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Driving You Crazy: Will the E-470 toll road ever be a free road when the bonds are paid off?

It seems that E-470 continues to expand instead of paying off the bonds
E470 toll road
Posted at 4:40 PM, Jun 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-06 18:40:34-04

Jamie from Aurora writes, “What's driving you crazy? When E470 was first built, it was sold as a toll road and once the bonds were paid off, it would become a non-toll road. This is similar to US 36. It seems 470 continues to add expenses by building new things instead of using the money to pay off the bonds and make the road free for everyone, I’ve looked on their website and can’t find anything about the road being free in the future, what do you know?”

I know I will be long gone when funding for E-470 is sufficient to allow it to be turned over to the state.

You are correct Jamie that E-470 was built with bonds. E-470 did not use any local, state or federal funding during the original construction and no taxes are used to improve or operate the highway. The current bonds used for maintenance, operations and expansion are still being paid back by tolls collected from the toll road users. The original construction bonds were paid back from a $10 vehicle registration fee imposed on vehicle owners in Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties. That fee was retired in 2018.

I talked to Jessica Carson with the tollway. She told me the E-470 Authority still has $1.3 billion in bond debt to pay off. “While the bonds are scheduled to be paid off in 2041, E-470’s enabling act, created by the state legislature, also requires it to set up a perpetual maintenance fund to take care of the highway before it’s turned over to the local jurisdictions or CDOT. This fund is required to be fulfilled by 2076. With that being said, tolls will remain on E-470 for the foreseeable future.”

And that 2076 deadline is not set in stone. It could be pushed back. While E-470 does not anticipate taking on additional debt by issuing more bonds to fund future capital projects, a decrease of expected toll revenue caused by a recession or other financial challenges could result in a modified finance plan by the E-470 Board of Directors.

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As you mentioned Jamie, U.S. Route 36, the Denver-Boulder Turnpike was a tollway for many years. Once the bonds were paid off, the toll booth near Wadsworth was removed and control was granted to CDOT. Tolls came back to that section of Highway 36 in 2015 when a public-private partnership was created to add an express toll lane, rebuild the two free lanes and create a fund for maintenance.

Will E-470 ever follow that model: allowing CDOT to take over maintenance and operations of the tollway? In the short term, no. However I’m told it's possible after the perpetual maintenance fund is created, but it would be ultimately decided by a future E-470 board. Meanwhile, E-470 is currently installing their next generation lane tolling system. “It will improve billing accuracy, reliability and efficiencies,” Carson said. “This installation is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year.”

If you would like to learn more about how E-470 works and see more of the financial information, all of that is available on their website. Their Investor Relations page provides information like their Annual Report, Strategic and Master Plan as well as their Toll Revenue Report. Their Fact File Page provides information about E-470, the history of the tollway, milestones as well as current and future construction. For more information on the current E470 widening and improvement project, visit the project website.

Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Spotify or Podbean.