Orange County Branch Newsletter
General Meeting - Transportation Panel
By: Walt Quesada, PE
ASCE Orange County held its April lunch event at the Center Club in Costa Mesa. We had a panel of transportation experts representing FHWA, Caltrans, and the private sector. The topics presented were related to highway operations and performance measures. Mr. Tay Dam, FHWA’s Area Oversight Engineer, made an overview of the role that FHWA has in project delivery in terms of oversight and delegation of some of its functions to Caltrans. Mr. James Pinheiro, Deputy Director of Operations Maintenance and Permits for Caltrans, presented the role that the Agency has in maintaining the highway system in Orange County running smoothly, maintaining traffic safety and finding ways to maximize available funding to keep the highways in optimum condition. Our third panelist was Mr. Greg Hulsizer, HNTB’s Western Division Toll Market Practice Leader, who spoke about the new trends of using managed lanes techniques to maximize usage of our existing highway facilities, more specifically conversion of HOV lanes into express lanes or toll lanes.
The following are the highlights of each of the presenters’ presentations:
He stated that with the passage of the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU), stewardship evolved to cover all aspects of the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP) including financial integrity, local agency project delivery, and other mainstream program developments. The changes in the law required that FHWA and Caltrans, in California’s case, to manage FAHP requirements through stewardship and oversight to accomplish national, state and local goals of maintaining a national highway network, improving its operation and safety, and providing for national security while protecting and improving the environment. In this case, Stewardship is defined as the efficient and effective management of the public funds that have been entrusted to the FHWA. FHWA’s oversight role is to ensure that the federal highway program is delivered in accordance with applicable laws, regulations and policies. Some of the oversight activities include process review, program evaluation and management activities and project involvement activities. Mr. Tay discussed the differences between Full Oversight versus Delegated Oversight. Caltrans is the only DOT in the nation that FHWA has delegated NEPA authority. Presently the Texas DOT is in the process of applying also for NEPA delegation. Under the delegated approach, Caltrans assumes full legal responsibilities for all NEPA clearances. Furthermore, Caltrans with the approval of FHWA may delegate their approval authority to Local agencies that have been qualified.
FHWA still retains NEPA approvals on certain high profile projects. FHWA retains 100% approval responsibilities on all Major Projects that have construction costs greater than $500M. The purpose of this approach is to stream line the approval process since FHWA staff resources are limited.
Caltrans uses system performance elements for mobility, bridges, mandates and emergencies. In terms of mobility, the highway system is evaluated based on recurrent congestion, incidents, travel time reliability, level of service (LOS), detection health and delays. The performance for bridges is evaluated based on rehabilitation, scour mitigation, rail replacement and upgrades, seismic retrofit and preventive program. Orange County has a bridge health index of 98.3 compared to the State’s 97.1. The performance for mandates and emergencies are based on ADA and PED, hazard waste mitigation, storm water, relinquishments, fire, flood, wind, rain, severe accidents, earthquakes and terrorism. The District is also responsible for multimodal systems park and ride facilities, HOV facilities and managed lanes. The pie chart figure gave the audience an excellent overview on how the expenditures are allocated for operations and maintenance of the highway system in Orange County. Mr. Pinehiro explained that the future in transportation will include technologies that are already in the works such as connected corridors, managed lanes, automated vehicles and sustainable energies. Managed lanes is a technology that is already being implement at various locations throughout the state and the implementation of the other technologies are not too far from now.
The picture on the left shows a $14B capital investment made over the last three years by top US toll facility operators. The map on the right shows all the toll facilities and managed lanes currently operating in California.
Mr. Hulsizer explained that one of the biggest challenges investors on toll facilities face is the education of the general public in terms of understanding the value added by these facilities to their everyday activities. The drivers/performance measures are based on operations, political, customer and financial. Operations are measured by travel speeds, occupancy requirements, pricing, enforcement of violations and maintenance responsibility. The political and stakeholder considerations include determination of ownership of the facility, what to do with excess revenue, social equity and environmental justice, how the facility relates to transit, and what the business rules and operating policies are. The value added to the customer can be measured on time savings, safety, and relationship of cost versus time. The capital investors measure the financial investment based on the financing mechanisms available, revenues versus investment costs, lender requirements, and pricing for throughput versus revenue. Mr. Hulsizer concluded his presentation by saying that toll facilities do not always work out and investors and public agencies need to do their homework to determine if this approach is the best option to solve traffic related needs as well as funding.