Traffic and revenue forecasts for The Toll Roads of Orange County CA - a history in charts (CORRECTED)

May 15, 2012
By Peter Samuel

2012-05-15: There are now fifteen years of forecasts versus actuality for the Transportation Corridors Agencies (TCAs) of Orange County California - who have branded their roads simply 'The Toll Roads'- nice and simple, if rather presumptuous. The TCAs present annual results going back to 1997.

The forecasts for the Foothill Eastern Toll Roads (CA133,CA241,CA261) were very good for ten years to 2006 - never off by more than 5 or 6 percent in any one year in transaction numbers. Revenue forecasts weren't quite as close but only Year 2 was low - by 9.1% - compared to forecast through 2007. Actual revenues were mostly 2 to 8% above forecast, a trend line just slightly above forecast but following forecast growth rather well.

But from 2006/2007 FETR have dropped way below forecast, both in traffic and revenue. FY2011 was 56.16m transactions vs 83.62m forecast, a 32.8% shortfall. Revenue was $100.1m vs $133.4m, 25% short of forecast.

Transactions peaked in 2007 at 67.56m and have dropped every year since to the 56.16m four years later - a fall of 16.9% versus a forecast growth of 17%.

The San Joaquin Hills Toll Road forecasts were different. They never worked. They were 10.4% low in the first year and every year except one in 14 years dropped further behind forecast. On the SJHTR by 2007 when traffic peaked at 31.1m they were 38% below forecast (50.2m). From that peak traffic has dropped 18.2% versus a further forecast increase of 19.5% and they are currently 42.5% of forecast, or a 57.5% shortfall.

Revenue on the SJHTR has been off from the start like traffic, but not as far off as traffic.  Revenue peaked in 2008 at $91.4m vs $123.1m forecast, a 25.7% shortfall. 2001 was $88.1m vs $144.3m forecast a 39% shortfall.

The original forecasts at the time of financing in the 1990s were the work of then Wilbur Smith Associates (now CDM Smith) - in September 1997 in the case of SJHTR, June 1999 for FETR. Vollmer Associates of New York City (absorbed into Stantec in 2007) did updates of the forecasts for two pikes and these were published in September 2003. The "PROJECTED" numbers are entirely from the original WSA forecasts.(CORRECTION/ELABORATION May 16 14:15)


OUR GUESS: The SJH forecasts seem to have been fundamentally flawed - perhaps a miscalculation of time savings on the SJHTR versus the free I-405/I-5 trip that except for local stops is its obvious competition.

The FETR on the other hand serves mostly trips not previously served in the west of the county. It got traffic and revenue right by assessing accurately the toll expressway's power to attract traffic from local streets.

It was spot on until the 2007 recession, which trashed population growth, jobs and development assumptions. And the forecast may have failed to anticipate, like others, an internet dampener on vehicle trips.

Internet effect?

We can shop now online and not trip to stores, and we are freer to work days from a home office, eliminating commute trips. With mobile phones, texting and emails we can remotely chat more easily. We can study online. Bigscreen digital TVs may produce fewer trips to the game?

TOLLROADSnews 2012-05-13 


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