Loudoun County leaders have praised a new law designed to curb toll increases, introduced in the General Assembly this year by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87) and Sen. John J. Bell (D-13) and which Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law on March 25.
After news that Northam had signed the bill, Loudoun County sent out reactions from state and county officials through the government’s official channels.
“This legislation will have a meaningful impact on the people of Loudoun County,” stated County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “This has been about equity and quality of life for our residents, who may now finally be able to afford to pay to use the Greenway, which will help them spend less time in their cars commuting to and from work and more time with their families.”
The new law seeks to create measurable standards for evaluating whether proposed toll increases would discourage motorist from taking the road, which is not permitted. It also would allow debt refinancing only when necessary to operate, maintain, or expand the road and would not increase toll rates, seeking to close a loophole that allowed the Greenway to amass around a billion dollars in outstanding debt and count that against its profitability when applying for toll increases.
If the Greenway seeks to stay privately owned beyond 2056, when it is set to become public property, it must make new 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.
And the bill would also limit the Greenway to apply for toll increases one year at a time. The SCC is currently deliberating a request from the Greenway, filed before the law, that would see five years of toll increases. Loudoun County government has unsuccessfully fought against toll increases at the SCC before; this time, the SCC still has not issued a decision, more than five months after the last arguments.
“This bipartisan effort by the Loudoun elected officials and Loudoun residents is a big step forward for commuters,” stated Subramanyam. “We will finally be able to prevent multi-year guaranteed toll increases and allow for real oversight and accountability when it comes to price increases. Toll operators will need to have a good reason to increase tolls and poor financials will not be enough to justify them. This is a huge win.”
“We have been working on this issue for a long time, and with strong bipartisan support from the Loudoun Delegation and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, we were able to deliver a solution to stop excessive and unfair toll increases,” stated Bell. “This is a huge win for Loudoun County, and will bring much needed relief to our residents and commuters.”
The law also allows the Virginia Department of Transportation to independently review all traffic-related analyses submitted by the Greenway operator to argue for higher tolls.
“This new law will be an important tool to ensure a level playing field and apply common-sense logic to Greenway toll rate cases,” stated Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “This legislation literally took years of effort, but our determination to provide some relief to our citizens has finally prevailed.”
“The legislation signed by Northam provides objective criteria for any future toll increases on the Greenway, which will better protect the interests of the citizens of Loudoun County,” stated County Attorney Leo Rogers.
The new legislation takes effect on July 1, 2021, but does not apply to the rate case the SCC is currently deciding.