WAMU 88.5 : News

Eyeing Dulles Toll Road For Silver Line Funding

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Construction crews work on the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport.
Wayan Vota <http://www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/5178382413/>
Construction crews work on the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport.

This article is the third part of an ongoing series. The first part dealt with the various options on the table for the Loudoun County Board as it considers Silver line funding options, while the second story addresses the federal government's role —or lack thereof — in funding the project's Phase 2.

As Loudoun County weighs whether to opt out of Phase 2 of the 23-mile Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport and beyond — a decision that must be made by July 4 — the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is preparing to raise tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Tolls are expected to cover 54 percent of the $6 billion project's cost.

Regardless of Loudoun's participation in the project, tolls will rise. The question is, how much. MWAA has released draft toll projections through the year 2050; starting next year a one-way, full toll will cost $4.50.

When the federal government decided to fund only Phase 1 of the Silver Line because Phase 2 failed to meet ridership criteria, that funding had to be made up somewhere. The Commonwealth of Virginia and Loudoun and Fairfax Counties did not increase their shares of the total funding. The burden further fell on everyone who rides the Dulles Toll Road. MWAA forecasts tolls will increase $2 every five years for the next four decades.

"There will be fewer riders on the toll road, but they are raising the toll so fast that it will more than make up for the loss of ridership on the toll road," said Terry Maynard, a member of the Reston Citizens Association.

Maynard says for every 10 percent increase in tolls, the Airports Authority will see just a 6 percent increase in revenue, because millions of motorists will divert to other roads to avoid the toll.

"The key thing that people need to know about the tolls, aside from the fact that they will go up very dramatically and very soon, is that when the federal government [didn't fund] Phase 2, that share of the financing was dropped onto Dulles Toll Road users," Maynard said.

The MWAA Board of Directors sets the tolls for the Dulles Toll Road in advance, usually for a range of one to three years. Due to the current uncertainty surrounding the project, those exact toll rates into the future remain hard to quantify. 

"There are still several unknowns that could impact toll rates in the future; one, when the remaining funds are borrowed, what will be the actual interest rate?" says MWAA Chief Financial Officer Andrew Rountree. "Two, when will the funds actually need to be borrowed to meet construction requirements? (i.e., If phase 2 is delayed, borrowing would be pushed back?) Three, will Loudoun opt out?"

For a more thorough explanation of the Airports Authority's process for determining toll rates, see Rountree's full response to an inquiry from WAMU 88.5 outlined below.

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