Cintra-operated LBJ Express opens in DFW

The Cintra-operated LBJ managed toll lane project in DFW is described as 'impossibly confusing' and a 'monster' in some of the articles that follow. We've suspected all along that this 'innovation' in road building is still a taxpayer rip-off and will make most drivers shy away from using the monstrosity. Not that the opening price goes up to 55 cents a mile but later will go up as high as 95 cents a mile to use it in peak hours!
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Link to article here.

First foreign-owned toll road opens in Dallas
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
December 16, 2013

The first foreign-operated toll lanes became fully operational in Dallas over the weekend. Interstate 635 known as the LBJ opened the first 3-mile stretch of the public private partnership toll project to the public on Saturday. The expensive price tag won’t hit commuters immediately, since it opened at a big discount for the first six months as drivers get used to the variable pricing. To use the 3.5-miles of phase one it will cost anywhere from 15 cents up to 95 cents depending on time of day. However, the regular toll rates will cost between 10 cents PER MILE up to 75 PER MILE in peak hours.

During the discounted period, Spain-based Cintra will review driver behavior and trouble spots and make adjustments. You may be asking: why on earth would it take six months for a trial period on a measly 3 miles of highway? Because these toll lanes are plunked into the middle of the freeway and navigating into and out of the lanes will be a tricky proposition.

Congestion tolling or variable pricing involves speed guarantees in the toll lanes. So the toll rates are dynamic and change in real time depending on how many cars are using the toll lanes and how fast those cars are driving. If the privately-operated toll lanes attract too many cars and the speed drops below 50 MPH, then Cintra jacks up the price to purposely knock drivers out of those lanes to guarantee the speed remains at least 50 MPH.

Hence the term ‘managed’ lanes is applied to this new concept. It’s the ultimate form of government control of your freedom to travel, except in this case, that power has been handed to a private corporation to do the government’s dirty work. So when that toll rate gets too high, the private operators get the angry phone calls not your public officials -- by design. It’s a way to outsource the unpleasantries involved with tax increases.

New taxes on driving

And tax increases they are. The toll rate is no longer determined by the actual cost of building the road, but on how much the government and its private partner can extort from the traveling public to escape the pain of congestion. It's runaway taxation run amok. The ‘user fee’ model is no more. Government has figured out how to make money from our public roads, and they’ve changed the laws to do it. Federal and state lawmakers put this freedom-robbing system in place without a public vote and next to no public input (outside very poorly attended public meetings where they never used the term ‘toll’ nor informed the public it would be privately operated).

Navigation nightmare

So imagine drivers having to make a split second decision of whether or not to stay in the toll lanes based on the ever changing toll rates. Imagine what that looks like as drivers jump into and out of the complex toll facility. The free lanes won’t be so rosy either as they remain congested, and drivers will now have the added danger and aggravation of having to negotiate cars hopping on and off the tollway in their lanes, too.

Some parts of the country call these toll lanes in the middle of a freeway HOT lanes, since they’re High Occupancy Toll lanes, meaning high occupancy vehicles (carpools) ride free or single occupancy vehicles can access the lanes for a price. In the case of the LBJ project, carpoolers only receive a discounted toll rate, not a free ride. What a deal for the inconvenience. Not just any carpool qualifies either. Carpoolers have to pre-register with Cintra and keep a TollTag account (which costs you money, too) in order to get that discounted ride.

Considering the grand HOV experiment put in place in the 1980s, drivers already know of the safety hazards of high speed traffic in the HOV lanes interacting with low speed traffic on the main lanes when it comes time to get into and out of those higher speed center lanes. Many qualified carpoolers don’t even use the HOV lanes since they can’t determine where they can enter and exit due to poor signage and information. Single occupancy cars haven’t switched to carpooling in numbers great enough to affect congestion. So what’s the government’s answer to its failed programs? Subsidize it. They’re now selling that ‘excess’ capacity to single occupancy drivers.

Taxpayer subsidies & sweetheart deals

HOT lane projects across the nation have yet to attract enough traffic to pay for the cost of the road expansion. Indeed, the Cintra LBJ contract received half a billion in state gas taxes and $850 million in federal, taxpayer-backed TIFIA loans to subsidize the project. Cintra also received a hefty portion of low interest, tax deductible Private Activity Bonds (PABs). All told, the taxpayers brought over $2 billion to the table for a $2.7 billion privately-built and operated toll project.

On top of that, the foreign company will make taxpayers pay for HOV discounts for HOV+2 vehicles since its contract only requires discounts for HOV+3. The contract also contains a no-competition provision where the private operators receive compensation from taxpayers if competing roads are built or for any events it deems as ‘adverse’ to its guaranteed profits. So the government will be financially punished with punitive penalties if it needs to expand free routes or redirect traffic surrounding Cintra’s tollway. The private contract lasts 52 years.

Cintra also controls the North Tarrant Express toll projects opening in June of 2015 in the Fort Worth area which involves Interstate 820, SH 121, and SH 183. The taxpayers brought $1.5 billion to the table for that $2 billion privately operated toll contract. Another phase will add HOT lanes to Interstate 35W. There are lots more toll projects on tap for the DFW metroplex in the coming decade. Navigating the complex toll schemes between publicly-operated freeways and tollways and privately-operated ones will continue to make driving more difficult and very costly for North Texas drivers.
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Link to article here.

LBJ Express Opens First Segment Overnight Friday, and the TEXpress Lanes Look Like a Doozy
By Eric Nicholson
Thu., Dec. 12 2013
Dallas Observer

It's the moment Dallas drivers have been waiting for. After months of being teased by computer-generated flyovers and the prospect of traveling on corridors that came this close to being Davy Crockett Rocket Lanes, the new LBJ Express debuts on at midnight Saturday.

Not the whole $2.7 billion project, mind you, most of which is still under construction; just the three-mile stretch from Preston Road to Greenville Avenue. It will be both a tangible sign that construction will not last forever and the public's first taste of LBJ's tolled TEXpress Lanes.

Those will run parallel to but separate from LBJ's free lanes. The amount drivers are charged will eventually vary based on congestion, with tolls calibrated to ensure that average speeds don't dip below 50 miles per hour, but they will simply vary by time of day
for the first six months.

No TollTag is needed to use the new lanes, though they do provide a discount. Motorcyclists and carpoolers get half off so long as they register their trips beforehand.

See also: Take an Aerial Trip Down the New LBJ

If you've done any highway driving in North Dallas recently, you've probably noticed the LBJ Express signs going up. They're humongous and unwieldy, resembling airport departure boards more than road signs, and look impossibly confusing. Then again, our forebears probably said the same thing about stop signs.

Seriously, though, the system is quite simple, and drivers should be able to successfully decipher each sign in just 4.5 minutes, if this LBJ Express instructional video is any guide:


Whether this makes anyone's commute appreciably less hellish remains to be seen. Managed lanes haven't really been tried before, so predictions about their effectiveness is completely theoretical. At least they won't make things any worse.
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Link to article here.

Dallas LBJ Express first segment open - using Kapsch Janus MPC readers
December 22, 2013
By Peter Samuel
Toll Road News

The first stretch of the huge and intricate LBJ Express project on I-635 about 10 miles north of downtown Dallas opened for traffic December 12. 

The portion now open extends just under 4 miles west from Greenville Avenue (just east of the US75) through the US75 interchange to Preston Road just short of the interchange with the Dallas North Tollway. 

Work is well advanced on the next 7 miles west through the I-35E interchange to Luna Rd. Also part of the project is 5 miles of toll express lanes on I-35E that plug into the express lanes of the LBJ.

The project is the most complex piece of construction of any managed lanes project opened in the US so far, a label we previously applied to the 495 Express on the Capital Beltway in the Washington DC metro area. 

In its 15 centerline miles it has eleven entry and 14 exit ramps (including ends) It comprises completely separate roadways the first since the Katy I-10 Lanes in the Houston area to be mostly 3 lanes each and is over 80 lane-miles.

It is part of an enormous rebuild of the old LBY freeway from a 2-roadway (2x4 lanes) into an enormous six roadway facility of  a total of 18 and 20 lanes width - comprising 2x3 toll express lanes in the center straddled by 2x4 untolled freeway lanes and frontage roads of two and three lanes each side each providing slip ramps to the freeway and to the toll lanes.



The north-south portion on I-35E by contrast has no frontage roads and the new toll express lanes on the outside of the freeway lanes.

For the green/walkable/transit crowd this is the ultimate nightmare, a highway of vast size and equipped with a score of threatening ramp tentacles.



A stretch of the toll express lanes is depressed in a trench below the general purpose lanes and below cross street bridges and the general purpose lanes are cantilevered over some of the toll lanes to limit the sideways spread of the right of way of this 18 and 20 lanes 'monster.'



Alternatives analysis, planning and permitting  took about six years before 2006 when TXDOT  issued a request for qualifications. In 2009 it procured a developer under a 52 year toll concession.

The developer takes the full traffic and revenue risk, and investors have no recourse against the state.

A financial close on the deal occurred in 2010 with a longterm availability payments contract - with LBJ Development Partners, renamed as LBJ Infrastructure.  It comprises Ferrovial/Cintra along with Meridiam Infrastructure and Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Janus MP readers - shades of national IOP (ADDITION)

Toll collection and enforcement will be done for concessionaire LBJIG by the big regional toller North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA.) The roadside end of the toll system was designed and built and will be maintained by Kapsch which will hand off transponder transactions and license plate image files to NTTA which manages accounts, issues transponders and does customer service.

Interestingly the readers in use are Janus multiprotocol readers that can read SeGo, ATA, E-ZPass TDMA, and 6C rather than the most common to Texas TransCore Encompass series all of which read SeGo and ATA. To avoid possible TransCore litigation they are not reading SeGo, only the ATA on the state's 6B+ style tags. But they have the flexibility to switch to reading E-ZPass TDMA or 6C shaping up as the two leading protocols on the national interoperability list. (ADDITION)


The concessionaire began their civil construction in spring 2011 and are due for ‘substantial completion’  by 2016. Construction cost is put at about $2.7 billion. Traffic had to be maintained through the site with lane closures limited to off-peak times.



Traffic and revenue


A Wilbur (now CDM) Smith forecast done for TXDOT in August 2005 suggested 12% of traffic would use the toll lanes during the peak hours. It suggested toll rates in the first year of full operations would range between 5c and 55c/mile. Average daily toll transactions would be 39,000 if all paid and 41,000 under HOV3+ free. Instead they now have HOV2s 50% off in peak hours probably similar to HOV3s free. 

Toll revenue for the first full year was put at $15.1m rising to $30.4m after five years and $41.1m by 2020, $51.6m in 2025. 

There must have been traffic and revenue forecasts done for the 2010 financing but we don’t have those at this time. Almost certainly those projected lower traffic and revenue than the 2005 forecasts.

Tolls

Plans are to set tolls dynamically according to traffic density but for about the first six months they have set tolls according to a 7 days/week half-hourly one-directional table that may be revised each Sunday. For a tollable 3.16 miles charges range between 25c and 95c or between 8c/mile and 30c/mile.

Those are the transponder account rates for cars. License plate read  tolls are about 50% more.

The facility takes all kinds of vehicles. 5-axle trucks pay five times the car rate.

Operators face a dilemma signing a facility with as many choices and  hence complex as this - how much information is enough?



A reporter calls their variable message signs “humongous and unwieldy, resembling airport departure boards more than road signs, and look impossibly confusing."



Branding


The new-to-Dallas toll lanes are being branded as TEXpress lanes. They are described as “A Tollway Within a Highway." Plus: “TEXpress Lanes are unique toll lanes added within existing major roadways to provide extra capacity and efficiently handle more traffic volume. Unlike other area toll roads, they put drivers in charge of their travel schedule.”



Under “You Choose How to Travel," it states: "Drive the existing rebuilt general highway lanes at no cost or pay for no stop-and-go driving on the TEXpress Lanes. The choice is yours. Plus, our upgraded corridors and continuous frontage roads on most roadways will provide you with a smooth ride no matter which lanes you choose.”



Accounts can be established online or via a mobile phone.

Carpool vehicles (HOV2) get a 50% discount on the tolls during peak hours if they establish an account. Drivers can manage their claim for the discount on their downloadable app titled ‘Drive on TEXpress.’



The Dallas area’s second toll express lanes project North Tarrant Express is well into construction to the west of Dallas Ft Worth International Airport. It is due to open in the summer of 2015.


Operator website:


http://www.lbjtexpress.com



Map:


http://www.lbjtexpress.com/sites/lbjtexpresslanes.com/files/lbj_texpress_lanes_map_1.pdf