Thursday, July 31, 2008

"It's killing us."

Gas prices drive motorists away from toll roads, shrink revenue


By Judy Keen,
Copyright 2008

CHICAGO — Record gas prices are prompting drivers to steer clear of some toll roads, bridges and tunnels, causing declines in the revenue that's used for repairs and maintenance.

"It's killing us," says Parrish French, finance director for West Virginia's parkways authority. In June, revenue from passenger car tolls was down 7.3% from June 2007, and tolls paid by commercial drivers on the state's 88 miles of toll roads declined 4%.

Transportation facilities in 34 states collect about $8 billion in tolls a year, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Those facilities are feeling the effects of high gas prices and a switch to carpooling and mass transit: Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May 2008 than in May 2007, the Federal Highway Administration says.

"Everyone's talking about increasing tolls" for the first time since 1981 to ensure that maintenance needs are met, French says. Cars pay $3.75 to drive the full length of West Virginia's toll road; 18-wheel trucks pay $12.75.


• Revenue is off 3.5% or $17.6 million for the period from July 2007 to March 2008 on Florida's 600 miles of toll roads and bridges, says Christa Deason of Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.

"It has the possibility to affect our upcoming work program," which totals $1 billion, Deason says.

• Traffic on the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, was down 11.2% in June compared with a year ago but revenue is up 6.8% for the year because of toll hikes, says Bob Sweeney of the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Still, the authority is considering ways to extend the life of the bridge deck so a $200 million deck replacement project can be delayed.

• The Maine Turnpike saw a 4% drop in traffic in June.

• Traffic on the Indiana Toll Road was down about 5% in the first quarter of the year, spokesman Matt Pierce says.

• Traffic is down slightly on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, says Kris Kolluri, Turnpike Authority chairman and transportation commissioner. Tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike declined 4.8% in June compared to a year earlier and the parkway's drop was 4.3%.

Mass-transit ridership is up 4-5% and traffic is steady on the Atlantic City Expressway, which suggests that the gambling mecca is a vacation destination for residents who decided to stay closer to home, Kolluri says.

• Traffic is down less than 1% on the Illinois Tollway, probably because most of its 1.4 million daily users are commuters, says spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis.

© 2008, USA Today:

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