Report: Colorado Tollways see jump in traffic

Northwest Parkway, E-470 are leaders in volume increase

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Two Colorado tolling authorities made it onto the national top 10 list of toll roads throughout the country receiving the highest increase in traffic volume in 2015, according to a report from the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

The National Toll Facilities Usage Analysis found drivers’ use of toll roads increased by 7 percent between 2014 and 2015, a record-breaking rate of growth that puts tolling usage on pace to double in less than 10 years.

In Colorado, the Northwest Parkway was eighth out of 31 toll authorities surveyed across the country with a 13 percent increase in traffic volume in 2015; the E-470 Public Highway Authority was ninth on the list with a 12.4 percent increase.

“We have had six straight years of annual traffic volume growth,” said E-470 Public Highway Authority Executive Director Tim Stewart. “In 2010, our total traffic was 51.3 million; in 2015, it was 74.6 million.”

“From the research, it’s clear that not only are more people traveling on our roads and bridges, but that toll road use has increased significantly,” added Earl J. “Buddy” Croft III, executive director of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and president of the international association. “Clearly, drivers recognize the benefits of toll roads — the ease of use provided by electronic payment methods, the trip time-saving benefits and the improved safety that a well-maintained toll facility provides.”

The IBTTA Analysis was compiled by collecting data in February from 31 toll-operated facilities across the country — 20 of which are east of the Mississippi River. That information showed drivers on the 31 toll facilities surveyed took 5 billion trips with toll transactions in 2015 — an increase of 328 million, or 7 percent, from 2014 to 2015.

All but one of the 31 toll facilities in the survey reported an increase in traffic volume. About two-thirds (23 of 31) of the toll authorities said they had record-breaking years in 2015, recording the largest traffic volume in their history.

Stewart attributed regional traffic increases to a steady economy, more drivers and low-cost fuel.

“There’s no question that the metro area’s robust economy and strong population growth have been major factors in the surge of traffic volume we’ve had,” he said. “And with the cheaper gas prices, that likely has contributed to more driving in metro Denver. More driving means more congestion on other roadways in the metro area (and) that motivates a lot of people to become E-470 customers. They’re looking for speed, safety and reliable commuting time, and they are willing to pay for it.”

E-470 offers more than 50 miles of toll roads staring south near Centennial and running northeast through Aurora, before circling back northwest through Adams County.

Approximately one-third (10 of 31) of the facilities in the national survey reported double-digit percentage increases.

Others in the nation with double-digit increases in traffic volume include:

• Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, Florida (25 percent)

• North Carolina Department of Transportation (25 percent)

• Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Austin (23.4 percent)

• Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority (19.6 percent)

• Washington State Department of Transportation (16 percent)

• I-15 Express Lanes, San Diego (15 percent)

• 495 Express Lanes, Northern Virginia (15 percent)

• Central Florida Expressway Authority (10 percent)

“One of the more interesting findings is that while the northeast U.S. has the longest history with toll roads, 10 toll authorities in the south and west showed the largest increase in trips and transactions,” said Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

However, Stewart said it’s hard to compare different toll systems with different variables.

“We were pleased to see in the national study that we were in the upper tier nationally for traffic volume growth. On the other hand, we don’t view other toll roads’ traffic growth as a measuring stick of our performance,” Stewart said. “Every toll road has its own unique set of circumstances. What we were encouraged to see in the study is that nationally there is a growing acceptance of user fees — tolls — to finance, build and maintain highways.”

The association’s findings parallel recent U.S. Department of Transportation data from February that showed Americans drove 3.1 trillion miles last year, making 2015 the most heavily traveled year in U.S. history. It was a 3.3 percent increase over 2014, when Americans drove 3 trillion miles.

“Despite often hearing and reading that people are driving less, the latest traffic volume numbers from the USDOT provide us with a reality check,” Croft said. “It’s clear that both traffic and travel are up.”

Stewart said the figures also provide a clear need for additional planning.

“The rankings reflect the fact that all toll road administrators, including those of us at E-470, need to anticipate and plan ahead for continued growth in traffic volume,” he said. “We need to continually be thinking at least five years ahead as to how we are going to accommodate that growth.”

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