Airports Agency Takes Over Operation of Dulles Toll Road

Under the change, the uniforms of toll collectors at the Dulles Toll Road will change, and airport police will assume the lead in patrolling the road.
Under the change, the uniforms of toll collectors at the Dulles Toll Road will change, and airport police will assume the lead in patrolling the road. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009

The governing body of Reagan National and Dulles International airports officially takes over the operation of the Dulles Toll Road from Virginia on Thursday in what officials say should be a seamless transition for road users.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is managing the construction of the Metrorail extension to Dulles, is using toll revenue from the highway to help pay for the $5 billion project.

The decision to transfer the road was controversial. Rail advocates had objected to the idea of an unelected regional body, the airports authority, setting tolls on a state-owned highway. Opponents also protested Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's decision to transfer the road without the approval of the General Assembly. The Democrat's action was upheld in Richmond Circuit Court last year.

Officials say the change will have little effect on commuters who use the eight-lane, 14-mile toll road, which runs between Interstate 66 near the West Falls Church Metro station and Dulles airport. No toll increases will take effect immediately, although rate changes are looming next year. The airports authority began accepting public comments this year on a proposal to incrementally increase tolls to $1.50 at the main gate and 75 cents at the ramps by 2012. The toll is now 75 cents at the main gate and 50 cents at the ramps.

The road, which had been operated by the state Transportation Department, is expected to generate $66 million this year.

Alert drivers might notice a few subtle changes. Now, toll collectors wear navy blue shirts that say VDOT on them or bright orange shirts that say Abacus, the name of the Baltimore-based contractor they work for. All toll collectors will move to light blue polo shirts with the MWAA logo and navy blue pants.

In addition, airport police will assume the lead in patrolling the toll road starting Thursday. Before the transfer, Virginia State Police were the primary responders on it, and airport and Fairfax County police provided secondary law enforcement coverage. The airports authority said it will hire 11 police officers to help the patrol the roads, expanding the size of force to 222 sworn officers.

The airports authority picks up 31 employees in the transfer. Abacus retains the bulk of the toll staff, including 140 toll collectors, six coin counting assistants, an accounting assistant and an administrative assistant.

James E. Bennett, chief executive of the airports authority, promised changes to make the road more efficient and improve maintenance along it.

A report about the comments received from the public on the toll proposal will be presented Oct. 21 at an airport board committee meeting. The full board will vote on it at its monthly meeting Nov 4.

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