The Idea List

The recently published “pipeline” of 22 public-private partnership proposals does not represent a formal McDonnell administration transportation agenda. Think of it more as an inventory of ideas worth checking out.

Traffic management center in Northern Va.

by James A. Bacon

Of all the 22 public-private partnership ideas listed in a recently issued McDonnell administration document, the one that gets Tony Kinn the most stoked is a proposal to consolidate Virginia’s five regional traffic operations centers. His aspiration, says Kinn, director of the Office for Transportation Public Private Partnerships (OTP3), is to create the best traffic management system in the United States, if not the world.

Traffic operations centers do the mundane work of tracking and clearing traffic accidents, dispatching aid to stranded motorists and updating signs regarding traffic conditions. According to the Daily Press, the Hampton Roads facility in Hampton Roads, with a network of 276 closed-circuit cameras, handled more than 70,000 incidents last year and assisted 40,000 roadside motorists. And that’s just one of five around the state. The centers are run by contractors operating under four different contracts using different software platforms. The state has received 32 proposals from companies responding to a solicitation to merge them.

One advantage of a unified system, says Kinn, is that if one center goes down, others could take up the slack. Then there are the improvements that no one has thought of yet. Kinn is looking for innovation. A private-sector operator might test a new concept in one center and, if successful, roll it out to the others. Other states have dabbled with privatizing their centers, he says, but Virginia wants to take traffic operations to the next level.

Consolidation of Virginia’s traffic operations centers is one of eight ideas that have reached “candidate” status in the McDonnell administration’s P3 prospect list. The pipeline of possible projects also includes 14 projects in the “conceptual” stage. If a conceptual project survives the first cut, it goes through a more rigorous analysis as a “candidate.” Says Kinn: “All of these projects go through a high-level screening process to make sure the feasibility is there. “Does it fit the needs of the commonwealth? Can we afford it? Does it provide benefits?”

Smart Growth groups have sounded the alarm over several projects in the list, particularly a proposed North-South Corridor in Northern Virginia, as well as projects well past the “candidate” stage, such as the U.S. 460 Connector, a project estimated at $1.5 billion to $2 billion that would link Suffolk and Petersburg with an Interstate-grade highway. The McDonnell administration has “hijacked good transportation planning and prioritization in Virginia,” Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, has said. The P3 projects are approved outside the normal process for distributing road and highway construction dollars, which gives the administration unprecedented leeway to push its own pet projects.

Kinn responds that the list was devised after extensive consultation with Metropolitan Planning Organizations and local government officials around the state, and that “candidate” projects will be elevated to actively pursued projects only after extensive local consultation. “We’re going to go to the people, and the people will have to come to us, and we’ll have to work together.”

In a Friday interview, Kinn fleshed out the thinking behind some of the projects in the pipeline.

Interstate 95 Corridor improvements. The McDonnell administration has obtained authority from the Federal Highway Administration to place tolls on I-95 south of Fredericksburg for the purpose of raising funds to make improvements to the interstate corridor. The idea here is to examine the potential for leveraging the revenue flow by means of a P3. The administration is not presupposing that a public-private partnership is a good idea, Kinn says. It is simply examining the option. “What else can we bring to the corridor?”

Interstate 64 HOV lane conversions. I-64 in Hampton Roads has under-utilized HOV lanes. Does it make sense to convert them to HOT lanes like those under construction on the Capital Beltway, in which cars are charged a toll for using a congestion-free lane but car poolers still get to use it for free? The pertinent questions, says Kinn: “Is it feasible? Can we afford it?”

Port of Richmond. APM Terminals has submitted an unsolicited bid to take over management of the Port of Virginia terminals in a deal potentially worth $3 billion to $4 billion in payments to the Commonwealth over 48 years. Says Kinn: “The Panama Canal is going to create a huge influx of business. We are sitting on the threshold of an opportunity for major business growth. … APM has submitted a proposal — we want other proposals to come in.”

Hampton Roads crossings improvements. A “third crossing” between Norfolk and the Peninsula has been a top priority of Hampton Roads planners for many years. The McDonnell administration wants to see if these projects are feasible using a P3 model.

NoVa North-South Corridor. The idea of building a north-south corridor linking Interstate 66 and Route 7 in Northern Virginia is “in the very preliminary stage,” says Kinn. The administration wants to see if P3s can be used to “do that in a profitable and efficient way.” Continue reading.

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0 responses to “The Idea List

  1. Smart Growth groups have sounded the alarm ……

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    They always sound the alarm, that is all they do.

    News would be if there ever occured a project that smart growth concurred with and did NOT sound the alarm over.

    They would be a lot more credible if they found some projects thwy could PROMOTE and get behind, using the good features of those projects as teaching points for the others.

    But since every project is bad, the alarm is just background noise, Smart growth raising the alarm is like a carbon monoxide detector with a snooze button.

  2. PPP and toll financing have changed the game. There are some issues such as the loss of the conventional NEPA process but I have to say that the loss of the slush fund approach finds no tears shed from me.

    It was not only a bad way for VDOT/CTB/localities to determine “need” but it basically promoted an environment with those that oppose could and did exploit NIMBY sentiment – when it suited their purposes. In the end, we often did not have a real discussion about what SHOULD be done much less actually get better projects. It basically was a series of sumo wrestler contests between “my way or the highway” VDOT and ” we can stop you” Enviros… and the public was viewed with contempt by both VDOT and the enviros who often would foment opposition for the wrong reasons.

    I will admit this approach weakens the public’s influence including the enviros under the enviros current practices but they have to change and adapt to the different world here.

    It’s possible that the enviros _could_ exploit the public’s hostile attitudes towards tolls…but I hope they focus instead on at least acknowledging that tolls are a better proxy for need that VDOT’s prior conventional approaches.

    For instance, if you put a Cordon toll around Tysons (which would be practical given the fact that just about anyone using the beltway would have a transponder), how would that affect the “need” for more transpo infrastructure – and how it would be paid for.

    The enviros seemingly have little or nothing to say about that and other relevant aspects of a tolling vs tax paradigm.

    So.. the enviros need to change with the times. They can’t keep the game they had. Evolve and change ….

    one more thing. People in NoVa seem resigned to tolls..opposition is thin and half-hearted so far… but down Hampton Way… where they are not near as far along with tolls and HOT Lanes….on the street….there is a lot of anger and talk of some kind of “insurrection”… I don’t think tolls are going to go down as quietly in Hampton as NoVa.

  3. the other observation here is that the State used to more or less delegate to VDOT/CTB …decisions about transportation projects (with some influence) but this approach seems to push these decisions into other parts of Gov including the gov AND State finances…. these toll-financed roads do put the state on the hook for the bonds and if toll projections do not meet expectations… the state will get drawn into the aftermath if there are shortfalls.

    I don’t know how much of this is well thought out , totally under control verses “seat of the pants”… (probably a little of both)… and it surely looks to be tied to personalities like Connaughton and McDonnell and that concerns me if it is not institutionalized because if they go away and it’s not, and the player change to folks who don’t know what they are doing, we’re going to have a disaster.

    I guess that’s what concerns me the most. This new approach is not without some significant risks and competence especially in finance is paramount.

  4. I posted to this item yesterday about the North-South corridor. But the post is gone. What happened?

  5. yeah.. I wondered about that also. I wondered about the rationale for connecting I-66 and Route 7… but also about how such a road would actually
    be viable as a toll road…..

  6. The North-South corridor is opposed by affected local governments. They don’t believe there is sufficient need for this road, given other priorities. The advent of Dulles Rail and its resulting re-zonings will increase traffic to, from, and around the high-density areas. The 527 TIA for Tysons demonstrates this. Thus, there is a need for major road and non-rail transit improvements to handle the added traffic demands. These needs should be funded before the North-South corridor.

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