Flying out of Dulles could get cheaper next year

WASHINGTON — The cost to fly out of Dulles International Airport could drop next year, and as promised, Dulles Toll Road rates would remain flat under the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s proposed budget.

The annual budget proposal that will be presented Wednesday to the MWAA board’s finance committee would lead to a projected cost per passenger at Dulles of $18.97 in 2017, down from $22.55 in this year’s budget and down from $26.47 in 2013.

Virginia is giving the authority $25 million in 2017 and another $25 million in 2018 aimed at subsidizing what airlines would otherwise pay to fly out of Dulles, in an attempt to draw more passengers there. The authority is also trying to make other changes to cut costs and draw more income from advertising, concessions and development. 

The increasing shift of passengers to the more convenient Reagan National Airport, which is also run by MWAA, or to BWI Marshall Airport in Maryland, has been a concern for the authority and for Virginia leaders.

The 2017 budget projects additional growth at Reagan National of about 1.3 percent more passengers. The airports authority is planning significant long-term changes to address the growth there, including a new terminal for commuter jets to replace Gate 35X and a shift for security screening to the main terminal’s upper level.

It also projects another year of growth at Dulles of about 1.9 percent more passengers. Dulles only reversed four, straight years of declining passenger counts last year.

“Most long-term increase in domestic passenger demand is expected to be accommodated at IAD, while capacity constraints and operating restrictions will limit future increases in passenger numbers at DCA,” budget documents emphasize.

In addition to the airports, the authority operates the Dulles Toll Road.

Due to a series of agreements related to tolls and the Silver Line construction, tolls are scheduled to remain flat through the end of 2018 at $3.50 for drivers who use one ramp and the main toll plaza, before an increase to about $4.75 in 2019.

Next year, the budget projects $154.7 million in toll payments from drivers, which would be down slightly from this year’s budget.

Toll revenue this year is below that budget expectation, but operating expenses are also below budget thus far.

Through the end of October, the Dulles Toll Road has collected more than $127 million this year. Most tolls are paid with E-ZPass, but about $19 million have been paid in cash.

The total number of toll transactions this year is down about 350,000 from last year, so far.

About 19 percent of the toll revenue funds operating expenses. The other 80 percent or so goes to debt service, financing, fees and contributions to Silver Line construction, which is also managed by the Airports Authority.

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