Congressman raises more questions about Greenway toll operator

| Friday, December 14, 2007

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, asked the Virginia General Assembly and Gov. Tim Kaine to conduct hearings to examine the business practices of the private foreign company that operates the Dulles Greenway.

Wolf is questioning a recently approved toll increase on the 14-mile privately operated toll road near Washington, DC.

In a letter to the governor dated Wednesday, Dec. 12, Wolf stated that data provided to the State Corporation Commission by Toll Road Investors Partners II, a subsidiary of Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Australia, were “skewed” and should therefore be investigated.

Wolf has requested that the Assembly:

  • Conduct hearings to examine the business practices of TRIP II and Macquarie;
  • Roll back the toll increase until the examination is complete; and
  • Address what he believes are flaws in the original legislation that governs the Dulles Greenway.

Wolf said consumers are not protected in the legislation from sharp toll increases. He also said that toll increases – especially for multiple-axle vehicles – will force heavy traffic onto roads that aren’t designed for trucks.

“I am told that the increase in tolls for multi-axle vehicles that went into place on July 1 is already having a negative impact on surrounding roads as more trucks appear to be using secondary roads and/or cutting through neighborhoods to avoid the Greenway,” Wolf wrote in his letter to Kaine.

“This raises obvious safety concerns for individuals who live in the area as well as the issue of added wear and tear to state roads. It is interesting to note that the owners of the Greenway readily admit in their application seeking approval for the toll hike that high truck traffic requires additional maintenance needs.”

Greenway tolls are scheduled to increase from $3 to reach $4 by 2012 for passenger vehicles, with congestion pricing being added to the price during rush hours. A five-axle truck traveling the entire length of the Greenway is currently tolled $10.25. The increase will increase the fee to $14 by 2012.

Wolf has been speaking out against the toll increase for several months.

In October, Wolf asked the state attorney general to investigate the business operations of TRIP II and Macquarie. His recent letter to Kaine continues to seek answers.

He’s not the only one questioning Macquarie’s business model of infrastructure investment.

In May, hedge fund guru Jim Chanos, a managing partner with Kynikos Associates, said that the method of “short selling” infrastructure by Macquarie Bank through Macquarie Infrastructure Group and its other subsidiaries cannot sustain over time.

Chanos compared Macquarie Bank’s business model to “an old fashioned Ponzi scheme.”

Fortune editor Bethany McLean and CNN “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer have reported Chanos’ predictions to the mainstream.

Macquarie Infrastructure Group officials defend their business practices.

Wolf referenced those reports in his letters to Kaine and Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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