A bill aimed at curbing Dulles Greenway toll increases today cleared a House of Delegates committee and is headed to the floor for a vote.
House Bill 1832, introduced by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87) with backing from Dels. Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10), David A. Reid (D-32), Dan I. Helmer (D-40), Karrie K. Delaney (D-67), Kaye Kory (D-38), and Kathleen Murphy (D-34) and Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-31), seeks to put in place more concrete rules for when the State Corporation Commission may grant toll increases for the private highway, as well as close some of the company’s financial loopholes.
“This is a big win for the people of Loudoun County and for Northern Virginia commuters who want transparency and accountability on how toll prices are being set,” Subramanyam said. “While there is more work for the Loudoun delegation to do to ensure passage, we are encouraged by the broad, bipartisan support from our colleagues in the General Assembly.”
If it clears a House of Delegates floor vote, the bill will head to the state Senate.
In particular, the bill creates metrics for measuring whether higher tolls would discourage use—something they are not permitted to do—and provide oversight to the refinancing of the project.
It would require the Greenway’ owners to petition the State Corporation Commission before refinancing its debt, and require among other things that refinancing is “necessary to operate, maintain, enlarge, or expand the roadway” and “that such refinancing will not increase toll rates.”
Additionally, if the Greenway seeks to extend or transfer its authority to operate—which expires in 2056, when the road is scheduled to become publicly owned—it must submit financial disclosures and have at least a BBB- bond rating from a major credit ratings agency, the lowest investment-grade rating. Currently none of the three major bond ratings agencies rate the Greenway that highly. With Standard and Poor’s, the ratings agency that has been kindest to the Greenway, in December lowered its rating from BBB- to BB+ on worse-than-expected traffic recovery.
The bill’s proponents include Loudoun residents, local elected officials and the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. Last week, Chamber Vice President of Membership & Government Affairs Grafton deButts testified in favor of the bill in front of the Transportation Systems Subcommittee, telling lawmakers what many in Loudoun already know—the tolls discourage drivers from using the road.
“The extremely high cost of the tolls on the Dulles Greenway for our employees that drive to, and through our community, have demonstrably discouraged the use of the roadway,” DeButts said.“Those drivers now seek alternatives on local roads and streets.” He cited pre-COVID-19 figures from the Virginia Department of Transportation, finding that while traffic on surrounding routes has increased as Loudoun has grown, in 2018, traffic at the Greenway’s main toll plaza declined by 4.5%.
DeButts urged the committee to vote in favor of the bill so that “the Greenway will become an economic asset for our community and not a liability.”
The Dulles Greenway is before the State Corporation Commission asking for five more years of annual toll increases. Those range from a 5% increase on off-peak traffic for 2022 to a 6.8% 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 taking the Greenway to and from work every day under those toll rates could spend more than $4,000 a year in tolls. Today, those tolls are $4.75 and $5.80.
The House of Delegates transportation committee voted 19-0-0, with three members not voting, on Tuesday, Jan. 26 to recommend passage of the bill.