Raleigh NC Triangle Expressway open over its full length, tolls begin Jan 2 2013

December 28, 2012

2012/12/29: The Triangle Expressway (TriEx), North Carolina's first modern era tollroad is now open over its full length and tolls will be collected beginning January 2, 2013. The opening  of the third of three phases was Thursday December 20. The tollroad is mostly an extension counterclockwise of I-540 a partial belt route around the Raleigh metro area sharing the same 540 numbering (but as a state route not an interstate).

In effect the TriEx is a north-south route on the western edge of the Raleigh metro area. The main section is 13 to 15 miles (21km to 24km) out from the center of Raleigh. The northern end is only a couple of miles away from the Raleigh Durham International Airport obviously a major generator of road trips along with the Research Triangle Park employment center. But traffic for the Expressway is heavily dependent on residential development on the western and southwestern portions of the metro area.  

The NC540 portion of the TriEx is about 15 miles, 24km in length. The northern spur off NC540 to I-40 in Research Triangle Park is 3.5 miles, 5.7km, making the Triangle Expressway a total of 18.5 miles, about 30km. It is 2x3 lanes and has eleven interchanges. Major free competition comes from NC55 also known as Apex Highway, a 2x2 lane surface arterial that roughly parallels NC540/NC147 and I-40 to Durham in the northwest of the metro area.

A $billion plus

Project costs were estimated in 2009 at $955m comprising a design-build contract of $673m, right of way $231m, and about $50m other.  Actual costs have been just over $1 billion. By our estimate it has 111 lane-miles so cost has been about $9.5m/lane-mile. Per linear or centerline mile the cost is $57m.

The project opened on time according to a project schedule of 2009.

The Triangle Expressway opened from north to south.

- Phase 1 opened December 8, 2011,  tolls beginning January 3, 2012.

- Phase 2 opened August 1, 2012 and tolls began the next day.

- Phase 2 opened December 20, 2012, tolls begin January 2, 2013.

Projected toll revenues have been forecast - by Wilbur Smith Associates, now CDM Smith - in a senior lien toll revenue bond document of April 2009 - to be  $6.6m in 2013, $18m in 2014, $44m in 2020, $71m in 2025 and $96m in 2030.This was a slight modification of numbers produced in a revised traffic and revenue study. It lagged economic development in the region three years from the report they produced in early 2008. It was to attempt to take into account the financial crisis and recession whose seriousness was not evident earlier.

Base traffic numbers (AADT) from 2006 were 54k on the I-540 outside the airport and close by the northern end of NC540 and 55k on NC147 or Durham Freeway at I-40 where the Expressway's western NC147 spur now plugs in to that interchange. Traffic on the NC55 surface arterial that parallels the bulk of the Triangle Expressway was less than 20k except in its southern portion around Apex where it was under 30k.

These relatively small numbers indicate the extent to which the tollroad is being built to cater to future traffic arising from development rather than existing traffic. The really heavily trafficked highway according to these counts is the I-40. It runs from 138k in Research Triangle Park to 155k closer in to Raleigh. But I-40 is a radial and more east-west so there is little opportunity for the Triangle Expressway to take any of its traffic.

Downrating of growth assumptions 2009 vs 2008

There were major reductions in assumed growth of employment in the area in 2009.  But the growth assumed in the Triangle Expressway corridor is still quite strong: population 2005 166k, 2010 213k, 2020 292k, 2030 365k (p4-7).

Employment at the main concentration of employers for the corridor in Research Triangle Park at the northern end of the expressway is assumed to grow 2005 115k, 2010 141k, 2020 184k, 2030 233k.

Household income is 17% higher at $68k in the TriEx corridor than the region as a whole but the advantage is assumed to fall over time.

WSA used value of time estimates ranging from just under $10/hour for off-peak work to $21/hour for airport related business travel with peakhour workers in Research Triangle Park valuing their time at $16.50 for short trips and $13.24 for those involving travel outside RTP.

Toll rates

The Turnpike adopted approximately a forecaster recommended a transponder toll of 14.5c/mile (video toll 22.2c/mile) for cars. That is just a cent short of the estimated revenue maximizing toll of 15.5c transponder 23.1c/mile. That also puts the TriEx about mid-range of the toll rates for a selection of urban tollroads in the US.

Forecast traffic by segment

Forecast traffic in the tollroad's first year is quite modest. Weekday traffic in nine mainline segments is forecast for 2013 (north to south) at 19.8k, 17.0k, 19.0k, 22.8k, 20.0k, 19.0k, 15.2k, 16.8k, 11.2k.

For 2020 that has risen to 30.8k, 28.2k, 33.0k, 40.4k, 35.2k, 36.6k, 30.2k, 33.2k, 23.0k.

Only in 2030 do most mainline segments run over 40k weekdays.

There is going to be plenty of criticism that the road is "empty," given that people are used to seeing 6 lane highways like the TriEx running 100k.

The 2013 forecast traffic translates into 96k weekday transactions and $69k revenue or 15.1m transactions for the year and $10.5m toll revenue. They then discount further for 'ramp-up' to get 10.2m transactions and $7.1m in revenue.

Toll transponders or license plate read and pay-by-mail

NC Turnpike Authority said it sold its 50,000th Quick Pass brand transponder December December 19 fourteen months after beginning sales. The transponders supplied by TransCore are that company's ISO 18000 6B sticker tags with additional proprietary encryption as used in Florida, Texas and Oklahoma. Most of the transponders sold are the familiar sticker tags.

The Quick Passes sell for $5.

An unbranded hardcased transponder using the same protocols and now usable in the E-ZPass area is sold for $20. Vehicles without any transponder have their license plate image recorded via cameras and after motor registry lookup they are billed.




FEEDBACK: a Raleigh reader comments:

"This is an important accomplishment that will effectively draw daily commuter traffic in route to RTP  from southern Wake County and Harnett County off of NC55.

"It is especially valuable in providing an alternative to its horrendous bottleneck as a 2-lane, multiple signal segment through the Town of Apex.

"However the real gemstone in waiting for TriEx is the southeastern extension shown on the HNTB map as Future Southern Wake Freeway.

"This future highway will continue TriEx from the current southern terminus at NC 55 Bypass east to the I-40/US70 interchange.

"It will then continue on around to the existing northeastern terminus of I-540 at US264 in eastern Wake county.

"Completion of the southeastern extension, which is currently in the NEPA phase, is expected to draw significant volumes of commuter and through traffic away from Raleigh's congested I-40/I-440 inner beltline to TriEx."

TOLLROADSnews 2012-12-29  FEEDBACK ADDED Dec 29 1600

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