“Certainly raising tolls is not a popular matter,” said Rusty Conner, chairman of the board’s finance committee. But he pledged a “full court press” to find ways to keep the rates as low as possible.
The toll increases, which have been expected, are needed in part to fund construction of the Dulles Rail extension, the 23-mile project to extend Metrorail from Falls Church to Tysons, Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.
Currently, drivers pay $1.50 at the main toll plaza and 75 cents at on/off ramps for a total of $2.25. The new rates will take effect Jan. 1 of each year.
The first phase of the Metro’s planned Silver Line, which will connect Falls Church to Reston, is expected to be finished in August 2013. Toll revenue is expected to fund more than half the $5.6 billion cost of building the rail line.
The meeting Wednesday was the first public gathering of the MWAA board since a federal inspector general’s audit found widespread problems with the authority’s contracting and personnel practices. At the meeting, the board also addressed some of the issues raised in the audit, voting to hold more of its audit committee meetings in public.
Board Chairman Michael Curto and MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter reiterated their commitment to addressing the concerns raised in the inspector general’s audit and in a letter sent to the authority by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of D.C.
“We believe that the actions we have taken and the ones we plan to take are a good step forward,” Potter said. “When this process is complete I am confident the airport authority will be a better organization.”
The board also welcomed a new member, Elaine McConnell, a former Fairfax County supervisor. She replaces Denny Martire, a labor official who stepped down from the board last month, after a confidential settlement was reached in a dispute with Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).
Nearly 200 people attended a series of public hearings on the toll increases. The issue has been one of great concern for commuters and for residents along the corridor, who fear that toll hikes will force cars onto local roads. Some fear that toll rates could rise to as much $17 round trip in the next 20 to 30 years. Other say it is unfair to make drivers pay for the rail link and have suggested other methods for funding the rail project, including adding a surcharge to riders who take the rail line to the airport.