A proposal to increase prices on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for a parallel Metrorail extension ran into stiffer, more organized resistance yesterday and appears to have split Northern Virginia's tech corridor into two camps.
The opposition arose from the west: Business leaders in Reston and the Herndon-Dulles areas voted through their chambers of commerce yesterday to call for significant changes to the proposal. And the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 8 to 1 to oppose the toll increases until other options are examined.
New Tolls, Not Taxes, Favored for Area Roads (The Washington Post, Feb 16, 2005)
For Ehrlich, a Return to Routine (The Washington Post, Feb 15, 2005)
Behind the Steering Wheel, A Driver Feels the Squeeze (The Washington Post, Feb 13, 2005)
On the eastern side of the corridor, meanwhile, where the proposed rail line would be built first and serve the populous Tysons Corner area, there has been little opposition.
The west-side opponents have objected because the first phase of the rail project will not reach their front doors -- yet tolls collected in or near those areas will help pay for its construction.
"People are up in arms about this," said opponent Ken Reid, who has organized a Web site called www.notollincrease.com. "Governor Mark Warner is pursuing [the toll increase] at his own risk."
The Commonwealth Transportation Board is scheduled to hold a simultaneous public hearing today in Chantilly and Richmond on a proposal that would raise tolls to help pay for a proposed $1.5 billion extension of Metrorail from West Falls Church through Tysons Corner to the eastern edge of Reston.
Tolls at the main plaza would rise to 75 cents and at other gates to 50 cents; a commuter driving between Reston and Washington would pay about $250 more a year.
Long-range plans call for extending the rail line farther west, through Reston and Herndon to Dulles International Airport and beyond. The day construction begins on that portion, opponents said, is the time to take toll money from the Reston and Herndon areas.
"We believe that it is an issue of equity and fairness," said Tracey White, president of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce. Her group issued a letter yesterday calling for toll increases only in the eastern portion of the corridor.
"There is anxiety in the public about whether they should contribute to something that might never benefit their area," said Eileen Curtis, president of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce. Her group called for holding the toll money from the western end in escrow -- and spending it when the rail line arrives there.
Even some of the most fervent supporters of Dulles rail say they are rankled by the idea of relying on tolls to finance the project.
Under long-standing plans, about half of the money for the rail project is supposed to come from the federal government and the rest from the state and local jurisdictions.
The state is raising most of its share from tolls paid by Northern Virginians.
"It's an unpalatable option -- but the choice is that or nothing," said Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D).
Karen J. Rae, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said the opponents' toll alternatives that exclude money from the western end of the corridor will not work because they will not generate enough money at the right times. "Most of these groups, while they're struggling with the toll issue, very much want rail -- it's just a matter of how we get there," she said.