By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Officials from Fairfax and Loudoun counties signaled Wednesday night that they would push the regional airports authority to justify its proposed toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road while they and authority leaders lobby Congress for additional federal funds for a planned Metrorail extension.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I) said at the first of four public meetings scheduled to discuss the toll increases that he and members of the advisory board of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority would call for annual checks on the toll-rate structure.
The authority's plan calls for incremental toll increases starting in January. It costs 75 cents to drive through the main plaza and 50 cents to use one of the on- or off-ramps. Main tolls would rise to $1.50 by 2012, and ramp tolls would be 75 cents. The proposal is subject to approval by the authority's board of directors.
The higher tolls would pay about half of the $5.25 billion cost of the 23-mile Silver Line Metrorail project connecting the East Falls Church Metro station with Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County. Construction has begun on the eastern portion from Tysons Corner to Reston. That stretch is expected to be completed by 2013.
The second portion of the Metro extension, from Reston to Route 772 in Loudoun, has not received federal funding. It is tentatively scheduled to be operational by the end of 2016.
James E. Bennett, president of the authority, said at the meeting Wednesday that a substantial toll increase is needed to "pay down our mortgage," or debt associated with the Metrorail project.
Bennett said potential toll increases beyond 2012 would be determined based on revenue generated by the roadway and potential federal funds. He said that the Dulles Toll Road is a better deal than the Dulles Greenway, which charges drivers $3.90 during non-peak times.
Because of the airports authority's heavy reliance on tolls, further increases beyond 2012 seem almost certain. A traffic and revenue consulting report by Wilbur Smith Associates of Falls Church for the authority projected that main plaza toll rates would need to increase by an additional 25 cents each year from 2012 to 2016.
Those figures irked some residents at the meeting.
Rob Whitfield, 62, of Reston, who carried a sign that read "Stop the Pick-Pocketing," said he didn't want taxpayers to be "saddled" with unnecessary toll increases. John Walker, 56, of Ashburn said he is resigned to an increase on a road he is forced to drive on to work but is upset that terms of the Metrorail extension's financing "weren't clearly defined."
Supporters of the toll increases say that drivers will be willing to pay extra to head off increasing traffic near routes 28 and 7.
"I think you're going to see people willing to pay an additional 50 cents or $1 to get somewhere on time, particularly to avoid future congestion," said Patricia Nicoson, president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, a nonprofit group that promotes Metro's extension to Loudoun.
Tolls on the eight-lane road connecting the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Greenway last went up in 2005.