Greenway 267

The Dulles Greenway

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted recently to oppose a legislative proposal that would reduce toll costs on the Dulles Greenway and create distance-based pricing for commuters traveling the toll road.

The board voted 6-2-1 in favor of the motion made by Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) during its Jan. 18 meeting. Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn) and Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) voted to oppose the motion. Supervisor Sylvia Glass (D-Broad Run) was absent.

Randall opposed raising the motion after offering Del. David Reid (D-32nd), one of the bill carriers, an opportunity to consider the board’s alternative language for the proposed legislation.

Letourneau, however, said he did not wish to wait, considering the board did not ask for the bill as the proposed legislation is still pending committee assignment in Richmond. The board opposed a similar bill submitted of Reid’s last year, at which time legislators did pass a separate bill amending how the roadway is regulated.

“It took us eight years to pass the bill that we passed last year,” Letourneau said. “We have not yet even seen that bill be tested.”

Letourneau said Greenway operators have not introduced a toll rate increase, “So, it would be very premature to throw the Greenway a lifeline and start this conversation now. It just doesn’t make sense strategically.”

As previously reported, Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd) and Reid are carrying the legislation in their respective chambers.

Reid said in a message to the Times-Mirror that “Supervisor Letourneau, and all those supervisors who voted for his motion, need to explain to their constituents why they are against reducing tolls and why they are against distance-based tolling.”

“We need to think about the needs of our constituents and not just maintaining the status quo of ever-increasing tolls,” Reid said.

As previously stated, the two lawmakers said if the proposal passes, commuters could see a reduction in their toll costs and would only be charged for their actual distance traveled on the toll road.

Further, the proposal is expected to address roadway congestion in parts of Ashburn, Broadlands, Brambleton and South Riding.

The estimated savings for motorists could be between $200-$300 per month. The legislation is intended to result in a 50% reduction, going from $5.80 to $2.90 in current toll rates on the eastern end of the road, and a $1-$2 reduction in toll rates on the western end, according to officials. The current rate on the western end is $5.10.

The toll road is the only highway in the state that is owned and operated by a private company under the Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 1988 (HCA).

The current tolls for a two-axle vehicle are $7.30 during peak periods and $6.75 during off-peak periods on the 14-mile roadway between Washington Dulles International Airport and Leesburg, according to the Greenway’s Toll Rate Calculator.

TRIP II, a locally-owned company headquartered in Sterling, maintains and operates the Dulles Greenway.

Under the proposed legislation, the operation of the Greenway could potentially lead to state government control.

As reported last month, the Commissioner of Highways, in consultation with the Secretary of Finance and Transportation, would determine if state takeover of the roadway is in the public interest, according to the draft legislation.

In the event the commissioner determines that the toll road is in the “public interest,” the commissioner is authorized to by the General Assembly to negotiate and execute a new comprehensive agreement with the Greenway owners and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Upon execution of an agreement between the parties, the roadway would immediately become subject to the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995. The SCC would then transfer all of its records and regulatory oversight responsibilities regarding the Greenway to VDOT.

“You can try to put lipstick on this pig, but conceptually, this is a terrible idea because even if the county gets put into the process — which I doubt is necessarily going to happen — it’s still circumventing the PPTA,” Letourneau said, “and there has been no justification given for why we would possibly want to do that in year one of a new administration.”

In the absence of an agreement, the SCC would continue its responsibilities under the HCA.

The lawmakers said the distant deadline will allow the incoming Youngkin administration to familiarize itself with the Greenway’s history, the Greenway’s financials, and the initial work and analysis done by the Northam administration.

TRIP II is required to share its financial plan for the operation of the roadway and show evidence of its creditworthiness to the SCC, under legislation carried last session by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87th) and Sen. John Bell (D-13th).

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law Subramanyam and Bell’s bills last session, amending how the Greenway is regulated.

That legislation also said that any proposed toll rates should be “reasonable to the users in relation to the benefit obtained, not materially discourage use of the roadway, and provide the operator no more than a reasonable rate of return,” according to the bill. If any toll rates fail to satisfy those criteria, the SCC would not be permitted to approve the refinancing application.

Reid and Boysko said the new initiative would not undo Bell and Subramanyan’s legislation, which was backed by the board of supervisors.

Last year, the board opposed another bill, brought by Reid, which sought to repeal the Virginia Highway Corporation Act. The board was concerned the bill could strip Loudoun County of its input in the future of the Greenway and potentially lose the county millions of dollars in tax revenue, should the state take over the roadway.

TRIP II reported that it paid to Loudoun County $4.39 million in real estate taxes in 2018.

Boysko and Reid said the proposed legislation will address the board’s transparency concerns by allowing two board members and the county attorney enter into a non-disclosure agreement to be able to receive details of the negotiations between the commonwealth and the Greenway owners.

Representatives from the Board of Supervisors will also have the ability to discuss details of the negotiations in closed session.

Further, officials said the legislation will “clearly define” that the “public interest” is both a reduction in current toll rates and the implementation of distance-based tolling and establishes a deadline for completing the deal by June 30, 2023.

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