Saturday, September 6, 2008

Can we get 80% federal funding for HOT lanes?

The Federal Highway Administration provides 80% of the funds for all highways designed as a part of the NHS, the National Highway System. The feds paid 80% of the H-1, H-2 and H-3 freeways. I am 99% sure that the feds also paid 80% of the Kalanianaole widening from 4 to 6 lanes from Aina Haina to Hawaii Kai. The Pali and Likelike highways are also part of the NHS.

The new reversible HOT lanes can indeed be part of the NHS and play a significant role as an emergency backbone in a disaster. They can receive the standard 80% FHWA funding, if approved by the FHWA. Both the transit and highways branches approve projects on a competitive basis and there are more projects than funds, but with a rolling horizon of 10 to 20 years, most projects get funding.

Why did Tampa do its reversible express lanes (REL) alone with state and county funds? Because this enabled them to finish the project in under 7 years from concept to open-for-traffic. It would have taken over 11 years if the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority that developed the REL had decided to seek federal funding. The federal oversight and bureaucracy adds several years to project delivery, for both road and transit projects.

In July 2008, US DOT secretary Peters released 15 billion dollars in guarantees for private financiers to develop public-private partnerships (PPP) for the explicit purpose of building HOT lanes to decongest the main cities of the nation. The first project to successfully apply and receive funding from this extra source was the Capital Beltway in Washington DC, where the Virginia DOT is building 14 miles of HOT lanes, 2 lanes per direction.