Federal court reviews use of toll money for Dulles rail

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – A federal court could ultimately decide how much drivers pay to use the Dulles Toll Road.

John Corr and John Grigsby are the plaintiffs in the suit. They took the issue of using toll road money to partially finance the Metro expansion to Dulles International Airport to a federal appellate court.

Their attorney, Bob Cynkar, told a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the federal Circuit in D.C. Tuesday that since some of that toll money would be used for something other than operating or maintaining the road, than the tolls would constitute an illegal tax.

“Under Virginia law, the power to impose a tax can only be exercised by people you can vote out of office,” said Cynkar.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is building the $6 billion, 23-mile Silver Line extension, using some of the toll money for financing. The board is made up of appointed representatives from Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and the federal government.

Airports Authority attorney Stuart Raphael argued Tuesday that the tolls are user fees, not a tax.

“There’s not a single case that the plaintiffs have ever identified where a toll was invalidated as a tax,” Raphael said.

Raphael says all the toll money is used for projects within the Dulles transportation corridor, and therefore all toll road users will benefit.

During the arguments, two of the three judges questioned whether they had jurisdiction on the issue or whether it should be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia.

The panel could take weeks to decide on both the jurisdictional issue and the underlying argument. Ultimately, a decision could have an impact on what MWAA can charge in tolls.

Correction: WTOP initially reported the group called “No Toll Increase” was party to the suit. It is not.

Follow Hank Silverberg and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)