Colorado's third toller is all-electronic - last toll collector in state laid off at NW Parkway

January 5, 2010

The last toll collector in Colorado handed in their coin tray for the last time 10pm Dec 31 as the Northwest Parkway went cashless with all-electronic tolling. The parkway's big sister E470 went cashless in the first half of 2009, and the last cash was collected July 3. I-25 HOT Lanes operated by Colorado DOT have always been cashless.

Steve Bobrick operations director at the NW Parkway says the company laid off the two fulltime collectors and a supervisor collector at year's end. He says there were no hard feelings because they'd known for a long time that their jobs would end, and they received a decent severance package.

Most of last year the parkway only staffed a single lane each direction at their mainline toll plaza at about the middle of the 9.5 mile (15.2km) tollroad north of Denver. They have two pairs of ramp toll points at interchanges to the east and west of the mainline plaza - at US287 and Sheridan Parkway. They were unstaffed but had coin machines until now.

The first several days of cashless tolling this year have been uneventful, Bobrick tells us. He says E470's conversion to all-electronic last summer made the move much easier for the Parkway.

With the announcement of the move to AET, increasing numbers of cash customers signed up for transponders during the course of last year, he says.  Transponder transactions as a proportion of total traffic rose from the range 70 to 72% early in the year to the 75% to 78% range by year's end.

Transponders for the NW Parkway are the EXpressToll branded California Title 21 standard issued by E470 and manufactured by Sirit. The Parkway simply sends customers to the E470 operated EXpressToll website or their customer service center.

So there is one transponder and one account for travel on both toll roads (and on I-25 HOT Lanes).

The Parkway has a negotiated arrangement with E470 to pay its share of the costs and to receive revenues for the portion of trips on the Parkway. A majority of journeys, Bobrick says, involve travel on both pikes. A common trip is for people from Bolder or Broomfield to Denver International Airport, involving about ten miles on the Parkway and twenty miles on the E470.

Different video tolling

Video tolling is done quite differently at the Parkway from E470 however. The NW Parkway has its own brand for video toll called GO-PASS and two separate deals:

- for motorists who wait for a toll bill to arrive in the mail they pay a 50c premium on the toll, currently $3.10 at the mainline plaza, making a total cost of $3.60 for the 9.5 mile trip (38c/mile). If the toll isn't paid in time there's a late fee charge of $6.50.

- motorists can get a better video toll deal by establishing GO-PASS Auto-Bill by going to giving their license plate number, name and address and credit card authorization for automatic billing of their card.  

GO-PASS Auto-Bill customers are billed the normal $3.10 toll at the mainline plaza or 32.6c/mile.

At the ramp tolls plain GO-Pass customers billed in the mail pay $1.00 plus the 50c processing fee or $1.50.

EXpressToll transponder customers and GO-PASS Auto-Bill customers alike get a 20% discount on the $1.00 at the ramp tolls and pay 80c. So I-25N to Sheridan Parkway a distance of 2 miles (3.2km) costs 40c/mile. By contrast the occasional customer billed in the mail pays $1.50 - in effect 75c/mile.

E470 has a single video toll deal. Every customer without a transponder is called a "License Plate Toll" customer. Transponder (EXpressToll) customers pay a 10% lower toll rate on the E470, which stated another way is an 11.1% (100/90) premium for video tolling. For a car traveling the full 46 miles (74km) of E470 the transponder account motorist is tolled $11 (23.9c/mile) while the License Plate or video toll customer is billed $12.25 (26.6c/mile) with the $1.25 or 2.7c/mile differential representing the video toll premium.

Tolls on both the Parkway and E470 can be calculated here:

NW Parkway video or GO-PASS tolls are expained here:

New toll system

Bobrick says that in preparation for the move to cashless they put in a completely new toll system including new cameras. It was custom designed by the small IT department of the Parkway and the parent toll company Brisa of Portugal. Until now they had been using a toll system installed for open road electronic tolling plus cash for the joint powers agency that opened the tollroad in 2003.

"It was time anyway for a serious upgrade," says Bobrick.

Cash toll lanes to remain behind barricades

For the moment he says the cash toll lanes are just barricaded off. They are likely to stay that way for perhaps a year just to preserve the option to return to cash tolling in a worst case scenario. Probably in about a year's time they'll think about removing the cash booths.

It looks to us, however as though the cantilevered canopies of the cash lanes will stay because they seem to balance the main cable-stayed gantry structure across the roadway. (see picture)

Northwest Parkway was built by Northwest Parkway Public Highway Authority a joint powers agency of the city and county of Broomfield, LaFayette city, and Weld County. It is a 2+2 lane counter-clockwise extension of E470 going from the northern end of E470 at I-25N nearly to US36 at Interlocken Business Park in Broomfield.

It has two intermediate interchanges.

The road opened November 24 2003 and began collecting tolls January 1 2004.

In November 2007 the public toll authority privatized the toll operation by signing a 99 year concession with Northwest Parkwayway LLC a subsidiary of the Brisa tollroad company based in Portugal with another Portugese toll operator CCR as minority shareholder. 

Brisa is a major European toller with 15 pikes extending over 1500km (940 miles).

ECONOMICS: NW Parkway Public Toll Authority privatized their pike because it was not servicing the debt incurred to build it. So far it is a lossmaker to Brisa too. They report (see table nearby) that for the first three-quarters of this year it only generated E5.1m, about $10.2m/year in revenue.  

Traffic is only about 10.5k/day.

They report a small operating surplus (EBITDA) - about $2.6m/yr - but insufficient to cover depreciation let alone financial costs (debt service) which they put at E11.4m for 3/4 year or $22.7m for the full year.

Brisa is large enough to carry these losses. It's overall revenues are about $900m a year. But the investment was likely made with the hope that the Denver beltway would eventually be completed with an extension linking south to C-470 at I-70 in Golden.

It may well be built one day, but not in the immediate future. Golden city government strongly opposes this construction. And the traffic may not warrant it any time soon, either.

TOLLROADSnews 2010-01-04

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