Toll Road Investors Partnership II, the owners of the Dulles Greenway, today issued a statement withdrawing support for a deal that would have granted limited distance-based tolling in exchange for continued guaranteed annual toll rate increases until 2056.
“Without the required level of support from elected officials in Loudoun County we do not believe it is appropriate at this time to continue to pursue passage of the legislative framework needed to put this plan in place during the 2019 General Assembly Session,” stated E. Thomas Sines, chairman of Toll Road Investors Partnership II, or TRIP II.
The deal has faced criticism from Loudoun County supervisors for its limited impact and extension of the road’s current guaranteed annual toll increases. Supervisors voted 8-1 to oppose that deal, with only County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) in support.
Under the state’s current deal with the Greenway, the State Corporation Commission must approve toll rate increases equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index plus one percent, the increase in real Gross Domestic Product, or 2.8 percent annually—whichever is highest. That statute expires at the end of this year. The deal proposed this year would extend that until 2029.
The new deal would also implement distance-based tolls of $0.95 per mile up to five miles during off-peak hours for EZ Pass customers. When supervisors voted on that deal, it included guaranteed toll increases until the road is turned over to the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2056, and off-peak tolls of $1 per mile up to five miles.
A deal with the Greenway requires a vote from the General Assembly, which writes the laws guiding the State Corporation Commission, which oversees the toll road. At the time the state’s current legislation on the Greenway was introduced, it was seen as a way to slow the Greenway’s toll increases.
The framework of the new deal was negotiated between Greenway representatives, Randall, and state delegates John J. Bell (D-87) and David A. Reid (D-32). Bell and Reid introduced that bill in the House of Delegates.
“We believed we had found a good solution with elected officials, which would have brought meaningful benefits to many Greenway users and the community and created flexible travel options, while avoiding creating congestion issues during peak periods,” Sines stated.
The Greenway’s statement ended with a call back to the years before the current legislation was introduced, when tolls grew at an even faster rate, promising to “pursue subsequent future toll escalation applications with the SCC, as occurred prior to the implementation of the current legislation.”
If the current deal expires, under state law, the Greenway would be required to demonstrate that toll increases do not materially discourage use of the road, provide the user a reasonable benefit for the cost, and provide the operator “no more than a reasonable rate of return.” Supervisors are split over whether they think the company can win that argument at the State Corporation Commission.
“Now that the Greenway has decided to end negotiations, Dulles Greenway users could see increases of up to 17 percent every year without any form of distance based pricing,” said Kiera Hall, Bell’s campaign manager in his race for state Senate. “It is unfortunate that some Republicans used the classic Trump tactic of ‘deceive, distract and destroy’ to stand in the way legislation that could have prevented this. Delegate Bell remains committed to pursuing a solution that will make commuting faster and more cost effective for all Greenway users.”
But many supervisors welcome the chance to make that argument to the SCC. Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the proposal was “a great deal for the Greenway and a lousy deal for Loudoun residents,” and said Loudoun County is “ready and willing” to battle the Greenway in front of the SCC “and expose these financial schemes for what they are.”
And he said there are other options—like central southern Virginia Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-20)’s bill that would ratchet up the SCC’s regulation over the Greenway.
That bill would require that toll rates also be reasonably distributed across toll road users based on the distance they travel, and require the SCC to launch an investigation into the Greenway’s tolls to see if they meet those requirements. It would also require the Greenway to provide full public disclosure of its finances, and would prevent the Greenway from listing expenses like lobbyists or entertainment among its expenses when TRIP II makes an argument about the company’s profitability to the SCC.
Letourneau said that would ensure “the Greenway’s political contributions aren’t paid for by toll payers.”
“The Greenway does not get to decide which bills move forward and which ones don’t—that’s up to the General Assembly,” Letourneau said. “From the beginning of this discussion I’ve been puzzled as to why the Greenway and their lobbyists seem to be calling the shots and proposing legislation. That’s not the way this process is supposed to work and not what citizens expect from their government.”
Supervisors voted 8-0-1 to support that bill Thursday, Jan. 17, with Randall absent.
“These bills aren’t real distance-based tolling,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run). “They are profit-guaranteed tolling for the Greenway. Once Loudoun residents saw the proposed deal, they realized it resulted in guaranteed higher tolls—even in off-peak hours—for almost all current drivers.”