Remainder of Federal Pot Goes to Toll Plans

376943191_b4c7205f34.jpg
Florida officials say HOT lanes are the answer to SoFla
I-95 congestion

Before she went on television to turn the Minnesota bridge tragedy into a partisan talking point, US Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters was perhaps best known — or was, at least, recognized more fondly — in these parts as the official who heaped $354M worth of praise upon Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan.

New York was one of five cities selected to share in the $1.1 billion federal Urban Partners Program, which requires beneficiaries to implement some form of congestion mitigation. NYC got the largest piece of the UP pie, and submitted the most ambitious plan by far. Here are the other cities, how much they were awarded, and how they plan to earn it.

Miami, $62.9 million: The Florida Department of Transportation will accelerate its plan to revamp 21 miles of I-95 between Ft. Lauderdale and downtown Miami, converting two lanes in each direction into fluctuating High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes while leaving at least four north and four south lanes free for motorists. Tolls will be assessed using existing SunPass transponders. The project also includes improvements in bus service between Broward and Miami-Dade counties, eliminating a transfer along one of the busiest routes and putting buses in the HOT lanes, which are expected to move at no less than 50 MPH. Says the Miami Herald: "Planners are hoping that the free-flowing express lanes will also create a real incentive for Miami-Dade and Broward commuters to give up their cars for express buses."

Minneapolis, $133 million: With a focus on I-35, site of the August 1 bridge collapse, the Minneapolis area will also use its federal grant money on a combination of HOT lanes and bus service. According to the Star Tribune, HOT lanes, including one intermittently accessible shoulder lane with a variable toll, will extend south of Minneapolis to Burnsville; downtown bus lanes will be expanded; bus rapid transit with reduced rush hour fares will be instituted; and two downtown thoroughfares, Marquette and 2nd Avenues, will be rebuilt with widened sidewalks, improved bus stops and new bus lanes.

San Francisco, $158 million: Doyle Drive, which connects San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge, is the centerpiece of the Bay Area’s congestion mitigation plan — for better or worse. Transportation officials say the 70-year-old roadway is dangerously prone to earthquake damage, and part of the UP grant will go toward filling a gap in its reconstruction budget. Doyle Drive is also set to be outfitted with an electronic toll system, though there is disagreement over when, or if, that will happen. The executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, Jose Luis Moscovich, says the federal deadline to toll Doyle Drive is just nine months away; but Mayor Gavin Newsom, a skeptic of congestion pricing, tells the Examiner that tolling Doyle Drive is "not yet a done deal." The remainder of the grant proceeds are to be used for the SFgo traffic management system; expansion of the 511 transportation info service; parking for Golden Gate ferry users; and improved parking payment and transportation pass technology.

Seattle, $138.7 million: Like San Francisco and New York, Seattle faces political hurdles before it can secure UP funding. All but $1.1 million of the Seattle grant will be forfeited unless Washington state legislators approve a plan to put fluctuating tolls on the Evergreen Point Bridge on state Route 520 by September 2009, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Assuming the tolls are instituted in time, Seattle’s cut of the UP allocation is to be spent on 45 new buses, improvements to park-and-ride lots, and ferry service. Toll proceeds would be designated to building a new span to replace the aging Evergreen Point Bridge, a ~$4 billion project. The new six-lane bridge is expected to include bike and transit lanes.

An interesting footnote: I could find nothing in the USDOT Urban Partnership Program docs mandating that recipients’ toll revenues be re-invested in transit, and with the exception of New York and Seattle (sort of), I saw nothing to indicate that any UP city has plans to do so. If anyone knows better, please chime in.

Photo: phil h/Flickr

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    There is a lot of useful information in this piece but it will require a little disection before we should go applauding these numbers. On the face of it we got the largest gross amount but since none of these burgs contains remotely as many people as we have in the MTA counties our per capita distribution could easily be viewed as asstoundingly small. For the time being I’ll wait to see if Larry Littlefield will pile on these numbers to put this in some sort of perspective. There are ways to look at this that actually make us look screwed once again by the “donor” states.

  • Brad,

    I’m not much of a supporter of the HOT lanes in South Florida. First of all, it bothers me when people (mostly South Floridians) call this “congestion pricing”, because it’s definitely not. It’s variable pricing, which is totally different from Bloomberg’s plan or London’s system. It’s basically just another road-based policy for reducing expressway congestion, which unfortunately is the primary goal of planners in SoFla (opposed to making the region more livable/sustainable).

    There’s actually a funny video used in the Herald recently that touts the success of HOT lanes in California. However, if you watch the video closely, you’ll see that next to the free-flowing HOT lane traffic, there are still four-to-five lanes of regular traffic that is hardly moving at all. Plus, hybrid vehicles get a free ride in the HOT lanes, which sends the message that it’s fine to drive all you want in South Florida as long as have a hybrid.

    As you mentioned above, you didn’t see any requirement for Miami/Ft. Lauderdale to invest the toll money into transit. Well, that’s because there isn’t one. Nope, it will all be reinvested into road projects and services, at least for the foreseeable future.

    Basically the only potential benefit that could come from this is improved express bus service in the HOT lanes between Ft Lauderdale and Miami. However, there’s a problem, here. People still need to get to the express bus stops, and I’ll tell you, it is extremely hostile to pedestrians/cyclists up and down the entire I-95 corridor. They’ll probably offer free parking at the park n’ ride stations, and everyone is going to drive to the express bus lots. This practically ensures congestion will remain bad on I-95 in the “free lanes”, and remain bad in neighborhoods that are absorbing park n’ ride traffic.

    Even the supporters of the HOT lanes claim it’s good for “guaranteeing high-speed travel on a particular day when people have to be on time”. That sounds like mediocrity to me.

  • Brad,

    I’m not much of a supporter of the HOT lanes in South Florida. First of all, I wouldn’t call this “congestion pricing”. It’d call it variable pricing, which is totally different from Bloomberg’s plan or London’s system. It’s basically just another road-based policy for reducing expressway congestion, which unfortunately is usually the primary goal of planners in SoFla (opposed to making the region more livable/sustainable).

    There’s actually a funny video used in the Herald recently that touts the success of HOT lanes in California. However, if you watch the video closely, you’ll see that next to the free-flowing HOT lane traffic, there are still four-to-five lanes of regular traffic that is hardly moving at all. Plus, hybrid vehicles get a free ride in the HOT lanes, which sends the message that it’s fine to drive all you want in South Florida as long as have a hybrid.

    As you mentioned above, you didn’t see any requirement for Miami/Ft. Lauderdale to invest the toll money into transit. Well, that’s because there isn’t one. Nope, it will all be reinvested into road projects and services, at least for the foreseeable future.

    Basically the only potential benefit that could come from this is improved express bus service in the HOT lanes between Ft Lauderdale and Miami. However, there’s a problem, here. People still need to get to the express bus stops, and I’ll tell you, it is extremely hostile to pedestrians/cyclists up and down the entire I-95 corridor. They’ll probably offer free parking at the park n’ ride stations, and everyone is going to drive to the express bus lots. This practically ensures congestion will remain bad on I-95 in the “free lanes”, and remain bad in neighborhoods that are absorbing park n’ ride traffic.

    Even the supporters of the HOT lanes claim it’s good for “guaranteeing high-speed travel on a particular day when people have to be on time”. That sounds like mediocrity to me.

  • Oops sorry I clicked the submit button twice when it didn’t load the first time.

  • jmc

    I am sure if you take a look at how many trips will be effected and how much additional transit capacity will be created the money given to New York will be ~10x more effective.

    I can understand the political reasoning behind the grant to Minneapolis, however the South Florida and SF proposals seem like pork to me.

  • mfs

    HOT lanes are the latest false “no-pain” solution to fixing the problems of sprawl.

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