Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Pocahontas Parkway Pickle

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, an Aussie conglomerate and Irish bank are interested in purchasing long-term rights to operate the 8.8-mile Pocahontas Parkway that runs around the southeastern quadrant of the Richmond metro region. Selling off the operating rights to Transurban (USA) Inc., of Australia, and DEPFA Bank Plc., based in Ireland, would allow the Pocahontas Parkway Association, the nonprofit corporation that operates the three-year-old highway, to pay off about $400 million in bonds and other debt.

Traffic projections have not met expectations. Although the Parkway has met its bond payments so far, there is sufficient uncertainty about the future that the investment rating of the bonds has been downgraded. I would be interested to know how Transurban proposed to make money from the project. By stimulating development in eastern Henrico, perhaps?

A strategy of stimulating more poll-paying traffic might help pay off Parkway bonds, but it could come back to bite Henrico County. The spread of scattered islands of development in sparsely eastern Henrico would be incredibly inefficient from the perspective of providing public services. More development would require Henrico (which builds and maintains its own secondary roads, not VDOT) to extend better roads, utilities, public safety and other public services to the area. If anyone has examined the financial implications of such growth, I have not seen it. I suspect that it will be much more expensive than encouraging in-fill development and re-development.


At 7:01 AM, Blogger Snoopy said...

A real concern, to be sure, Jim. I am not sure if I remember this correctly, but didn't Henrico vote down increasing impact fees on developers to pay for road extensions around the Gaton Rd. & 64 area last year?

I know that gets passed on to the buyer of the house in the new subdivision, but that might be better than heaping it on all of Henrico citizens in helping offest some of the costs.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous sdh4vbt said...

At a meeting of a House Transportation Subcommittee yesterday in Fairfax, Chairman Leo Wardrup made some pretty friendly noises toward the idea of "franchising" roads like the Pocahontas Parkway. Wardrup said toll is not a four letter word anymore. Clearly Pocahontas Parkway traffic will grow, especially once there is a real link to the airport (a real oversight with the original roadway) but just as clearly these investors would be free to charge whatever toll the market will bear once the demand is there -- either through more development or once the neglect of I-95 and I-64 leave them completely gridlocked. Frankly I think that is the 30-year scenario they might be looking at -- gridlock that leaves their road as the only alternative.


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