Drivers using the 14-mile Dulles Greenway in Loudoun County will see at least a 5% increase in toll rates over the next 18 months for off-peak tolls, as outlined in an April 26 ruling from the State Corporation Commission (SCC).
Although the commission found that peak tolls should not be increased at this time “due to the changes and uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” it agreed with staff’s expert accounting witness that increasing off-peak tolls would permit TRIP II (Toll Road Investors Partnership II) to recover operating costs and debt obligations.
Off-peak drivers will see a 25-cent increase, bringing the toll to $5 effective immediately, according to TRIP II. Tolls will increase by an additional 25 cents, to $5.25, effective Jan. 1, 2022.
“While the Greenway satisfied the SCC’s criteria for toll increases, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local economy was clearly a factor in the approval of a shorter-term two-year increase in off-peak tolls,” said Renée N. Hamilton, CEO of TRIP II, in a prepared statement.
TRIP II, which is headquartered in Sterling and owns and operates the Greenway, was seeking a 6 to 6.8 percent toll rate increase each year over the next five years for capital improvement projects.
But Virginia lawmakers and leaders in Loudoun County spoke out against the toll rate increases. Lawmakers said the increase would adversely impact alternate roads in northern Virginia and hurt families and businesses during the ongoing health and economic crises.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recently signed HB 1832 and SB 1259 that amended how the highway is regulated. Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87th) and Sen. John Bell (D-10th) carried the bills.
The announced rate hikes are not affected by the legislation, which goes into effect July 1.
Former state Del. David Ramadan, Bell and Subramanyam said in a joint statement Wednesday night that the SCC denying the Greenway its five-year toll rate increase request was based on efforts of Loudoun County and the inputs from the entire bipartisan team.
“This decision is one of the biggest victories we have achieved in our fight against high tolls on the Dulles Greenway,” Bell said in a prepared statement. “Toll increases on the Greenway have gone unchecked for too long, but it stops today. I’m proud to have carried this bill that puts the needs of Loudoun County commuters over Greenway profit margins. This is a bipartisan win, and I’m grateful to all of the Loudoun officials who supported us in getting here today.”
TRIP II will be required to share its financial plan for the operation of the roadway and show evidence of its creditworthiness to the SCC, according to the legislation. The company will only be allowed to request rate increases once a year.
Subramanyam said in an earlier interview that if TRIP II wants to make any changes, or if another entity wants to purchase the roadway, they would be required to show financial fitness to the SCC before any changes are made.
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 legislation.
If any toll rates fail to satisfy these criteria, the SCC may not approve the refinancing application.
“My goal has always been no more toll increases,” Subramanyam said in a prepared statement. “Laws passed years ago allowed these increases, which is why we fought successfully to change this moving forward by preventing multi-year toll increases and making it harder to justify any increases. This ruling was a great outcome given the current law, but with my bill we can protect commuters even more moving forward.”
Former Del. David Ramadan challenged TRIP II in 2013. He said Loudoun deserves a nod after the county’s legal experts and analysis were successful in demonstrating the majority of toll increases weren’t warranted.
“In the future, the new legislation passed earlier this year by Senator John Bell and Delegate Suhas Subramanyam will impose a higher burden on Greenway operators which will improve protections for commuters even further,” Ramadan said in a prepared statement. “I appreciate their bipartisan work and thank them for carrying on this fight which I started eight years ago.”
Hamilton said the SCC’s decision reinforces the importance of the Dulles Greenway and the value it delivers to Loudoun County and northern Virginia customers who rely on the roadway for a faster, safer and more predictable transportation option.
TRIP II, in its application, stated that the increase in toll rates will allow TRIP II to undertake major capital improvement projects to improve the Greenway and adjoining public roads which will, among other things, reduce congestion in the surrounding road network, improve the travel time and experience for TRIP II customers and ensure TRIP II remains in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement.
Hamilton said TRIP II is exploring opportunities to address customer interest in distance-based tolling.
Peak and Off-Peak Tolls (two-axle vehicles)
Current — $5.80, $4.75
2021 — $5.80, $5
2022 — $5.80, $5.25