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Dulles Toll Road fees rise to help pay for Silver Line; increases are criticized

 A view of the Dulles Toll Road looking east from Leesburg Pike in Vienna.
A view of the Dulles Toll Road looking east from Leesburg Pike in Vienna. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 1, 2010

Starting Friday, drivers will pay more to use the Dulles Toll Road, with toll rates increasing 25 cents, to $1 at the main plaza and to 75 cents at ramps.

The increase is the first in a series that will double charges by 2012. In November, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates the toll road, approved the new rates. The board also approved two additional increases at the main plaza, for 2011 and 2012, which will raise the toll charge to $1.50.

Critics of the chance noted the additional burden on commuters.

"It becomes a very expensive commute," said John B. Townsend II, manager of public and governmental affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "You have gas prices that are a dollar more than they were a year ago, and, for most workers, wages are frozen because of the recession."

Townsend said the toll increases probably will lead more motorists to seek alternatives to the toll road, spreading congestion to nearby roads. The eight-lane, 14-mile Dulles Toll Road runs between Interstate 66 near the West Falls Church Metro station and Dulles International Airport.

The increases had been expected for months, given that the airport board had pledged additional toll revenue as a source of financing for the $5 billion extension of Metrorail to Dulles.

In October, Phil Sunderland, the authority's general counsel, said two decades of government policy in Virginia supported the use of toll road revenue for transportation improvements in the Dulles corridor. He said toll road revenue has been part of the financial plan for the Silver Line rail project all along.

Still, lots of toll users have challenged the decision to raise rates.

In public comments, toll users complained that the rate increase would make the road too expensive to use on a regular basis. Some have derided the Metrorail extension as a "boondoggle" or a financial "black hole" that will burden working people unfairly.

A summary of 221 public comments prepared for the board showed respondents expressing disapproval of the rate increase by about 3 to 1.

"Have you people lost your minds?" someone from Winchester wrote in an online submission. "The toll road is already too expensive to be used on a regular basis. It would be nice if you LOWERED the price."

A person from Aldie asked: "When does it end with the toll road? There is always some excuse to keep fees but even worse continue to raise them. I don't think it's right. Make the whole region pay for Metro through taxes rather than make the citizens of Loudoun foot the larger burden."

Other Loudoun County toll road users similarly demanded that Metro riders, residents of other Virginia counties and the airports authority pay more of the cost.

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