After the first meeting of the Dulles Greenway User Interface Task Force — an advisory committee focused on finding ways to make the Dulles Greenway more commuter-friendly — Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) joined Loudoun County officials Friday in an appeal to the Virginia Department of Transportation to allow the group to address the issue of distance pricing on one of the most expensive toll roads in the country.
In a letter to Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton, Wolf said he was disappointed to learn that despite his repeated requests to study the toll structure on the Dulles Greenway, “the committee was told that discussion of these issues was categorically forbidden by VDOT.”
The task force — which includes Tim Sines, the chief executive of the Dulles Greenway, as well as Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and representatives from Wolf’s office — was established by the VDOT this year at Wolf’s request to address the need for signs displaying toll pricing information before greenway entry points.
But Wolf, echoing a request by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, wants the committee to go beyond signage issue and discuss the possibility of instituting distance tolling, which would allow commuters to pay a fee based on the distance traveled rather than a flat rate that would apply regardless of whether a vehicle traveled one exit or the entire length of the 14-mile Dulles Greenway.
Wolf also expressed frustration that no local elected officials or members of the General Assembly were appointed to the committee.
“It was my hope that this committee would be a way for commuters to sit face-to-face with the elected officials who exercise authority over the state law that encompasses the current agreement and know that their concerns about the toll structure would be heard,” Wolf said in the letter. “Sadly, this will be impossible under the structure outlined at the initial meeting.”
Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the VDOT, said that the task force would not address incremental tolling because the State Corporation Commission, not the VDOT, maintains authority to change the toll structure.
“It’s not an issue that VDOT can take on; it’s simply not under our purview,” Morris said. “We are happy to work with the committee to look at signage and see if it can be improved, and we’re working with the greenway on that. But as far as tolling goes, it’s just not under us; it’s not something we can do.”
Wolf’s letter followed a similar appeal by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, which voted at its July 6 meeting to send a letter to Garrett Moore, Northern Virginia district administrator for the VDOT, advocating a distance-based toll structure to help lessen traffic on congested local roads, including Route 7 and Waxpool Road.
The traffic backup in the Waxpool corridor has resulted in unnecessary safety hazards, the board stated.
“The potential for unsafe conditions will continue to worsen as either, or both, the traffic and tolls increase,” the letter said. “As you are likely aware, starting Jan. 1, 2012, the toll at the main plaza on the Dulles Greenway will be $4.00 each way. . . . Having a graduated toll structure along the Greenway’s entire length will encourage greater use of the Greenway and put the traffic where it is best served.”
At the July 6 meeting, some county leaders voiced concern that the letter — and the task force itself — might not be enough to prompt a change.
“We don’t need a committee. We don’t need anybody to tell us whether this is a good idea. Everybody knows it’s a good idea,” Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) said. “The problem is the legislature won’t require the [Dulles Greenway] to do it. That’s the problem, not whether or not it’s a good idea.”
To address that concern, the board agreed to ask the committee to seek support for incremental tolling from the state legislature.
Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac) said that signs were not the primary issue the committee should address, adding that most commuters were already familiar with the costs of traveling the road. The larger issue, she said, was encouraging commuters to use the Greenway to avoid clogging other local roads.
“You’ve got a major highway. . . that’s handling much less traffic than Waxpool Road,” she said. “We need to work with the Greenway to get them to do the incremental tolls.”
Miller also maintained that county leaders should work directly with Sines, who has voiced concern about the cost of installing the equipment necessary to implement distance tolling, Miller said.
“We’ve got to get him in here and find out [how we can] we help him fund those changes, and prove to him that the increased ridership on the short stretch that should be taking cars of Waxpool will ultimately pay off the loan he’ll need to make that change,” Miller said. “That’s good business. More of Mr. Wolf’s committees are a waste of time.”