The Construction Ministry and Japan Highway Public Corp. will draft a set of measures by the end of March to reorganize the operations of the money-losing Tokyo Bay Aqualine, hopefully without raising or lowering tolls, government and JHPC sources said Monday.
The gigantic, bay-spanning expressway connecting Kawasaki with Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, opened in December 1997. It averaged 10,500 vehicles per day in 1998, 58 percent less than expected, generating a huge deficit, according to the sources. Based on projections that around 25,000 vehicles a day would use the Aqualine — which consists of a 9.5 km undersea tunnel and a 4.4 km bridge — JPHC set tolls to generate enough revenue to allow it to repay its 3.5 trillion yen debt burden over a period of 40 years.
With little prospect for any improvement in the situation as is, the ministry and JHPC have been studying ways to attract more vehicles to the expressway and improve the state of its finances, the sources said. Specifically, they said, the ministry and JHPC are considering extending the repayment period on the debt incurred for the project from 40 years to 50 years to reduce the yearly burden.
In the meantime, they will try to avoid raising tolls — currently set at 4,000 yen for a passenger car — and find ways to lure more traffic in order to increase overall revenues. Measures under consideration include introducing a pool system under which revenues from other profit-making expressways, such as the Meishin Expressway, would be used to make up for the Aqualine’s losses.
They will also look into the possibility of increasing financing from the central and local governments, the sources said. “Obviously, we must verify where we have failed, given the reality that the actual number of vehicles remains below half what we had expected,” said an official at the Construction Ministry.