Transurban: Express Lanes don’t have problems like Richmond toll road

WASHINGTON – Creditors are taking over operations of a state-owned toll road outside Richmond that is run by the same company that runs the 495 Express Lanes, though a representative of the company denies that there are any problems regarding the Beltway lanes.

Transurban, an Australian company, tells WTOP that the Pocahontas Parkway and 495 Express Lanes couldn’t be more different, but a look at the numbers shows that the Beltway lanes have far fewer drivers using them at this point than originally projected, and other High Occupancy Toll lanes across the country are similarly coming up short of expectations for either the number of vehicles or the revenue raised.

Initial projections for the lanes, prior to the economy faltering several years ago, said that more than 66,000 trips would be made each weekday within the first year. The lanes have been open seven months, and traffic is well below those expectations.

Transurban spokesman Pierce Coffee said in an e-mail that the two roads are very different.

“The 495 Express Lanes run through one of the busiest employment and retail centers on the East Coast; Pocahontas runs through a field,” she wrote.

She points to continuing growth in traffic since the lanes opened in November, which the most recent public data on the lanes confirms.

The lanes were a completely new concept for the Washington area, and they initially caused some confusion for drivers, but there are signs more and more drivers say they are feeling comfortable using them.

“Revenues grew progressively during the March quarter, from $25,437 during the first full week in January 2013 to $36,112 for the week prior to Easter (week beginning March 18, 2013), a 42 percent increase. Average daily traffic grew 13 percent for the March quarter compared to the December quarter, while average daily traffic grew 15 percent from the first full week in January to the week prior to Easter,” Coffee said.

In Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle HOT lanes have carried less traffic than projected over their initial operating period, raised less revenue from tolls or both.

Coffee says the slow start for the Beltway lanes is likely just a ramping-up period that is different from the longer-term issues around the Pocahontas Parkway.

“In 2006, we made an investment in Pocahontas based on anticipated residential and commercial growth around Pocahontas 895. We also shifted the risk away from Virginia and Virginia taxpayers. We’re disappointed that growth never came,” she wrote.

The economic downturn meant many development projects in the parkway area never materialized.

Coffee said the needed growth is already here in Northern Virginia, with consistent traffic congestion and tens of thousands of commuters and shoppers going to and from Tysons every workday.

Fluor-Transurban also is building express lanes on Interstate 95 which are scheduled to open in late 2014.

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