Illustration: Rocco Fazzari.

Illustration: Rocco Fazzari.

BRISCONNECTIONS - the company that built and is now operating the toll road from Brisbane central to the airport - has been a slow-mo train wreck since the start. (It would have been a slow-mo car wreck but there were never enough cars using the tollway to collide).

There have been plenty of other private toll-road disasters in Australia but this one is notable because its financial troubles began well before it became operational - when the traffic forecasts didn't meet the projections.

It was only a few months ago that the Airport Link road was opened, but just about every party involved in the project had already lost money. The builder, Leighton, the advisers and big investors, Macquarie and Deutsche Bank, a major shareholder, Queensland Investment Corp, and the Queensland government, which had flushed millions away a few years ago.

But the second crunch is now hitting thanks to the road being opened and - not surprisingly - the traffic numbers that had been projected have fallen short by up to 50 per cent.

The banks put a corporate insolvency doctor, PPB Advisory, into the group 10 days ago to investigate the position, and determine to what extent the recovery of the debt might be compromised by the underwhelming traffic numbers.

But on Monday the company's shares were placed in a trading halt and, alarmingly, two directors resigned without explanation.

The announcement was made the same day the media carried a story quoting Brisconnections chief executive Ray Wilson saying the appointment of an insolvency adviser was a standard procedure and was ''always part of the interaction we were likely to have with our banks over the next period''.

The recent history of these toll infrastructure projects has been nothing short of a disaster. Last year the Clem Jones Tunnel - also in Brisbane - collapsed thanks to a serious shortfall in the number of commuters prepared to pay the toll.

Like Brisconnections, the Clem Jones project enticed motorists with free access at the start, then by periods of discounted tolls.

This mirrored the experience of the Cross City Tunnel in Sydney and the Lane Cove Tunnel. Both of these have lost billions of dollars.

Lots of travellers used these tollways when it was free. But, instead of rising over time, the numbers tapered off when the toll was imposed.

The general lacklustre economic environment has been blamed for some of the soft traffic numbers but it doesn't account for the wild divergence between the forecasts and the real experience.

It again brings into question how the experts that predict traffic numbers can get it wrong so often, and why their advice forms the basis of financial forecasts that history shows are so clearly flawed. The investing public could be forgiven for putting their faith in these experts, but investment banks and governments have no excuse for revisiting the mistakes of the past.

Wilson may think that the banks calling in corporate advisers is standard procedure but few would agree.

The Brisconnections banking syndicate is owed more than $3 billion and, with traffic numbers well shy of projections, the debt covenants are likely to have been triggered.

This does not lead to an automatic move by the banks to bring in receivers, but it will allow them to take control and initiate a corporate restructure.

Sources suggested that administration was not imminent and that the trading halt was a way of buying time to get the house in order.

There is little doubt that the senior lenders have already taken some degree of provisioning against their exposure to the company - at the very least based on its ability to pay interest in the short term.

Indeed there is very little that's ''standard'' about the corporate history of Brisconnections.

Readers may remember that in 2008-09 the company raised equity to build the project via a deferred-payment instalment model.

Investors paid $1 for a unit in the company and were asked to make a further payment of $2 at a later date.

When the units traded below the issue price there was a rush for the door as investors realised their investment was a liability rather than an asset and there were calls for the company to be wound up.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission went into overdrive, warning unit holders from transferring their units to fictional people with fictional addresses.

A young entrepreneur, Nicholas Bolton, took a major shareholding when the stock was trading at 1¢ and threatened to vote in favour of a wind-up. He was ultimately bought out by the project's builder, Leighton, and pocketed several million dollars.

Bolton and his profits are now long gone and the investment banks have at least harvested fees from the deal.

Infrastructure projects like tollways have traditionally been a very reliable source of annuity income but only when they are well established. Greenfields developments are clearly fraught with risks.