Update: Feb. 5, 8:12 p.m.
The House of Delegates on Friday passed HB 2104 with a vote of 90-9. One lawmaker was absent. The bill now moves on to the Senate.
Original report: Aug. 5, 9:26 a.m.
A bill that could strip Loudoun County’s input into the future of the Dulles Greenway and lose the county millions in tax revenue may soon have enough votes to pass the Virginia House of Delegates.
On Tuesday, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in opposition of HB 2104. which seeks to determine whether it's in the public interest for the Dulles Greenway to continue operating under the Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 1988 or whether should instead be brought under the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995.
State Del. David Reid (D-32nd), who represents much of eastern Loudoun County, is the chief patron of HB 2104. The bill passed the House transportation committee unanimously on Tuesday. It is scheduled to be heard by the full House Friday.
If the HCA was repealed, it would prohibit the county from providing any input in the process of a new agreement, and the county lose millions in tax revenue because the Greenway would become a state road. TRIP II, which operates the Greenway, reported that it paid $4.39 million in real estates taxes in 2018.
“The goal is to offer lower tolls, the goal is to offer a distance-based tolling — those things are true. But we don't know, quite frankly, if it would happen, when it would happen, how it would look,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said.
Should HB 2104 pass, the commissioner of highways — if they determine it is in the public interest for any such roadway to operate under the PPTA and if the secretary of transportation and the Transportation Public-Private Partnership Steering Committee concur — is directed to negotiate and execute a comprehensive agreement with the operator of the roadway to operate under the authority and requirements provided by the PPTA and to cease to operate under the rules of the HCA.
One the amendments to the bill also states that commissioner shall consider commercial and financial terms and enhancements to any such roadway, including the implementation of distance-based tolling; reductions in toll rates, including the toll rate for a full-length trip; and benefits to the commuters that use any such roadway.
Prior to making any determination whether such a transfer is in the public interest, the commissioner would be required to solicit input from the boards of supervisors of the impacted jurisdictions and to hold a meeting of the Transportation Public-Private Partnership Steering Committee established pursuant to § 33.2-1803.2 of the Code of Virginia to outline the goals and objectives of the evaluation. Two public meetings would then be required.
The bill provides for the repeal of the HCA upon the execution of a comprehensive agreement between the commissioner and the operator of the Dulles Greenway so that the private highway can operate under the PPTA.
Last month, Sen. John Bell (D-13th) and Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87th) introduced bills to amend how the 14-mile Greenway is regulated. Both bills have passed their respective chambers and will be shared with other lawmakers in the House and Senate when crossover starts this weekend.
Gwen Kennedy, legislative liaison for Loudoun County, said if the bills carried by Bell and Subramanyam passed, they would no longer be in existence if the HCA is repealed. The new comprehensive agreement would have to be executed by the end of year.
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the timing of this bill is not advantageous to the board granting authority to the Transportation Administration.
“There's a lot of uncertainty over the next 11 months, and I think if the other bill is successful as it looks like it will be — we hope, so far— [that] it only improves the county's position and only increases the incentive for a potential deal down the road, even if it's outside of this administration,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said. "I think the same folks in the General Assembly that are interested in that would still be interested in that next year.”
“This is one of the few opportunities across the entire commonwealth where we might actually have the opportunity to reduce the tolls that our constituents and commuters end up facing every single day,” Reid said on Thursday to lawmakers.
However, concerns are brewing that the potential new agreement would permit the Greenway operators to raise the toll prices under the PPTA.
Law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, which represents the Greenway owners, said it supports the bill. Hunton Andrews Kuth Senior Director of Governmental Affairs Myles Louria said, “We are actually supportive of the bill. We think an opportunity for negotiation is the right path.”
Staff from the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office said on Tuesday while revenue was steady in 2019 for the Greenway, production value was a result in expenses, a higher capitalization rate and an increase in long-term capital expenditures. Staff projected devaluation will decline due to less revenue generated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Greenway is the only roadway to be constructed and operated under the HCA and is likely to remain the only one. Due in part to concerns with implementation of the HCA, the General Assembly in 1995 passed the PPTA. Since then, any public-private partnership toll facility in the state has been developed and operated under PPTA.
The current tolls for a two-axle vehicle along the 14-mile road are $5.80 during peak periods and $4.75 during off-peak periods, according to the Virginia State Corporation Commission.
In October, an SCC hearing examiner completed its report following an extensive hearing on a proposed toll rate increase for the Dulles Greenway. The examiner’s report recommended no increases to peak tolls but supported off-peak toll increases for the next three years.
TRIP II was seeking a 6 to 6.8 percent toll rate increase each year over the next five years, equating to annual increases that would result in maximum tolls by Jan. 1, 2025, of $7.90 for peak traffic and $6.15 for off-peak and weekend traffic.