Sherman Minton Bridge Repair Price Tag and Other Recent Transportation News

It’s late on a Friday but I wanted to pass along a few headlines and updates on some recent transportation-related stories. There is more this week on that Kentucky-Indiana bridge closing, a couple of authorization notes, some news on public-private partnerships, a new report on traffic congestion, and an item on how a potentially congestion-relieving highway tunnel project could cause some short-term traffic headaches.

Kentucky Follow-Up

Last week I blogged about how events like the recent closing of the Sherman Minton Bridge in Louisville and President Obama’s visit to the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati, have put Kentucky in the national transportation spotlight. Here are some updates:

  • The (Louisville) Courier-Journal reports today that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has announced that the Sherman Minton Bridge will cost an estimated $20 million to repair and reinforce and require the span to remain closed for another six months.
  • An Associated Press article this week said the Minton closure has raised questions about the possible impact on plans to build two new bridges in the same area and reconfigure a major interchange in Louisville.
  • U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood visited the Sherman Minton last week and in writing about the visit in his official blog used the opportunity to promote the President’s American Jobs Act. There is more about LaHood’s visit from the (Jeffersonville, IN) News and Tribune.
  • The Courier-Journal also reported earlier this week on how the Minton shutdown is turning a logistics hub into a bottleneck.
  • LaHood wasn’t the only administration official in Louisville recently. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner visited the UPS global air hub this week to tout the President’s jobs plan, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
  • Kentucky’s junior U.S. Senator Rand Paul joined President Obama last week at the Brent Spence Bridge. Paul has proposed redirecting funds used for walking and biking safety improvements and other so-called "transportation enhancements" and using them to fund bridge repairs. The advocacy coalition Transportation for America said this week the proposal is built on “false promises.”

Reauthorization Notes

  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica is reportedly trying to identify new sources of funding to ensure a new six-year authorization would at least meet today’s annual spending levels. Reuters, the Journal of Commerce, and Streetsblog all have more.
  • Fitch Ratings, the global rating agency, reported this week that if Congress continues to pass extensions to SAFETEA-LU through 2012 without any progress on a longer-term reauthorization, the agency could lower its opinion of the strength of the federal program and downgrade the ratings on grant anticipation revenue vehicle (GARVEE) bonds lacking a state back-up pledge. Business Wire has more on the story.

Public-Private Partnerships

  • Tollroadsnews predicts that the appointment of a new executive director at the Texas Department of Transportation may mean more public-private partnerships (or comprehensive development agreements as they’re known in the Lone Star State). I wrote about CDAs in Texas in a blog post this summer.
  • Tollroadsnews also reports that the government of Puerto Rico and a Goldman Sachs/Abertis joint venture called Metropistas have reached agreement on a P3 project for the PR22 and PR5 toll roads. The roads will be expanded and modernized under the venture. The private firms are paying the territory an upfront fee of $1.1 billion for the right to maintain and operate the roads and keep toll revenues for 40 years. There’s more about Puerto Rico’s P3 program in this Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter article from this summer.

Other News of Note

  • The 2011 Urban Mobility Report is just out from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. The report estimates the cost of congestion is more than $100 billion annually, nearly $750 for every commuter in the United States.
  • A new poll has found that California’s high-speed rail project rates low in voters’ priorities, the Sacramento Bee reports.
  • According to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, 51 percent of registered voters say they would vote to approve a one-penny transportation tax in a region-wide referendum next year. 36 percent said they would oppose it.
  • James Whitty, who heads up the Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding at the Oregon Department of Transportation, argues in favor of moving toward a vehicle miles traveled or mileage-based user fees in this op-ed for Bloomberg.
  • Streetsblog Capitol Hill ponders whether Mitt Romney would build roads or rail if elected President.
  • Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation writes in his Surface Transportation Innovations newsletter this month about three major highway tunnel projects moving forward in this country. I wrote about Seattle’s tunnel project in a recent blog post. The other two tunnels are in Miami and Los Angeles. “Though tunnels are several times more costly than surface routes, sometimes going under is the only feasible way to close gaps in urban expressway systems, given the high political and economic costs of condemning very expensive land,” Poole writes. “State-of-the-art tunnel boring machines are one key to cost-effective tunneling.”

Oh, by the way… in preparation for the construction of the Seattle tunnel, the Washington State Department of Transportation plans to close down the Alaskan Way Viaduct for nine days next month. Some are predicting a massive traffic jam on the order of the “carmageddon” that, um, failed to materialize in Los Angeles this summer when the I-405 was shut down. Seattle’s version of Carmageddon is conveniently set to take place smack dab in the middle of CSG’s National Conference and North American Summit in Bellevue, Washington. But that’s no reason to not register for what promises to be a great meeting. You won’t have anywhere to go anyway since you’ll be listening to the great lineup of speakers we’ve assembled. For those of you who can’t make it to the meeting, I’ll let you know what Carmageddon II looks like.