INDOT Proposes Intersection Improvements on East Side

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) is proposing a number of road improvements in Bloomington and Monroe County to the Bloomington Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (BMCMPO) in the upcoming years. Two in particular planned for the east side caught my attention.

The first is intersection improvements at State Road 46 (3rd Street) and N Smith Road. The lack of turn lanes at that intersection often causes a single poorly-positioned left turner to to take up an entire light cycle, causing significant unnecessary congestion, as well as potentially dangerous maneuvers to get around the blocked intersection.

The second project is one that I’ve been calling for for a long time — to improve the intersection at State Road 45 (10th Street) and Pete Ellis (to the south) and Range Road (to the north). This intersection sees many of the same problems as 3rd Street and Smith Rd — lack of turn lanes causes frequent very dangerous passing maneuvers. And now that we know that this intersection will be a backup entrance to the new hospital/medical campus, it becomes even more crucial that this intersection be fixed.

The following map shows the locations:

Screenshot 2018-09-13 09.53.27

Unfortunately we won’t be seeing these improvements soon enough. The INDOT proposal shows the engineering/design being performed in Fiscal Year 2019 (which we are already in, running from July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019), any right-of-way acquisition in Fiscal Year 2021, and construction in future years (Fiscal Year 2022 or beyond — the MPO Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) only runs through Fiscal 2021).

Nonetheless, I’m glad to finally see some action on these two dangerous and important intersections.

The MPO Policy Committee will be asked to add these projects, along with other INDOT improvement projects, to the Transportation Improvement Program on Friday, at 1:30 PM. The meeting packet is available here.

Tolling on Indiana’s Interstates: Inching Closer?

imagesThe Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) inches closer to tolling several Interstate corridors with the June 2 release of a Request for Information (RFI) related to potential future plans for tolling of the I-65, I-70, and I-94 corridors: Request for Information Interstate Tolling Project Delivery.

INDOT is planning to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) to prepare environmental studies and project development documentation for the above corridors (the RFP refers to the following corridors: 1) I-65 from I-90 to I-465, 2) I-65 from I-465 to the Ohio River, 3) I-70 from the Illinois State line to I-465, 4) I-70 from I-465 to the Ohio State line, 5) I-65 and I-70 within I- 465, and 6) I-94 from the Illinois State line to the Michigan State line). The purpose of the RFI is to seek information that will shape the release of the RFP, in particular in the following areas:

  1. Asset inventory and management in these corridors
  2. Sequence of deployment of tolling among these corridors
  3. NEPA documentation type and analytical approach for these corridors, and for the improvements identified above
  4. Contracting and procurement approaches
  5. Public outreach and information strategy
  6. Any other topics the responder believes are relevant to this RFI

IMG_2157It is clear that Indiana intends to move forward with tolling the I-65, I-70, and I-94 corridors. It isn’t entirely clear if the intention is to toll only new expansion lanes, or existing lanes as well.

It will also be interesting to see the responses to questions about “contracting and procurement approaches”, in particular to see which public-private partnership models are being encouraged.

The most interesting part of the RFI, though, is the draft proposed work plan for an agreement that INDOT already has with engineering giant HDR, Inc. to meet the requirements of Indiana House Bill 1002 (now Public Law 218) to evaluate the feasibility of tolling Indiana’s Interstates. This work plan includes the following tasks:

  1. Project Management and Project Meetings
  2. Traffic and Revenue Analysis for 5 Corridors — to conduct a traffic and revenue analysis and model (including a risk component) for the five Interstate corridors: I-64, I-69, I-74, I-94, and I-465. Note that I-69 is included in the study. Along with traffic and revenue, the task will attempt to estimate diversion rates (i.e., rates at which vehicles use other roads to avoid tolls — often a concern to local communities whose roads bear the burden of division).  The study will also attempt to estimate the toll revenue from non-Indiana residents vs. residents.
  3. Risk Analysis for I-65 and I-70 — to expand a 2015 INDOT analysis to more explicitly quantify and model uncertainty
  4. Statewide Tolling Survey — to assess the public’s willingness to pay tolls. HDR is proposing here, because of the short deadline for the project, to perform a Willingness to Pay (WTP) study, which tests a participant’s sensitivity to various price points. Interesting note:

    “An approach that HDR has found to be successful in similar WTP studies is to tell survey takers that the purpose of the survey is to explore interest in improving travel times and safety on major highways. The concept of paying toll is not introduced until the end of survey so as not to bias the experiments as people generally have negative attitudes towards toll. “

  5. Assess Economic Impact — the study will include quantitative and qualitative studies of the potential impact of tolling on Indiana’s economy, including impacts both of increased investment in infrastructure resulting from tolls as well as impacts on Indiana households.
  6. Write Report — the final report is due by October 31, 2017.

The INDOT page for open RFIs is here: INDOT RFI Page.


Dangerous Intersection at State Road 45 and Pete Ellis Drive/Range Road

The intersection of State Road 45 (10th Street) and Pete Ellis Dr (to the south) and Range Rd (to the north) is unsafe and needs to be addressed. And as bad as it is now, in five years when IU Health Bloomington Hospital moves to the area north of Range Road, it will be 10 times worse, as this intersection will be the backup/alternate route to/from the hospital. Because this intersection is on a state road (SR 45), the road is in the state’s jurisdiction (i.e., not in the jurisdiction of the City of Bloomington or Monroe County).

The following map shows the intersection that I am concerned about:

Map of Range Road Area
Map of Range Road Area

The following diagram illustrates the problem with this intersection. Basically, there are a lot of cars traveling on SR45 (10th Street) going westbound that stop at the traffic signal to make a left turn (there is no left turn lane or leading light). However, many motorists traveling behind the stopped car (or cars) will attempt to pass on the right, despite lack of a passing lane. When the car at the intersection turns left, it creates an unsafe and ambiguous situation, in which the car behind the car making the left turn will move ahead and go straight through the intersection (properly), while at the same time a car is passing them on the right in an area that isn’t large enough to merge back in safely.

SR45 - Range Road/Pete Ellis Intersection
SR45 – Range Road/Pete Ellis Intersection

The crash statistics bear out the perception that this is a dangerous intersection. Per the 2012-2014 Draft Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization Crash Report:

  • This intersection ranks 14th in overall crashes from all the intersections in the MPO boundary, up from 32nd, and averaging 18 crashes per year.
  • When weighted by traffic volume, the overall crash rate (crashes per million entering vehicles) is ranked 22nd among all intersections
  • And ranked by severity of crash, it is 16th in the county.

Although INDOT has, at some point, planned to reconstruct state road 45 from the bypass east to Russell Road, at this point they have no plans to address the situation. As serious as the situation is right now, the situation will become dire if not addressed before IU Health Bloomington Hospital relocates in the Range Road area.

Here is a brief history of INDOT’s purported plans in this area. from what I can ascertain from searches of local media:

  • INDOT announced in 2005 that widening SR 45 from the bypass to Russell Road was on their 10-year priority list for the area (Source: Herald Times)
  • Governor Mitch Daniels announced in September of 2005 that the widening of SR45 from the bypass to Pete Ellis Dr was planned for 2006 (Source: Herald Times)
  • In a “final” 10-year plan for Major Moves projects, the widening of the bypass, plus widening SR 45 from the bypass to Pete Ellis would be completed in 2008-2009, and from Pete Ellis to Russell Road would be completed by 2011 (Source: Herald Times)
  • INDOT held a public hearing on the proposed SR45 improvements at University Elementary School on September 18, 2008 (I attended and spoke at this public hearing about providing better pedestrian access to University Elementary School)
  • In October 2008, INDOT launched a Web site dedicated to the potential widening of SR45 from Pete Ellis to Russell Road: Unfortunately this Web site no longer exists. However, due to the wonders of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, the contents of this site are still available! Most importantly, INDOT updated the site on 2010-03-24 to say:
    • “Due to an extensive “re-racking” process recently completed by INDOT and state of Indiana leadership, the road improvement project on State Road 45 (E 10th Street in Bloomington) from Pete Ellis Drive to Russell Road has been shelved. This means that the scheduled Begin Construction date is now TBD (To Be Determined). This effectively means that the project will not be considered for possible re-activation until 2020 at the earliest.”
  • In January of 2013, the Hotline column of the Herald Times reported that Beth Hamilton from INDOT stated that the expansion of SR45 from the bypass to Pete Ellis was “still an active project”, but that there had been no bid-letting date scheduled, so no date was available (Source: Herald Times)
  • In October of 2015, Brandi Fischvogt from the INDOT Seymour District (the district that has jurisdiction over Monroe County) wrote me to tell me that she had been informed that “INDOT does not currently have any projects planned in this area”.
The upshot is that INDOT does not have any plans at all to address this dangerous intersection, whether through a broader road reconstruction, or a more targeted solution. This is not acceptable. We as a community need to work together and work with INDOT to make sure that this situation is addressed before a major new regional hospital moves in.
I am already working to put together a group to raise the profile of this issue, and would very much appreciate any suggestions or ideas from other members of the community.

I-69 Section 5 and Fiscal Constraint

logoYesterday, an article in the Herald Times (INDOT seeks local OK to start I-69 work along Ind. 37 – behind a paywall) reported on the recent request from INDOT to the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to include I-69 Section 5 in its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) at the April 12, 2013 meeting. The portion of I-69 Section 5 under MPO jurisdiction runs along the State Road 37 corridor from Victor Pike north to just north of Kinser Pike (Section 5 itself extends into Morgan County).

The discussion that I’m amplifying in this posting began in the comments to the Herald Times article above.

A poster named citizen-dmc wrote:

How can INDOT consider this when there is no money to pay for Section 5? 

All of the money was allocated for Section 4.

WHERE IS THE MONEY? Can someone explain.

The precious darlings from INDOT think money grows on trees, but they have not provided any revenue source for the completion of it up to Indianapolis and I-465

Of course this comment refers to the requirement that, for a local MPO to include a project in its TIP (a prerequisite for federal funding), the project must be “fiscally-constrained” — that is, there have to be identified funding sources for the project. Sections 1 – 4 of I-69 (running from Evansville to Victor Pike, south of Bloomington) were funded from the Major Moves program, from the one-time money received by the state through the lease of the Indiana Toll Road. The Major Moves account, however, has now been depleted.  Both opponents and supporters alike of the project have noted that traditional funding sources for road construction (i.e. gas taxes) were unlikely to be adequate to support Sections 5 and 6 — i.e., completion of the highway from Victor pike up to Indianapolis. Therefore, by that logic, the MPO would not and could not approve the addition of Section 5 to the TIP because it is not fiscally constrained.

This is unlikely to be a winning argument, however. There are several developments that I think will allow INDOT to clear the fiscal constraint requirement: additional road funding and a public-private partnership (P3) approach.

Additional Road Funding

This development will probably not have any impact on INDOT’s approach to funding I-69 Section 5 in the short-run. However, it will give INDOT substantial additional “breathing room” to pursue the Public-Private Partnership approach described below.

Pending legislation in the General Assembly would provide INDOT with more funding, by (a) eliminating the portion of the gas tax that is skimmed off the top for the State Police and BMV and (b) redirecting some of the sales tax on gasoline to road funding. Per the usual distribution formula, this additional revenue would be split between INDOT, counties, and cities and towns. Incidentally, although sales tax receipts are up from last year, these two approaches are both essentially zero-sum, and would require cutting of other services in order to redirect this revenue for road funding.

There are also several more long-term approaches under consideration to increase road funding by taxing alternatively-fueled vehicles in a way that equalizes their contribution to road construction and maintenance with equivalent conventionally-fueled vehicles and/or by taxing vehicles by miles traveled (much more difficult to implement!).

I wrote a bit more about these initiatives in Counties Agitate for Increased Road Funding. INDOT could see over $150M in increased funding annually from these legislative changes.

Public-Private Partnership (P3) Approach

Another approach that will allow INDOT to work around (or do an end-run around) the fiscal constraint requirement is through what is, somewhat Orwellianly, called a public-private partnership (P3). The Federal Highway Administration defines P3 as:

“contractual agreements formed between a public agency and a private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery and financing of transportation projects.” (Federal Highway Administration P3 Defined)

 Most often, P3 is seen with respect to operation of existing toll roads. The Indiana Toll Road lease was conducted under a P3 model called Long Term Lease Concession. Numerous toll roads are operated under Operations and Maintenance Concessions, in which contractors are hired to collect tolls and maintain the roads in return for contractually-specified payments.

There are also a number of P3 models that are used to construct new roads. From conversations with various personnel at INDOT, I believe INDOT will be pursuing a P3 model called the Design-Build-Finance (DBF) approach. With DBF, the contractor hired to design and build the road is also responsible for financing it (through commercial debt of some kind). In return, the project sponsor (INDOT, in this case) agrees to make payments to the contractor out of the usual appropriations (i.e., from gas taxes) over a period of time. The payments to the contractor would have to cover the costs of the design/build services themselves, the cost of financing to the contractor, and of course a level of profit to the contractor adequate to encourage them to accept this deferred compensation.

With this approach, the initial costs can be deferred and/or spread out over time. In a way, this is like purchasing a car with a vehicle loan rather than with cash. Rather than a $25,000 payment in one year, you might only have to pay $6000 over one year in car payments. Essentially the buyer is pushing out costs to the future — but the annual costs at the beginning are lower. And further, the law defines DBF arrangements as deferred payments, rather than debt — so the state isn’t even technically taking on any debt with this approach.

Like it or not, DBF this seems to be an end-run around the fiscal constraint requirement, and will very likely be the approach that INDOT takes when it approaches the MPO for inclusion of Section 5 in the TIP in April.