By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Virginia officials approved more toll increases yesterday for the Dulles Greenway, ensuring that travel on the pricey highway will become more expensive in the next five years.
For people who live or work in Loudoun County, the increase will mean paying up to $10 a day to save time by taking the Greenway, which links Dulles International Airport and the Dulles Toll Road to Leesburg and other communities.
Under the plan approved by the State Corporation Commission, the company that owns the Greenway can gradually raise the toll from the current round-trip fare of $6 and charge extra during rush hours. By 2012, a round-trip journey on the 14-mile highway could cost $9.60.
The new rules go into effect Oct. 1, when the highway's owner, Toll Road Investors Partnership II, plans to change the fee structure for trucks with more than two axles. Currently, such trucks pay a flat rate of $5.40. Under the new structure, the rate will be based on the number of axles, with six-axle vehicles paying $9.45 one way.
Most commuters won't see a toll increase until January 2009, when the company will be permitted to start charging $3.40 one way most of the time and $4 in peak directions during rush hours. In 2010, one-way tolls could go up to $3.70 most of the day and $4.50 during rush hours. In 2012, the fare could rise to $4 most of the day and $4.80 at rush hours.
When the Greenway opened in 1995, it was envisioned as a luxurious alternative to side roads clogged with stop-and-go traffic such as Route 7. But as Loudoun's population has blossomed, it has become an essential thoroughfare connecting dense neighborhoods in eastern Loudoun to job centers along the Dulles corridor and in Fairfax County and Tysons Corner.
In a 10-page order, the commission said that the increase could be a hardship for drivers who use the Greenway daily. But members said their hands were tied by the 1988 state law that authorized construction of the Greenway, the state's first private highway to be built since the Civil War.
"Almost 20 years ago, the Commonwealth made a series of policy decisions that leave us little choice but to make the decision we make in this case," the order said.
Under the law, Toll Road Investors is allowed to increase tolls under three conditions: if the new fee does not significantly discourage drivers from using the road, if the company does not make an undue profit from the higher charge and if the benefit of using the road matches its cost.
Nothing in the law stipulates that the toll has to be affordable for drivers, said U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who has been a leading opponent of the toll increases and has called for the state to take over the road.
"It was a flawed law, and the General Assembly did not do a very good job in the way it was drafted," Wolf said yesterday. Officials with Toll Road Investors said yesterday that they are pleased with the state's decision. The highway still offers drivers significant savings in time and wear and tear on their cars, equivalent to more than $6 a trip, company officials have said.
"We think that the tolls offer a fair value and benefit to motorists," said Ann Huggins-Lawler, a spokeswoman for the partnership.