Update: April 10, 2:48 p.m.
State Corporation Commission Hearing Examiner D. Mathias Roussy Jr. has granted Loudoun County a nine-week extension to respond to the Dulles Greenway's rate hike request.
Roussy cancelled the local public witness hearings due to restrictions with COVID-19, and he scheduled an oral public comment to be announced in the future.
Roussy said in his ruling, "Based on the foregoing, the Loudoun Board’s Extension Motion is granted in part and denied in part. I agree with the board that the COVID-19 emergency warrants changes to the current procedural schedule for this matter, including the upcoming date for submitting respondent testimony. In general, I find that an approximately nine-week extension is appropriate at this time."
Roussy directed the following actions in his ruling:
-The date for filing any respondent testimony and exhibits on the application is extended to June 26.
-Staff shall file its testimony and exhibits on the application on or before July 10.
-TRIP II shall file any rebuttal testimony on or before July 24.
-The evidentiary hearing is continued and shall commence in the commission’s courtroom on Aug. 13 10 a.m.
-The date by which any person or entity may file written comments on the application is extended to Aug. 24. Anyone may file comments on the application by following the instructions found on the commission’s website: scc.virginia.gov/case. All comments should refer to Case No. PUR-2019-00218.
-The local hearings previously scheduled in this matter are cancelled.
Original report: April 10, 8:30 a.m.
Loudoun County officials are asking the Virginia State Corporation Commission to extend the hearing date for a 6 to 6.8 percent rate hike request by the owners of the Dulles Greenway.
On Tuesday night during the Board of Supervisors business meeting, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and County Attorney Leo Rogers shared that the request has been filed with SCC for an extension until Oct. 2 to file direct testimony in the case and also to reschedule the public hearings for later in the year.
The county is opposing the rate hike.
“It is insensitive of TRIP II to rush through this proceeding to raise tolls on the Greenway at a time when everyone’s financial future is uncertain due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said in a prepared statement. “A toll rate increase of this magnitude would put a heavy economic burden on workers in Loudoun County, many of whom may not be getting a paycheck for the next few months.”
Toll Road Investors Partnership II, LP, or TRIP II, the Australia-based company that owns the Greenway, seeks a 6 to 6.8 percent toll rate increase each year over the next five years, which is an increase of approximately one-third in toll rates over that period, according to county officials. TRIP II has refused the county’s request to reschedule the current proceedings, which include an evidentiary hearing before the SCC in June.
The opportunities for public input are currently set for May while Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order is in effect. In addition, the county faces April deadlines to file substantive exhibits and testimony.
“The county simply does not have the time needed to prepare for the hearing,” Tim Hemstreet said in a prepared statement. “Every facet of the Loudoun County government has been focused 24/7 on mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and protecting the health and safety of our residents, businesses and county employees, while still providing essential and critical services to our community.”
Under the current SCC schedule, which was adopted before the COVID-19 crisis, the county had about a month from the time that it intervened to prepare its case for fighting the toll rate increase, officials stated. The county requested an extension because its resources have been redirected to the pandemic response.
TRIP II has requested the SCC “deny the county’s motion in its entirety.”
“The Greenway never fails to disappoint, but this may be a new low,” said Dulles Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R), who serves county finance committee chairman. “The last thing Loudoun residents need right now is another toll increase. The county will fight this rate case regardless of the schedule, but during this unprecedented time it is impossible to obtain accurate traffic counts and make this process fair."
Lawmakers and county officials have fought for years against the Greenway’s efforts to raise tolls.
The most recent case in February was squashed after a Virginia House committee killed a bill aimed at addressing toll price concerns on the Greenway. A substitute bill was reintroduced and subsequently pushed to next year’s session.
The requested toll increases are not mandated by any statute, regulation or prior commission order, nor is there any requirement that the commission rule on the application by a certain date, the county states.
A decision regarding the county's request could be made by the end of the week.