A year of Dulles Toll Road hikes turn off cash payers most, still drives $197M in revenue

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

Last year’s Dulles Toll Road rate increase may not have deterred many E-ZPass holders from taking the road, but a first look at full-year data shows a more significant impact on people who paid with cash.

The toll increase that kicked in Jan. 1, 2019 led to about 15,000 to 20,000 fewer weekday transactions on average toward the end of 2019, including a significant decline in the number of people paying cash.

Overall revenue was up 30.4% to $197.4 million, even with a drop in total transactions of 5.6% to about 91 million for the year.

While those totals were close to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority expectations, a preliminary year-end report shows total cash toll collections dropped for the year from $15.2 million to closer to $15 million even with the higher rates.

The cash toll collections had been projected to rise to $23.8 million with the higher tolls.

E-ZPass toll collections rose 32.6% for the year though, from $131.5 million to $174.3 million.

With the higher rates, violation revenue rose 71% last year from $4.7 million to $8 million.

Toll road spending also rose more than expected, in part due to the increased E-ZPass usage and associated transaction fees the authority must pay.

A preliminary look at January 2020 data shows the percentage of drivers using E-ZPass has increased even more, to 93.3%. The 7.2 million total January transactions and $15.6 million in revenue are both higher than immediately after the toll increase kicked in last January, and are slightly ahead of this year’s forecasts.

Toll road revenue pays for road operations, but mainly covers nearly half of the cost of the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.

The increase last year to $4.75 for a ramp and mainline toll was the first hike in five years.

The next toll increase is scheduled in 2023, when the cost of a ramp and mainline toll is projected to rise to $6. That would go up to $7.25 in 2028 and $8.75 in 2033.

Under refinancing plans approved late last year, tolls could then remain flat for more than a decade.

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