Members of the state Senate’s Transportation Committee, including local representatives Sens. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33) and Barbara A. Favola (D-31), on Wednesday killed a proposal to increase oversight of the Dulles Greenway operations and tolling structure.
Central southern Virginia Sen. William M. Stanley Jr.’s (R-20) bill was written to ratchet up the State Corporation Commission’s oversight of the privately owned highway. That bill would have required distance-based tolling, instructed the SCC to launch an investigation into the Greenway’s tolls to see if they meet requirements such as not discouraging use of the road—requirements that would apply to the Greenway’s annual toll rate increases for the first time in 10 years. In 2020, legislation will expire that granted the Greenway guaranteed annual toll increases.
The bill had the unanimous support of the county Board of Supervisors, but failed in the Senate committee 6-7.
James Hook, CEO of Atlas Arteria, an Australian company which owns toll road around the world including the Greenway, flew from Sydney to speak against the bill. He said the bill would change the deal with the Greenway halfway through its life.
“This was to be a 50-year concession, and in the first 25 years of the road we would make losses, and then profits would be made in the last 25 years of the road that would be sufficient to pay off the debt on those losses,” Hook said. Stanley’s bill, he said, “moves the goalposts” in the 23rd year of the agreement.
The Greenway’s owners and operators maintain that the road, despite it tolls, is not currently profitable.
“We love to run toll roads, and we love to build infrastructure,” Hook said. “We will continue to do that in jurisdictions that honor their word.”
But the bill’s supporters say the Greenway isn’t being fair—or honest.
Stanley’s bill would also have required 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 making arguments about the company’s profitability to the SCC.
The Greenway’s finances are not publicly disclosed, and the road’s owners requested that materials in a 2016 Virginia Supreme Court lawsuit be sealed and kept from the public. People involved in the lawsuit say those documents reveal more about the Greenway’s finances.
“Believe it or not, we’re still under the non-compete that I can’t share with you some of the things that we saw during the State Corporation Commission case,” said former 87th District Delegate David I. Ramadan, who led the lawsuit against the Greenway. “Because there was so much fuzzy math that was out there, and we can’t share it.”
“It cost them $400 million to build this road, yet they have more than $1 billion in debt,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), who spoke in front of the committee. “Why is it on the backs of my constituents to pay the $600 million-plus in debt that they’ve leveraged in some scheme?”
“Over the time that the Greenway was built, over $1 billion has been collected by the toll-takers,” said Stanley, who formerly lived in Leesburg and shared the Northern Virginia commuting experience. “So it has far exceeded what the costs were. But now what we’re seeing is that the costs keep going up.”
But some on the Senate committee were wary of the Greenway’s representatives’ threats that tolls would go up even further under Stanley’s bill.
“There are some folks in Loudoun that might not like this at all,” said lobbying firm Hunton Andrews Kurth Senior Director of Governmental Affairs Myles Louria. “Because remember, it’s distance-based. Everyone on the western end of this road are going to be paying a whole lot more than they are now.”
“In effect, we are changing the structure by which the investor, a private company, invested money and established a payment rate for collecting tolls,” Favola said.
Favola said she would not support the bill without a guarantee that rates would not go up for anyone.
“I’m concerned that my constituents, who live at the very beginning and the very end of the toll road, are going to get the brunt of this,” Boysko said. “I’m not feeling confident, unless you can give me an absolute guarantee that is in your blood, that my constituents will not be impacted in an adverse and worse way than they already are.”
Favola also introduced a bill which would extend guaranteed annual toll increases through 2029, and would require distance-based tolling as well. It died in the same committee the same day.