Delaware River commission projects $22m to $38m/year tolls for $310m I-95 Scudder Falls P3 bridge

September 1, 2010

A traffic and revenue report puts potential toll revenues on the proposed new Scudder Falls bridge near Trenton NJ - the subject of a P3 or private concession procurement - in the range of $22m and $35m/year. If operating costs are a quarter to a third of this then net revenues would be $16m to $24m/year. That's a 5% to 8% return on investment. Little growth is projected. Given risks this appears to make it borderline for investors expected to come up with $310m or so to build the bridge.

Investor groups may of course see the numbers differently.

They come from a "Longterm Traffic and Revenue Report" prepared in March of 2009 by Jacobs Engineering that is only now being released by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC). The report is on the prospects for the Commission's existing seven toll bridges with a separate section on the Scudder Falls Bridge tolled (40 pages out of 92.) They call it a Level II (2) traffic and revenue study - without any description of what other levels are.

Toll collection was assumed to be all-electronic (AET) - a mix of transponder toll collection and license plate camera reads.

 Surveys identified likely types of traffic as mostly commuters, the rest being local recreational and shopping trips. There is very little long-distance trucking over this bridge. Close to 91% of vehicles are Pennsylvania or New Jersey plates - much lower proportions of out-of-state traffic than on the DRJTBC I-80 and I-78 bridges to the north.

75% of trips are single occupant.  The overwhelming majority of trips have origins and destinations within about 25 miles (40km) of the bridge.

Traffic on the Scudder Fall Bridge showed small growth in the 1990s but has been rather constant at around 20m/year (55k/day average) from 2000 to 2008. There have been declines since.

Other bridges in the Trenton area have also shown little growth in aggregate in ten years, although a rise in traffic on the Lower Trenton bridge has been matched by a decline on the Calhoun Street bridge.

Forecasts are based on present traffic and on toll diversion factors. They are presented as a low toll/higher traffic ($1/cars) alternative and a high toll/lower traffic ($3 for cars) alternative.

Traffic drops from about 30k/day westbound to 24k with the low toll and to around 20k with the higher toll. Truck tolls were put at $4/axle in both scenarios.

One third of trucks are assumed to leave the bridge with the proposed $4/axle tolls and 17% of cars in the $1/car toll and 30% in the case of the $3/car toll.

Registered license plate tolls would carry a $1.75 premium over transponder tolls and unregistered video tolls would incur a $3.50 fee/transaction. These are alike for cars and trucks.

Operating costs of collecting E-ZPass transponder tolls are put at 2c/transaction compared to 17.4c for registered camera or video tolls and $2.42/transaction for unregistered tolls that have to b searched out through motor registry databases and other collection means.

Jacobs report sees a benefit to the  DRJTBC from traffic that uses the presently untolled Scudder Falls bridge diverting to the tolled Trenton-Morrisville toll bridge and adding to its revenues - by from $1.7m to $2.7m/year.

The new bridge would replace a tight 2+2 lane bridge 51 years old with three travel lanes each direction and 2 auxiliary or ramp lanes northbound and one auxiliary lane southbound and one hiking/bike lane plus breakdown shoulders. It also involves rebuilding of four nearby interchanges and 4.4 miles, 7km total of road.

COMMENT: You have to wonder if 3+3 travel lanes are really needed given the volumes of traffic forecast. 2+2 might suffice. And maybe a single auxiliary lane each direction - saving 36ft (9.1m) of bridge deck and pavement. That would be one fifth of the 174ft, 53m deck width planned. If US1 through Princeton and New Brunswick to I-287 ever gets upgraded to expressway standard there would be an increase in longer distance traffic. Otherwise it is destined to remain largely a local bridge.

The new bridge with 9 lanes was designed around traffic forecasts by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) in 2003. These suggested that bridge traffic would rise from the 2003  59.5k vehicles/day to 76.5k/day in 2030, the design year for a new bridge. That's a 29% increase whicxh isn't supported by the Jacobs study. Trimming perhaps 15% of the cost of the project through scaling it down 20% would make its cost more manageable at $265m rather than $310m.

project website:

copy of the Jacobs T&R report

earlier report

TOLLROADSnews  2010-11-31

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