Greenway Oversight Bill Gets Second Shot in House

A bill to strengthen state oversight of tolls on the Dulles Greenway will get a second change in the House of Delegates this afternoon.

On

Jan. 30, the House Committee on Labor and Commerce narrowly failed to report Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87)’s House Bill 523, the latest attempt in a years-long effort to rein in the Greenway’s annual toll increases. Subramanyan’s bill is the latest version of legislation first introduced in 2015 under then-Del. David I. Ramadan.

The committee’s 8-8 tie vote last week, with five committee members absent and one abstaining, meant the bill would for another year die in committee. Loudoun’s sole representative on the committee, Del. Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10), is also co-patron of the bill, and argued for it and voted to pass it. County Attorney Leo Rogers and Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Vice President Grafton DeButtshad also traveled to Richmond to argue for the bill.

They faced difficult opposition. The Greenway’s representative in the capitol, Hunton Andrews Kurth, is one of Richmond’s most powerful lobbying agencies—and the lobbyist arguing against Subramanyam’s bill, Whitt Clement, was a seven-term state delegate and Secretary of Transportation under then-Gov. Mark Warner.

But on Feb. 4, on a motion by committee Vice Chairman Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. (D-48), from Arlington, the committee voted to reconsider the bill, giving it new life.

By law, the Greenway’s toll rate cannot discourage use. Subramanyam’s bill would provide a way to measure that based on traffic. The bill would also provide some guidelines for the Greenway’s revenue. Under state law the company’s tolls are also supposed to give them no more than a “reasonable rate of return,” but the company’s secretive finances have made that difficult to measure. Currently, the Greenway measures its billion-dollar debt—and other expenses like lobbyists—against its profitability in applying for rate increases.

Subramanyam has introduced substitute language for the bill, specifying that the Virginia Department of Transportation will be the agency to review the traffic modeling submitted by the Greenway’s owners.

The bill comes back to the committee today. The committee is scheduled to meet a half-hour after full House adjourns its morning session.

The Greenway has already filed with the State Corporation Commission for its next round of toll increases—this time proposing five years of toll rates, increasing at a faster rate than under the law that has guaranteed annual toll increases to the Greenway since 2013 but expires this year.

In the past, the Greenway has been guaranteed at least a 2.8 percent toll increase each year. This year, their application lists toll increases ranging from a 5 percent increase on off-peak traffic for 2022 to a 6.8 percent increase on peak hour traffic in 2025. If approved, tolls would stand at $6.15 per one-way trip in off-peak hours, and $7.90 in peak hours by 2025.

A commuter traveling twice a day on the Greenway during rush hour, five days a week, 52 weeks a year would pay $4,108 in tolls annually.

Today those tolls are $4.75 and $5.80.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

https://loudounnow.com/2020/01/31/greenway-oversight-bill-killed-again-owners-apply-for-5-years-of-higher-toll-increases/

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