Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Small changes in traffic can have a big impact on toll road financing."

Bush Turnpike sees fewer drivers

July 31, 2008

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Drivers on the Bush Turnpike can be excused if they thought they had a little more room to maneuver in May and June. Both months brought small decreases in the number of toll payers on the roads, according to numbers released Thursday by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

NTTA officials said the toll road had about 2.3 percent fewer drivers in June than in 2007, and about 1.4 percent fewer in May.

That trend follows reports by federal officials that for the first time in decades, Americans as a group are driving less, even in fast-growing states such as Texas.

Still, the impact on NTTA's roads so far has been slight. Traffic on the Dallas North Tollway was about flat in both months, and up 3 percent for the first six months of the year, compared to the first half of 2007. Counting the new phase 3 section of the DNT, opened in September, traffic on the toll road was up 9 percent ending in June.

NTTA spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said high gas prices in the past have led to only temporary changes in toll traffic.

Still, even small changes in traffic can have a big impact on toll road financing if the changes become long-term trends. Wary of just that, NTTA officials asked consultants last week whether they should revise traffic estimates for State Highway 161 as the agency considers whether it should pay more than $1 billion to build and operate that Dallas County toll road.

Wilbur Smith Associates' answer? Gas prices at their current levels wouldn't have a big effect on the traffic estimates provided when gas was expected to be much cheaper.

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