Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87) has filed a bill intended to give the state power to throw light of the Dulles Greenway’s secretive finances—and push back on constantly rising tolls.
Subramanyam’s bill is identical to bills filed last year by Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33) and Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-20), which both died in committee. Those bills, too, had the unanimous support of county supervisors and the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.
LaRock’s bill died in the House of
Stanley’s bill died in the Senate Committee on Transportation, voted down with the help of two local senators. Sens. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33) and Barbara A. Favola (D-31) both voted against the bill in its narrow 6-7 defeat.
Favola and Boysko at the time said they were concerned the proposed requirements to implement distance-based tolling would cause tolls to go up for people at the Greenway’s western end. Favola had also introduced a bill that would extend the Greenway’s guaranteed annual toll increases through 2029, and would require distance-based tolling as well. It died in the same committee the same day.
Subramanyam’s bill is awaiting referral to a committee.
For the first time in 10 years, this year the Greenway will be required to go before the State Corporation Commission and make the case for why the state’s only private highway needs to increase tolls again—having previously enjoyed a deal from the General Assembly guaranteeing the Greenway annual toll increases. The bill at the time was seen as a way to slow down sharp toll rate increases on the road, which is now owned by an Australian firm, Atlas Arteria.
Subramanyam’s bill may give the SCC more oversight power when the Greenway makes that case this year. Under state law, to raise tolls, the Greenway must show the new rates are reasonable, not likely to discourage people from using the road, and give the owners no more than a reasonable profit.
But 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. But others say the numbers don’t add up even from the outside. In front of the Senate transportation committee last year, then-Broad Run District Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. said the Greenway cost $400 million to build, but the company has accrued more than $1 billion in debt. And Stanley said over the lifetime of the Greenway, the road has already collected more than $1 billion in tolls.
Subramanyam’s bill would require distance-based tolling on the Greenway, and would require the Greenway to disclose its costs such as lobbyists, entertainment expenses, and excessive compensation. The Greenway owners would have to show it sought third-party bids for services like lobbying and got back three competitive bids, or it would not be able to count those expenses against their profits.
Subramanyam’s bill would also only allow the Greenway to count “prudent” costs when making its case for a reasonable profit—prohibiting costs “not directly related to and necessary for providing toll road service” and debt service on debt not related to the original cost of the Greenway and its facilities. And it would require the SCC to launch an investigation of whether the toll rates today comply with those regulations.