Different year, same result.
A Virginia House committee has again killed a bill aimed at addressing toll price concerns on the Dulles Greenway.
The House Labor and Commerce Committee voted on the bill late last week. The proposal would have amended the powers and responsibilities of the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to regulate the toll road. The measure failed on an 8-8 vote in committee.
With the roll call sitting at 9-7 in favor of the proposal, Democratic Del. Lamont Bagby, who represents Henrico, flipped his vote in the final seconds to oppose the bill introduced by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87th).
"The result was disappointing, no question. But this is an ongoing process," Subramanyam said a prepared statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders, the Loudoun delegation, and the Board of Supervisors to protect commuters from high tolls."
The bill, if enacted, would have given the SCC a criterion to review toll rate increases for the 14-mile Dulles Greenway that runs from Leesburg to the Dulles Airport area.
Additionally, the bill would have added the Virginia Department of Transportation as the oversight agency to review traffic modeling and prohibited multi-year toll rate increases.
The Greenway is the only highway in the state owned by a private enterprise under the Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 1988. The owners in December applied for a toll rate increase of 6.8 percent annually over the next five years to the SCC, according to Loudoun County Attorney Leo Rogers.
“If the users of the Greenway go down, the Greenway still makes money. What we ought to be looking at here is not maximizing their return, but maximizing the usage,” Rogers said.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors supported the proposal and opposed legislation to extend automatic toll hikes beyond the expiration date of Jan. 1.
Loudoun Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Membership and Government Affairs Grafton DeButts said at Thursday’s committee meeting that “businesses and employees rely on what we call ‘Greenway alternatives’ to get around the county, but these roads cannot safely or reliably support the number of vehicles every day that travel on them.”
The tolls are currently $4.75 for non-peak hours and $5.80 for peak hours. Rush hours are currently set from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. eastbound and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. westbound. With proposed increases, tolls could be well over $6 for a one-way trip.
Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10th) serves on the committee and is a chief co-patron of the bill. She voted in favor of the bill. She represents constituents in parts of Clarke, Fredrick and Loudoun counties.
“All these years later, I, as well as thousands of Loudoun County residents, avoid that toll road,” Gooditis said. “If the company wants to exist in the future – and in defense of my constituents – I urge the Greenway to do something to encourage the traffic on the Greenway and lower the tolls.”
Subramanyam’s bill incorporated two bills introduced by Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd), including a similar bill to Subramanyan’s, and Bill 971, which would have had the Greenway operators turn over its authority of the roadway.
LaRock has a third Greenway bill requesting that the enforcement and oversight of the Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 1988 be transferred from the SCC to the Department of Transportation. House Bill 772 was assigned to a transportation subcommittee on Jan. 14. No date has been set to review the proposal, according to General Assembly records.
VDOT has experience with Public Private Partnership endeavors, scientific modeling and traffic analysis that makes them capable of handling the transfer, according to LaRock.
“...Given the capability of VDOT, they are just far better aligned to perform that function with precision and accuracy,” he said.
Should the bill reach the transportation committee, Dels. Karrie Delaney (D-67th) and Kathleen Murphy are expected to cast a vote. Both represent parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Del. Bagby also serves on the transportation committee.
In 2008, the General Assembly approved the Greenway funding agreement after it was introduced by then-state Sen. Mark Herring (D-33rd) and then-Del. Joe May (R-33rd) in 2008.