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Australian Firm to Buy Route 895?

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The news comes just three years after the road opened in September 2002. Lawmakers had hailed it as a major triumph because it was the first road to be built under the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995. Since its opening, however, the parkway has fallen considerably short of toll-revenue projections, spooking investors.

In its first full year of operations in 2003, the parkway brought in $6 million in tolls instead of the $15 million originally expected.

A buyout would be welcome news to bondholders. If a deal is struck, Transurban officials say the $354 million in bonds floated to build the roadway would be paid off as part of the deal. The purchase price is unknown, but it would be considerably more than $300 million, says Transurban Vice President Michael Kulper.

Kulper, based in New York City, says many unknowns must be addressed before a deal is reached. He says the purchase would likely be completed by the end of the year, with VDOT continuing to have "substantial control" over the operations of the roadway. Any changes in toll prices — currently $2 — would be negotiated with VDOT before the deal closes, Kulper says.

"I anticipate that those [issues] will be negotiated with VDOT prior to entering into an agreement," Kulper says, adding that Transurban, which owns and manages electronic toll roads across the globe, is making its first forays into the United States.

In addition to negotiating to buy 895, the company has teamed with another construction firm to bid on Interstate 495's high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes project in Northern Virginia. — Scott Bass



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