Residents lawsuit against MWAA over toll road dismissed
A U.S. Eastern District judge on July 7 dismissed a lawsuit filed in April by two Northern Virginia residents against the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority who claimed the board doesn’t have legal authority to set rates for the Dulles Toll Road.
In his opinion to dismiss the case, Judge Anthony J. Trenga said plaintiffs John B. Corr, of Great Falls, and John W. Grisby, of Hillsboro, lacked “prudential standing.”
The plaintiffs’ claims are so “inextricably bound up with political and legislative judgments of the other branches of governments that courts should not intrude as a matter of prudence,” Trenga wrote in his reasons for dismissing the lawsuit.
Corr and Grisby filed a notice of appeal almost immediately after Trenga’s decision.
The plaintiffs, who are seeking a class action classification, want to stop MWAA from collecting any further tolls and a refund of any money collected in excess of what is necessary to operate the road.
They’re seeking restitution in an amount not to exceed $10,000.
In the lawsuit, the men allege illegal charges to toll road users began in 2005 when the Commonwealth Transportation Board had operating and financial control over the road and instituted the first of several rate increases.
“That toll increase was deliberately set at levels far in excess of amounts needed to pay for the maintenance or operation expenses of the Dulles Toll Road plus reasonable payments for the debt incurred to construct or improve the Dulles Toll Road,” the lawsuit reads.
The surplus revenue charged by the board is used to pay for the extension of Metrorail to Washington Dulles International Airport. By doing this, the men allege that the board converted what is a user fee into a tax – a move that is not supported by the state or federal constitution since members of the board are unelected officials.
When MWAA took over control from the Commonwealth Transportation Board in late 2008, the suit says it continued to charge tolls in excessive levels for the purpose of paying for the Metrorail extension.
Current rates for the Dulles Toll Road are $1.25 for two-axle vehicles – an increase of 25 cents from the previous year. MWAA officials have said drivers can expect another rate increase on Jan. 1, 2012.
The toll rate increases will pay for 57 percent of the construction costs of Metrorail’s Silver Line, which is estimated to cost about $6.6 billion.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that MWAA is illegally charging tolls since the setting of rates or fees for a public service has never been given to them by the Virginia General Assembly.
In addition, they say the General Assembly couldn’t have given MWAA the power to set rates because the board is an entity completely outside of the governments of the commonwealth or its counties or municipalities.
However, Trenga disagreed, saying MWAA’s creation is a direct result of political decisions made by Congress and legislative and executive branches in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
The plaintiffs’ complaints against MWAA are policy issues that should be handled in those forums, the judge said.