Fees Likely to Double On Dulles Toll Road

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The cost of driving on the Dulles Toll Road is likely to double over the next three years to help fund Metrorail's $5 billion expansion in Northern Virginia, officials with the agency in charge of the road and the rail project announced yesterday.

Under the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority proposal, tolls would go up incrementally, starting in January. It costs 75 cents to drive through the main plaza and 50 cents to use one of the on- or offramps. The proposal, subject to approval by the authority's board of directors, would increase the main toll to $1.50 by 2012, and the ramp toll would rise to 75 cents.

Higher tolls have long been planned to help raise money for the 23-mile Silver Line connecting the East Falls Church Metro station with Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County. Construction on the eastern portion, through Tysons Corner and ending in Reston, has begun. That stretch is expected to be operational by 2013.

The project is receiving local, state and federal funding, including a $900 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. But more than half of the cost is expected to be covered by toll road proceeds, essentially ensuring that the tolls will continue to climb beyond 2012.

"My concern is not if they raise the toll but how high they raise it," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield). "We don't want to strangle the Dulles corridor. We don't want employers not building around the toll road, and we certainly don't want employees avoiding the toll road because the tolls are too high."

Tolls on the eight-lane road connecting the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Greenway last went up in 2005. Since then, control of the road has shifted from the state to the airports authority, which is the governing body of Reagan National and Dulles International airports. That shift was intended, in part, to facilitate the link between toll collections and the Metro project because both are under the authority's purview. But some critics say the arrangement has given too much power to an unelected regional body.

Airports authority officials presented the toll plan to an advisory panel of state and local officials. Under the proposal, tolls at the main plaza and the ramps would increase by 25 cents next year; only the main plaza toll would rise thereafter, by a quarter in 2011 and another quarter in 2012.

The authority has planned a series of public hearings for this year, and its 13-member board of directors will vote on the matter in the fall. But with so much of the rail project dependent on toll revenue, it is not a question of whether the tolls will increase but whether the changes will take place incrementally or all at once.

The large burden on commuters has prompted some area officials to seek additional funding sources.

"I would hope that regionally we will press for more federal funding," said Scott K. York (I), chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and a member of the advisory committee.

The authority's board of directors is expected to give tentative approval to a plan this summer, in part to prove to investors that the board is willing to take potentially unpopular steps to make sure the project is solvent. But some members of the advisory panel say they want to ensure that the authority is not seeking a higher toll rate than necessary.

"I think we should evaluate every year whether or not it is necessary to increase the tolls," said Fairfax Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), who sits on the panel.

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