Tuesday, July 28, 2009

U.S. DOT Guidance for Road Pricing to Benefit Highway and Transit Users

This is hot off the press from the federal Department of Transportation:
Economics: Pricing, Demand, and Economic Efficiency

The 24 page report can be found here: http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop08041/fhwahop08041.pdf

In their words:
The application of tolling and road pricing provides the opportunity to solve transportation problems without Federal or state funding. It could mean that further gas tax, sales tax, or motor vehicle registration fee increases are not necessary now or in the future. Congestion pricing is not a complete plan of action. It has to be coordinated with other policy measures to maximize success.

This volume describes the underlying economic rationale for congestion pricing and how it can be used to promote economic efficiency. It lays out the basic theory of travel demand and traffic flow and shows how inefficient pricing of the road network helps create an economic loss to society, as well as the means by which this can be alleviated through pricing. The impact of congestion pricing on highway infrastructure investment and the revenue implications of congestion pricing will be discussed in a separate volume in this primer series.

Justification as to why road pricing should not be a strange concept since it's already applied in many other areas:

By charging higher rates during high demand periods, proprietors are able to better allocate demand to optimize the utilization of the available capacity.

Examples of such common practices include higher rates for lodging and other amenities in tourist areas during the “high season,” discounts for afternoon showings at movie theaters, and evening and weekend discounts for telephone use. More recently, other industries have moved in this direction, including professional sports teams (which have begun charging more for tickets to more desirable games, reflecting long-standing practices in the aftermarket for tickets) and electric utilities (in which advanced electronic meters now allow usage at different times of day to be recorded).

What are HOT Lanes and why are they "win-win"?

HOT lanes are a special case of tolled express lanes, in which high-occupancy vehicles (HOV; including carpools, vanpools, and transit vehicles) are allowed to use the special lanes for free, whereas low-occupancy vehicles are required to pay a toll to use the lanes.

Because most toll-paying users of the HOT lanes are likely to shift from the other lanes, congestion on these lanes will be reduced and travel times will be improved, whereas existing HOV users will see no reduction in the quality of the service they receive. The result is a pure gain to highway users.

It is important to note that the value of time savings reflects to the total value of all passengers in a vehicle, not just the driver. Thus, some of the highest value trips are likely to be those in buses or other transit vehicles.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Jacobs Report for Honolulu’s Proposed Rail

Here are three views for the Jacobs Spot Report of partial risk analysis conducted for Honolulu's proposed rail project as an advisory piece for the Federal Transit Administration.

Hannemann said "There will still be some give and take on the numbers. It may shift here and there, but the big picture is there's no way this project is way over budget. No way."

Okino said "This thing confirms that we're on a firm financial basis for this project. It verifies everything that we've been saying.

The Jacobs report says … given your willingness to buy your little city a five billion dollar 20-mile train with, and I quote the report, “automated short heavy rail vehicles,” then the past paperwork is in good shape and you can proceed to the next stage in the paperwork.

The Jacobs report was prepared for the FTA as a risk analysis supplement. An explicit approval by the FTA is not necessary. The FTA uses this risk analysis to avoid exorbitant cost and schedule overruns. Despite such risk analyses done for other projects, about one third of urban rail projects in the U.S. do have exorbitant cost and/or schedule overruns.

The report does not take a position on whether rail for Honolulu is good or bad.

The report does not take a position on whether the route and its length are good or bad.

The report does not take a position on whether steel on steel technology is good on bad.

The report says that given all of these choices made by the locals, Jacobs reviewed the paperwork vis-à-vis FTA requirements and rules and what has been prepared so far for Honolulu’s proposed rail allows the project to enter preliminary engineering (PE) so that, and I quote from the conclusion, “estimates undergo significant refinement once the project advances into the PE stage”.

The report does include dozens of alarming sentences such as:

Jacobs cannot provide a detailed opinion on the constructability of the project since the plans are at a conceptual level of detail.

The City did not include enough detail for utility related activities such as utility agreements, utility coordination and planning, underground utility exploration, relocations, abandonment and installation.

At the present stage of pre-Preliminary Engineering, one can be 90% confident that the proposed project will cost between 5.2 and 10.2 billion dollars (Figure 1-1, page 1-10 of Jacobs report.) Once PE is done and the project enters Final Design, then its price tag is expected to narrow: The project will have a 90% chance of being built for a budget ranging between 4.8 and 8.1 billion dollars. For those who understand risk analysis, this means that there is a 5% probability that the project will cost more than 8.1 billion dollars, and an equal probability that it will cost less than 4.8 billion dollars.

If the rail project entered Preliminary Engineering in summer 2009 and PE takes well over six months, followed by well over six months for Final Design which is necessary for construction, how can construction possibly start in December 2009 as Hannemann says?

For popular consumption this question is not answered based on reality. Rail will be proclaimed to “start” as necessary to provide a major photo op for Hannemann who immediately afterward will leave the ”bag” for someone else to hold. I hope that someone will be there to take the bag to the conveniently located Waimanalo Gulch landfill nearby!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

2008 to 2013 Costs of Proposed Rail

The Fiscal Year 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Plan or TIP includes detailed costs for the Honolulu High Capacity Transit Corridor Project, which is the full description for Mayor Hanneman’s proposed rail project. The TIP tables also include FY 2012 and FY 2013 information.

The tables show costs for planning, design, right-of-way, construction, equipment, etc. The costs add up to $4,420,859,000 for FY 2008 to 2013 only. The charts do not show how far the project will go after spending the shown funds. The City could start one mile east of Kapolei, spend 4.4 billion dollars, and still not make it to Ala Moana Center.

Of course the amount of money by itself is staggering given Oahu’s 400,000 taxpayers. Two other things are particularly startling: (a) the excessive amounts for planning and design, and (b) the tiny federal contribution.

Excessive Planning and Design Cost

Planning and design costs are shown for FY 2008, 2009 and 2010. They add up to $320.3 million of which the Federal contribution is only 12%; all the rest all local taxes. This does not include all planning and promotion monies spent between 2004 and 2007 when Mayor Hannemann made this project from nothing to priority one. It would be safe to say that planning, promotion and design will cost at least $350 million.

To put this in perspective, I provide costs for two recent large roadway projects for comparison:

1) Tampa’s 10 miles of 3-lane reversible elevated express lanes were completed in summer 2006 at a total cost of $320 million including planning and design.
2) California State Highway 210, a 6-lane freeway facility with a length of 7.25 miles with several interchanges was delivered in summer 2007 at a total cost of $233 million.

This is a startling comparison: These two freeway projects cost roughly $30 million per mile designed, constructed and delivered to their communities for use, and Oahu’s rail project is costing $17 million per mile for the paperwork alone.

Tiny Federal Contribution

As mentioned above, the Feds provide 12% of the planning and design costs. How about the construction costs? Mayor Hannemann talks about one billion dollars. Yet the TIP includes only $600 million for the first $4.4 billion of the project. Of course $0.6 million is much less than the “proclaimed” $1.0 billion. This results in a tiny share of 13.5% by the Federal Transit Administration.

If there are more federal monies to come, then this means that the project will cost well over five billion dollars for the first 20 miles.

Cannot Afford It

It’s worth remembering that in his 2004 campaign, Hannemann’s moto was that for a project to get the green light it must pass muster: Do We Need It? Can We Afford It? Can We Maintain It?

Honolulu has a traffic congestion problem. Rail is not a solution to traffic congestion. Thus we do not need it.

The above numbers clearly indicate that the costs for rail are enormous and out of proportion to Oahu's tax base. Thus we cannot afford it.

But if we are crazy enough to build it, then can we maintain it? But of course: Like the sewers, water mains, roads and city parks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bicycling at Night? Make Your Own Lane!

Friday Bonus: Not a completed product but not a Photoshop creation either. To be effective, the biker must be a steady one. More info here: http://www.altitudeinc.com/downloads/021609_bikelane_Boston.pdf

BRT and Undergrounding for Speedy, Upgraded and Prettier Honolulu

Several people sent me the same article from the NY Times today. The article is extolling the virtues of Bus Rapid Transit. Here is a sample send from a friend.

Buses May Aid Climate Battle in Poor Cities, Elizabeth Rosenthal, NYTimes, 7.09.09 [ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/world/americas/10degrees.html?_r=1&em ]

Bogota removed 7000 small private buses to reduce bus fuel by more than 59 percent. Government owned TransMilenio opened first line in 2001 and now averages 1.6 million trips daily. Versions of BRT concept to be copied by Mexico City, Cape Town, Jakarta and Ahmedabad. TransMilenio BRT system is the only large transportation project approved by UN to generate and sell carbon credits of $100- to $300-million.

Another friend sent me this commentary:

"This seems like a sensible, low cost solution. I find it odd that we lack the political will to commandeer two lanes of Kam Hwy, Farrington, Kalanianaole, Nimitz, Vineyard, Kapiolani, King, Beretania, Kalakaua, and other major arteries.

But that Hizzoner is more than willing to tax us into the dark ages to pay for a heavy rail system that: is not affordable, does not decrease traffic congestion, will ruin Oahu's sight lines, create horrible noise and other impacts, etc.

This is not to mention the no/low-cost mitigation that should be implemented right now such as: shifting operating hours of UH to off peak (10am-8pm), better traffic signal coordination, intelligent flow design, afternoon zipper lane heading west, etc.

But do we do these things? Of course not! Because that would alleviate traffic and the false sense of urgency for the heavy rail system that no one wants. Why look at alternatives like at grade light rail or BRT when the Mayor wants a multi-billion dollar legacy project."

To which I replied with this:

The King-Beretania BRT is really a no brainer and can be installed in less than two years for a speedy connection of UH, Manoa and Moiliili with downtown Honolulu and Chinatown. This link dates back to 2002: http://www.eng.hawaii.edu/~panos/pdp_brt.pdf

Taking two traffic lanes away from other streets would be more problematic... and let's not forget transit stations. It is hard to develop ADA stations on surface given Honolulu's density and property values.

I'd prefer double decking the corridor you describe but underground. Not with tunnels but with cut and cover trenches. This plan can provide speedy mass transit and solve Honolulu's rotting utility problem in one shot. The lower deck will be for light rail or electric buses, water, sewer, gas and electric in neatly arranged and accessible lengthwise compartments.

Then a 100 year slab on top will be used for the surface road and
provides the opportunity to develop a modern arterial street with smart sensors and traffic signals. An added bonus is that all overhead wires can be neatly undergrounded. This is not only a permanent improvement in aesthetics but improves infrastructure resilience in case of a hurricane or major storm along the corridor.

In this way, we can bring a whole corridor of Honolulu to 21st century standard in one shot. I believe that this is a worthwhile expenditure of $10 to 15 billion over 20 years, instead of spending the same amount for piecemeal, ineffective, less durable and ugly components.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

2nd International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations

The 2nd ISFO brought together freeway and tollway operators, practitioners and researchers specializing in freeway operations, highway toll operations and corridor management to:
  • Capture the state of the practice in freeway and tollway operations including current programs and planned initiatives for active traffic management.
  • Assess costs and benefits of active traffic management.
  • Discuss Intelligent Transportation Systems, managed lanes, and active traffic management.
  • Explore the potential benefits of using managed lanes, tolling, pricing, and other strategies to improve traffic operations on congested freeways.
  • Present methods and challenges for infrastructure financing and development.
The symposium included a graduate student competition, the results of which can be found here: http://2isfo.eng.hawaii.edu/student.html

Nearly 250 participants had the opportunity to attend 150 presentations in 35 sessions. A number of articles are being prepared to summarize the state-of-the-art in traffic management and lessors learned from the 2nd ISFO. Meanwhile, the links below presents some of the flavors from the intense three days on June 2009:

Freeway Symposium Comes to Honolulu

Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona Opens 2nd ISFO

Hawaii Highway Users Alliance Luncheon during the 2nd ISFO

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Honolulu's Congestion Level Makes Weak Case for Rail

The just published Transportation Statistics Annual Report 2008 indicates that Honolulu's congestion is low among 85 metropolitan areas in the U.S. -- Honolulu is ranked 52nd.

The average delay due to road traffic congestion for travelers in Honolulu is 24 hours per year. This is a large number of wasted hours but it pales in comparison to Los Angeles metropolitan area where the annual loss per traveler is 72 hours. Atlanta, San Francisco and Washington DC tie at 60 hours per year.

These statistics were just released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a unit of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The full report can be found here: http://www.bts.gov/publications/transportation_statistics_annual_report/2008/pdf/entire.pdf

Honolulu's traffic delay peers are Omaha, NE, Sarasota and Pensacola, FL, El Paso, TX, Grand Rapids, MI, and Cape Coral, FL none of which have any form or rail.

Metropolitan areas are classified as very large, large, medium and small. Honolulu is classified as a medium metropolitan area and has 30 peers. Even among its peers, Honolulu ranks lower in delay having 24 hours of annual delay per traveler whereas the average for 30 medium areas was 28 in 2005. See table below.

Very few cities in this group have any form of rail. For example Charlotte has a small new at grade light rail system and its congestion level at 45 hours per year is nearly twice that of Honolulu's. Charlotte's light rail cost was in the order of one billion dollars for a population of over three million people and Honolulu's light rail cost is in the order of five billion dollars for 900,000 (and dropping) population.

These numbers provide a strong indication that on a national priority list for funding "new starts" rail systems, Honolulu's proposal should receive a very low priority for federal funding.

Average Hours of Annual Delay per Traveler
Medium Urban Area 1982 1995 2004 2005
Akron, OH 2 9 11 10
Albany-Schenectady, NY 3 8 16 16
Albuquerque, NM 11 30 30 33
Allentown-Bethlehem, PA-NJ 9 21 22 22
Austin, TX 12 32 44 49
Birmingham, AL 8 21 33 33
Bridgeport-Stamford, CT-NY 9 28 31
Charlotte, NC-SC 12 23 47 45
Dayton, OH 10 22 19 17
El Paso, TX-NM 3 10 22 24
Fresno, CA 12 17 19 20
Grand Rapids, MI 6 19 24 24
Hartford, CT 4 13 19 19
Honolulu, HI 14 26 22 24
Jacksonville, FL 16 40 41 39
Louisville, KY-IN 18 34 44 42
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 6 23 29 30
Nashville-Davidson, TN 20 35 40 40
New Haven, CT 5 13 18 19
Omaha, NE-IA 5 19 26 25
Oxnard-Ventura, CA 4 21 35 39
Raleigh-Durham, NC 8 26 35 35
Richmond, VA 6 22 20 20
Rochester, NY 3 7 10 10
Salt Lake City, UT 8 32 29 27
Sarasota-Bradenton, FL 15 19 26 25
Springfield, MA-CT 7 10 10 11
Toledo, OH-MI 2 12 17 15
Tucson, AZ 24 23 39 42
Tulsa, OK 8 14 19 19
Medium Area Average 9 21 27 28