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Toll road giant tasked with major VA projects hands one off to creditors

By   /   June 14, 2013  /   No Comments

HERE COME THE CREDITORS: Transurban, the toll road giant that operates the Richmond region’s Pocahontas Parkway, says it isn’t making enough in toll revenue to cover the project’s debt.

ALEXANDRIA—Something really is waiting ‘just around the river bend’ for the Pocahontas Parkway in the Richmond region — creditors.

European banks are taking over the financially foundering enterprise owned by the state but operated and tolled by Australian-based toll road giant Transurban, which isn’t generating enough toll revenue to cover the multi-million-dollar project’s debt bills.  The Virginia Department of Transportation will have to seek out a new operator for the road that connects Henrico and Chesterfield counties over the James River.

But Transurban’s departure from the Pocahontas Parkway doesn’t mean it’s bailing out of the state. Transurban is tasked with operating a handful of Virginia’s other major public-private partnerships, including the 495 Express Lanes and I-95 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia.

“Pocahontas 895 is not generating enough revenue to cover its debt payments,” Pierce Coffee, marketing director for Transurban’s North American operations, told the Richmond-Times Dispatch, which first reported in the story.

Transurban, which took over the project in 2006, had a 99-year operating agreement with the state to run the parkway. The project was the very first to be built under Virginia’s 1995 Public Private Transportation Act, which directs the building and operating of joint transportation ventures between the public and private sectors. The 8.8-mile roadway opened to the public in 2002.

Transurban has assured the public that taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the loss, and toll prices will continue as before — $3.25 each way for a two-axle vehicle during peak commuting hours, $3 during non-peak weekday hours, and $2.75 on weekends.

But this newest development, which comes on the heels of a controversial court case questioning the constitutionality of a tolling project in the Hampton Roads area, casts further uncertainty on the future of the public-private partnerships touted by Virginia leaders as the most cost-efficient way to run major roadways.

— Kathryn Watson