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Two years into our Board of Supervisors term, Loudoun drivers are being hit with record tolls—both from the Dulles Greenway and from I-66 tolls inside the Beltway.

Our inboxes and phone logs are full of frustrating stories from real people. My constituents, many of whom were already paying thousands of dollars per year to the Greenway to drive just a couple miles per day, are now faced with excessive tolls on I-66.

Here is a comprehensive update on what our office is doing to advance solutions for our Loudoun commuters:

The Greenway

First on the Greenway. Many attempts to combat these tolls have been tried—from suing the private company, to looking at buying the road, to asking for distance-based tolling—but nothing has worked. The lawsuits have failed. The attempts to buy or use eminent domain to acquire the road are hampered by the more than $1 billion in debt that TRIP II has piled on the road using a debt scheme, despite the County-assessed value of the road being less than $400 million.

And, while the General Assembly may have the power to force the Greenway to use distance-based tolls, attempts to get the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to do this, or to force them to lower tolls overall, have gone nowhere. In fact, the 2008 regulations co-authored by then State Senator Mark Herring (D) and Delegate Joe May (R) allowed the Greenway to further their debt scheme while continuing to raise tolls.

In 2019, those regulations expire, and the General Assembly will have the opportunity to fix these disastrous regulations. However, I’m not hopeful about our chances.

The Greenway has given $385,000 to General Assembly candidates, and $32,500 in 2017 alone. In 2017, Attorney General Herring cashed a $2,000 check, and both men who could be House Speaker, Delegates Kirk Cox (R) and David Toscano (D), also got big contributions—as did other leaders on both sides of the aisle in the State Senate and House.

So, what can the County do if Richmond won’t act? We’re building a parallel road network, or as my campaign called them, Greenway alternatives.

In my first budget in 2016, the Loudoun Board voted unanimously to build an extension of Shellhorn Road from Loudoun County Parkway to Route 28 at Sterling Blvd. This road would provide a toll-free bypass of the Greenway for the first seven miles of the toll road. Less than 18 months after adding it to our budget, the County is now moving swiftly through the design and land acquisition processes.

We’re also moving forward with other east-west connections, including the extensions Prentice Dr. and Westwind Blvd. All three of these projects will provide choice and competition in this corridor.

These roads also all rely on funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NTVA), and we will need public support to ensure they stay on-time. Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is proposing to remove $85 million of annual NVTA funding away to give more funding to Metro, which could end up significantly delaying these projects.

I-66 inside the Beltway Tolls

Now, onto the new I-66 tolls. The Loudoun Board has opposed these tolls from the beginning, and while allowing access to lanes in rush hour for all drivers is a step forward, Northern Virginians expect tolls to be reasonable, appropriate, and affordable—not highway robbery.

Gov. McAuliffe, Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane, and others sold this project to Northern Virginians under false pretenses.

In 2015, they said the tolls would average between $7 to $9 for riders going the full nine miles eastbound. On Dec. 7 in a press release, they falsely claimed the tolls were “lower than the estimate average toll rate.” They claim the average eastbound toll was $10.50 for all drivers, not just those doing the full 9 miles. Rather than being open to change, these sorts of political games don’t change the reality of what people are experiencing.

Sec. Layne said these tolls are working “as designed,” which can only mean the design was to price people out of their cars and force them into transit. VDOT’s tolling algorithm makes little sense, unless this was their goal.

Their dynamic tolling is set to try to move traffic at 55 mph, despite the federal minimum and the industry standard being 45 mph. When I’ve traveled on the road, it has been largely empty. Even on a Friday with no traffic, tolls were $6.50; this base price is too high. Why not fill the road capacity by lowering the toll? If the speed was brought to 45 mph and capacity filled, these small changes alone would make a massive impact on the price.

Many commuters also timed their trips to avoid the HOV restriction, but with the extended tolling hours, they now face massive tolls, significant delays on alternative routes, or transit options which are inadequate.

So, what is Loudoun doing about it? First, I authored a proposed resolution, endorsed by the full Loudoun Board, to have the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) call on VDOT to lower the tolls.

Second, we continue to operate the Loudoun County Transit commuter buses, which after direct access from Loudoun to D.C., Rosslyn, Crystal City, and the Pentagon. Despite my strong objection, fares have increased to $9. This long-haul system is the only revenue-positive bus service in the region, and these fares should be lowered. Each driver who choses to ride this bus is one fewer driver clogging the roads; these buses could also be an affordable alternative to Greenway and I-66 tolls.

Third, Metro will be coming in 2020. For some, this will be an option. For others, the fares, travel times, and reliability need to be improved for it to be a real option.

After reading this, it’s easy to understand why transportation is our region and our County’s number one issue. Each dollar spent on tolls is one less dollar for our children’s college savings accounts or for our own retirements or even for basic needs for those living paycheck-to-paycheck. We can and should continue to act accordingly. 

Loudoun County Supervisor Ron Meyer

(R-Broad Run)

Comments


Doesn’t Loudoun BOS have any authority to manage the land under the Greenway since it is a private road NOT a federal or state road? Can’t your treasurer negotiate a reduced rate coupoun for Loudoun citizens who use the road as part of their tax due to the county? I am so tired of hearing the Dillon State argument to excuse representatives from taking appropriate action on behalf of those they represent when we are the cash cow of the state. The power to fix problem such as this and moving Dulles parking lot land back under Loudoun property taxes and making VDOT do their job is within our control if we would just focus on getting it done. IMHO
Bob Ohneiser Esq.


And for 2 years this same message by Meyers gets posted reminds me of Rubio on the debate stage with canned talking points.

Comments express only the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website or any associated person or entity. Any user who believes a message is objectionable can contact us at ltmeditor@loudountimes.com.

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