Without Loudoun County’s actions, commuters would have little hope against higher Dulles Greenway tolls.
Once again, legislators in Richmond killed a bill last week to reform and clarify the regulations governing the privately-owned Greenway. During the last seven years, several bills have been proposed to create distance-based tolling, lower tolls overall, and stop the Greenway from charging us for more than $600 million in expenses and debt unrelated to building and maintaining the road.
These bills all failed to pass.
This year, newly elected Democratic Delegate Suhas Subramanyam sponsored the bill, which was combined with Republican Delegate Dave LaRock’s version. For the first time, a bill had bipartisan support from Loudoun, yet they couldn’t defeat the Greenway’s well-funded lobbying team and their campaign contributions to legislators across the commonwealth.
And worse, some in the Loudoun delegation with close relationships to these lobbyists remain opposed to these reform efforts. Luckily, Loudoun County government has advanced its own solutions, focusing on building and improving alternative routes to the Greenway.
Without these efforts, Loudoun’s only hope would be for Richmond to stop being controlled by money and powerful lobbying firms — which isn’t likely to happen.
Last year, the Greenway lobbyists killed this bill in the Senate by one vote, which was flipped at the last minute; this year, one vote was flipped and six legislators abstained or left the room to kill the bill with a tied 8-8 vote.
And instead, the Greenway filed a request with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to raise tolls for the next five years, with increases ranging from 5% to 6.8% per year.
How could tolls go up nearly 30% in the next five years? It’s not hard to infer when we follow the money.
The Dulles Greenway has donated nearly $500,000 to various General Assembly candidates, mostly to those in leadership positions; their lobbying firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth, has donated nearly $3 million to various candidates. Their main lobbyist on this bill was a former Virginia secretary of transportation.
With this information in mind, we should also wonder why there was no matching bill to Del. Subramanyum’s filed in the State Senate.
Coincidentally or not, all four state senators representing Loudoun – John Bell (D), Jennifer Boysko (D), Barbara Favola (D) and Jill Vogel (R) – have received contributions from the Greenway during their careers.
And adding insult to injury, the Greenway’s official reports show these donations and their money spent on lobbying counts against the “expenses” they charge to toll payers.
During my final year on the Board of Supervisor last year, I asked the Greenway executives during a public meeting what the return on investment was for their money spent on lobbying and campaign donations. Further, I asked what the direct benefit of these expenditures was to toll payers, which is a statutory requirement for all toll roads.
Their answer? After trying to dodge the question, they finally admitted it was “access.” But with their record of success, many commuters wonder if they’re getting more than just access.
So, what’s our answer? In Richmond, we should keep fighting, despite the odds. Some have considered trying to ban political donations from utilities and monopolies, and their representation. Others say the county could consider hiring a big-money law firm to try to beat the Greenway at their own game.
No matter what happens in Richmond, Loudoun County must continue to build Greenway alternatives as fast as possible. Many know this is what I ran on in 2015, and our Board added a new parallel road to our plan in 2016 — extending Shellhorn Road to Route 28 at Sterling Blvd. — which will be under construction later this year under a toll-free public-private partnership.
And even before I was elected, the previous board started taking signals off of Route 7 and improving Route 28, which are also Greenway alternatives. We were proud to continue this with the last Board, culminating in the Belmont Ridge intersection and removing the Lexington Drive traffic signal from Route 7.
These efforts must continue with full stakeholder support, along with transit alternatives and moving more jobs centers here to Loudoun. Greenway alternatives are the only solution that has worked in the face of Richmond’s dysfunction. If we can’t beat them in the General Assembly, let’s compete with them with toll-free options.
The Hon. Ron A. Meyer is a former Loudoun County supervisor from the Broad Run District and a former Northern Virginia Transportation Commissioner.