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US road link seeks Chinese investors

Paul Welitzkin
Updated: Dec 3,2014 8:59 AM     China Daily

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is hoping to attract Chinese investors to fund half of the cost of a key connection point for the Pennsylvania Turnpike (or road toll) and Interstate 95, a major highway in the eastern United States.

The commission and the Delaware Valley Regional Center have formed a limited partnership to raise $200 million of the $416 million needed to build an interchange between the two in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Ideally it wants wealthy foreign investors, including the Chinese, it said, to invest $500,000 apiece. In return, the investors can apply to the EB-5 program which grants immigration visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in US projects creating at least 10 jobs.

“We provide the commission with the expertise and resources to manage the investors,” said the DVRC’s Young M. Ban.

The DVRC is staffed by personnel like Ban who also are employed by the Swarthmore Group, a Philadelphia-based investment firm created by the DVRC to oversee the partnership with the Turnpike Commission.

“We have successfully filled our first tranche, raising $50 million from 100 investors,” said Ban, adding a majority of the investors are Chinese and a second tranche is expected to be launched soon.

Investors will be loaning the commission the money over five years, with loans paid off by toll revenues. The Turnpike Commission has an A1 rating from Moody’s and an AA rating from Fitch Rating Inc, according to the DVRC website.

A report in The Philadelphia Inquirer said the Turnpike Commission will save about $35 million in traditional borrowing costs over the five years and pay 2 percent in annual interest, about half the current rate for municipal bond-borrowing.

Why does the commission have to seek funding from Chinese investors when it collects tolls from drivers using the Turnpike on a daily basis?

“The Turnpike’s capital program exceeds toll revenues collected, specifically for larger projects such as expansion, reconstruction and new interchanges, including the I-95 link,” the commission said in an email.

“Therefore, the commission commonly finances larger capital projects by issuing bonds and we use toll dollars to repay those bonds.”