The new Beltway Express Lanes lost $11.3 million in their first six weeks of operation, new documents shown to investors from operator Transurban show.
The 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, according to documents the Australian company showed investors and that were first reported by TollRoadsNews. The figures are in Australian dollars, which are close in value to U.S. dollars.
The Express Lanes charge drivers for a congestion-free ride from Springfield to just north of the Dulles Toll Road on Interstate 495. The tolls vary based on how far drivers go and how many other travelers are on the road -- the busier
the highway, the more expensive the ride.
Those who don't have an E-ZPass must pay online or through the mail, and pay an extra fee -- helping Transurban rack up its $200,000 in fees, a quarter of its revenue from the first six weeks.
But company representatives say it's too early to despair.
"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."
Coffee acknowledged that fewer drivers than expected were using the lanes -- an average of 23,308 vehicles took the lanes every day in the first six weeks, less than half of the 66,000 cars a traffic consultant for the project predicted in 2007.
"It's one of those things that not everybody feels comfortable right away to try a new thing," she said. "The ramp-up is definitely built into projects like this. ... We won't really know the full effect until years from now."
But if the lanes continue losing money in the long term, Virginia taxpayers would miss out on much-needed road money. 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.
But the disappointing return for the Beltway lanes wasn't enough drag Transurban down. The company still posted a profit of $81.1 million for the last half of 2012.