Got an extra quarter? You'll need it for the Cross Island parkway toll

March 29, 2008 

  • All drivers will pay a quarter more to use the Cross Island Parkway starting Monday to help the financially struggling roadway pay off its debt. $81 million: Cost to build the Cross Island Parkway $49 million: Remaining amount of bonds to be paid off for the Cross Island Parkway $24 million: Bond payments made so far $3.6 million: The deficit the road was operating at through fiscal year 2007 $6.4 million: Revenue, fiscal year 2007 $6.77 million: Expenses, fiscal year 2007 Source: South Carolina Department of Transportation

Using the Cross Island Parkway gets more expensive tomorrow at midnight.

The toll on the 6-mile road will cost an extra quarter for all travelers as of Monday, the first time in the road's 10-year history the fee has increased. The state Department of Transportation settled on the new rate structure in September to help offset the rising costs of maintaining and operating the road.

Officials said the hike will allow the department to pay off the remaining debt on the road and still remove the tolls by a 2021 deadline.

Regular drivers will pay $1.25 for a one-way trip; Palmetto Pass users will pay 75 cents. The Spanish Wells Road ramp will cost 75 cents, or 50 cents with the Palmetto Pass discount.

Palmetto Pass users are already paying another $1 monthly service charge on their accounts to cover administrative costs.

The toll hike will bring in an additional $2.3 million annually, and allow for the road to be repaved twice before 2021, transportation officials said.

Officials also hope the extra quarter per trip will allow the road to emerge from the financial troubles it has suffered since it opened. In almost every year, the costs of maintaining the road and paying off the debt have outpaced revenue collections.

But more changes in the toll cost could be in store in the future.

The commission agreed in September to reexamine the rates every two years to see if the state's projections were accurate. As the road continues to age, more maintenance costs could emerge, said Debra Rountree, deputy secretary of Finance and Administration for the S.C. Department of Transportation.

"Dependent on how the traffic is and the cost and everything, the cost may go up more, or decrease," she said.

Part of the reason the road has struggled financially is because the state grossly underestimated the number of drivers who would use the cheaper Palmetto Passes. The state originally prepared for about 2,000 pass users. In 2001, it changed the base amount -- the number that determines the cost of the contract with the toll operator-- to 21,000 pass users.

The state also expected only about 25 percent of drivers would use the passes, but usage surveys show about 65 percent use them. The number jumps to 70 percent in the winter and drops to 55 percent in the summer, according to department data.

The state changed its operating contract in 2001, refinanced its bonds in 2004, and signed a new contract for toll operator ACS -- formerly Lockheed Martin IMS -- to install more efficient equipment last year, all to help hold down costs.

Traffic on the road has been increasing during peak times in recent years, according to data collected by the Town of Hilton Head Island. An average of 26,240 cars used the road daily in June 2007, a big jump from a recent low of 23,803 in 2004, according to the town statistics.

The average daily trips for all of 2006 was 22,600, according to the town.

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