Bill targeting Dulles Greenway toll hikes moves forward

A bill that could make it more difficult for the Dulles Greenway’s operators to hike tolls on the 14-mile stretch of road between Dulles International Airport and Leesburg, Virginia, is moving ahead.

The Virginia State Senate Transportation Committee approved the measure Thursday on a 12-3 vote. The Senate bill, which is identical to a House version approved unanimously in committee earlier this week, now goes to the Senate floor for the first of three required readings.

“It’s a big deal because this has been fought over for years by both political parties,” said Democratic Sen. John Bell, who represents the 13th District, which includes parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, and introduced the Senate version of the bill. “And I think this year, we actually have, for the first time, united support from all the delegation in the General Assembly, regardless of party and also from the local Loudon County delegation, regardless of party.”

The bill requires toll operators to run proposed toll increases by the Virginia Department of Transportation and show the proposed increases are “not likely to materially discourage use of the roadway.”

In addition, the bill would require proposed increases to be limited to providing “no more than a reasonable return” for the toll operators, and would prohibit the State Corporation Commission, which regulates the Dulles Greenway, from authorizing any increases if these criteria are not met — as well as any proposed increase that covers more than one year.

Democratic Del. Suhas Subramanyam, whose district also includes parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, sponsored the House version of the bill.

State lawmakers who support the measure, as well as local leaders in Loudoun County, say the current toll rates are exorbitant and have had the effect of keeping drivers off the stretch of road.

The current non-rush hour toll is $4.75, and the rush hour toll is $5.80.

The road is owned by Toll Road Investors Partnership II, or TRIP II. It has the concession to operate the Greenway until 2056. TRIP II is owned and operated by Australian-based company Atlas Arteria.

Last spring, the company sought a proposed toll increase of more than 30% over five years.

Loudoun County leaders were vociferous in their opposition to the proposed toll increases, calling them “egregious” and “such an insult to the residents of Loudoun County, that it is truly as if TRIP II is taunting us,” in the words of Dulles District Supervisor Matt Letourneau.

If any changes are made to either the House or Senate version, the bill will have to go to a conference committee to sort out the differences. If both the House and Senate versions of the bill pass their respective chambers without any changes, the bill goes to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature.

Bell said he hasn’t spoken to the governor specifically about the bill, “but I have a feeling that he would be supportive, especially given the fact that every member of the General Assembly from the delegation is in support of it and, again, the local county is in support of it. So, given that pretty broad coalition, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t sign the bill.”

In a statement to WTOP earlier this month about the House version of the bill, TRIP II CEO Renee Hamilton said the company “looks forward to continuing our successful work with the Virginia General Assembly as it begins its 2021 legislative session.”

She added: “Specifically, we are eager to address legislation recently introduced by members of the Loudoun County delegation and hope to achieve an equitable plan regarding the state’s ongoing regulation and oversight of the Dulles Greenway.”

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report. 

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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