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SCC examiner deals a blow to Del. Ramadan’s Greenway fight

A State Corporation Commission examiner has rejected much of Del. David Ramadan's year-long legal push to reduce the toll rate along the Dulles Greenway.

The examiner, A. Ann Berkebile, wrapped up her review of an evidentiary hearing on the Greenway's rates this week. In her report, Ms. Berkebile said she was “unable to find that the Greenway's toll rates are appropriately subject to modifications” within the proceeding initiated by Mr. Ramadan in December 2012.

Ms. Berkebile's decision makes it unlikely rates along the 14-mile toll road will be dropped anytime soon.

A minor victory came for Mr. Ramadan and toll road users in the examiner's recommendation for the SCC to order the Greenway operators to conduct a distance-based tolling study, something the Greenway owners have long fought.

Ms. Berkebile concluded that “delegate Ramadan sustained his burden of providing that the Greenway's current tolls – in their entirety – are not reasonable in relation to the benefit obtained because they're not distance-based.”

Yet the examiner stated Mr. Ramadan's critique of a Greenway separate cost-benefit analysis to be “largely unpersuasive.”

In her report, Ms. Berkebile relied on an amendment to the original law to support her conclusion that she "had no authority to reduce tolls." That amendment was authored by former state senator and current Attorney General Mark Herring in 2008 to provide for limited annual toll increases.

“I disagree with the Examiners ruling; I do not believe that Senator Herring’s intent was to limit the SCC’s power to regulate tolls. And I do not believe that the current law does that. But the process is not over, I fully intend to ask the Commission to reject the Report and reconsider the logic of the Hearing Examiner,” Mr. Ramadan said in a prepared statement.

The second-term delegate who represents portions of Sterling, Dulles, South Riding and Prince William County, said he “remains committed to fighting for lower tolls, even if it means petitioning the Supreme Court of Virginia.

“In the coming days, my legal team will be evaluating the 67 page Report and will determine a strategy moving forward,” he said.

Meanwhile, the State Corporation Commission is seeking comments on a proposed toll increase by the Greenway operators, Toll Road Investors Partnership II (TRIP II). TRIP II is requesting a 2.8 percent increase plus a 3-cent increase for payment of an increase in local property taxes to Loudoun County and the Town of Leesburg, according to the SCC.

For a 2-axle vehicle, the proposed increase amounts to 15 cents, from $4.10 to $4.25. During peak morning and afternoon weekday periods, the proposed increase is 20 cents, from $4.90 to $5.10.

Written comments on the request must be submitted by Feb. 7. All correspondence should be sent to the Clerk of the State Corporation Commission, Document Control Center, P.O. Box 2118, Richmond, Virginia 23218-2118, and refer to case number PUE-2013-00139.

Those interested in submitted comments electronically may do so at the SCC’s website: http://www.scc.virginia.gov/case Click. on the "public comments/notices" link and then the "submit comments" button for case number PUE-2013-00139.

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Blame our corrupt politicians in VA. Dulles Tool Raod was suppose to be free once paid for but Gov Kaine gave that away to the corrup MWAA. Northern Va gets very little money from all the taxes we send to Richmond. Maybe time to sucede from Virginia and become North Virginia.

Ramadan’s “battle” was never likely to be more than a stunt.  Our politicians sold us down the river when they gave the Greenway corp the sweetheart deal.

I use the road sparingly now because when I do, I end up sitting in traffic for 15 minutes or more…waiting to slowly leak onto the 7 bypass…negating any time the Greenway would have saved me. 

What a colossal but sad joke that “developer’s highway” has turned out to be.

Troy - The greenway is a private property. it’s not right for the government to confiscate private property.  The Commonwealth should have built the road but they did not. Failure of Government 101.
John Mathews - The Greenway IS a regulated business.  You just don’t like the regulations that Attorney General Mark Herring wrote. I’d love to hear from Herring but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

Route7Roar - TRIP II is rated BBB-. That’s investment grade, not junk.  As a private enterprise, they can add leverage as they see fit.
Again, the regulations should have addressed this but apparently don’t.  Mr. Herring, any comment?

Remember, it the politicians who agreed to the private road and wrote the regulations.  Don’t blame TRIP II for playing by the rules that were given to them. 

If people would boycott this road, something positive would eventually happen, imo.  I avoid it now completely.

No, the state should use eminent domain to end a ridiculous experiment.  Tax payers shouldn’t give these people a dime. 

Something tells me that a company that has used fishy accounting practices to justify toll increases into the stratosphere isn’t someone who is interested in partnering with the local community to help them out.  We need to get them out of the way. 

That road is a burden on Loudoun communities, whether it is the exorbitant toll itself or the gridlocked traffic on Sycolin, Waxpool, or Route 7 as people avoid it.

Discussions about distance-based pricing are a smokescreen designed to hide the massive debts attached to the Greenway by its owners—debt that was used for other purposes, that is now being used to justify the massive toll increases that have occurred over the past five years.

The cost of building the road was a bit over 300 million. The Greenway’s debt is over a BILLION dollars (and that was 2011).

What a bizarre (and suspect) decision. In 2008 Mark Herring (yes, our current Attorney general) rewrites the SCC’s ability to regulate tolls. This 2008 bill specifically states that inflation and cost-related increases will automatically be granted between the years 2013 and 2020. The hearing examiner has decided that this particular section means that the SCC cannot regulate the tolls, unless the CPI-based increases are unreasonable. And she is therefore rejecting the lawsuit.

First—it strikes me as odd that a 2008 bill would create a period of automatic rate increases five years into the future, for 8 years after that. What did the public receive in exchange for these decoupling the rate increases from whatever other tests should have been applied by the SCC?

Second, the hearing examiner’s decision that this section (section I) renders her powerless is ridiculous. The amended law maintains the language stating that unreasonable or unrelated expenses cannot be included in the computation of the rates. This hearing was as much about the previous, ridiculous toll increases as it was about the future.

The language Herring created in 2008 has now been used to render every other test the SCC may apply irrelevant. Under that logic, the rest of the act might as well not exist, as it is pre-empted completed by the I section. If so, why is it still present in the book? Why does the amendment for section I also amend other sections, if section I supposedly makes them irrelevant?

The Greenway has completely choked off commercial development along its corridor, costing Loudoun County millions in tax revenue, and costing Loudoun residents thousands of jobs that should be (but never will be, because of the Greenway) local.

One sentence in the 2008 law is producing this effect; one that was inserted by our current Attorney General. All it takes to cancel that effect and allow the SCC to function again is a legislation passed to cancel the 2008 clauses.

I think the door bell queen is rearing her head cause Stevens could never come up with the answer above.

Right, because we know how responsible unregulated businesses are. Enron, Citi, Countrywide, JP Morgan…and the list goes on and on.

The Greenway would have the finances to cover costs related to distance-based tolling if they were not leveraging their monopolistic asset against other bad investments.  TRIP II has basically junk bond status rating (BBB-).  They continue to raise rates because they know they will never have to face any substantial hurdles or restrictions. 

This is a very compelling case, if you take the time to read the record presented in the SCC proceedings.  If the SCC continues to turn a blind eye to the fiscal mismanagement of the Greenway which causes the need for toll rates to increase then Loudoun is doomed.  We will have to to continue to pour more taxpayer funds into building Gloucester, expanding Waxpool and Route 7. 

This outcome was inevitable and is the result of a waste of taxpayer-funded resources.

The Greenway CEO has told me that the barrier to distance-based pricing is the overhead involved in transitioning to that method (in both hardware and software costs). So, the state should lend the Greenway the money it needs, with a repayment and interest schedule tied to increased revenues accruing from more short-distance travelers.

Del. Ramadan should be seeking cooperation with the Greenway, instead looking to impose more government regulation and control on one of Loudoun’s most important private businesses.

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