Foreign firm to build, operate HOT lanes on Capital Beltway

| Friday, December 21, 2007

A company with roots in Australia will control 90 percent of the design, finance, construction and operation of high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway in Washington, DC, and Virginia.

Transurban, an Australian firm that finances and operates the Pocahontas Parkway in Richmond, VA, and Texas-based Fluor Enterprises have landed a contract to expand 14 miles of the Beltway from eight lanes to 12 lanes. The expansion will be between the Springfield Interchange and Tyson’s Corners.

U.S. Department of Transportation officials said once construction is finished, the two existing middle lanes will be converted to HOT lanes with fluctuating tolls based on traffic volume.

“The price fluctuations will ensure the facility never becomes congested,” DOT officials stated in a press release.

Car poolers, buses and emergency vehicles will not pay tolls to use the HOT lanes. However, individual drivers, including truckers, will be able to pay tolls to get out of the regular lanes and use the less-congested HOT lanes.

The amount being paid to Transurban and Fluor to do the work includes a 40-year, $587 million loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation, an additional $600 million in private equity bonds released through a U.S. DOT program for added lane capacity, and a $409 million payment from Virginia.

Transurban and Fluor will ante up $350 million of their money to complete the $1.93 billion project.

The Capital Beltway is owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation, but Transurban will operate the HOT lanes for 75 years and use toll revenue to pay off the loan and bonds.

“By partnering with the private sector, Virginia can move forward on this project much more quickly than would be possible using traditional funding methods,” VDOT officials stated. Click here to read more about Virginia HOT lanes.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association are not completely against tolls when new capacity is added; however, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Rod Nofziger said the federal and state governments are giving up a lot to relieve congestion on the Beltway.

“I don’t see how this is anything different than government subsidies for private contractors,” Nofziger told Land Line during a phone interview from his Washington, DC, office.

Transurban officials stated on the company Web site that the Beltway HOT lanes will be the largest investment by a private company in a “greenfield” toll project in the U.S. Greenfield is defined as new lanes or capacity that did not previously exist, compared to the term “brownfield,” which refers to toll projects that involve existing lanes.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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