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Gotta Love That Light Highway Traffic - Unless You're A Toll Collector

Toll lanes on I-77 in Cornelius were empty Tuesday morning.
David Boraks
/
WFAE
Toll lanes on I-77 in Cornelius were empty Tuesday morning.

If you're one of the few people still commuting on the highways right now, the COVID-19 crisis has a silver lining: No traffic. But that's a concern for operators of the state's toll roads and toll lanes. 

Traffic as of last week was less than half the normal volumes on North Carolina's two state-operated toll roads, the Monroe and the Triangle expressways, according to the N.C. Turnpike Authority.  It's also practically non-existent on the I-77 Express Lanes north of Charlotte, though the lanes' private operator isn't reporting numbers.  

Officials say it's still too early to know how lost revenues might affect budgets. But both the state and the company running the I-77 toll lanes say they have enough financial reserves to cover their debts.  

Last week, traffic on the Triangle Expressway in the Raleigh area was down 65% from the beginning of March, while the Monroe Expressway near Charlotte was down 50%. 

Spokeswoman Hillary DeLong said officials are watching the numbers. 

"Like everyone, we are continuing to monitor the situation as it evolves," DeLong said in an email. "At this time, we do not anticipate any long-term negative impacts to either the Triangle Expressway or Monroe Expressway. These projects are developed with 30+ year financial plans that include significant reserves intended to mitigate the potential impact of any event that may cause a short term decrease in traffic."

I-77 Express Lanes 

Spain-based Ferrovial operates the I-77 lanes through a subsidiary called I-77 Mobility Partners. The company recently told investors that traffic "is suffering" on all of its toll projects as stay-at-home orders extend across Europe and North America. 

But the company tried to reassure investors in a statement last week: "Our main toll roads enjoy a strong financial position and enough liquidity to service all their debt obligations for 2020."

On the I-77 project specifically, Ferrovial said it has reserves equal to about four times this year's debt payments. 

Investors may not escape unscathed if the coronavirus slowdown goes on for a while. Ferrovial says it could affect dividends to investors on all its projects.  That, the company said, "will be decided as the situation evolves."

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