Virginia poised to buy out private toll road?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/16/2013

Virginia lawmakers are prepared to take matters into their own hands with toll rates in the Dulles area.

A leading Republican from Northern Virginia is pushing to buy the privately owned Dulles Greenway. The intent is to limit toll increases on the commuter route. Another lawmaker from the same area is behind a separate effort that is intended to reduce toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road.

The Dulles Greenway is owned by Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Australia. The Greenway has had a rough go as of late. The 14-mile road has experienced lower traffic counts and higher toll rates in recent years.

Tolls on the Greenway are slated to increase nearly 3 percent each year through 2020. Currently, five-axle trucks pay $12.

Toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road, which is operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, also are regularly increased. The $15 fee for five-axle trucks is scheduled to be raised again in 2014 to benefit the $6 billion Dulles metro rail project.

Gov. Bob McDonnell recently addressed the concern about toll rates during his State of the Commonwealth address. Specifically, he proposed using new revenue from his $3.1 billion, five-year transportation funding plan to help keep down tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.

“Thereafter, these revenues will go to eliminate the maintenance crossover and put more into construction,” he told House and Senate lawmakers.

Delegate Randall Minchew, R-Leesburg, introduced a bill – HB1696 – to authorize the state to back $500 million in bonds for the rail project.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe May, R-Leesburg, offered a separate bill – HB1979 – to authorize bonds to acquire the Dulles Greenway. Another bill – HB1980 – would create the Dulles Greenway Authority to operate and manage the 14-mile road.

Toll rates that are expected to be cheaper would be set by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley said the fact that there are efforts underway in Virginia to take control of these roads shows that public-private partnerships aren’t the risk-free endeavors for states that proponents build them up to be.

“These projects show that not to be the case. The allure of free money should be treated like the snake oil that it is,” Bowley said.

There is no time to waste to get the bills through the statehouse. The regular session wraps up Feb. 23.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia, click here.

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