Tag Archives: Virginia

Outsourcing/Privatizing School Transportation Services

Source: Virginia School Boards Association

Looking to streamline operations and reduce costs, some school divisions explore the possibility of
outsourcing school transportation services. The private companies hoping to secure transportation
contracts state that they can contain or reduce costs while providing high-quality transportation services. While outsourcing may seem like a good option, especially when being described by a vendor, it does not guarantee lower costs or more effective operations. For school leaders examining privatization of school transportation services, it is recommended that the following resources be reviewed carefully to become more aware of the pitfalls and issues encountered by other divisions across the country.

Source: State to eliminate toll on MLK Freeway Extension, at a cost to taxpayers of $78 million

Source: Dave Forster, The Virginian-Pilot, July 10, 2015

The state has an agreement with the private operator of the Midtown and Downtown tunnels to eliminate tolls from a future portion of the project – the Martin Luther King Freeway Extension – at a cost to taxpayers of $78 million, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. The agreement also includes a provision in which Elizabeth River Crossings, the private tunnel operator, will transfer $5 million over 10 years into a yet-to-be created nonprofit organization that will provide rebates on tunnel tolls for low-income motorists, according to the source. The criteria for eligibility for those rebates must still be worked out…Elizabeth River Crossings has a contract to build a second Midtown Tunnel tube and the freeway extension, renovate the existing tunnels, and maintain and operate the roads until 2070. All-electronic tolling on the tunnels began in February 2014 and was slated to begin on the MLK Extension upon its completion.

Gov. McAuliffe Announces Deal Ensuring No Tolls on the MLK Freeway Extension in Portsmouth, Plans under way to ease tolling impacts on the Midtown and Downtown
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, July 10, 2015

Gov. Terry McAuliffe today announced an agreement that ensures no tolls will be collected on the Martin Luther King (MLK) Freeway extension project, a key achievement in his work to reduce the financial impact of major construction improvements on motorists in Hampton Roads…“After a great deal of work, we now have a plan in place to ease the financial pressure of tolling, particularly for Portsmouth residents,” said Gov. McAuliffe. “The Elizabeth River Tunnels project must be built to reduce congestion, increase safety and improve the economy. This is the right project, but a bad deal reached under the prior administration. Since I took office, toll rates on the tunnels have been lowered during construction. We have worked with our private sector partner to ensure there will be no tolls on the MLK extension. Imposing a toll to finance the improvements would have placed an unfair burden on the citizens of Portsmouth. It is not good policy for Portsmouth to bear the cost of this project when it is also sharing the tolling burden with other motorists in the region who travel the Midtown and Downtown tunnels.”…“Regarding the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, there will be some relief to ease the tolling burden on those residents who are the most financially impacted,” added Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne. “Our contractor, Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), has agreed to pay $500,000 a year for 10 years to help offset the cost of tolls to those toll users who are the most financially stressed.”

“Tunnel toll suit to be heard by state court on Sept. 11
Source: Julian Walker, Virginian-Pilot, August 29, 2013

In two weeks, Hampton Roads opponents of tunnel tolls are scheduled to have their day in Virginia Supreme Court.

A Sept. 11 hearing has been set for arguments on the legality of proposed tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels favored by the state but vehemently opposed by locals. Peak-hour tolls of $1.84 for passenger vehicles with E-ZPass transponders are to start Feb. 1 under a long-term deal between the state and its private partner to upgrade and operate the tunnels…. The litigation’s central dispute revolves around General Assembly authority to broadly confer to the state highway department the power to set toll rates. In his May 1 ruling, Cales concluded that is beyond the legislature’s scope under the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995….

…Elizabeth River Crossings is Virginia’s private partner on the $2.1 billion project to renovate the existing tunnels, build a second Midtown tube by July 2016 and extend the Martin Luther King Freeway to Interstate 264. Its pact with the state to operate the tunnels spans 58 years and allows Elizabeth River Crossings to earn a 13.5 percent annualized rate of return on its investment. The deal allows for rate increases of at least 3.5 percent per year, or based on an inflation factor. To start, peak morning and afternoon rates for trucks will be $7.36. Initial off-hour rates are $4.77 for trucks and $1.59 for cars….

Political Turnover Slows Transportation Public-Private Partnerships in 2015

Source: Sean Slone, Council of State Governments, The Current State, Issue: 21, June 22, 2015

The past year has seen the states of Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania close deals with the private sector to undertake some long-awaited transportation projects. But much of the talk at a recent conference on public-private partnerships, also known as P3s, revolved around why the market for such projects remains sluggish in the United States. … Joseph Aiello, chief of business development at the global infrastructure firm Meridiam, said uncertainty about what long-term role Washington will play in transportation funding is one factor keeping the P3 market from growing. …. Another significant factor holding back P3s, some say, is the impact of recent political turnover that has brought with it changing priorities in a number of states…. Speakers at the InfraAmericas forum also cited a number of other possible reasons the P3 market remains slow in the U.S., including:
• A continuing learning curve and knowledge gap among state officials when it comes to P3s;
• Recent challenges experienced by some P3 toll roads;
• The length of time it takes for projects to clear environmental hurdles and other obstacles;
• The complexity of the American market, including P3 laws that differ from one state and one jurisdiction to the next; and
• The complexity of the projects and the deals themselves. ….

VITA: Virginia spending $117 a month per laptop

Source: Travis Fain, Daily Press, June 19, 2015

It costs the state nearly $117 a month to run a laptop computer, and $98 for a desktop.

These figures are nearly all-encompassing, bundling purchasing costs, a replacement schedule, Internet service, security, server space, program licenses, tech-support, networking, data backups – pretty much everything it takes except electricity and the worker at the keyboard.

The figures come from VITA, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, which presented them last week to a General Assembly research arm, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. Virginia is approaching an IT crossroads: It must decide whether to stick with Northrop Grumman, its private IT partner of 10 years via an oft-maligned contract, or overhaul its IT operation.

The per-month costs seem high, according to JLARC’s chairman and to House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones, who also sits on JLARC’s board. But context is hard to come by, and legislators say they’ll know more when a consultant’s report comparing costs to other states is complete…..

Virginia Discovers P3 Projects Might Not Always Save Money

Source: Daniel C. Vock, Governing, June 3, 2015

After a few high-profile setbacks, the state that’s been a model for others interested in public-private partnerships is tempering its enthusiasm for them. ….

State control of I-66 expansion could net Virginia substantial revenue
Source: Michael Laris, Washington Post, May 19, 2015

Keeping the financing and construction of a proposed expansion of Interstate 66 under state control — rather than handing those responsibilities off to private investors — could net the commonwealth $200 million to $500 million in toll revenue over 40 years to be used for other Northern Virginia transportation projects, according to a new state analysis. And gaining these benefits for taxpayers would cost the state half as much upfront, compared with doing a so-called public-private partnership, according to Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, who is set to describe the analysis Tuesday at a meeting of Virginia’s top transportation oversight body. … Layne acknowledged the political and financial risks inherent in keeping the project under state control. Backing by the General Assembly would be needed in some variations of the plan, and officials would have to find $400 million to $600 million in upfront public funding. But that figure would be $900 million to $1 billion for a public-private partnership, Layne said. …

Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Press Release, CO-82543, May 19, 2015

Presentation Includes Analysis Showing Lower Costs, Greater Benefits of Public Financing vs. Typical Public-Private Partnership Concession Option

Drivers winning in court against Express Lanes operator

Source: Ari Ashe, WTOP, May 19, 2015

Six drivers saw their unpaid-toll cases dismissed in Fairfax County General District Court on Monday, while the final ruling on another landmark case has been delayed due to a last-minute motion. Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Smith ruled in April that Express Lanes operator Transurban must sue drivers for unpaid tolls within a year. Toni Cooley, Jim Diller and Stuart Holmes all won their cases with the decision, and the fallout has been felt ever since — six cases were dismissed on Monday because Transurban waited too long to sue, and more will likely be dismissed in the coming weeks. ….
Lawsuit filed against Express Lanes operator Transurban
Source: WUSA9, April 17, 2015

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Transurban, the organization that runs the Virginia Express Lanes. The suit was filed in Virginia Federal Court by users of the Express Lanes on Thursday. The main goal of the lawsuit is to stop what drivers describe as outrageous overcharging of unpaid tolls. The suit alleges that Transurban, Faneuil and their partners “assessed unfair, illegal, and unconscionable administrative fees and civil penalties on area drivers for allegedly failing to pay HOT Lanes tolls,” Hausfeld, the law firm handling the suit said in a statement. What began as a $14.20 fee for an unpaid 495 Express lane toll quickly got out of hand for Lisa-Marie Cormas. Comras said she fought for more than a year, while her fines ballooned from a few hundred dollars to $10,000. Comras has been fighting Transurban in court, and plans to join the class action suit that was filed Thursday….

Class-action suit claims predatory toll scheme on 495 Express Lanes
Source: Justin Jouvenal, Washington Post, April 16, 2015

The company that manages the Interstate 495 toll lanes in Northern Virginia is socking violators with “unfair, illegal and unconscionable” fines and fees that have reached tens of thousands of dollars in some cases, according to a class-action lawsuit announced this week.
The suit, which was filed in federal court in Alexandria, claims that Transurban uses a predatory scheme because the Capital Beltway express lanes have not been as profitable as expected and some drivers are being hit with violations that never occurred.

Source: Martin Di Caro, WAMU, November 13, 2012

Virginia Toll Road a Drag on Transurban Profits
Source: Kyle Glazier, Bond Buyer, August 7, 2012
(subscription required)

Virginia Announces $940 Million I-95 HOT Lane Deal

Source: Jonathan Wilson, WAMU, December 6, 2011

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell says the state has reached a $1 billion deal with a private contractor for Northern Virginia’s Interstate 95 HOT lanes project. Under the deal announced today, private contractor Fluor-Transurban would finance 90 percent of the $940 million project to build High Occupancy Toll lanes on I-95, with the rest of the money coming from the state. The contractor would recoup its investment by collecting the tolls.

Striking custodial workers at most Stafford County schools plan to continue protest Tuesday

Source: Cathy Jett, Free Lance-Star, April 27, 2015

Employees of the company providing janitorial services for most of Stafford County’s schools plan to continue striking on Tuesday. About 50 first showed up at 7 a.m. Monday to wave signs outside GCA Services Group’s office in the Stafford County Public Schools Facilities Operations and Maintenance Facility at 25 Wyatt Lane in Stafford…. The employees, many of whom have worked for GCA as long as seven years, said they’ve never gotten a raise to their $8 an hour salary. That’s 75 cents above minimum wage in Virginia. … According to her, Santos said that management wanted to evaluate each employee’s work record individually, and some would get raises and some would not. He added that at this time they would not consider the strikers’ other concerns. These include lack of paid sick leave, insurance and other benefits….

VDOT severs ties with builders over new U.S. 460

Source: Jim Nolan and Michael Martz, Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 15, 2015

The Virginia Department of Transportation has severed ties with the construction consortium hired under the McDonnell administration to build a new, 55-mile U.S. 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk — the $300 million road boondoggle that never broke ground because of the lack of environmental permits. Administration officials said Wednesday that terminating the contract also could pave the way for legal action between the state and the consortium to recover the millions the state has paid out….It follows months of negotiations by the state to reach agreement with US 460 Mobility Partners on how much of the $252 million paid out by the state should be returned to Virginia’s coffers, following revelations that the contractor was being paid on a timetable although certain work could not proceed because the project had not obtained necessary environmental permits….

Virginia Investigates Controversial I-460 Toll Road Plan
Source: Jim Parsons, Engineering News Record, Vol. 272 no. 19, June 25, 2014
(subscription required)

A controversial plant to construct a tolled bypass to U.S. Route 460 in southeast Virginia could be in for hurdles as the state’s transportation agency and inspector general investigate potential procurement violations for the $1.4 billion project. At issue is whether a proposed 55-mile limited access toll highway between Suffolk and Petersburg was developed, contracted and invoiced in accordance with the Virginia Dept. of Transportation’s procurement rules, as well as those of the state’s Public-Private Transportation Act. … Investigators are also looking at payments to the project’s design-build contractor, 460 Mobility Partners, a consortium led by Madrid-based Ferrovial Agroman S.A., and American Infrastructure, Worcester, Pa. …

Critics: McDonnell pushed ahead on U.S. 460 project despite regulators’ concerns
Source: Laura Vozzella, Washington Post, March 31, 2014

An opponent of a controversial highway project in southeast Virginia said Monday that former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) committed hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ and bond investors’ dollars even as federal regulators said the road faced serious environmental hurdles. Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s abrupt decision to put the expansion of U.S. 460 on hold in March has brought new scrutiny to a project that has cost Virginia $250 million without moving so much as a shovelful of dirt. … Now, critics say McDonnell and his administration appear to have misled bond investors about the project’s status to keep it alive. Project boosters dispute that assertion.

…The public-private partnership created to issue $243 million in bonds for the highway was required to acknowledge to investors that the project did not yet have the Corps of Engineers’ blessing, and materials presented to investors did disclose that the developer still lacked certain permits. But Trip Pollard, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the partnership soft-pedaled federal regulators’ concerns about the project to investors, who were counting on toll revenue from the new road to pay them back…. At the heart of Pollard’s accusation is the Virginia Department of Transportation’s two plans for U.S. 460. The first involved building an entirely new, tolled four-lane highway parallel to the existing corridor. The second, a fallback in case the state could not get permission for a new highway, was to add a fifth lane to the existing road….

How Cities Are Trying to Combat Toll Traffic

Source: Daniel C. Vock, Governing, April 14, 2015

Transit agencies and companies have tried raising toll prices at peak times, but even that’s not keeping drivers away, so they’re looking for new ways to reduce congestion…. The idea behind high-occupancy toll lanes is pretty simple: Carpoolers ride free, but single riders pay a toll rate set by the principles of supply and demand. The more crowded the lane becomes, the more expensive the toll…. But now many of the companies and agencies that run toll roads are discovering that even high prices sometimes aren’t enough to keep traffic flowing as fast as they would like. In many cases, they’re looking for new ways to satisfy demand, or even drive it down, without building even more lanes…

When Freedom Isn’t Free

Source: Alysia Santo, Washington Monthly, March/April/May 2015

ALEC and the bail bond industry have a new plan to empty prisons—for a price…. Bail is an essential lubricant of American justice, asserted Nicholas Wachinski, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, a trade group for insurance companies that underwrite bail bonds. But now bail agents are under siege by so-called reformers, who argue that the traditional bail system forces poor defendants to choose between paying fees they can’t afford and sitting in jail until they go to trial. A growing number of states—New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Hawaii, and others—are limiting the use of bail for defendants who don’t pose a threat, or replacing for-profit bail with government supervision. Of course, Wachinski said, the bail bond industry will continue its tireless lobbying to protect its lucrative franchise, but he was there with another message: Innovation! New products! New markets! “A brave new world!” Why should bail bonds be only for defendants who are awaiting trial? How about bail bonds for a whole new class of customers: people who have already been convicted…. Mississippi has been a kind of laboratory for bail industry experiments. The state is the country’s poorest and has the third-highest per-capita incarceration rate. The Mississippi Bail Agents Association exercises strong legislative influence, boasting on its website that “[s]ince 1992, there have only been two years in which the MBAA did not succeed at making changes to the state bail statutes.” The bail industry has given more in campaign contributions per capita to state politicians in Mississippi than anywhere else. Versions of post-conviction bail legislation have also passed in South Dakota and Michigan, a victory celebrated by bail agents but not yet put into widespread practice….