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Airport board raises rates for Dulles Toll Road

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2009; B03

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board voted Wednesday to double rates on the Dulles Toll Road by 2012, setting aside objections from commuters.

The rates will start rising Jan. 1, when initial 25-cent increases take effect. The toll will grow from 75 cents to $1 at the main plaza, and ramp tolls will climb from 50 cents to 75 cents. Two additional 25-cent increases at the main plaza are scheduled to occur in 2011 and 2012, bringing the charge to $1.50.

The proposed increases met little opposition at board meetings in recent weeks. Rate increases have been considered likely for months, given that the board had pledged the additional toll revenue as a source of financing for the $5 billion extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.

AAA Mid-Atlantic criticized the vote, calling the increases "patently unfair" for motorists in Loudoun County and for workers with low-paying jobs.

"We continue to be very concerned about the funding mechanism for the construction of rail to Dulles International Airport," Mahlon G. Anderson, the organization's director of public and government affairs, said in a statement. "The burden for funding is falling on the shoulders of a very small number of motorists."

Board members have shown no sign of wavering. After Wednesday's vote, H.R. Crawford, the chairman, said most people see the increases as modest. These people are practical and understand that the board needs the toll revenue to build the Metro line, he said.

"We had three meetings; there were no more than 35 people at every meeting," Crawford said. "There was no great outpouring of opposition."

Authority rules required the board to seek public comment, and the reaction in commuter submissions was overwhelmingly negative. Last month, the board released a summary of 221 public comments, and opponents outnumbered supporters by about 3 to 1.

In their comments, which were expressed at meetings, in letters and e-mails and in postings on the authority's Web site, commuters said the toll increase would make the road too expensive to use regularly. Some called the Metro line a "black hole" that would unfairly burden working people.

Many toll road users pointed to other people -- airport passengers, Metro riders, Loudoun residents -- as the ones who should be paying for Metrorail improvements.

Members of those groups had different opinions.

"Another toll increase? Where is the money going now?" someone from Sterling wrote in an online submission. "As I remember it, the tolls were supposed to be temporary as a way to pay for the toll road in the first place. My understanding is that the road was paid for years ago which means every dollar collected since should have been gravy. Stop holding the residents of Loudoun County hostage."

The eight-lane, 14-mile road runs between Interstate 66 near the West Falls Church Metro station and Dulles Airport.

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