Pocahontas reverts to its creditors

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Pocahontas 895 toll road under a new operator
Australian company previously controlled Pocahontas 895
Richmond Times-Dispatch
June 17, 2014

Pocahontas 895 has a new operator, a year after an Australian company walked away from a long-term concession for the underperforming toll parkway across the James River between Henrico and Chesterfield counties.

DBi Services, based in northeastern Pennsylvania, quietly assumed control of the parkway — the first road built by public-private partnership in Virginia — on May 15 and informed local government officials two weeks later.

The company took over operation from Transurban, an Australian company whose board of directors voted last June to transfer control of the highway to a consortium of European banks that holds $300 million in debt on the project, not including a $150 million federal loan that must be repaid.

The switch in operators has had no effect on users of Pocahontas 895, said DBi spokeswoman Mary Ellin Arch, who was among the Transurban administrative employees transferred to the new operator.

Toll operations and road maintenance are handled by private contractors.

“It’s business as usual,” Arch said Tuesday. “The transition is going very smoothly. I don’t think the customers noticed anything at all.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation still owns the 8.8-mile highway, which the state leased to Transurban in 2006 under a 99-year concession. DBi is bound by toll schedules that remain at $3.25 each way for two-axle vehicles during peak weekday commuter hours, $3 in nonpeak hours and $2.75 on weekends.

The parkway was the first project developed under the 1995 Public-Private Transportation Act, which has come under close scrutiny in the past two years because of controversial agreements to expand the Downtown and Midtown tunnels in Hampton Roads and build a $1.4 billion expressway along U.S. 460.

The highway opened in 2002, financed with bonds issued by a nonprofit corporation called the Pocahontas Parkway Association after the Henrico County Industrial Development Authority refused to approve the bonds in 1996 because of the financial risk.

Transurban paid off more than $500 million in debt and subsequently invested an additional $50 million to build a 1.6-mile connector road between Pocahontas 895 and Richmond International Airport. The company wrote off $138 million in equity in the road two years ago after development planned in eastern Henrico failed to materialize because of the recession.

“While we are disappointed the investment wasn’t a success, we have worked closely with stakeholders to come to a solution that ensures the least impact and positions the project to be a success for Virginia going forward,” said Mike McGurk, a spokesman for Transurban.