Jan 11 - Fitch Ratings assigns an 'A+' rating on the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Commission's (PTC) $175 million in variable rate turnpike revenue bonds, series
In addition, Fitch affirms PTC's $3 billion outstanding senior lien turnpike
revenue bonds at 'A+' and $3.5 billion outstanding subordinate lien turnpike
revenue bonds at 'A-'.
The Rating Outlook on all bonds is Stable.
KEY RATING DRIVERS:
Route Essentiality With Some Commercial Exposure: PTC plays a vital role in
serving the state's major population centers and benefits from a strategic
location for commercial traffic, evidenced by its stable historical traffic and
revenue growth. Commercial traffic accounted for 13% of traffic in 2012 but
generated 42% of net toll revenues.
Ratemaking Flexibility: PTC benefits from economic ratemaking flexibility, and
traffic has demonstrated relatively low elasticity through toll increases since
2005. Revenue has had an average annual growth rate of 6% from 1990-2012.
However, there may be political risk associated with implementing toll rates
above inflation in the event of lower traffic, higher costs, or increased debt
Elevated Leverage But Strong Financial Performance: PTC's total leverage is
currently approximately 13x net debt to cash flow available for debt service
(CFADS) and is expected to remain at this elevated level for some time.
Financial performance is expected to continue covering all operating and current
capital needs of the existing mainline facilities with senior debt service
coverage ratios (DSCR) at or above 2.0x and subordinate debt service coverage
ratios at or above 1.3x. Fitch expects PTC to have sufficient excess cash flow
to fund approximately 20% of annual mainline capital expenditure on a pay-go
Prudent Management Policies: It is management's policy to maintain senior and
subordinate DSCR at 2.0x and 1.3x, respectively, regardless of traffic levels,
and PTC's policy to meet Motor License Fund (MLF) debt service obligations at
1.2x. As leverage continues to increase, management will need to balance expense
management and rate increases to continue to achieve these coverage targets.
Sizable Capital Program: The need for an additional $6.2 billion in senior lien
debt to fund the PTC's mainline capital improvement plan (CIP) for fiscal 2013
to 2022, and increasing leverage to subsidize highway and bridge projects across
the commonwealth, as well as subsidize transit operations under Act 44, put
pressure on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. However, Fitch views favorably the focus
on mainline capital spending for reconstruction and renewal, somewhat mitigating
deferred maintenance concerns.
WHAT COULD TRIGGER A RATING ACTION:
Management's inability to control expenses and manage its sizable capital
program while meeting acceptable debt service coverage levels on senior and
subordinate lien bonds and subordinate lien MLF bonds could pressure the
ratings. Should PTC be unable to meet its coverage policies (2.0x senior/1.3x
subordinate/1.2x MLF bonds), as a result of sub-par traffic performance or
operating and capital cost growth, negative rating action is likely.
The senior revenue bonds are secured by revenues consisting of tolls, charges,
fines and other revenues and income derived from vehicular use of the turnpike,
net of operating and maintenance expenses. The subordinate revenue bonds are
secured by commission payments consisting of turnpike revenues after all
obligations under the senior lien indenture have been satisfied.
PTC is issuing approximately $175 million in variable rate turnpike revenue
bonds, series 2013A. The 2013A bonds are being issued to finance various capital
expenditures set forth in PTC's CIP, including reconstruction of roadbed and
roadway, widening, replacing and redecking of certain bridges, and
rehabilitation of certain interchanges. Proceeds will also cover costs of
issuance. Obligations are variable rate based off of SIFMA, and have a final
maturity in December 2018. The bonds will be on parity with existing senior
2012 PTC traffic was flat for fiscal 2012 (year ending May 31), as compared to
growth of 1.3% for fiscal 2011 and 0.2% for fiscal 2010. For the six months
through November 30, 2012, traffic is down 0.7% and toll revenues are up 3.3%,
reflecting toll increases and reductions in commercial discounts, and building
on 6.6% and 12.7% revenue increases in fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2010. Continued
revenue growth coupled with flat to growing volume demonstrates PTC's resilience
despite four consecutive years of toll increases. As a result of the most recent
toll increases in January 2013, the average cash toll equals 10.3 cents per
mile, and the average EZPass toll is 8.1 cents per mile (up from 7.4 cents per
mile after the first increase in 2009). This reflects a full-length trip on the
Turnpike Mainline, and is considered to be competitive with other major
domestic, seasoned toll facilities.
For more information on PTC's most recent capital program and toll rate changes,
please refer to the Fitch press release dated June 28, 2012.
Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above
were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been
compensated for the provision of the ratings.
Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
--'Rating Criteria for Infrastructure and Project Finance' (July 12, 2012);
--'Rating Criteria for Toll Roads, Bridges, and Tunnels' (Aug. 2, 2012).
Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
Rating Criteria for Infrastructure and Project Finance
Rating Criteria for Toll Roads, Bridges, and Tunnels