VA Veterans Bridge beats initial estimates for traffic, tolls
The $400 million Veterans Bridge in Chesapeake, VA, has outperformed expectations for traffic and toll revenue, according to The Virginian-Pilot, though traffic on the bridge has reduced since tolls were added.
From early February, when tolling began, through the end of June, traffic was 30% higher and daily toll revenue was 4% higher than anticipated. The figures would have been higher, officials said, but 75% of the average 26,000 drivers that pass over the bridge on weekdays use the E-ZPass system, which offers discounted rates.
Chesapeake officials said they collected $3.56 million in tolls in the first five months. Toll revenue will go toward servicing the bridge's construction loan debt, operations and maintenance.
Unlike its Virginia counterpart, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, in Washington, has failed to meet traffic and toll projections in the 10 years since it was built. The bridge has not come close to projections of nearly 17 million motorists per year, failing to surpass even 15 million vehicles annually. According to The News Tribune, the bridge would have to see 27 million vehicles between April and December 2017 to make up the difference.
Total toll revenue collected through March 2017 was $537 million — $225 million less than what the bridge was projected to collect through the end of 2017. However, the Washington Department of Transportation said the bridge's construction bond payments are current, and the agency is still on track to pay off all bridge-related debt and sales taxes by 2032, as scheduled. After that, the state will stop tolling.
Toll projections are tricky, especially for the private companies that deliver projects under public-private partnerships. The collection of toll revenue is one way that consortia are repaid for financing a public project like a bridge, but unexpected local or national economic swings, for example, can result in lower actual traffic.
Lee Weintraub, shareholder at Fort Lauderdale, FL–based commercial law firm Becker & Poliakoff and chair of the firm's P3 group told Construction Dive last year that if toll revenues are higher than expected, the private companies, which have taken on operations and maintenance as part of the deal, keep the extra money. However, like in Washington, those firms also assume the risk of lower-than-projected traffic, and therefore less revenue.
Follow Kim Slowey on Twitter