Elected leaders in Loudoun County, Virginia, are loudly critical of the proposed toll increase for the Dulles Greenway, calling it “egregious” and “outrageous,” especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting financial hardship.
The Greenway, which opened in 1995, runs 14 miles, connecting Dulles Airport to Leesburg.
It was the first private toll road in Virginia since 1816. It is owned by Toll Road Investors Partnership II, or TRIP II, which has the concession to operate the Greenway until 2056.
TRIP II is owned and operated by Atlas Arteria, which was formerly known as Macquarie Atlas Roads, an Australian-based company. Atlas Arteria owns and operates three other toll roads, including two in France, and one in Germany.
The State Corporation Commission, which regulates the Greenway, on Tuesday held an online public hearing on the proposal by TRIP II to increase toll rates more than 30% over a five-year period.
The last toll increase took effect in January 2019. Last year, E. Thomas Sines, chairman of the Greenway ownership, dropped a push for a bill in Richmond this year that would allow consistent toll increases for years along with limited distance-based tolling.
Without decades of set guaranteed increases they had asked for, nor distance-based tolls set at at least $1 per mile, the road’s owners said in 2019 they would not install $30 million in tolling upgrades that would allow for limited distance-based tolling.
Loudoun County’s elected leaders testified in the hearing against the proposed increase, and the county sent a news release quoting their comments.
“It’s so egregious, and such an insult to the residents of Loudoun County, that it is truly as if TRIP II is taunting us,” said Dulles District Supervisor Matt Letourneau.
Letourneau told WTOP that even without the proposed toll rates, the current non-rush hour toll of $4.75 and rush-hour toll $5.80 have been exorbitant for years.
“The best piece of evidence is that as the population of Loudoun County has increased since 2005, ridership on the Greenway has actually gone down,” said Letourneau.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on employment means fewer people will use the Greenway, Letourneau said.
“There’s no question that budgets are tighter for people, and there’s no question that they’re eliminating discretionary types of spending,” he said.
Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said the proposed increase would mean only people with the highest income level, or those whose companies supplement travel, can afford to use the Greenway.
“The single parent trying to pick up their child from day care, the senior citizen on a fixed income or the family with two parents working to make ends meet would not be able to use this road,” Randall said.
“The Greenway would become a class-based system that disallows people from using it,” Randall said.
The relatively high toll price on the Greenway has forced Loudoun County to spend money it normally wouldn’t.
“It’s been very detrimental for the county to have a road in the middle of our county that so many people avoid,” Letourneau said. “What it’s done is forced the Board of Supervisors to build a network of alternate roads, because people won’t take the Greenway, due to the tolls.”
According to the county, a commuter traveling twice a day on the Greenway during rush hour, five days a week, 52 weeks a year would pay $4,108 in tolls.
Until now, Loudoun County’s government has reimbursed employees who use the Greenway to get to their workplaces.
“Now, a $7 trip, where there are other ways to accomplish the route, it’s just not feasible, and it’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars,” Letourneau said.
Letourneau said he believes the State Corporation Commission has done little to rein-in Greenway toll increases.
“I think the Greenway is really trying to prove that no matter what they ask for, the SCC is going to allow,” said Letourneau. “So, I think it’s extremely important the SCC send the message that that’s not the case, and that they do their job.”
Anyone who would like to send comments to the SCC may do so by submitting this online form, by 5 p.m. Aug. 24.
Editor’s note: Added details about previous toll increases, projects that would be built with toll revenue, and the ownership of the Greenway.
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