Dulles Toll Road owner takes steps to limit, prevent future toll hikes

Dulles Toll Road
The Dulles Toll Road is seen at night. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Months after a Dulles Toll Road rate hike started bringing in more money, even as some drivers turned away, the road’s owner is taking steps that could limit or prevent some future toll hikes.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board voted Wednesday to effectively refinance $1.6 billion in loans tied to Silver Line construction due to current low interest rates.

Without the refinancing, debt costs would reach a peak in 2043 when tolls would be projected to reach $11.25 for a one-way trip involving one ramp and the mainline plaza.

With the refinancing next month to smooth the long-term debt service, tolls are still expected to rise from the $4.75 implemented Jan. 1 to around $6 in 2023, $7.25 in 2028 and $8.75 in 2033, but then no toll increases would be expected for at least 15 years.

“In theory, after 2033, you may not need to increase toll rates,” Airports Authority financial adviser Jim Taylor told the board.

“That will depend on what the world looks like during that period, but you have added flexibility here,” Taylor said.

Other similar moves could be made later to further offset planned toll increases, Airports Authority Chief Financial Officer Andrew Rountree said.

“There are potential opportunities in the future which may also provide opportunities to look at some of the more near-term toll rate increases as we proceed through the years,” Rountree told the board.

The Airports Authority is also refinancing some of its airport-related bonds to take advantage of current low interest rates, including as part of efforts to cut charges for airlines using Dulles International Airport.

Where the toll money goes

Tolls on the Dulles Toll Road are mainly used to cover nearly half of the cost of Silver Line construction (both Phase 1, which opened in 2014, and Phase 2, which is expected to open next year.)

Tolls also pay for operations and maintenance of the road.

Following the toll increase in January, use of the road has dropped by about 5.4% as of the end of October compared to the same period a year earlier.

Still, the Airports Authority has collected 30% more money — $165.9 million — on 76.7 million transactions.

More than 91% of the ramp or mainline tolls are now paid using E-ZPass.

Toll violation revenue is also up in the first 10 months of the year from $3.7 million to $6.3 million.

The privately owned Dulles Greenway saw toll revenue rise slightly this summer after its own toll increase in April, but the average number of drivers on the road fell 1.8% compared to a year earlier.

In the 495 Express Lanes, Transurban saw traffic rise 2.8% this summer even as the average toll paid rose as well to $5.52.

In the 95 Express Lanes, traffic rose 3.5% this summer and the average toll paid jumped 11.5% to $9.37.

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