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Powhite Tolls May Still Rise, Just Not Yet 

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"We can do this project and operate the system without having to have any kind of toll adjustment as a result of this project," says RMA General Manager Robert M. Berry. In April, the authority's board of directors discussed the possibility of another 10-cent to 15-cent toll hike in the coming years to pay for the improvements, and an estimated $80 million in road maintenance during the next nine years.

New construction, which, when completed in fall 2008, will allow SmartTag users to maintain a steady cruising speed of 45 mph through the toll plaza, should not extend the debt on the road, Berry adds.

"There are considerable maintenance needs upcoming that will have to be dealt with which may require some future consideration of an adjustment," Berry says. "All of that will be dictated on future revenues and cost of construction."

Coincidentally, the time when such considerations may likely arise happens to coincide with the completion of the toll plaza.

"These things don't last forever," Berry says. "You buy a house, but that's not to say you don't have to maintain it. Just because you put on a roof doesn't mean it's going to last for 50 years."

As for the current project, it'll be bought and paid for without registering in any drivers' wallets. The original bonds floated to build the road — currently $217.1 million outstanding — are scheduled to be paid off in 2022.

"We've had a master plan for the expansion of the Powhite and the introduction of express tolling for some time," says Berry, who largely dismisses the recently completed State Route 288 and its bleed on Powhite ridership as likely to extend bond repayment. "We knew 288 was going to have an effect on our traffic volume."

In preparation for the 288 effect three years ago, the authority began phasing its construction, which started with widening the road near the main plaza. The authority also had been putting aside funds "for quite some time" to prepare for "the costs of the big project," Berry says. He estimates that more than half the cost of the current project is being funded by the RMA's savings fund.

The other half — roughly $10 million — will come from additional loans that are figured into the current payoff amount of the road's bonds, Berry says. S



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