Delaware tolls doubling in four years shoot ahead of fuel taxes

July 24, 2007

Delaware is aggressively increasing tolls. This year for the first time tolls are grossing more than the state's fuel taxes (gasoline + diesel taxes). Whereas tolls were only 80% of fuel taxes in FY2005 they will be about 43% higher by FY2009, according to estimates we have cobbled together based on various DelDOT reports (see table below right).

Toll revenues in Delaware will have almost doubled in four years when toll increases just approved have their first full-year effect in FY2009 - going from FY2005 $91m to $175m. Fuel tax proceeds by contrast are virtually stagnant in the $114m to $122m range.

In Delaware tolls are collected by the state department of transportation (DelDOT) and go into a "transportation trust fund" along with fuel taxes and license fees. Toll rates are set by the legislature as part of the annual budget process along with taxes and fees.

The last big toll increase was just two years back in 2005.

Not surprisingly Delaware legislators are taking the line of least political resistance in raising tolls. In Delaware proper the already high tolls levied largely on 'foreigners' on I-95 are being increased by a third, while the low toll rate Delaware State Route One (DE1 or SR1) on local commuters will remain largely unchanged. On the Delaware Memorial Bridge - operated in conjunction with the state of New Jersey - trucks are taking the full hit to raise more revenue with tolls per axle up a dollar (33%).

The I-95 money machine passes $100m

The giant toll money machine in Delaware is the Newark Toll Plaza across the mainline of I-95 (Delaware Turnpike) just inside the Maryland state line. An average daily 74k vehicles are tolled both directions, and in FY2007 Delaware I-95 revenues were projected to exceed $100m for the first time. Because of the toll plaza's location against the Maryland state line 100% of the tollpayers are traveling interstate and an estimated 90% of them are "foreigners" to Delaware - people who aren't citizens of Delaware and don't influence the legislature.

The Delaware legislature early this month enacted a budget that will hike toll rates October 1. It is estimated to garner an additional $20m this financial year on I-95 and $28m on I-95 in the first full year of the higher tolls. Toll rates are going up $1.00 for all classes of vehicle, so car tolls go from $3.00 to $4.00. With the Delaware Turnpike measured at 11 miles long (18km) - the Maryland state line (point 1 in map) to the I-95/295 split (point 3 in the map) - the car toll goes to 36.4c/mile (22.5c/km), one of the highest in the country outside of California.

Only 2.36 miles of Delaware I-95 are actually tolled - the section between the first interchange in Delaware (DE896) and the Maryland state line shown as points 1 to 2 in the map - the other 8.7 miles having long since lost their toll points due to political pressure. There local traffic traveling free bulks up the traffic flows to 183k veh/day.

If you apply the 2.36 mile denominator to the new car toll rate of $4.00 you get 1.69c/mile or $1.05c/km - toll rates higher than the highest charged on the 91 Express lanes 97.5c/mile (61c/km).

Delaware State Route One (SR1 or DE1) which is a tollroad for 51 miles (82km) from St George to Dover was projected to raise $34m in 2007. That toll take is due to rise to $48m in FY2009, the first full year of new toll rates.

Tolls on the full length of DE1 through mianline plazas at Biddles Corner and Dover are $1 for frequent users (30 trips in 30 days with a transponder), $1.70 for transponder users and $2.00 for cash payers or per mile rates of 1.96c/mile, 3.3c/mile, and 3.9c/mile (1.2c, 2.1c, 2.4c/km) - a tiny fraction of the per mile toll rates on the 'foreigners' tollroad - I-95.

Come October 1 the frequent users tolls will stay the same weekdays, and the present 15% discount for transponders will be eliminated so commuters with transponders and cash payers will pay the same $2 total through the two toll plazas.

On DE1 car tolls are going up $1.00 at weekends. With traffic heading for the Delaware beaches out of Pennsylvania and New Jersey at weekends [defined as 7pm (1900) Fridays to 11pm (2300) Sundays] you get a minor I-95 foreigners effect on DE1.

Truck tolls on DE1 are going up by $1.00 weekdays and $2.00 weekends.

On I-95 a big night-time discount for trucks with a transponder is being eliminated Oct 1. For a 5-axle tractor trailer the daytime toll goes from $8.00 to $9.00 but the present nighttime [10pm (2200) to 6am (0600)] goes from $2.00 to $9.00.

The extra revenues will help finance improvements to the eastern end of I-95 including widened ramps to I-295 toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge and New Jersey, fifth laning through the marshes before the I-95/295 split, and direct connector ramps to DE1 in place of the clogged cloverleaf loops for the big flow I-95 west to DE1 South. But improvements to the Newark Toll Plaza - which regularly generates backups of ten miles and delays of an hour - are pushed off well into the next decade. Their elimination isn't a priority for Delaware politicians because they only annoy foreigners.

Delaware Memorial Bridge toll increase for truckers

On the Delaware Memorial Bridge at the Delaware-New Jersey border the major burden of the first toll increase in seven years is being put on truckers.

Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA), the bi-state agency that operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge linking the New Jersey Turnpike to the Delaware Turnpike and I-95 is limiting toll increases to trucks. July 17 the Authority board voted to increase tolls by $1 per axle.

The vice-chairman of the DRBA James N Hogan is quoted: "The response and feedback from local citizens and elected officials helped shape the decision-making process."

Truckers apparently don't have many votes.

Effective January 1, 2008 trucks will be charged $4.00/axle - from $3.00 per axle now.

There is a small new impost on commuter car driver - all transponder users will start to be charged a $1.50/month account maintenance fee.

Bridge revenue $73m

Delaware Memorial Bridge in 2006 took $73m in toll revenue based on an average 48.5k tolls per day. It tolls southbound only, so total traffic is about 100k/day. The bridge has twin spans of 4 lanes each direction, striped taking up the whole of the deck - no shoulders. It is signed for 55mph (89km/hr and is a genuinely lowspeed facility because of the steepness of the approaches, the often high winds, plus close-spaced entries and exits on either end of the bridge.

10% of the traffic is heavy trucks (5 axles) - about 10k/day both directions - but they contribute 36% of toll revenue. Total commercial vehicles contribute almost half toll revenues.

The bridge has operating costs of $16m making net revenues of $57m. This subsidizes other operations. The Cape May-Lewes ferries at the mouth of the Delaware have operating costs of $21m against revenues of only $13.7m meaning they lose $7.3m even before any administrative overhead or depreciation is charged. And five small airports run by DRBA have revenues of $5.36m against operating costs of $4,46m. In the name of "economic development" the DRBA financed a Salem Business Center in Carney's Point NJ which it operated at a cost of $1.74m over three years while gaining only $593k revenue. It is selling the property, also at a loss. The authority has longterm debt outstanding of $321m.


PHOTO CREDITS: top picture from the useful website

TOLLROADSnews 2007-07-23

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