Despite Slow Start, Northern Virginia Toll Lanes Builder Foresees Financial Success | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Despite Slow Start, Northern Virginia Toll Lanes Builder Foresees Financial Success

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Revenues from the 495 Express Lanes have underwhelmed since they were opened in Northern Virginia in 2012.
Martin Di Caro/WAMU
Revenues from the 495 Express Lanes have underwhelmed since they were opened in Northern Virginia in 2012.

The international toll road developer that built the 495 Express Lanes — 14 miles of EZ Pass-only toll/HOV-3 lanes between the I-95/I-395 interchange and Dulles Toll Road — says it will remain “committed as a partner” with the state of Virginia, although the for-profit highway project has yet to make any money since opening 18 months ago.

The Australia-based construction conglomerate Fluor-Transurban is constructing 30 miles of similar toll lanes on I-95 that will stretch from the aforementioned interchange to Stafford County. The project is scheduled to open early next year and the company hopes it will feed more traffic volume onto its 495 project.

“At the beginning of 2015, commuters in the area will have a 45-mile network of managed lanes that will help them get a faster and more predictable trip. As for our investment, these are long-term investments for us. We are a long-term partner in the region,” said Transurban’s North America general manager Jennifer Aument.

In February a conference call with investors, Transurban CEO Scott Charlton defended the firm’s investment, even though 495 Express Lanes lost $51 million in 2013. Transurban restructured $430 million in project debt and asked investors to put more money into the lanes. Traffic and toll revenue remain below the company’s expectations.

“We have taken action just in recent months to put the project on sustainable financial footing so it can be a success over the long-term, and we are confident that these are strong corridors,” Aument said. “This will be a successful business for us.”

The relatively few drivers who are either carpooling or willing to pay the toll, which has reached as high as $10 for the full 14-miles, are benefiting from the congestion-free commute the 495 Express Lanes offer, but there are no guarantees the project will be a financial success in the eyes of Transurban’s shareholders.

Should the project fail financially, the control and operations of the $1.9 billion highway would pass over to Virginia, as per the terms of the contract in the public-private partnership. Virginia would begin collecting the toll revenue and Transurban would be stuck with project’s debt.

Aument said the company expects a positive financial outcome.

“We have confidence in the growing 495 Beltway corridor and we are confident the project will be a commercial success in the long-term.”

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