Del. John J. Bell (D-87) has substituted his controversial bill for a new deal on Dulles Greenway tolls for a another bill that would study combining the privately owned Greenway with the state-owned Dulles Toll Road.
The first version of Bell’s bill would have continued the Greenway’s guarantee of annual toll increases in exchange for instituting distance-based tolling of $0.95 per mile up to five miles in off-peak hours. That bill, negotiated among Bell, Del. David A. Reid (D-32), and Loudoun Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), faced bipartisan opposition from the rest of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, and amid that criticism the Greenway’s owners withdrew support for that bill last week.
The new bill would allow the Greenway’s current tolling arrangement to expire in 2020.
The substitute directs the Virginia Department of Transportation to look for increased efficiencies from combining the Dulles Greenway with the Dulles Toll Road, and look at “public and private financing options” and distance-based tolling. The substitute bill passed 5-1 out of a subcommittee on Tuesday, Jan. 29 and will advance to the full House Transportation Committee on Thursday, Jan. 31.
Bell’s campaign manager Kiera Hall said the options could include the state buying the Greenway—something that has been studied in the past, but abandoned because the Greenway’s billion dollars of debt.
“It’s unfortunate that the first version of this bill became so heavily politicized,” Bell stated. “This substitute would create a study to look at combining operations of the Dulles Toll Road with the Greenway in order to lower toll rates and implement distance-based pricing, and has the potential to create real savings for commuters. I will never stop fighting to ease the financial burden of high tolls on Loudoun County families.”
Today, the state Senate’s Transportation Committee will also consider a bill from 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.
That bill has drawn objections from the Greenway’s lobbying firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth. Director of Strategic Communications & Advocacy Taylor Keeney said that bill would raise tolls on drivers, violate the state constitution’s provision that “the General Assembly shall not pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts, nor any law whereby private property shall be taken or damaged for public uses, without just compensation,” and bankrupt the company.
Stanley’s bill has the support of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President and CEO Tony Howard said the bill “shows the greatest promise for creating an equitable toll structure that benefits both the drivers and the Greenway, which is an important economic asset for Loudoun County.”
“This bill would empower the State Corporation Commission to abide by the original intent of the agreement to build the Greenway, which was to ensure the owner an operating profit while providing users a fair and equitable toll rate,” Howard said.
“My legislation offers an equitable approach to regulating toll rates, something that’s been sorely lacking in the current Greenway setup,” Stanley stated. “There are many people affected by the toll rates, especially those Virginians who use—or, because of the expense, don’t use—the Greenway. The expense of using this roadway has created unintended traffic problems, with drivers utilizing neighborhood routes to avoid the toll road.”
Stanley said all 21 members of the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus have already signed on to the bill—a majority in the Senate.