Greenville SC Southern Connector closed for three days for film shoot
By Peter Samuel
2013-04-22: The I-185 Southern Connector tollroad in Greenville SC is closed for three days - from 10pm Sunday April 21st to 10pm Wednesday - for a film shoot. A notice prominently highlighted on the pike's website has been warning of the closure, saying all access points will be barricaded. And in case anyone was tempted to move the barricades, it says these will be "manned by law enforcement officers."
The pike is being closed for some wild driving scenes in production of a TV episode of the Cinemax/HBO series Banshee (see below).
We've received some sardonic comments to the effect this is true "innovative financing" and derisive suggestions they'll make more money in film studio fees for Hollywood car chases, than from tolls.
Peter Femia chief executive of the Southern Connector says they aren't really making money by closing the road to regular traffic to the film-makers. He declines to state the value of the contract with Cinemax, but says it covers their costs.
It is "revenue neutral."
Based on the latest full year toll revenue reported ($5.77m for 2011 and weekends revenue half weekday three weekdays' tolls are $5.77m x 3/312) their lost revenue would be about $56,000. Add say $15,000 for the barricading, security, signage and marketing and our guess is they'd have to be paid about $70k for it to be revenue neutral.
Femia tells us the project arose from Cinemax asking the South Carolina Department of Transportation if they could provide a highway for some high speed driving scenes.
SCDOT suggested the Connector.
He tells us they were happy at the Connector to help because the state is trying to attract film productions to South Carolina - so long as they could do it in a way that covered their costs.
The film producers were prepared to accept less than the full 16 miles of the tollroad length, he says, but for safety and simplicity in notifying motorists they decided it was best to negotiate a full closure of the highway.
"Banshee: A Cinemax/HBO TV drama series"
"Banshee takes place in the fictional small town of Banshee, Pennsylvania. After serving 15 years in prison for stealing diamonds from a Ukrainian gangster called Mr Rabbit, the unnamed protagonist travels to Banshee to find his heist accomplice and former lover, Anastasia.
"When he finds her, the protagonist learns that she is now a married mother of two living under the assumed identity of Carrie Hopewell.
"Later, when the incoming Sheriff is killed, the protagonist takes on his identity as Lucas Hood, becoming the town's new Sheriff. Banshee sees Hood struggle with adapting to his new identity while dealing with the machinations of local crime lord Kai Proctor, and remaining hidden from Rabbit." (Wikipedia)
Update on the Connector
The Southern Connector a 16 miles, 26km tollroad on the southern fringe of the Greenville SC area. It improves access to a developing commercial and residential fringe via a kind of belt route extension. It also as well as provides something of a more direct route for traffic between Atlanta GA and Columbia SC on I-85 and I-385.
SCDOT established the Connector 2000 Association as a not-for-profit (IRS 6320) corporation governed by a state-appointed board of directors which raised private monies by sale of toll revenue bonds. They've used the extremely elastic term 'public private partnership' to characterize the arrangements.
The association successfully built the road on budget (about $200m) and ahead of schedule but traffic and revenue have always been well below the forecasts on which the project was launched - which assumed a continuation of rapid area growth that failed to occur. Moreover longdistance traffic generally didn't find the pike saved much time over the older free routes closer in to Greenville.
Traffic was consistently between a third and a half of the Wilbur Smith Associates forecasts done to support the bond issues for the first six years, but has fallen further behind forecast since.
By January 2010 the association had been forced to default on debt service and on June 25 2010 the association filed for bankruptcy under chapter 9 of US bankruptcy law.
Revenues were sufficient to cover operating expenses so the tollroad has remained open and operating throughout.
Most 6230s failed
A number of other 6320 pikes also launched in the late 1990s failed as well, so the Southern Connector was in company.
The lack of any patient equity capital plus little longterm 'skin-in-the-game' led to the launch of these projects based on the short-term payoff for the developers of the project, with little focus on their financial viability once operating and needing paying customers to service debt.
The Southern Connector has emerged from bankruptcy with a court-ordered writedown of capital but it is still doing poorly.
Traffic volumes declined 23% between 2007 and 2010 (from 5.84m to 4.54m) and has not really recovered since. Overall traffic is generally flat at around an annual average daily 13,000 transactions. Some of the drop in traffic has been due to increases in toll rates. (see table nearby)
Revenue has stayed between $5m and $7m/year. Operating expenses leave a margin of about $1m to $2m/year but amortization is $3.6m and interest expense about $7m make for a continued overall loss of about $10m/year.
Some progress - 6B+ performs better than IAG
Peter Femia says despite this there is some progress to report.
He says the conversion in 2011 from IAG toll equipment to 6B+ sticker tags from TransCore has produced substantial savings and that the new toll system works "extremely well" compared to the IAG equipment they had previously.
And there are several commercial projects and a couple of high end residential projects starting in the corridor that promises some extra traffic.
And he says that they are having some success in persuading more longdistance truckers to use the road. The lowcost sticker tags have proved a boon in promoting the tollroad to the big rigs, he says.