ohio Turnpike officials expect that in time they will move to an all-electronic system, but E-Z Pass use is not expected to a level to justify that for at least another seven to 12 years.

Pennsylvania justified furloughing toll takers in part as a plan to seek to stop the spread of COVID-19, but Ohio Turnpike officials believes they have adequately addressed any health concerns by installing protective shields in toll booths, issuing hand sanitizer and gloves to toll collectors, sanitizing each toll booth once a week.

The Ohio Turnpike employs 159 toll collectors who earn from $21.53 to $26.95 a hour for fulltime collectors. The 166 part-time toll collectors are paid from $18.25 to $20.77 an hour.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission laid off nearly 500 employees and moved up its switch to all-electronic tolling from a planned date of October 2021.

Ohio’s modernization plan will also involve installation of directional aides to help channel traffic and building new “mainline” plazas near Toledo and Youngstown.

That will lead to the elimination of several little-used toll plazas at exits and entrances at each end of the turnpike where tolls will no longer be collected.

Round and Round and Round the Toll Hike Wheel Goes. When It Will Finally Stop Nobody Knows

January 6, 2018

You might think that every penny that you pay to use a toll road would go toward the maintenance and operation of that road, including administrative expenses.

Maybe at one time it worked that way, but no longer. A toll road is an attractive cash cow to be milked by political officials for their pet projects or to pay expenses for which public funding is in short supply.

I’m not saying this is right, just that it is one of the many games that policy makers play in the budget making process.

For the 10th consecutive year tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are increasing and a case could be made that the size of the hike is not entirely the doing of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

By law the Commission pays $450 million every year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which uses that money to help fund public transportation as well as highway and bridge projects not involving the turnpike.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission also diverts toll revenue to uses that do not directly involve the turnpike.

The game involves raiding pots of reliable and considerable revenue to fund programs tangentially related to the source of that revenue that are hard-pressed to pay for themselves.

It is all the better if much of the revenue from those pots comes from those who can’t vote against those doing the raiding.

Here is one example of how it works. Back in 2013, the Ohio Turnpike Commission sold $1 billion in bonds for capital improvements, agreeing to set aside $930 million of the proceeds to fund 10 transportation projects in Northern Ohio that do not directly involve the turnpike.

One of those is the Opportunity Corridor, a boulevard linking East 55th Street and University Circle in Cleveland.

Portions of that project have included upgrading facilities of the Greater Cleveland Regional
Transit Authority. The transportation elements of the Opportunity Corridor notwithstanding, it is an economic development project seeking to revive financially distressed Cleveland neighborhoods.

A Cleveland area resident sued the Turnpike Commission in federal court, arguing that diverting toll money for non-toll road projects violated state and federal law.

A judge disagreed, saying there is a “nexus” between the turnpike and other transportation projects because turnpike users will benefit from those projects.

Maybe so, yet I doubt that many New Jersey residents, for example, traveling to Chicago via the Ohio Turnpike will ever use the Opportunity Corridor’s spiffy boulevard.

For that matter, many users of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will never use public transportation in the Keystone State. But they are paying for it anyway, often without knowing it.

This is not to say that endeavors such as the Opportunity Corridor or public transportation are without merit and don’t deserve public funding.

Nor is it to say that the policy makers who created the Opportunity Corridor or decided that public transportation users should be subsidized by taxpayers who don’t use that service made poor decisions.

It is to wonder how long the annual toll increase merry-go-round can continue spinning before it breaks.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is wondering the same thing and has launched a review of the turnpike commission.

I’m not optimistic that any report that DePasquale issues is going to result in tolls being lowered on the turnpike let alone stopping the onward march of annual toll hikes.

The mandate that the Pennsylvania Turnpike underwrite some responsibilities of PennDOT is not the sole cause of that 6 percent hike that takes effect on Sunday.

At best that mandate simply adds to the size of the toll hike the turnpike probably would have imposed anyway even if every dime of it were to go directly to the turnpike.

The policy makers may pay lip service to DePasquale’s report and shave a few nickels and dimes here and there, but the allure of the cash cow and its daily torrent of toll-paying motorists is too irresistible to ignore as an answer to funding needs and the desires of policy makers without raising income taxes and sales taxes.

They’re simply raiding your wallet in other ways, including building automatic fee increases into toll roads every year in the belief that as much as you might gripe about the tolls you’ll continue to pay them because taking the toll road is more convenient than driving miles out of your way on two-lane highways without toll booths but which come with a multitude of traffic signals, lower speed limits and small town speed traps.

It is hard to love a highway that charges $7 upfront when you drive directly from the Ohio Turnpike onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Tomorrow it will cost you 45 cents more to enter Pennsylvania.

The Ohio Turnpike is also becoming more expensive. Back in 2013, the Turnpike Commission approved 2.7 percent toll hikes every year through 2023. It has learned well from its neighbor to the east.

Pa Turnpike Hiking Tolls by 6%

January 5, 2018

Planning a railfan excursion in central Pennsylvania this year, say, along the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern in the Allegheny Mountains?

Better take some extra cash because effective this Sunday (Jan. 7) the tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are going to rise by 6 percent.

It is the 10th consecutive year that the tolls have been jacked up, er, increased on the highway that people love to hate.

It is the second consecutive year that tolls have risen by 6 percent. Tolls have more than doubled since 2009.

Under the pending increase a passenger vehicle traveling from Ohio to New Jersey will cost $51.85 to $55, depending on the route chosen, for cash customers and from $37 to $39.25 for those with an E-ZPass.

Turnpike officials estimate that the average toll for cash-paying customers will be $2.10, while the average for E-ZPass customers will be $1.30. The average cash toll was 75 cents in 2008.

But those figures are averages that mean nothing to a motorist entering the Keystone State from the Ohio Turnpike.

You pay $7 just to enter Pennsylvania. Starting on Sunday that toll goes up to $7.45. The tolls for those with E-ZPass are $4.89 and $5.18 respectively pre- and post-toll hike.

In a news release, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said tolls were being increased to meet funding obligations.

“The Turnpike Commission is obligated by state law to augment Pennsylvania’s infrastructure needs; in fact, the commission has delivered $5.65 billion in toll-backed funding to PennDOT in the last decade,” said Turnpike CEO Mark Compton in a statement.

Pennsylvania law requires the Turnpike Commission to contribute $450 million a year to PennDOT to help pay for public transit and highway infrastructure projects not involving the turnpike.

The commission borrows money to make those payments and debt payments account for nearly two-thirds of the agency’s annual $900 million budget.

A 2016 lobbying effort by the Turnpike Commission to prod the state legislature into finding another source for transit revenue was spurned due to a state budget shortfall.

In the meantime, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has said he will conduct performance audit of the Turnpike Commission.

DePasquale said the turnpike can’t continue to increase fares without eventually pushing motorists to other roads without tolls.

“What we want to analyze is their belief from their consultants that despite the increase in tolls, they’ll have increased traffic,” DePasquale said. “I am not convinced this is going to happen.”

He said his audit will also review whether the turnpike’s annual payment to PennDOT can be reduced.

The audit will determine how much debt the Turnpike Commission has and review its process of selecting construction contractors.  “We get feedback on (social media) on contracting across the board, and the turnpike is no exception,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale began a similar audit of PennDOT last May to determine areas in which that agency can reduce its spending.

Related to that, the Turnpike Commission is cracking down on the practice of some motorists evading tolls by driving in E-ZPass lanes without having a working E-ZPass transponder.

The commission has identified more than 10,000 motorists who have racked up more than $17 million in unpaid tolls during the past three years and plans to bring third-degree felony charges against those who owe more than $2,000.

The commission will also ask PennDOT to revoke the vehicle registrations of those with unpaid debts who commit another violation.

An audit released in September 2016 found toll violations were increasing, causing the commission to write off $12 million to $20 million per year.

The rising tolls are also being used to pay for construction on the turnpike. The Turnpike Commission said about 85 percent of its budget is focused on renewing, rebuilding, and expanding it system.

The commission has reconstructed more than 124 miles with another 20 miles currently being rebuilt and widened, and more than 90 miles in planning and design phases.

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

Ohio Turnpike Sets 2017 Construction Work

January 31, 2017

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission has approved a $121.4 million capital budget for 2017 that includes construction projects in Northeast Ohio.

Ohio turnpikeThe budget calls for pavement replacement and resurfacing, bridge rehabilitation and an investment of $714,000 in technology to prepare for a time when vehicles will be able to communicate with each other and the roadway.

Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole said despite the road work there should be less congestion because there will be 25 percent fewer lane miles under construction.

“We heard loud and clear from our customers last summer. They want fewer orange barrels so we are carefully balancing customer preference with the pace of our program for improvements,”  Cole said in a statement.

To prepare for self-driving vehicles, the turnpike plans to deploy Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) (connected vehicle) technology.

This year it will be installed in the Boston and Amherst maintenance sections between mileposts 126.4 in Erie County (Berlin Township) and 187.5 in Portage County (Streetsboro).

Forty turnpike maintenance vehicles will be equipped with on-board units that will gather and supply data to managers monitoring the fleet’s activity.

Pavement replacement plans for 2017 include a 5-mile long section in the eastbound lanes in Sandusky County from milepost 90 to 95.9 (between Sandusky and Riley Townships).

Also slated to be replaced are 5-mile long sections in Erie County in the westbound lanes from milepost 107.3 to 112.45 (between Groton and Oxford Townships) and in Portage County from milepost 186.35 to 191.39 (between Streetsboro and Shalersville Township).

The pavement replacement budget for 2017 is $45.5 million.

Four 2017 resurfacing projects will cost $21.6 million. These projects will include resurfacing the pavement of the right and center lanes from milepost 69.3 to 74.15 (between Lake and Troy Townships) in Wood and Ottawa Counties and resurfacing all three lanes and both shoulders from milepost 136.1 to 144.1 in Lorain County (between Brownhelm and Elyria).

In Cuyahoga County, the left lane and left shoulder will be resurfaced from milepost 160.1 to 169.1 (between Strongsville and Broadview Heights) with construction taking place from August until October of 2017.

In addition, in Cuyahoga and Summit Counties, the interchange at Exit 173 (Akron/Cleveland) will undergo pavement reconstruction, repairs and resurfacing of select ramps from May through October.

The turnpike plans to spend  $16.6 billion in bridge repairs and rehabilitations.

The work includes deck replacements, miscellaneous bridge rehabilitations, and substructure repair at various sites, including five deck replacements and bridge removal at mileposts 122.3, 128.5, 132.4 138, 138.2 (bridge removal) and 145.8 in Erie and Lorain Counties.

In Cuyahoga County, the Ohio Route 252 bridge over the turnpike at milepost 156.9 (Olmsted Falls) will undergo a bridge deck replacement and rehabilitation.

In Summit and Portage Counties, bridge bearings, joints and decks will be replaced on overhead bridges at mileposts 178, 179.5 and 199.2.

In Mahoning County, six mainline bridges and one ramp bridge from milepost 222.8 to 232.9 will undergo bearing and deck joint replacements and two bridge deck replacements are planned at milepost 240.8 east and westbound.

Bort Road Bridge Might be Razed

August 30, 2016

CSX and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation may close and remove the single-lane bridge carrying Bort Road over its tracks near North East, Pennsylvania.

A public hearing will be held todPennDotay (Aug. 30) at the North East Township Building by PennDOT and its consultants to review alternative transportation options connected with razing the bridge and not replacing it.

The meeting, which begins at 6 p.m., will feature a presentation followed by a question and answer session.

A report on TrainOrders.com, indicated that some North East area residents are seeking to save the bridge and have posted flyers on it seeking to get people to attend the hearing.

The flyers are accompanied by a color photograph of an eastbound CSX stack train passing beneath the bridge that was made by Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders and posted on the ARRC blog.

Bort Road crosses over the double-track CSX Erie West Subdivision at that location, but crosses the single-track Norfolk Southern Lake Erie District at grade.

Presumably, the NS crossing would be closed if the bridge is removed and not replaced.

Turnpike to Inspect Bridge with Drone

August 17, 2016

The Ohio Turnpike will use a drone to inspect a bridge over the Sandusky River in mid-September.

Ohio turnpikeIt will be the first use of a drone to inspect a Turnpike bridge and is being done in part due to the size of the bridge and the difficulty of inspecting it by hand. The bridge measures 970 feet  in length by 102 feet in width.

Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole said he became determined to use a drone for bridge inspection after seeing inspectors dangling from snooper trucks while examining the Turnpike bridge over the Cuyahoga River Valley. A snooper truck has a bucket attached to an arm that extends under a bridge.

“We hope to determine if the use of a drone may reduce the time and expense and increase safety when performing these types of inspections on the turnpike and on the ODOT system,” Cole said.

Results of the drone inspections will be compared with those done by conventional means.

“It’s safer for our motorists. It’s safer for the people doing it. What we want to validate is that the data is as good or better than we would get by human visual inspection,” Cole said.

Cole noted that when snooper trucks are inspecting a bridge some traffic lanes are closed and a work zone is established. Use of a drone will eliminate the need to close lanes and establish a work zone.

Cole also raised the possibility of using drones to inspect accidents, particularly in instances in which traffic backups make it difficult for first responders to reach the scene and when hazardous materials are involved.

Central Interchange Ramp Closings Delayed, Nightly Lane Closures Set to Begin on I-271

August 4, 2016

Akron motorists got a temporary reprieve this week when the Ohio Department of Transportation post-poned closure of some ramps in the central interchange.

ODOT 2Meanwhile, ODOT also began this week a rebuild of Interstate 271 in southern Cuyahoga County that will involve nightly lane closures.

The shutdowns in Akron’s central interchange involved the ramps from Ohio Route 8 southbound to I-76 westbound and from I-77 northbound to I-76 westbound.

In both cases, the ramps were closing due to a bridge removal project that is slated to last four months. ODOT did not say when the ramps will actually close.

The I-271 work is part of a project to replace pavement, add additional traffic lanes and reconstruct bridges.

The work zone extends from the Cuyahoga-Summit County line to Miles Road.

The nightly lane closures are to begin the week of Aug. 8. During that time, the speed limit will drop to 50 mph.

The speed limit will revert to the top speed of 60 mph during daytime hours when all lanes are open and construction workers are not present.

During the four-year project, I-271 will be expanded to three lanes between Miles and Columbus Roads and to five lanes between Columbus Road and the I-480/I-271 split.

Six bridges will be widened, two new bridges will be built and noise walls will be erected along the highway.

The I-271 widening overlaps a similar project underway on the highway in northern Summit County that is expected to be finished this fall.

New Bridges in Ohio to Receive Fences

January 29, 2016

The Ohio Department of Transportation has agreed to install fences on all new bridges constructed over other roads.

The change was prompted in part by lobbying done by the family of a Stark County teacher who was nearly killed after being struck by a rock thrown from an overpass that smashed through the windshield of a car in which she was a passenger traveling on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania.

ODOT 2The woman suffered a shattered skull and has had seven major surgical procedures since the incident occurred.

Four teenagers were later arrested in connection with the attack and are now serving prison time.

The new ODOT rule, which took effect on Jan. 1, applies only to new construction. Fencing will be applied to existing bridges or those already under construction on a case-by-case basis.

ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning said 167 bridges and overpasses will receive fencing over the next five years.

He said that approximately 921 of Ohio’s 3,780 grade-separated bridges over traffic routes already have fences.

Bruning said that exceptions to the rule would include county or township roads, bridges over waterways and some railroad bridges.

Officials say it would be cost prohibitive to install fences on all existing bridges.

Ohio Turnpike Sets $143.5M 2016 Capital Budget

January 23, 2016

The Ohio Turnpike plans to spend $143.5 million this year for capital improvements, which officials said is the largest capital budget in 15 years.

The program will include base pavement replacement, bridge rehabilitation and repairs, and resurfacing of the 241-mile toll road.

In 2015, the Turnpike spent $125 million on capital improvements and this year’s budget is 20 percent larger than that.

Most of the funding for capital improvements comes from toll and concession revenues with another $15.3 million coming from bonds that were sold in 2013.

Among the projects slated for this year is replacing pavement in five-mile stretches in Lorain County from milepost 144.1 to 149.24 and in the eastbound lanes in Trumbull County from milepost 216.1 to 221. The opposite lanes in these sections were repaved in 2015.

In Erie County, five-mile long sections will also be replaced in the eastbound lanes from milepost 107.3 to 112.45 and in Portage County from milepost 186.35 to 191.39.

The new pavement replacements will cost $76 million while the resurfacing will cost $18.8 million.

Pavement set to be resurfaced includes between milepost 38.9 to 43.3 in Fulton County and between milepost 55.45 and 69.3 in Lucas and Wood counties.

Service plaza parking lots and the ramps at Exit 91-Fremont/Port Clinton are also scheduled for resurfacing.

The bridge repair and rehabilitation budget is $15.7 million and will include deck replacements, bridge rehabilitation, and substructure repair at various sites, including 10 deck replacements at milepost 21.4 in Williams County, at mileposts 23.9, 24.4, 27.3, 41.9, 42.4 and 42.9 in Fulton County, at milepost 150.5 in Lorain County and at mileposts 197.8 and 198.5 in Portage County.

Eleven bridges will be repaired and rehabilitated from milepost 197.8 to 236.7 in Portage, Trumbull and Mahoning Counties.