Florida Braces For Tropical Tango As Matthew Forecast To Glide Along Coast

Hurricane Watch Area Expands; Transportation Department Braces For Major Hurricane

Tropical Storm Nicole Forms In Atlantic Basin, Adding To Forecaster’s Woes

The National Hurricane Center's 8 p.m. interim update shows the track of Hurricane Matthew shifting father west, putting more inland Florida under a hurricane watch.

The National Hurricane Center’s 8 p.m. interim update shows the track of Hurricane Matthew shifting father west, putting more inland Florida under a hurricane watch.

Much of Florida’s Turnpike now sits inside a hurricane watch area, now that the National Hurricane Center has issued its 8 p.m. interim advisory on Hurricane Matthew. The NHC forecast track continues to shift to the west, which compelled the agency to add more areas of inland Florida to the hurricane watch area.

Meanwhile, the Florida governor’s office today consulted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and Florida Department of Transportation as emergency preparations for Matthew continue. The FDOT has ordered all construction to halt on all roadways, including all toll roads, in watch areas. Additionally, all construction barriers are being removed on travel lanes that can be reopened. The latter is preparation for potential evacuations, which could be ordered if Matthew’s track shifts farther to the west.

While Hurricane Matthew is forecast to remain offshore of Florida, the NHC’s most recent track has shifted the storm’s path farther west, bringing the storm perilously close to Florida’s coast. While Matthew has weakened somewhat, and its wind field has contracted, hurricane-force winds still extend outward 45 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend outward for 175 miles.

Moreover, forecasters, already weary from tracking Matthew, are now issuing advisories for Tropical Storm Nicole, which formed in the open Atlantic this afternoon. However, it is not expected to pose a threat to the United States. A third system is also being monitored for potential development.

Hurricane Matthew wind speed probabilities as of 2pm EDT October 4, 2016

The wind field forecast of Hurricane Matthew includes a significant risk to drivers, as tropical storm-force winds extend outward for 175 miles from the center of the storm. Note this graphic includes the track for the newly-formed Tropical Storm Nicole, right, as well as Hurricane Matthew.

All that means that Matthew, on its current track, will be delivering high winds and rain to much of Florida’s east coast beginning Thursday. That leaves only a day for authorities to finalize emergency plans, and that is if Matthew does not slide too far to the west, which could push outer bands and wind fields onshore sooner than expected.

The NHC will release its next full advisory at 11 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Hurricane Matthew Could Impact Florida’s Turnpike

Turnpike And Other Toll Roads In Central Florida Could Be Affected By Massive Storm

Officials with Florida’s Department of Transportation said today they do not know whether there will be a need to change traffic patterns on Florida’s Turnpike as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Much of Florida’s east coast and most of the Florida Keys are under either a tropical storm watch or a hurricane watch, after the National Hurricane Center in Miami released its 11 a.m. update today.

NHC forecast track for Hurricane Matthew 2016-10-04 at 11AM EDT

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast track for Hurricane Matthew clearly puts Florida, and its toll roads, in the danger zone.

It is not uncommon for authorities to suspend tolls and route traffic in a specific direction, to accommodate evacuations. However, FDOT spokesman, Chad Huff, said it was too early to know whether a traffic a pattern change would happen or whether tolls might be suspended. Huff said he and other officials were very busy today in the face of Hurricane Matthew’s approach. “We wont’ know that until [Wednesday],” he told TurnpikeInfo.com.

Florida’s Turnpike runs through the middle of the peninsula at its north leg, but it turns to the east, just north of the Fort Drum Service Plaza, then runs close to Florida’s east coast, often getting within five miles of the coast. That is close enough to feel the impact of Hurricane Matthew. The storm is projecting hurricane force winds some 60 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical storm force winds extend 185 miles from the center of the storm, according to the NHC.

Hurricane Matthew wind speed probabilities

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast for wind speeds over the next five days shows most of Florida’s east coast will confront tropical storm force winds.

In Central Florida, where hurricane watches apply along the coastline, up to the Brevard County-Volusia County border, Hurricane Matthew could still create high winds and dangerous rain conditions well inland, affecting the Beachline Expressway, which runs from Interstate 95 west to Orlando. Any decision to alter traffic or suspend tolls on the Central Florida Expressway roads, however, will still come from the Florida governor’s office, said Brian Hutchings, spokesman for the CFX in Orlando.

However Hutchings did note decisions will be made in the next day about whether to shut down construction operations along the CFX toll roads. He said if such a decision is made, workers would spend the day Wednesday “buttoning up work areas and making sure anything that could go airborne is either tied down or removed from the site.”

Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, declared a state of emergency late Monday, after the track for Hurricane Matthew shifted considerably to the west.  Scott observed that Hurricane Matthew is the most powerful storm to threaten the Sunshine State in nearly a quarter of a century. While a host of hurricanes and tropical storms have hit the state in that time, none has had the potential for such extreme damage as Hurricane Matthew. “If Hurricane Matthew directly impacts Florida, there could be massive destruction which we haven’t seen since Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami-Dade County in 1992,” Governor Scott told reporters Monday.

Editor’s note: This story has been modified to include the comments of Brian Hutchings from the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

Beachline Expressway Ramps Closing This Week

528 Beachline ExpresswayOvernight Closures Impact Orangewood Boulevard and Universal Boulevard

The Florida Department of Transportation announced the overnight closures of some of the entrance and exit ramps to Orangewood and Universal Boulevards. Both roads share the same exit, with Universal Boulevard running north from the Beachline Expressway, while Orangewood Boulevard runs to the south.

The road closures will impact the southbound lanes of Universal/Orangewood Boulevard at the Beachline Expressway interchange, where construction crews are setting beams as part of a road widening project. As a result, drivers traveling southbound on Universal Boulevard will not be able to take the eastbound entrance ramp for the Beachline, and drivers traveling westbound on the toll road will not be able to exit to the southbound lanes of Universal/Orangewood Boulevard.

The closures are scheduled to last overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning only.

Gas Price Update For October 3, 2016

Gas price trend for week of October 3, 2016
Fort Lauderdale, FL – The cost of filling up the tank jumped between two and five cents for most drivers across the U.S. during the past week, according to the latest weekly price survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The weekly E.I.A. report shows the average U.S. price for a gallon of regular unleaded went up about two cents, although the price point, itself, lurched three cents due to rounding. The U.S. average is now $2.25 per gallon. The biggest price increases were found along the Gulf Coast, a region that had enjoyed prices well below $2.00 per gallon, until now.

The cost of diesel fell also went up this week, but only modestly. The E.I.A. reports diesel prices, on average, went up about a penny per gallon, although prices were up two cents across the Gulf Coast and New England. The average price of diesel is now $2.39 per gallon.

Regional cost averages for both gasoline and diesel are listed below, ranked from highest to lowest price.

Regional Gasoline Averages:

$2.455: PADD 5 WEST COAST (W/O CA)
$2.173: PADD 2 MIDWEST

Regional Diesel Averages:

$2.356: PADD 2 MIDWEST

Note: PADD is an acronym for Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts.

Bayonne Bridge Closures For Week of October 3

Daytime And Night Closures Impact All Traffic

Bridge To Remain Open Columbus Day Weekend

Bayonne Bridge iconThe Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has announced the Bayonne Bridge will be closing weekdays this week to accommodate continued construction, as part of the Navigational Clearance Project.

Bridge closures will affect all traffic across the bridge between the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday this week, and overnight closures on the bridge will affect traffic from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. until Friday morning.

Officials with the PANYNJ plan to keep the Bayonne Bridge open through the Columbus Day weekend, beginning at 3 p.m. this Friday, October 7.

The Bayonne Bridge is currently undergoing a multi-year reconstruction that will raise the span to accommodate larger sea vessels. The Raise The Road Project, as it is dubbed by the port authority, is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Florida Consolidates State Toll Operations

New SunPass Service Center Will Also Serve Interstate Partners

The Florida Department of Transportation, Florida’s Turnpike and a host of other  Florida-based regional tolling agencies celebrated the grand opening today of a new, 70-thousand square feet operations facility, call center and interoperable processing center for interstate partners. The SunPass Centralized Customer Service Center, CCSC, occupies a large swatch of unused retail space at Ocoee’s West Oaks Mall, which is near the Holland East-West Expressway in Orange County, Florida. The center can be accessed from Exit 1 or Exit 2.

Dianne Gutierrez-Scaccetti, Executive Director and CEO of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, said the opening of the center, and the consolidation of tolling operations, “demonstrates our commitment to providing great service to our SunPass  customers, tolling partners and the community.”

SunPass Service Center Ribbon Cutting

The ribbon-cutting at the new SunPass Customer Service Center in Ocoee, near the Holland East-West Expressway.

State dignitaries were joined by Ocoee’s mayor, Rusty Johnson, to cut the ribbon of the new processing and call center. Mayor Johnson hailed the grand opening as a major step in Ocoee’s economic rebound. “It will encourage more businesses to come back and help revitalize the city,” he said.

Xerox will run the call center operations at the facility, where 480 people are expected to be employed, in addition to transferring staff from other facilities.

Gas Price Update For September 26, 2016

Gas price trend for week of September 26, 2016Fort Lauderdale, FL – The price of gas tipped up for people living across the East Coast and through the Lower Atlantic states during the past week, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. However, price declines across the Midwest and into the Rocky Mountain states kept the broader U.S. gas price average in check this week. The average price of a gallon of gas is reported this week, according to the E.I.A., as $2.22, down a penny from last week. That figure is skewed slightly due to rounding, as the price decline was so small that the drop was, technically, zero.

The cost of diesel fell also this week, but with greater certitude of figures. The weekly E.I.A. price survey shows the average price of a gallon of diesel fell nearly a penny to $2.38 per gallon.

Regional cost averages for both gasoline and diesel are listed below, ranked from highest to lowest price.

Regional Gasoline Averages:

$2.456: PADD 5 WEST COAST (W/O CA)
$2.144: PADD 2 MIDWEST

Regional Diesel Averages:

$2.359: PADD 2 MIDWEST

Note: PADD is an acronym for Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts.

Toll Interoperability: Not Ready For Drive Time

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series about the development and deployment of new tolling technologies and business processes, and their compatibility from state to state, as mandated by the 2012 highway funding reauthorization.

States Not Ready To Meet Original Congressional Deadline

AET sign and gantry on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway

Signs point drivers with iPass or E-ZPass toward the electronic gantries on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, just east of Rockford, Illinois, on April 27, 2016. However, cash lanes are still separate and route drivers through manned booths.

State tolling agencies are not ready to meet an October 1 deadline to have their tolling payment systems compatible with each other, and it will likely be several weeks to a few months before the first interoperable tolling systems come online, according to Sharon Adair, Vice President of the Alliance for Toll Interoperability, or ATI, based in North Carolina. That means drivers with an E-ZPass, the most common electronic tolling system, will still not be able to use their transponders in states outside the E-ZPass network. The same situation exists for drivers who have transponders from other states, such as TxTag, from Texas, or SunPass, from Florida.

Adair said some interoperability will be in place on a limited basis, most likely by January, but none of the states will be fully integrated by that time, she said. “That looks like the timetable we are on,” Adair told TurnpikeInfo.com. “The deadline for all states to be interoperable by October will not be reachable for the majority of agencies, even as several are working diligently to comply with the mandate.”

That mandate is a single paragraph, found at the end of the section concerning tolling, Section 1512, of the 2012 highway funding reauthorization. The Act, titled Moving Ahead For Progress In the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, tells states’ governments their toll facilities must implement “technologies or business practices that provide for the interoperability of electronic toll collection programs.”

As with many mandates from Capitol Hill, the highway funding reauthorization did not, specifically, allocate any funds to helps states begin or complete the conversion process.

Electronic Tolls On Incompatible Networks

In 1993, AT&T ran a series of commercials that challenged drivers to imagine a day when they would never have to stop to pay a toll. Actor Tom Selleck narrated a national television spot that made a series of predictions that, at the time, seemed a distant dream.

E-ZPass Logo

E-ZPass, the predominant electronic tolling network, is twenty years old. However, it is not yet compatible with all states’ toll systems.

Very quickly, though, many states introduced electronic tolling. E-ZPass, the largest electronic toll network, celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2016.

Using one of these transponders meant you could travel, albeit slowly, through a toll barrier without necessarily having to stop. Traffic conditions at the toll barriers often presented a far different reality, however. Many states adopted similar technology, opting into networks that permitted drivers from one state to use their transponder in another state. But that compatibility was limited.

In Florida, where the transponder system is not yet connected with E-ZPass, drivers from any of 14 states that use E-ZPass are left paying cash or having to buy a SunPass, Florida’s electronic transponder. The service plazas along Florida’s Turnpike offer them for sale. They can also be ordered online, including on TurnpikeInfo.com. Texas, which uses TxTag, is not compatible with either Florida’s system or E-ZPass.

Conversion To Cashless Tolling

In recent years, new, all-electronic toll gantries have begun to replace the manned toll booths across many major toll roads. These gantries are equipped with a series of strobes and lasers, to separate and identify vehicles, according to a well-crafted description on the Florida’s Turnpike website. Cameras take a picture of all passing vehicles’ license plates, and sensors in the ground read the number of axles. Receivers then detect a passing transponder, and travelers can remain at highway speeds. There are no booths.

If a vehicle does not have a compatible electronic transponder, a bill is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle at the end of the month. It includes all tolls that are incurred on a specific toll road, and an administrative fee, usually two or three dollars.

All-electronic tolling means there is not even a need for a transponder device, if one does not wish to enjoy the discount most states offer for using electronic toll transponders. The cashless system is called open-road tolling, and even drivers without a transponder are no longer required to stop, but few toll roads are fully converted.

Some states are ahead of others in the conversion to all-electronic tolling, called AET, for short. Drivers on Illinois’ Tri-State Tollway are familiar with AET gantries; many entrance and exit ramps, and some toll barriers are now AET-only, meaning drivers must have an electronic transponder, pay online with a credit card or get a bill. The same can be said for the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, which, while under reconstruction west of Chicago, has also been largely converted to AET. However, many toll barriers on Illinois’ toll roads still have separate cash lanes, a sort of hybrid system.

Massachusetts, on the other hand, is completely converting to AET. The state is sweeping away all manned toll booths along the 138-mile long Massachusetts Turnpike, and officials will turn on all-electronic tolling on October 28, barring unforeseen technological or, more likely, political impediments. The state’s department of transportation, known colloquially as MassDOT, has been holding public hearings on the new tolling system and the toll costs, some of which are actually going down. When we called to speak to Jacquelyn Goddard, in the MassDOT media office, she was on her way to one such meeting. We did not hear back from her in time for this installment in our series.

In Florida, where conversion has been underway for many years, the process will continue for many more, according to Chad Huff, public information officer for Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. FTE operates Florida’s Turnpike, the Veteran’s Expressway in Tampa, along with the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike, which runs through Miami-Dade County. “[FTE] anticipates full conversion to all-electronic toll collection by 2022,” Huff told TurnpikeInfo.com.

Toll gantry in Fort Lauderdale on Florida's Turnpike

Florida has been converting toll plazas to gantry systems for years, but cash booths remain at many barriers, including this one just west of Fort Lauderdale.

Nonetheless, significant portions of Florida’s Turnpike are already all-electronic. South of Fort Lauderdale and into Miami, drivers must use an electronic toll transponder or they will get a bill at the end of the month. In Florida, that transponder is called Sunpass, but it is not compatible with E-ZPass states, yet.

Texas, likewise, has open-road tolling on many major roads, including the Texas State Highway 130, TX130, a commuter road that shuttles drivers from Austin to points north, including Round Rock and Pflugerville, where the growth of the tech industry has mandated the rapid expansion of the state’s highway system. However, Texas, like Florida, has a closed toll collection system that is not yet compatible with other states.

AET gantry near Austin, Texas, November 2014

Many states, like Texas, have introduced all-electronic tolling on their newer toll roads, like the SR-130, shown here in November 2014.

On roads in Florida, Texas and other states where AET is already in place, or soon will be, anyone without a compatible toll transponder will simply get a bill at the end of the month. That bill will include an administrative fee, usually a few dollars, which will be added to the single bill that includes all tolls incurred during the month, for that specific toll road.

Technology Issues Easier To Overcome Than Bureaucratic Challenges

While many states are still working to make their transponder systems compatible, it is the bureaucratic challenges that have manifest as most difficult to resolve. Huff pointed out that technological issues can be easily overcome, and pointed to the integration of Florida’s local and state transponder systems. “SunPass and the other Florida brands use the same technology and worked out business rules as electronic tolling was being introduced,” Huff wrote.

Adair agreed the technological challenges are easily surmounted. “Technological difficulties are one of a myriad of challenges that have impeded national interoperability,” Adair said. “[They] are one of the lesser challenges.”

Huff said Florida is already testing new equipment that will read the most common types of transponders, regardless of manufacturer and state of issue. FTE has installed and tested tri-protocol readers with the goal of being able to read the three selected protocols under IBTTA conformance and performance testing,” he said.

The IBTTA is the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, which is a toll agency cooperative founded in 1932. It has issued a number of policy and technology standards and position papers regarding what it calls, on its website, “critical infrastructure challenges of the 21st Century.”

Adair said one of the main problems confronting many states’ tolling agencies is differing  processes. Huff agreed. “Developing compatible business rules across agencies takes significant amounts of time,” Huff said. “Today, we are working with agencies who are well established. Compromise is the name of the game.”

Another issue is the sharing of driver and vehicle information. When it comes to sharing data and collecting tolls, the bureaucratic variations from one state to another tend to get in the way, Adair said. “Agencies may seem reluctant to relinquish the customer account since they are directly responsible from the view of the Federal government, State government and customer” Adair observed.

Finally, there are state laws that have yet to come into line with the federal mandate, Adair said. “Many states are also impeded by legislation or lack of legislation that regulates or permits their interactions with other state agencies and private corporations,” she said.

Coming next: Sharing driver information and vehicle registration data with other states to collect tolls. Also, when to know you are on a toll road.


Editor’s Note: This article has been modified from its original presentation. We originally reported the Massachusetts Turnpike as being 157 miles long. It is 138 miles long.

Overnight Closures Impact Clifton Exit Off Garden State Parkway

Garden State Parkway

GSP Exit 154 will have overnight closures while ramp work continues.

Work on exit ramps at the Clifton, New Jersey exit off the Garden State Parkway will continue nightly, according to an official at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. The night work will continue to result in overnight ramp closures, indefinitely, the official said.

Overnight closures began Tuesday night, September 21, at GSP Exit 154. The closures begin nightly at 8 p.m. and continue through 6 a.m. the following morning.

The alternate route to Clifton and surrounding communities is to take GSP Exit 153, to the south. If one is trying to get to U.S. 46 going eastbound, Exit 157, to the north, is an alternate option.

Gas Price Update For September 19, 2016

Gas price trend for week of September 19, 2016Fort Lauderdale, FL – The price of gas performed an about-face this week, rising just over two cents per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Prices had been two for two consecutive weeks. The E.I.A.’s weekly pricing survey shows prices jumped in nearly every region, save for the Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain states. The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded is now $2.23.

The cost of diesel fell on the week, unlike regular fuels, according to the E.I.A. The average price of a gallon of diesel fell a penny to $2.39 per gallon.

Regional cost averages for both gasoline and diesel are listed below, ranked from highest to lowest price.

Regional Gasoline Averages:

$2.456: PADD 5 WEST COAST (W/O CA)
$2.154: PADD 2 MIDWEST

Regional Diesel Averages:

$2.366: PADD 2 MIDWEST

Note: PADD is an acronym for Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts.