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California Toll Road Needs Billion Dollar Bailout
California agency asks for $1.1 billion from US Department of Transportation to bail out toll road network that cost $1.7 billion to construct.

TCA brochure
The public agency responsible for operating California's largest network of toll roads is now looking to federal taxpayers for financial help. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) have asked the US Department of Transportation for a record $1.1 billion in TIFIA loan support to avoid collapse. TCA's 51-mile system of roads generates $294 million in yearly revenue.

"Nearly twenty years ago, the political leadership and local developers in Orange County recognized toll roads as the only viable solution to fund the county's much needed road infrastructure," TCA officials wrote in a promotional brochure. "TCA pioneered the concept of public-private partnerships in transportation."

That once-promising model has faltered as motorists hammered by record gasoline prices have decided to save money by avoiding the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll routes. TCA is not alone in facing diminishing returns. Toll roads around the country and around the world have reported drops in paying traffic of between 10 and 13 percent while gasoline tax receipts have fared much better. As late as June, TCA officials insisted that their public-private partnership model protected taxpayers.

"The toll roads are designed and built with proceeds from the sale of toll revenue bonds, which are repaid entirely by tolls collected on the completed road," TCA spokesman Jennifer Seaton wrote in an email to TheNewspaper. "No tax dollars are at stake."

The construction cost of the TCA toll roads was $1.7 billion. Since 1998, TCA has also levied $420 million through developer fees that are passed on to taxpayers. Around 23 percent of the money collected from drivers so far has gone solely to cover the expenses required to run the collection systems, according to a report by the Washington state Department of Transportation (read report). By comparison, collection cost for the state's eighteen-cent fuel excise tax is just 0.69 percent.

Source: O.C. toll road agency seeks federal bailout (Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2008)

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