Skip to content

Posts from the "Highway Expansion" Category

25 Comments

How Macquarie Makes Money By Losing Money on Toll Roads

This is the second post in a three-part series about privately financed highways. Part one introduced the Indiana Toll Road privatization as an example of shoddily structured infrastructure deals. Part three looks at how faulty traffic projections lead bad projects to get built, and how the public ends up paying for those mistakes.

When you invest in Macquarie Atlas Roads, now-worthless shares in the Indiana Toll Road (and four “Other Toll Roads”) are an almost-free bonus with your purchase of shares in APRR, which runs profitable toll roads in France. Image: Macquarie Atlas’ September 2014 Investor Presentation

Macquarie Group, the gigantic Australian financial services firm with some $400 billion in assets under management, has made a lot of money in the infrastructure privatization game.

The publicly traded company owns the Brussels Airport, the Dulles Greenway, telecommunications towers in Mexico, a wind farm in Kenya, and much more. One of those assets was the Indiana Toll Road, which Macquarie purchased in 2006 with Spanish firm Ferrovial — whose most profitable assets include Heathrow Airport and the 407 toll road ringing Toronto. The Indiana Toll Road was housed in a spinoff company called ITR Concession Co. LLC., which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in September after a disastrous eight-year run.

Macquarie and Ferrovial paid the state of Indiana $3.8 billion for the Indiana Toll Road. At the time, it was the largest infrastructure privatization deal in U.S. history. Eight years later, the road was saddled with an astounding $5.8 billion in debt, far beyond the original, unexpectedly-high purchase price.

Traffic fell well short of the projections offered by the engineering firm Wilbur Smith (now CDM Smith), and the company blamed the bankruptcy on the fallout from the recession.

But some observers also pointed to the risky financing underlying the deal. Macquarie and Ferrovial each chipped in just $374 million of their own money to finance the deal. The other $3 billion was borrowed from seven European banks, six of which have since been bailed out by their respective governments.

Granted, the deal happened in 2006, when debt was flowing freely. According to a 2007 profile by Fortune’s Bethany McLean, Macquarie borrowed its billions using loans resembling a balloon mortgage. It would purchase a type of derivative, called an “accreting swap,” to get a low teaser interest rate, all the while assuming that a refinance was just around the corner. But when credit markets froze entirely, Macquarie couldn’t extricate itself from punishing interest payments.

McLean cited the example of the Macquarie-owned Chicago Skyway: “In 2007 the Skyway will pay interest of just $129,000 on $961 million of debt. But the interest payment for 2018 is to be $480 million — that’s not a typo.”

That helps explain how Macquarie and Ferrovial ended up owing almost twice as much as they paid for the Indiana Toll Road, after collecting tolls for eight years.

Randy Salzman, associate editor of Thinking Highways North America, has reported extensively about similar tollway deals and their aftermath, saying it’s common for privately financed roads to go bankrupt. He says that firms acquiring infrastructure typically provide very little of their own cash, and because of a complicated mix of fees and tax breaks, they may benefit financially even when the deals go sour.

“You’d think that they wouldn’t be investing in these things because so many of them go bankrupt,” he said. “You’d think that the money would be running away.”

But Salzman says he’s seen these kinds of bankruptcies happen over and over again. “The only question is when.”

Read more…

1 Comment

Citing Lack of Funds, St. Louis Road Builders Give Up on Sprawl Project

Plans for the $120 million South County Connector. Image: St. Louis County via nextSTL

Plans for the $120 million South County Connector have been shelved for lack of cash. Image: St. Louis County via nextSTL

The transportation funding crunch kills bad projects along with the good. Case in point: Officials in St. Louis County say plans are on hold for the $120 million South County Connector, a classic sprawl highway boondoggle that has faced widespread local opposition.

The campaign against the project included official legislation from the city of Maplewood, one of four cities that would have been bisected by the road. Maplewood Mayor James White lambasted the county in an open letter last year, saying, “We have seen no details nor been given any meaningful assurances that this project would do anything other than bisect and segregate our community further.”

Of course, those kinds of concerns aren’t what’s giving St. Louis County pause. It’s the lack of money. St. Louis County DOT spokesman David Wrone — whom you may remember as the winner of Streetsblog’s “Motor Mouth” award – told the Post-Dispatch that the federal government won’t allow localities to apply for money unless they have a funding plan in place. And apparently St. Louis County doesn’t have anywhere near enough money to get serious about this project.

Missouri tried to boost its transportation coffers with a three-quarter cent sales tax hike in August. The $5.4 billion, 10-year proposal was larded with highway projects. But voters didn’t bite, especially in urban areas, despite an avalanche of campaign spending by construction firms. In St. Louis County the measure lost by 34 percentage points, according to nextSTL.

So Missouri voters expressed their desire not to pay for frivolous highway projects and now a frivolous highway project is not getting funded. Perhaps St. Louis County DOT will get the message.

In 2010, St. Louis County residents approved a half-cent transit tax by a wide margin.

19 Comments

The Illiana Expressway Will Eat Itself

If you asked me to paint a picture of a highway where no highway should exist, this is the picture I would paint. Image: ##https://pbworld.com/capabilities_projects/illiana_expressway_.aspx##Parsons Brinckerhoff##

The Illiana Expressway fails on all measures — expected revenue, projected traffic — when looked at realistically. Unfortunately, Illinois and Indiana don’t look at it that way. Image: Parsons Brinckerhoff

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. This is the final installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Illinois and Indiana are proposing to build a new highway across the far southern extent of the Chicago metropolitan area at a cost of more than $1 billion and perhaps as much as $3 billion. Intended to divert truck traffic from Interstate 80, the tolls charged to finance the highway could instead discourage trucks from using the roadway.

The proposed Illiana Expressway would extend from I-55 in Wilmington, Illinois, to I-65 in Hebron, Indiana, at the southernmost reach of the Chicago metropolitan area, traversing a largely rural and thinly populated area.

The wisdom of the project has been questioned by staff of the region’s metropolitan planning organization, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which said the project “expose[s] the State of Illinois to extensive financial risk,” even as it offered “unsubstantiated economic development potential” and “negligible impacts on regional transportation performance.”

Further, the staff criticized the planning process for significantly underestimating potential costs — by at least 30 percent and possibly as much as 400 percent, compared to similar highway projects around the country. CMAP staff projections also show an economic impact only one-fifth as large in 2040 as that projected by the highway’s planners.

Read more…

7 Comments

To Destabilize Detroit’s Fragile Renaissance, Go Ahead and Widen I-94

Several historic buildings, including Detroit's oldest recording studio, would be mowed down to widen I-94 for no reason. Photo: Mode Shift via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Several historic buildings, including Detroit’s oldest recording studio, would be mowed down to widen I-94 for no reason. Photo: Mode Shift via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Michigan highway planners want to spend $2.7 billion to widen Interstate 94 through the heart of Detroit, saying that the existing road needs not just resurfacing and better bridges, but also more space for traffic. State officials continue to push forward with the project despite Detroit’s rapid population loss and other woes, and despite the fact that traffic volume on the stretch being considered for expansion is no higher than it was in 2005. Expanding the highway might even make Detroit’s economic recovery more difficult by further separating two neighborhoods that have been leading the city’s nascent revitalization.

The proposal would widen a seven-mile segment of I-94 called the Edsel Ford Expressway, which runs in a trench through the center of the city between the Midtown and New Center neighborhoods. Those areas are important for the city’s revitalization because of their central location. Efforts there to boost arts and culture, retail and commercial space, and downtown living have been gaining steam in recent years.

In fact, better connecting the neighborhoods is one reason for a $140 million streetcar project that broke ground this July. Officials have already begun calling for expansion of that project, but funds are currently lacking.

The proposed expansion of the highway would have the opposite effect, widening the physical trench between the neighborhoods and removing 11 bridges across the freeway that would not be replaced. As a result, walking and biking in the area would become much less convenient, forcing people to travel as much as six blocks out of their way to reach destinations.

Transportation officials say many buildings would have to be removed to make room for the wider road. The project requires displacing or demolishing 12 commercial buildings, 14 single-family homes, two duplexes and two apartment buildings with 14 units between them, as well as three buildings either on or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, including the city’s oldest recording studio.

Read more…

2 Comments

How Colorado DOT’s Dubious Traffic Projections Could Soak the Public

Adding toll lanes to C-470 could cost taxpayers far more than Colorado DOT lets on. Photo: ##http://www.aaroads.com/west/co-470ea.html##AA Roads##

C-470 as it exists today. Congestion benefits to adding additional lanes won’t be felt for 18 to 26 more years. Photo: AA Roads

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Local and state officials are eagerly pushing forward on a $230 million project to add new tolled “express” lanes along an existing 12-mile stretch of a road southwest of Denver that was built in the late 1980s. The original Colorado 470 encouraged the expansion of far-flung development, benefiting a set of suburban land developers. A recent analysis suggests that expanding the highway would deliver little net benefit, and that the expanded highway may not receive as much use as planners anticipate.

The $230 million C-470 project has two elements. The first is a $77 million reconstruction effort that will add structural support to the existing two lanes in each direction, which will remain free to drivers. The additional $153 million would be used to build additional lanes on a 12-mile stretch between Platte Canyon Road and I-25, which would be tolled. Tolls would be assessed in-lane, at-speed, with variable rates based on time of day.

While the need to reconstruct the existing roadway has not been contested, the state’s own analysis finds limited benefits from adding new lanes. According to the state, the benefits of building the additional lanes — including time and fuel savings for drivers — will not exceed the costs until 2032 at the earliest, and more likely not until 2040. In other words, a Denver-area resident who turns 18 in 2014 would only begin to see the region benefit from the project when she is 36 years old, and more likely not until she is 44.

Read more…

11 Comments

Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct: King of the Highway Boondoggles

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion. Photo: Rootology/##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Way_Viaduct#mediaviewer/File:The_Alaskan_Way_Viaduct.jpg##Wikimedia##

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion. Photo: Rootology/Wikimedia

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct is a crumbling and seismically vulnerable elevated highway along the city’s downtown waterfront. After an earthquake damaged the structure in 2001, state engineers decided that the highway needed to come down, but the question of how (and whether) to replace it sparked nearly a decade of heated debate. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) rejected calls to replace the viaduct with a combination of surface street and transit improvements, choosing instead an option that would result in more capacity: boring a mammoth tunnel underneath the city’s urban core. At 57 feet in diameter, it would be the widest bored tunnel ever attempted, with the full project carrying an estimated cost of at least $3.1 billion and perhaps as much as $4.1 billion.

Digging a double-decker tunnel was always the riskiest option for replacing the viaduct. The tunnel carried a high risk of going over even its exorbitant budget. In 2010, WSDOT acknowledged a 40 percent chance of a cost overrun, with a 5 percent risk that overruns could top $415 million.

With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Read more…

22 Comments

Using L.A. Traffic Counts to Justify Sprawl in the Arizona-Nevada Desert

Congestion relief has nothing to do with Arizona and Nevada's zeal to expand U.S. Route 93 and rebrand it I-11. Photo: ##http://i11study.com/wp/##I-11 Study##

Congestion relief has nothing to do with Arizona and Nevada’s zeal to expand U.S. Route 93 and rebrand it I-11. Photo: I-11 Study

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Arizona and Nevada have proposed a $2.5 billion project to expand U.S. 93 through the desert between Phoenix and Las Vegas — a change that would mean the road could be added to the federal Interstate highway system and renamed I-11 — despite planners’ acknowledgments that barely any of the existing 200-mile road has any congestion at present, and that even under conditions of rapid traffic growth, that will not change substantially.

Justifications for building Interstate 11 often begin by noting that Phoenix and Las Vegas are the two largest adjacent U.S. cities that are not linked by an Interstate highway. But the two cities are linked by an existing highway — U.S. Route 93 — which may not boast the designation of “Interstate,” but is a four-lane divided highway for all but 45 miles of its length between Phoenix and Las Vegas. The remaining 45 miles largely traverse sparsely populated areas. The Interstate 11 project would widen those remaining stretches and make other modifications of varying scope to the entire length of the highway.

It is telling that in the official summary of reasons for constructing I-11, traffic and congestion are mentioned last, and only in terms of the potential of “reaching unacceptable levels of congestion, threatening economic competitiveness.” Recent trends in travel along the corridor show that at nearly all of the highway’s traffic counter locations, traffic growth has been slower than is forecast in project documents or has actually declined.

Arizona DOT and Nevada DOT show 12 locations between Phoenix and Las Vegas where projected traffic counts and actual traffic counts can be compared. In all 12 locations the DOTs projected that traffic would increase. In 10 of those locations traffic counts failed to reach DOT forecasts. In only two locations did traffic counts actually surpass the forecasted level; the only such location in Arizona was the six-mile stretch of U.S. 93 between the Nevada border and the remote Kingman Wash Road. In six locations along the route, traffic counts actually declined.

Indeed, the argument proponents make for I-11 seems to be as much about attracting more traffic to the Las Vegas-Phoenix corridor as reducing congestion.

Read more…

28 Comments

Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor: An Opportunity to Destroy a Community

Residents of this depressed Cleveland neighborhood don't see much opportunity in the new Opportunity Corridor that's going to destroy 76 homes.  Photo: Bob Perkoski

Residents of this depressed Cleveland neighborhood don’t see much opportunity in the new Opportunity Corridor that’s going to destroy 76 homes. Photo: Bob Perkoski

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is promoting a $331 million, three-mile, five-lane road construction project starting at I-490’s terminus south of the city’s downtown and running northeast to the University Circle neighborhood. But it’s hard to see what need it would be meeting.

The number of miles driven in and around Cleveland has been stagnant for more than a decade. And though project proponents have tried to package the project as an “opportunity corridor” that would help the disadvantaged neighborhoods the road would traverse, the communities that would supposedly benefit have other priorities. Part of the neighborhood would also have to be destroyed to make room for the road.

Expanding road capacity is a questionable investment given recent travel trends in the Cleveland area. While ridership on the regional transit authority has been increasing, vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) in Cuyahoga County rose an anemic 0.3 percent from 2000 to 2013, an annual average of 0.02 percent. In the five counties making up the Cleveland-Elyria Metropolitan Statistical Area, VMT climbed just 1.9 percent from 2000 to 2013, an annual average increase of 0.14 percent.

Vehicle-miles traveled is flat in the Cleveland area. So why the push to build a new $100 million-a-mile highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Vehicle-miles traveled is flat in the Cleveland area. So why the push to build a new $100 million-a-mile highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Read more…

No Comments

The Dallas Trinity Parkway Plan Horrifies Even Its Earliest Champions

Every river needs a nine-lane highway running alongside it to enhance its scenic qualities, don't you think? Image from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing presented to the Dallas City Council last August

Every river needs a nine-lane highway running alongside it to enhance its scenic qualities, don’t you think? This gauzy rendering comes from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing presented to the Dallas City Council last August.

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

The Trinity Parkway is a proposed nine-mile, six-lane urban highway (with tolls) that would run along the Trinity River through the heart of Dallas. Proponents claim that it is needed to relieve crushing regional traffic congestion that they expect will only worsen over time. But planning documents suggest that the $1.5 billion project would have only very limited impact on congestion and would be susceptible to flood damage.

A growing chorus of city leaders is asking whether the highway is really compatible with a Dallas that is experiencing major urban revitalization driven in part by expansion of public transportation and quality of life improvements that would be hampered by a vast new highway.

This project has been justified in part by forecasts of rapid growth in traffic in the project area in the decades to come. In most parts of the project area, however, planners are anticipating far greater growth in driving between now and 2035 than actually took place between 2007 and 2012, the most recent years for which traffic data are publicly available. Indeed, traffic actually declined between 2007 and 2012 at eight of 12 specific locations affected by the route where officials forecast traffic to increase by 2035.

Would you trust these models to tell you where to build a highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Would you trust these models to tell you where to build a highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Read more…

1 Comment

WisDOT Falls Back on Old Data to Justify Double-Decker Urban Highway

Does this chart cry out for more roadway capacity to you? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Does this chart cry out for more roadway capacity to you? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group released a report yesterday, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future.” In it, they examine 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now.

Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. Of course, at least one of these case studies was bound to be about Wisconsin…

In Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has proposed expanding a segment of I-94 that runs east-west through the city. WisDOT wants to increase the capacity of I-94, widening the road in places and adding a second deck to the highway for a narrow stretch that is bounded by three cemeteries — at a cost of $800 million over and above just repairing the existing road.

Local officials have registered their opposition publicly, and have asked WisDOT to study alternatives, including those that would not expand the highway. Members of the community have advocated against the widening and in support of transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects — as well as repair of existing roads — instead. WisDOT projects that traffic will increase in the corridor, but traffic counts have been declining in recent years.

Other transportation modes could use significant investment. State funding for the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) budget has been slashed, leading to route restructuring, curtailment of service and fare increases, all of which have made MCTS buses less convenient and less useful. Research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Economic Development found that at least 77,000 jobs in the Milwaukee metropolitan area became inaccessible by transit due to cuts in service since 2001. (Fully 43 percent of MCTS riders use its buses to get to work; 52 percent do not have a valid driver’s license and 23 percent choose to ride the bus despite the availability of a car.)

Read more…