Congestion Relief through PPP Toll Roads: South Bay Expressway

Good news from San Diego. Only a half a year after opening, the privately-financed South Bay Expressway is meeting its traffic projections and delivering measurable congestion relief. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Nearly six months after its debut, San Diego County’s first tollway is living up to its promise of giving harried commuters badly needed breathing room. The privately run South Bay Expressway draws an average of 30,000 drivers each weekday, about what state transportation officials expected. Ben Monzon of Chula Vista said the road has cut about 20 minutes off his morning drive to his Rancho Bernardo office. “And to me, time is everything,” he said. . . . . According to the Macquarie Infrastructure Group, the parent company of South Bay Expressway, the tollway generated an average of $54,600 in daily revenue from mid-January through March, or about $2 per vehicle. The road attracts an average of 26,500 vehicles daily, including weekends. Nearly four out of five motorists pay through FasTrak. Greg Hulsizer, chief executive officer of South Bay Expressway, said most of the revenue goes back into tollway operations, including covering CHP patrol costs. “It’s been a very good start-up,” Hulsizer said. “It’s performing pretty much like we thought it would.”

What’s particularly striking in the article are the early results on the congestion front:

Transportation experts say the tollway is having a noticeable ripple effect on other major roads. According to Caltrans, the volume of morning traffic on northbound Interstate 805 in Chula Vista has dropped 11 percent in the past six months. Driving speeds average 65 mph, up from 45 mph. “Obviously the effect on I-805 through the Chula Vista area has been very good, and that’s where we expected the major benefit to be,” said Joe Hull, a Caltrans deputy district director. He said congestion has increased, however, at two interchanges north of the tollway: at state Route 125 and state Route 94, and at Route 125 and Interstate 8 in La Mesa. Hull said the agency may adjust the timing of the ramp meters at both interchanges to improve the flow of cars. Frank Rivera, a civil engineer with the city of Chula Vista, said he has noticed a decline in crosstown commuter traffic since the opening of the tollway. “The traffic doesn’t back up as much as it used to,” Rivera said. The city is conducting a detailed traffic study to assess the tollway’s impact on East H Street and other major roads. The results are due in a few weeks.

I look forward to seeing the results of that study. The South Bay Expressway is one of those premier projects that demonstrates so many important things in one package: (1) you can indeed build new capacity and reduce congestion; (2) you can accellerate road development and stretch limited tax dollars through private financing and public-private partnerships (PPPs); (3) you can successfully build environmental protection and mitigation into PPP projects; and (4) highways run like businesses will focus on delivering value to customers–in this case, time savings and a state-of-the-art road. And even in an economic downturn with high gas prices, the success of the South Bay Expressway demonstrates that there’s still a significant percentage of people out there willing to pay a premium for improved mobility. For more on the South Bay Expressway, see Reason’s recent interview with Greg Hulsizer, the Expressway’s CEO, here. We also discuss ithe project in the recent Reason/Show-Me Institute transportation paper here (page 26).