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

  • Require a study be conducted to review existing technology that is used to implement a distance-based pricing system, its applicability to use on the Dulles Greenway, and a reasonable pricing structure. 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.
  • Give the SCC 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 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.

Only one piece of legislation passed both the House and Senate – a Resolution introduced by Senator Black. It requests VDOT to study the feasibility of purchasing all or part of the Dulles Greenway and included multiple parameters of the study, such as evaluating the feasibility of distance-based tolling.

TRIP II also had legislation introduced by Senator Favola and Delegate Bell. If enacted, it would have extended authority for TRIP II to receive automatic toll rate increases for another ten years and implemented some type of distance-based pricing. A version of the bills was presented to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. After being rejected in Loudoun County, the legislation in the Virginia General Assembly was withdrawn.

Additional Information

SB1133 and HB2667 – Distance-based pricing.

SJ254 – Study feasibility of purchasing the Greenway.

SB1654 – Amend the powers and responsibilities of the SCC.

2020 Focus

  • Advocate for efforts to provide relief from rising tolls on the Dulles Greenway.
  • Advocate against efforts in the Virginia General Assembly or the State Corporation Commission to authorize automatic annual toll increases on the Dulles Greenway.