The price of a ride on the Dulles Toll Road will rise this spring, and might rise again in about five years, a state transportation panel decided yesterday, essentially taxing commuters as much as $250 extra per year to help pay for the extension of Metrorail in Northern Virginia's tech corridor.
The toll increase puts in place the second of three proposed funding sources required to begin the Dulles rail project, the initial phase of which would cost $1.5 billion and stretch from the West Falls Church Station through Tysons Corner to the eastern edge of Reston.
The New Tolls|
The Commonwealth Transportation Board yesterday approved the first increase for the Dulles Toll Road since it opened in 1984.
The Increases: Tolls will increase from 50 cents to 75 cents at the main toll plaza and from 25 cents to 50 cents at entrance and exit ramps. The 35-cent toll at the Sully Road/Greenway ramps will increase to 50 cents.
Who Will Pay: All vehicles.
When: Starting May 22.
Why: To help fund Metrorail's extension from the West Falls Church Station through Tysons Corner to the eastern edge of Reston.
"Today we moved the rail project closer to Dulles," said Katherine K. Hanley, a member of the governor-appointed state panel that approved the project and the former chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "The financing is now in place to make it possible for the federal government to put up its share."
Commercial property owners along the line had agreed to pay for 25 percent of the cost, and yesterday's vote enables the state to pay 25 percent, mostly with the toll money. Project advocates will now seek the rest from the Federal Transit Administration.
The panel's decision comes as transportation leaders in the region seem poised to turn increasingly to tolls to finance solutions to congestion.
In Virginia, officials are studying proposals to use toll money to build new lanes on the Capital Beltway and on Interstates 95 and 395; in Maryland, similar toll-based financial packages have been proposed for the Beltway, Interstate 270, the Baltimore Beltway, I-95 north of Baltimore and the proposed intercounty connector between Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Yesterday's decision frustrated several business and political leaders on the western part of the tech corridor. They had said that the toll increases at their end of the 12-mile road should not be used to finance the first phase of the rail line, which will not reach them.
The fact that the Commonwealth Transportation Board overrode such concerns could wind up making it more difficult to fund the second phase of the project by eroding the support of key local constituencies, some said.
The financing plan for the second phase of the project relies on money from commercial property owners in the Reston, Herndon and Dulles areas, as well as from Loudoun County. But the business and political leaders in those areas -- who would determine whether that money is forthcoming -- reacted with disappointment to the toll vote.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 8 to 1 Tuesday against raising tolls until other sources of money for the rail project could be examined.
"I think they did the citizens of Loudoun County an injustice," said Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac), vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Asked whether the vote might endanger Loudoun's enthusiasm for the rail financing plan, he said: "That will be answered down the road. This board has been very upfront that we want to revisit the financing plan for rail."
Peter Johnston, a real estate executive who is leading efforts to get property owners to agree to a special taxing district to contribute to rail, said, "There were some in the business community whose feathers were ruffled by this.
"It doesn't help. Having said that, I think there is still an enormous amount of support for this project."
The toll increase, which will take effect May 22, raises rates to 75 cents at the main plaza and 50 cents at other gates.
The state board's resolution approved yesterday says the board "anticipates" a similar increase in tolls if there isn't enough money to fund the rail project's second phase. Officials said that is a distinct possibility.
A second round of increases would raise fees to $1 at the main gate and 75 cents at the other gates and could be imposed as early as 2010. The cost of the two toll increases for a typical commuter traveling round trip between Reston and the District would then rise to about $500 annually.
Proponents of the toll increase and the rail project sought yesterday to focus attention instead on the proposed rail line, the relief they say it will offer to commuters and the importance of reducing congestion in an area that might be one of the state's most valuable economic assets.
"The region clearly needs this project," said Whittington W. Clement, the state's transportation secretary. "Major roadways in the corridor are nearing gridlock. The problem won't go away, and we must address it."