E-470 officials prepare for even busier roads amid continued, record-breaking traffic growth

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Motorists who regularly cruise along the E-470 toll road might have the best vantage point for seeing Aurora’s rapid eastward growth.

And toll road officials say that with that continued growth along the city’s eastern edge, they’re expecting traffic counts along the 26-year-old toll road to continue to climb.

So even though the road saw a record number of drivers last year — up 7 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, the fourth straight record-breaking year, according to an annual report released last month —  officials are gearing up for even more traffic.

Tim Stewart, executive director of the E-470 Public Highway Authority, said that future growth is part of the reason the authority launched a $90-million expansion last year from Parker Road to East Quincy Avenue.

When the project wraps in late 2017, the eight-mile stretch will have six lanes, up from the current four.

But, Stewart said, the project will also lay the groundwork for further lane expansion along that busy southeast Aurora stretch, should the highway need it.

“It was a proactive approach to try to stay ahead of the demand,” he said.

According to the annual report, the toll road processed 80 million transactions last year, up from 74 million in 2015.

The toll road likely can’t keep setting records every year going forward, but Stewart said while he doesn’t foresee double-digit growth, he also doesn’t foresee a plateau — and certainly not a significant drop off in traffic counts anytime soon.

“I hope no time soon, but it could change next year,” he said.

The toll road is also still working to convert at least one of its old toll plazas — which was left unused when the toll road shifted to a cashless license plate photo system a few years back — into a convenience store.

The store or stores would mean motorists wouldn’t have to venture far off of E-470 to get gas or a snack the way they do now.

“Its not really a revenue issue for us,” Stewart said. “It’s more a service issue for our customers.”

But after several years of trying, the project hasn’t seen much progress.

Stewart said the toll road was close to a deal with an east coast convenience store chain that runs similar stores along toll roads in other states, but the deal fell through at the last second when the company opted to stop developing those sorts of convenience stores.

“We thought we were really, really close,” he said.

For now, the idea is largely on hold.

“We’re kind of in a pause at the moment, but there may be interest from another operator,” he said.

Looking forward, Stewart said the toll road officials are focused on keeping its debt low and developing a master plan to handle the rapid growth along the highway in the future.

According to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, a trade group that represents toll roads including E-470, toll roads are becoming increasingly popular as states look for ways to tackle infrastructure projects.

Today, 35 states and territories allow tolling and there are more than 5,900 miles of tolled roads throughout the U.S., according to the group. Those roads generate more than $13 billion in annual revenues.