Senate Greenway Bill Passes General Assembly

Senate Bill 1259, intended to curb toll increases and close financing loopholes on the Dulles Greenway, has now passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly.

The Senate passed the bill on Feb. 1. On Tuesday, Feb. 16 the House of Delegates passed the bill 97-1-1, with only vote vote against and one abstaining.

If its identical companion bill, House Bill 1832, passes through the Senate without amendments, the bill will head to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk to be signed into law. That bill passed the House 99-0 on Jan. 29, and is currently in a Senate committee.

“This is a big win for Loudoun County and northern Virginia commuters. Passing this legislation would not have been possible without the support of the Loudoun Delegation and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors,” stated Sen. John J. Bell (D-13), who introduced the bill along with Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33). “We have been working on this issue for a long time, and I’m proud that we were able to come together and achieve bipartisan support on this important issue facing our region. I look forward to this bill becoming law so we can finally curb the rise in Greenway tolls and ease the burden on Northern Virginia families.” 

The companion bill was introduced by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (87), joined by Dels. Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10), Dan I. Helmer (D-40) and David A. Reid (D-32).

The bill would create metrics to determine whether toll increases would discourage drivers from using the road, which they are not permitted to do. It also seeks to close a financing loophole by requiring the Greenways’ owners to petition the SCC 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.” The Greenway’s owners have refinanced the debt from its original construction several times, and now claim outstanding debt of close to a billion dollars.

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 dropping its bond rating in December from BBB- to BB+ on worse-than-expected traffic recovery.

And the bill would also restrict the Greenway to applying for toll increases one year at a time. The Dulles Greenway is currently 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.

The bill is supported by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.

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