Stabilize the Cost to Drive on the Dulles Greenway

The timely provision of safe, convenient and efficient transportation infrastructure enhances the quality of communities, supports property values, and mitigates the effects of traffic congestion that accompany growth. DAAR supports improving mobility in communities so that all citizens have access to transportation means best suited to their needs. DAAR is committed to advocating for providing relief from rising tolls.

DAAR Recommendations

  • Encourage the use of a distance-based pricing system. Under a distance-based system, the toll fee depends on the distance traveled between each entrance and exit, as opposed to the current area-based pricing scheme where a flat fee is imposed.
  • Allow the Commonwealth of Virginia to purchase the road using tax free bonds which would help lower the cost of the tolls.
  • Define the meaning of “reasonable” cost to the user based on economic factors including, but not limited to area median income (AMI).
  • Continue to support the SCC’s flexibility to approve or reject a rate increase.

Overview

For thousands of residents, employees, and business owners who use the 14-mile private Dulles Greenway in Loudoun County as a daily commuter route, the cost of using the road has grown astronomically. With the February 2019 toll rate increase, drivers who use the Dulles Greenway 50 weeks-per-year may pay $3,650 annually for their weekday rush-hour round trip.

Since 1995, all TRIP II requests for toll rate increases have been granted despite opposition from public officials, residents and area businesses. This automatic annual increase is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2019.

With expiration of the automatic annual toll rate increases, DAAR believes that the SCC may be more responsive to the argument that the TRIP II requests for toll rate increases are not reasonable to the user in relation to the benefit obtained, materially discourages use of the roadway by the public, and provides TRIP II with more than a reasonable return. DAAR, along with the Virginia REALTORS®, the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®, and lobbyists for Loudoun County all support providing relief to drivers of the Dulles Greenway and opposed an extension of automatic toll increases.

Background

The Dulles Greenway was one of the first highways of its kind in the United States and is the first private road in Virginia since 1816. It was built under the Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 1988 and opened in 1995. By law, the owner of the road, Toll Road Investors Partnership II, L.P. (TRIP II), is permitted to submit requests to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to approve toll rate increases on the Dulles Greenway.

The Virginia Highway Corporation Act virtually mandated approval of TRIP II requests. In 2008, the Act was amended to require that the SCC approve annual requests for toll rate increases if the amount of the increase is: 1) equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index, plus one percent; 2) equal to the increase in the Real Gross Domestic Product; or 3) 2.8 percent, whichever is greatest.

The original law also permits the SCC to substitute a toll which is set at a level: 1) which is reasonable to the user in relation to the benefit obtained and which will not materially discourage use of the roadway by the public; and 2) which will provide the operator no more than a reasonable return as determined by the Commission. In the past, the SCC has not applied this 2-part test to the TRIP II requests since TRIP II has always applied according to the calculated guidance.

Numerous efforts have been initiated over the years to provide relief for Northern Virginia drivers from these automatic annual Dulles Greenway toll rate increases, including during the 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session. Two bills, introduced by Senator Stanley and Delegate LaRock, would have amended the powers of the SCC to regulate toll operators of the Dulles Greenway. They were defeated in their respective committees. Two other bills, introduced by Senator Favola and then-Delegate Bell, would have directed the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to evaluate potential opportunities for increased efficiency through combined operations of the Dulles Toll Road and the Dulles Greenway. They were also unsuccessful.

However, in 2021, HB 1832, introduced by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87), and SB 1259, introduced by Sen. John Bell (D-13) passed in both chambers of Virginia’s legislature and was signed into law by Governor Northam. The legislation entitled, “The Virginia Highway Corporation Act,” (also dubbed, “the Greenway Bill”) will implement a series of measurement standards to regulate the toll costs. One of these standards is to assess whether the proposed toll increases will discourage commuters from using the road. Another provision would prohibit all proposed toll increases that extend beyond 1 year.

Currently, the owners of the Dulles Greenway have requested five additional years of fare increases through 2025. According to the bill, the State Corporation Commission will be prohibited from authorizing any proposed increases should they fail to meet the new criteria.

Additional Information

SB1133 and HB2667 – Distance-based pricing.

SJ254 – Study feasibility of purchasing the Greenway.

SB1654 – Amend the powers and responsibilities of the SCC.

HB 1832 – The “Greenway Bill,” or, The Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 2021.

DAAR’s latest advocacy update on the passage of the 2021 Greenway Bill.

Our Focus

  • Continue to advocate for efforts to provide relief from any rising toll costs on the Dulles Greenway.
  • Continue to monitor the Dulles Greenway (post-Greenway bill), and pinpoint additional areas of needed regulation/change where needed.
  • Advocate against efforts in the Virginia General Assembly or the State Corporation Commission to authorize automatic annual toll increases on the Dulles Greenway should such efforts arise in the future.