State Official Endorses Greenway Toll Hike

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007

A state official has recommended that the owners of the Dulles Greenway be allowed to raise the one-way, rush-hour toll to $4.80 by 2012, despite protests by hundreds of residents and local leaders, who said the hike would cause undue hardship to drivers.

Howard P. Anderson, a hearing examiner for the State Corporation Commission who presided over arguments in the case, concluded that Toll Road Investors Partnership II was within its rights to seek the increase.

The company, he said, met the three requirements set forth in the 1988 law that authorized construction of the privately owned 14-mile highway: that the toll isn't so high that it would significantly discourage drivers from using the road, that the cost does not exceed the road's benefits to motorists and that the company isn't earning an undue profit.

The full commission has yet to rule on Anderson's recommendation, which was dated June 28. However, his signing off on the proposal increases the likelihood that the commission will approve it.

The recommendation angered opponents of the toll increase, including Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who has spoken out against TRIP II's request. On Thursday, he vowed to continue his campaign and urged the SCC to delay its decision until the Virginia General Assembly has had a chance to revisit TRIP II's contract with the state.

"I have discussed this matter with several members of the House of Delegates from Northern Virginia who, like myself, believe there is no longer any 'public' in the public-private agreement under which the Greenway operates," Wolf wrote to SCC Chairman Theodore V. Morrison Jr. in a letter released Thursday.

"The legislation creating the 'partnership' is seriously flawed and must be changed in order to ensure that toll rates are just, reasonable and affordable," Wolf wrote.

Anderson also recommended that the SCC require TRIP II to study a toll structure that would allow motorists who drive only a portion of the Greenway to pay a lower fee. In their written response to his report, TRIP II officials said they had studied the idea of a distance-based toll structure and discarded it years ago.

"All patrons using the Dulles Greenway benefit from shorter travel times, reduced maintenance costs, and safer driving conditions," company officials wrote. "In many instances, a patron entering the road from Leesburg will experience the same travel savings as a driver entering the road further east."

The one-way toll rose from $2.70 to $3 on July 1, an increase that the SCC had approved in 2004.

Under the proposal that Anderson endorsed, the toll for cars traveling in the peak direction during rush hours would rise to $4 on Jan. 1, 2009; $4.50 on July 1, 2010; and $4.80 on Jan. 1, 2012. The non-peak toll would rise to $3.40 on Jan. 1, 2009; $3.70 on July 1, 2010; and $4 on Jan. 1, 2012.

The rate for trucks would go up immediately. Currently, vehicles with more than two axles pay $5.40 one way. Under the proposed toll schedule, the rate would vary depending on the number of axles a vehicle had, with six-axle vehicles paying a one-way toll of $9.45.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company