Thursday, 20 September 2012

News briefs - Australia, China, Indonesia, Macquarie Atlas Roads, Texas, UK

Australia - New South Wales government denies interest in congestion pricing

AAP reports that NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay has said that the State Government has ruled out a congestion tax, but is considering implementing distance-based tolling.   Certainly it is clear that NSW is considering reforming toll roads around Sydney so that pricing is more closely related to a proxy for distance, but it is less clear as to whether the state is interested in a wider roll out of distance based charging to replace ownership taxes.

China - Standard & Poors affirms BB- rating and negative outlook for toll road investor Road King

Reuters reports that property and toll road investment company Road King maintains its rating with with S&P.  Property is the dominant factor for the relatively low rating and negative outlook.  On toll roads it reports a more optimistic side to the firm:

Road King's stable operating performance and the sizable cash flows from its toll road business support the rating. The company currently derives more than 80% of its toll revenue from its expressway projects, including the Longcheng Expressway it acquired early in 2011 and which commenced operation in July 2012. We expect Road King's toll road business to continue to provide stable cash flows in the next one to two years, underpinned by its stable profit sharing ratios. 

Indonesia - Longer toll road concessions to be allowed

Tempo Interactive reports that the Indonesian Government is to change the law to extend the maximum toll road management permits for private companies from 40 to 50 years.

The Jakarta Post reports that a 73km toll road is to be built in North Bali from Kuta to Seririt at a price of US$872 million.  The project is intended to open up a wide area for tourism and development, and is linked to plans for a new airport at the north of the island.

Macquarie Atlas Roads posts half year loss and further asset devaluations

Business Spectator reports that Macquarie Atlas Roads has posted a loss of A$75.2 million (US$77.7 million) in the six month to June 30 2012.  This is an improvement on the A$106.4 million (US$110 million) loss for the same period last year.

The A$33.4 million fall in the value of investments comprised a loss of A$26 million on the Autoroutes Paris-Rhine-Rhone (APRR) toll road in France compared to a profit of A$11 million in 2011; a loss of A$7.4 million on the Dulles Greenway toll road in the US compared to a loss of A$10.8 million in 2011; and no loss on the Chicago Skyway toll road in the US compared to a loss of A$17.5 million in 2011.

There was no loss booked for the Chicago Skyway in the first half of 2012 because the carrying value of the road had been reduced to nil.

The Australian reports that the company expects to release a dividend next year.  It also noted:

Macquarie Atlas Roads said the increased losses partly reflected losses on interest rate swaps and higher debt-related amortisation.

Macquarie Atlas Roads said proportionate revenue from its roads rose by 1.4 per cent to $330.8 million in the first half of 2012 despite a 1.9 per cent fall in traffic volumes.

Revenue was boosted by toll increases.

"Macquarie Atlas Roads' portfolio of toll roads has continued to generate positive revenue and EBITDA growth during the period despite difficult economic conditions in Europe and the US," chief executive Peter Trent said.

Texas - new toll road to have highest speed limit in US

The Texas Weekly reports that Texas State Highway 130  (which will be a toll road) will have a speed limit of 85mph (about 137km/h), which will be the fastest in the USA.  Some advocates of private toll roads have promoted the idea that roads could be built to enable relatively safe driving at faster speeds, and motorists could be charged the price to allow it.  In Texas, it looks like it will happening, albeit with an increment of only 5mph.

Meanwhile, the Statesmen argues that the new speed limit is partly about enhancing the viability of the toll road, which includes lowering the speed limit on the existing highway from 65mph to 55mph, even though it will be safer (because the new road will be between the north and southbound lanes of the existing lanes).   Is it a conspiracy to make the new lanes more likely to be financially positive or just coincidence?

UK - Dartford Crossing manual tolling to be gone by 2014

The Brentwood Weekly News reports that the UK Government has announced that it is spending £25 million (US$40 million) to undertake a range of improvements to the tolled Dartford Crossing routes, including removal of manual toll booths as part of a programme to make the highway a fully electronic free flow tollway.  The route is notorious for being a bottleneck in both directions, in part due to the queues at toll booths.  The UK Highways Agency is hoping to have removed the manual toll booths by October 2014.

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