DENVER CO:470 Toll Beltway Continues Counter-Clockwise
By Peter Samuel
This is good news because revenue thus far has been so small that the accountants havent seen it worth reporting in the official annual report. For 6 years from July 1991 the E-470 Public Highway Authority (E-470 PHA) operated a tiny 8km (5mi) stub with in its first two years 7k tolls/day at a 50c toll producing barely $1m/yr. They got a bit more with a raise to 75c and the traffic grew a bit to 10k/day in 1994, but it remained a gesture of a toll road with a big set of plans.
In 1992, after a failed financing, it was decided that the alignment of the rest of the road was too far east of development. The effort to realign closer-in set off several years of arguments and litigation. The delay didnt make the Authority look good, and it involved considerable expense. But it may have been a good thing, actually, because the whole road was a bit ahead of its time. And they did get the more productive new alignment.
By Aug 1995 with the litigation settled, $654m of bonds were successfully sold, not just on the basis of toll revenue projections but with a complex collection of backup guarantees including earmarked registration fees. That funded a $385m design-build project that produced a lot of road for the money the extra 46km (29mi) that are now open (costing $2.1m/lane-km, $3.4m/lane-mi). Platt River Constructors, a Morrison Knudsen/Fluor Daniel company did the work. July 98 they opened two segments of 16km (10mi) and 11km (7mi) and those only took daily tolls to 20k/day, which seemed awful. There was still a missing segment under construction.
The 19km (12mi) middle section (Smoky Hill Rd to 56th Av) straddling I-70 only opened May this year. This is where the news gets better. The road is now doing 55k tolls/day, which Ed DeLozier, the CEO, says it is very encouraging compared with traffic numbers in the low 20ks before the whole of the road was opened. Many thought that filling the 19km gap would only boost traffic 50%, or if they were lucky would boost it 100%. So when instead it boosted it over 150% it was time to crack open the champagne. Connections of the toll road to I-70 obviously mattered a lot. So did continuity, encouraging those long trips.
The Authoritys business plan provides for it 117k tolls/day for 2000, still a major challenge. Bond documents showed toll revenue projected 1999 at $21m, the same as the current budget, and in 2000 $38m. The Authority also has the support of vehicle registration fee income of about $6m/yr from the state. Interest on debt is currently $30m/yr.
DeLozier says the road is benefitting from strong development in the corridor, especially around the airport. And the E-470 is being used as a relief for congested I-25 with a number of people from the south bound for the center on I-25 turning off taking the toll road as far was I-70 then coming in from the east. The road has a 70mph posted speed limit but motorists can fly along at up to 80mph without being bothered and with highway speed electronic tolling the 470 tags EXpressToll live up to their name. The full 54km is $4.75 for a car 8.8c/km (14c/mi).
E-470 is still wrestling with problems in its ET system which uses California Title 21 DSRC. MFS failed to deliver an operational system as contractually required by 6/30/98, and 15 months later the system still has three major areas that need improving before it will accept the system from MFS, were told. All this, fortunately, is invisible to patrons, but it creates problems with some patrons being untolled, problems in auditing and management, and uncertainties about prosecuting violators. The problems are ones of system integration, not the operation of any particular equipment.
There are just over 30k transponders in use. Regular toll collection at 4 mainline and at 20 ramp plazas is run by a contractor Mile High Toll Services. E-470 now has 4 full highway speed toll lanes at each of its four mainline toll plazas.
In Aug 97 the E-470 authority, with MBIA bond insurance, did a large refinancing, issuing $822m bonds to retire the higher interest debt and to put money in the bank for early costs on Segment IV. It has gotten bids from three finalists for finance/design/build for Segment IV (the segments opened July 98 and May 99 were together called Segments II and III). Segment IV is the remaining 20km (12mi) from 2 oclock to 12 noon completing a link from 120th Av, near Denver airport to I-25 completing the half-beltway. A free highway C-470 already exists in the southwest quadrant (from about 8 oclock to 6 oclock).
Cost of segment IV of E-470 in the northeast is thought likely to be about $250m.
It involves a 260m (850') multiple span bridge over the Platte River floodplain, 3 railroad bridges, 3 interchanges and a toll plaza. A traffic and revenue study commissioned by E-470 PHA shows revenues $11m in Yr 2, $40m in Yr 10. Operating costs are projected as rising from $6m to $10m. A Concept Design and Feasibility Study by MK Centennial and Carter Burgess Jun 97 suggested a 15k tolls/day on opening and 29k 12 years later at the main barrier plaza on the northern segment. It commented that this segment is somewhat further from early development than other sections of the road and so is not a great traffic draw before 2010. It found the greatest advantage to motorists came from high posted speeds and that only partial interchanges are warranted for the moment.
E-470 PHA gained necessary water crossing permits earlier when it was contemplating construction of the whole road in one shot, but these have now expired. It has reapplied for these permits but the environmentalist city of Golden, 20 miles away, is challenging these. It is also fighting further counter-clockwise development of the highway. (Contact Ed DeLozier 303 537 3470 TR#29 Jul 98 p13)
Former CEO of E-470 PHA, Steve Hogan departed Sept 98 to work on a new segment of roadway west of I-25 called the Northwest Parkway, sponsored by the Interlocken commercial development in Broomfield close to US-36, the de-tolled Boulder-Denver Turnpike. The cities of Broomfield and Lafayette, and Weld county have since formed a North West Parkway Public Highway Authority (NWPPHA), a non-profit which employs Hogan. It has a complex contract with Morrison Knudsen in which the contractor takes some of the risk in completing feasibility studies and pursuing permits for the NW Pwy unpaid. Vollmer is doing a traffic and revenue study due by years end.
The NW Pwy will be 17km (10.5mi) long and together with the final stage of E470 will provide a convenient new east-west route between Boulder, Broomfield and other northerly areas and Denver International Airport. (We suggested earlier that the obvious numbering for the NW Pwy is B-470 so that both Boulder and Broomfield can claim it stands for them. NW-470 just doesnt trip off the tongue.) This would take the Beltway around to about 10 oclock.
Hogan says theyre all on schedule to complete preliminary work by Feb 2000, and that the whole project looks to be in the range $200m to $250m . He hopes it will be financable with tolls as a standalone project. Theyd hope to go the bond markets summer/fall 2000.
The final section of the 470-Beltway, 8 oclock to 10 oclock to join Broomfield to I-70 may need a great long tunnel underneath Golden. Would that be G-470 or T-470? (Contact Steve Hogan 303 438 5303 TRnl#32 Oct 98 p4)