Dulles Toll rates rise 25 cents per trip on New Year's Day

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2010; 9:36 PM

Drivers on the Dulles Toll Road will pay 25 cents more per trip starting Saturday, an increase designed to help pay for the multibillion-dollar Metrorail extension into Loudoun County.

Toll rates at the road's main plaza increase on New Year's Day from $1 to $1.25 for two-axle vehicles. It is the second such increase in toll rates in the past two years; a third hike will go into effect in 2012.

"People can actually see the results with the construction of the new Metro line now," said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees the toll road. "The tolls have a very tangible use and will continue to benefit those who use it." This year's toll increase is expected to raise revenue by 11 percent, for a total of about $97 million in 2011, according to the airports authority.

The new Metro line will extend service from East Falls Church to Dulles International Airport and Ashburn in eastern Loudoun County. It is being built in two phases. The first section, 11.5 miles through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, is scheduled to open in 2013. The entire 23-mile line, with a potential cost of about $6.6 billion, depending on the location of an airport Metro stop, is scheduled to be finished by 2016. It will include 11 new Metrorail stations, a new rail yard at Dulles and improvements to an existing rail yard at the West Falls Church Station.

The project is receiving local, state and federal funding, including a $900 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. But about 57 percent of the cost is expected to be covered by toll road revenue.

A consultant's report prepared by a Falls Church firm for the airports authority found that main-plaza toll rates would need to increase 25 cents each year from 2012 to 2016 in order to cover the cost of the extension, which has been unofficially dubbed the Silver Line. Public hearings on any future toll hikes will probably begin in 2012.

The airports authority governs Reagan National and Dulles International airports and took control in 2009 of the eight-lane, 14-mile toll road connecting the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Greenway. The controversial move was designed to give the airports authority, an unelected body, more control over how toll collections were being spent on the Metro project.

But a slew of Northern Virginia lawmakers, including many of Fairfax and Loudoun counties' top elected officials and U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R), have publicly criticized the toll increases, arguing that commuters are being forced to shoulder too much of the project's financial burden.

Lawrence Gregg, who commutes from Reston to his job as a computer programmer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, said "the toll road is still the best - and quickest - route" for him, despite the increase.

"Yes, I could take Route 7," he said, "but that would extend my commute by at least one hour. So I will continue to pay."

Since the toll hikes began in 2009, the number of trips has fallen by about 5 percent, from 108.5 million to an estimated 103.2 million in 2010, according to the airports authority. But revenue from the toll road skyrocketed by 34.5 percent.

Airports officials say the windfall was so large because the increase that went into effect last year included 25-cent hikes at the main toll plaza and the on-ramps. The 2011 and 2012 increases include only the toll plaza.

Compared with other toll roads in the region, the Dulles Toll Road is a bargain. The similarly sized Dulles Greenway charges up to $5.25 during morning and evening peak periods, and other Virginia roads, including the Chesapeake Expressway, the Pocahontas Parkway and the Powhite Parkway, cost between $2 and $2.75.

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