The most successful public policies benefit multiple constituencies. But that ideal can be elusive, particularly when the issue is transportation. That's why the Dulles Corridor Mobility Initiative is such an opportunity for Virginia.
The initiative would ensure safer, more convenient travel for commuters in the Dulles corridor, help make rail service a reality there and fuel regional prosperity. More than $1 billion in private money would be invested to construct 19 improvements to the Dulles Toll Road and to fund Virginia's toll-road share of the rail-to-Dulles project.
A new rail line would equal three new lanes on the toll road. Upfront funding means that construction on Dulles Toll Road improvements could begin next year, with commuters reaping the benefits of reduced congestion and pollution, energy savings, increased real estate values, and more economic activity.
This plan will modernize the toll road in important ways. For example, among the 19 road improvements are safer on-off ramps, including new access from Interstate 495 to the airport road, which would eliminate the need to cross four lanes of traffic. State-of-the-art toll-collecting technology will process as many as 2,000 vehicles an hour per lane, compared with 400 to 500 vehicles in manual lanes. The plan also allows the flexibility to explore other road improvements that might be suggested by the public and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Beyond these obvious benefits, upfront private funding means that investors, not the state, would assume all of the financial responsibility. The state would take on no new debt, and, through a 50-year agreement, it would avoid the financial obligations associated with the toll road's long-term operation. Virginia taxpayers would not be asked to finance loans, bonds or other public debts to pay for the improvement, repair and maintenance of the toll road.
What happens to the tolls?
The initiative would not change the toll plan the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved this year. This means that tolls would not increase before the second phase of the Dulles rail project, expected to begin in 2010, and that any increase thereafter could be made only by VDOT with approval of the state transportation board. Even after the recent increase, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road are among the lowest in the nation, at 9 cents per passenger mile. The initiative would maintain this low-cost position.
The Dulles Corridor Mobility Initiative does not privatize the Dulles Toll Road. The road isn't for sale, and its ownership won't change. This initiative is the type of public-private partnership the General Assembly envisioned when it passed the public-private transportation act: It creates benefits for the public that otherwise would not be possible.
We are at the beginning of a year-long process for the Dulles Corridor Mobility Initiative, and public input will be an important part of the outcome. The consortium has posted its proposal along with relevant updates on its Web site (www.dullescommuterswin.com), and it will post more financial details in late October after the 90-day competitive proposal solicitation is complete. Thereafter, people can ask questions online and in meetings with state and local governments, civic and business organizations, and homeowner and commuter groups.
The initiative is a smart and economical way to improve a critical transportation corridor and improve quality of life in Northern Virginia. I hope to see this opportunity become a reality.
-- Gerald Baliles
a former Democratic governor of Virginia, is a partner at the legal firm representing the consortium.