Transurban Ready to March North to DC

A private toll company is about to get a huge holiday present from Virginia taxpayers, who will again be forced to pay tolls to use the highway they already built and paid for.  Why is Virginia about to give away more of your public highways to a private toll company?   Where is a finding of public interest before handing over the keys to our existing roads without a competitive bidding  process?  And how will adding more cars  to the already full I-395  HOV lanes improve congestion into DC across the 14th Street bridge complex?

Before VDOT awarded the HOT/Express Lane contract for I-395/95 to Transurban/Fleur, Arlington County filed a lawsuit that sought to derail the project, or at least keep it outside of Arlington.  Faced with a well financed lawsuit by a government entity that could drag on for years, VDOT backed down to keep the Express Lane project rolling.  The state agency reduced the project’s scope to end around the Alexandria city line.  The suit was dropped in 2011, Arlington paid its outside counsel around $1M in fees, and VDOT agreed to do environmental analysis before continuing any Express Lanes on I-395, leaving the door open for a potential expansion in the future.

The result was a Maginot line for private tolling formed on I-395 around Edsall Road.  North of the line, regular HOV policies apply at rush hours.  South of the line, the express road is controlled by Transurban and their HOT/Express Lane unlimited toll rates apply. The state funded and built new improvements to the northern HOV lanes, in particular a $76 Million massive new interchange and ramps at Seminary Road, near the Mark Center that is slated to open next Spring.

But the future may be here.  VDOT believes a new Environmental Assessment will pave the way for more tolls on existing roads. Transurban would be able to push past the line at Edsall Road.  And all they need to “build” are  E-ZPass antennas and perhaps a sound wall with some minor improvements.

VDOT has released a plan to collaborate further with  Transurban, allowing their tolled Express Lanes to extend north to the shores of the Potomac River.  Construction to convert the existing HOV lanes to Express Lanes could start as early as 2017, a fairly busy year on VDOT’s calendar of privatized construction.   The construction would not take much effort beyond installing toll gantries, since the taxpayers have already funded and built the future private infrastructure.

Details have not been released yet, such as how long the Transurban contract would last for this section, although it is reasonable to assume it would be similar to the six decades that Transurban already controls their I-95 lanes.   There is no word if VDOT would seek a non-compete agreement with parallel roads (as VDOT has with I-95), forced taxpayer payments for excessive carpooling (as VDOT must do with I-95 and I-495), or forced payments for a parallel Metro route (as VDOT seeks to do in its draft terms for I-66 Express Lanes).

Why does VDOT believe it can allow and encourage Transurban to push forward toward DC without the legal challenges it fears?   VDOT would “guarantee” transit funding, carefully designed to quiet any opponents.

The big question is, why is your state planning to give away a major piece of your infrastructure without a competitive bid?  What quiet deals have already been made with an incumbent concessionaire?  Why is the state prepared to give away a lucrative No Bid contract that hands over the public’s infrastructure for decades to come?


This entry was posted in Government Policy, Tolls, Transportation Planning. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Transurban Ready to March North to DC

  1. Mark says:

    The size of the “Transit” Subsidy” is the big question. The state should get at least $200 Million up front and $25 Million per year that escalates based on performance. This project is going to be a cash cow. The only project this money should go to is a capital investment in a new blue line between Rosslyn and Union Station.

    Metro will never solve its current core capacity issues until this is completed. This is the only project that will provide high capacity transportation across the river. On December 9th, the CTB is going to pass a resolution to start the discussions about various Potomac River Crossings with Maryland and DC.

    “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board recommends the Office of the Secretary of Transportation initiate discussions with the District of Columbia and Maryland regarding expanding Metrorail capacity between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom in Washington, DC.”


    • Bryan says:

      Mark, if what the state has claimed so far is correct, the money leftover from tolls (after paying Transurban, stockholders, bondholders, expenses, etc) would go into the 395 corridor.


  2. Mark says:

    I think the transit subsidy will be a defined payment similar to what is proposed for I-66 Outside the Beltway. The transit funding will be much higher because the construction risk and cost for I-395 is much lower than I-66.

    I consider a new blue line to be part of the the 395 Corridor. Five More 8 Car Trains per hour is equivalent to 80 Buses per hour

    A new blue line will be also benefit Red, Orange, Silver and Green Lines


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