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D.C.'s new HOT Lanes off to a Slow Start

Recent financial disclosures from the company that operates the Capital Beltway's new high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in northern Virginia show that the lanes lost $11.3 million in their first six weeks of operation with fewer users than expected.
February 11, 2013, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Australian-based toll road developer Transurban, who helped build and now operates, the new Beltway Express Lanes, has reported to investors that over their first six weeks of operation, "[t]he lanes raked in $800,000 in tolls and $200,000 in fees and other revenue but had $3.2 million in operating costs, as well as depreciation of $2.1 million and financing costs of $7 million," reports Liz Essley. The lanes, which opened last November to much optimism among District area planners "trying to cope with the public’s desire for congestion relief and determination not to pay more taxes for a solution," were used by less than half the amount of vehicles projected by a traffic consultant to the project. 

"But company representatives say it's too early to despair," notes Essley. "'We're still definitely in the ramp-up period. This is such a major change in the traffic patterns in the region. We've opened a highway within a highway,' said 495 Express Lanes spokeswoman Pierce Coffee. 'It's really so early that it's too soon to tell.'"

"But if the lanes continue losing money in the long term, Virginia taxpayers would miss out on much-needed road money," explains Essley. "According to the agreement that Transurban and other private partners made with the commonwealth, Virginia will get 30 percent of the lanes' revenue if the project is a financial success, once the debt used to build the $1.7 billion project has been paid off."

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Published on Sunday, February 10, 2013 in The Washington Examiner
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