Rep. Quinn Johnson: U.S. 301 a Sound Investment in Delaware

By Rep. Quinn Johnson 

The financing behind the U.S. 301 toll road project is conservative, innovative and geared to return money to Delaware’s Highway Trust Fund rather than take from it. The road will also pay uncounted dividends to Delaware in the form of a safer, less congested highway and the economic opportunities it will create.

The traffic projections used to estimate the toll revenue projections for U.S. 301 have been analyzed and re-analyzed by expert consultants at the request of DelDOT management. DelDOT asked for a reassessment of the projections after concerns arose about the current and future strength of the U.S. economy. Using their most conservative estimates, the road is projected to carry 15,400 vehicles per day on various segments of the road by 2021.

At this level of traffic volume, the road is expected to more than pay for its design, right-of-way, construction and maintenance. In fact, if the road achieves 100 percent of the projected traffic volume, the project will be contributing millions in additional dollars to the Delaware Highway Trust Fund each year that can be used for other projects.

This is possible because DelDOT sharpened its pencil and did its homework before asking Delawareans to support its construction. By taking advantage of low-interest and deferred-interest payment programs offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, DelDOT will be able to significantly pare down expenses for the road. These programs would not be available to Delaware if the prospects for the road’s ability to pay for itself were not sound.

Although the debt service necessary to build the road will be secured by the Delaware Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) to achieve enhanced bond ratings, the goal remains to avoid the use of TTF revenues and avoid any impact on the statewide Capital Transportation Program. I also want to point out that the TTF itself is now in much stronger financial shape than it was just five years ago. That’s because DelDOT is borrowing less than it previously has, while simultaneously reducing its operating budget and employee headcount. Additionally, we in the General Assembly worked closely with DelDOT to find new sources of revenue without raising fuel taxes.

This will allow the department to construct the U.S. 301 toll road if it passes a few final hurdles, including an essential final check on construction costs. It also will allow Delaware to maintain a capital transportation budget of approximately $200 million per year over the next six years. That’s money that will be used to fund construction and upkeep on the rest of the state’s transportation network, and it is substantially more than what the agency has been able to budget the past few years.

In the past five years, DelDOT has worked hard to hold the line and reduce operating expenses, reduce its debt, find new revenues for the state Transportation Trust Fund and arrange the financing for the U.S. 301 toll road.

As chair of the Bond Bill Committee, I wanted to make sure that the General Assembly had the final say before this project moves forward. DelDOT greatly reduced costs for this project and, due to the current low cost of oil, construction quotes are predicted to be favorable. We stand ready to review final figures for U.S. 301, a long-awaited project that will greatly reduce traffic congestion in the area, save lives through safety improvements, and put hundreds of Delawareans to work.