Loudoun legislators have negotiated a tentative deal with the owners of the Dulles Greenway to implement distance-based pricing on the state’s only private toll road.
Delegate John J. Bell (D-87), said he, David Reid (D-32) and Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) have negotiated a new agreement with the Greenway that will allow commuters during off-peak hours, weekends, and holidays to pay toll of $1 per mile, capped at the off-peak toll, currently $4.65.
The peak toll, currently $5.65, will remain the same. The Greenway charges a higher rush-hour tolls eastbound from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and westbound from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The agreement is still awaiting final approval by the Greenway’s owners, Toll Road Investors Partnership II or TRIP II. It will also require legislative approval in the General Assembly. According to a press release from Bell’s office, the Greenway will spend about $30 million upgrading its infrastructure to enable distance-based pricing. Full details of the agreement, including when the new tolls will take effect, are expected before the next session of the General Assembly begins Jan. 9.
Bell said the agreement means nobody will pay more, and some drivers will have the option to pay less. That may be particularly true for drivers in eastern Loudoun heading into Fairfax, who currently have to pay the full toll to drive only a few miles on the Greenway, or avoid the Greenway and spend time sitting in traffic.
“We’re providing an option that’s just not there today, and I think that’s good,” Bell said. “Because it doesn’t matter what you do now, you’re paying the full amount.”
He also said it’s a good deal for Northern Virginia as the Greenway enters the last year of its agreement with the state. The current legislation governing that agreement gives the State Corporation Commission, which oversees the Greenway, little leeway to deny or reduce annual rate hike requests. The toll road company is entitled to raise tolls each year according to the Consumer Price Index, plus another one percent. That has led to frustration from local officials, many of whom came to see annual toll increases on the Greenway as inevitable.
That legislation also expires at the end of the 2019, making the next General Assembly session the last one before it does.
“They [TRIP II] got a new CEO, and they frankly want to be a better community partner,” Bell said. “They’re tried of having their name drug in the mud all the time, and frankly, those kinds of things and mentions of lawsuits or eminent domain, which a number of elected officials have mentioned—those things are a threat to their business.”
TRIP II Chairman E. Thomas Sines released a statement saying the agreement gives the business “regulatory certainty that enables us to make the sizable investments in infrastructure and tolling systems improvements required for distance-based tolling. We anticipate this will improve mobility throughout the region.”
“Dulles Greenway drivers have wanted distance based-pricing for some time and the confirmation of key regulatory issues by the Supreme Court of Virginia in late 2016 enabled us to start working through a comprehensive package with stakeholders,” Sines wrote. “We appreciate the bipartisan support and time many officials in Loudoun have put into this process to help us develop a solution that works for everyone.”
Northern Virginia legislators have had difficulty getting Greenway toll relief. Legislators from other areas of the state, who far outnumber Northern Virginia’s state delegation, have generally opposed spending state money on the problem.
“The road was built in 1995, people have wanted distance-based pricing, this is the first time we’ve ever gotten it,” Bell said. He said he appreciates “the Greenway ownership working with all stakeholders to find a solution.”
“When I first ran for office, I committed to reducing the burden that tolls place on working families in Loudoun County,” Reid stated in a press release announcing the agreement. “I’m proud of the effort to bring distance-based pricing to the Dulles Greenway. This shows the good that can be achieved when we listen to the concerns of our constituents and then work together to find a solution.”
“The tentative new agreement will introduce distance-based pricing to the Dulles Greenway, which has been a goal for elected officials and residents of Loudoun County for over a decade,” Randall stated. “A number of elected officials throughout Loudoun have been involved in these discussions, leading to an agreement that is expected to dramatically improve transportation options in the east-west corridor of Loudoun County and result in a reduced cost for families throughout the county.”
Bell said he also pushed to make a subscription-based model for Greenway tolls available, but without result.