Users of the Dulles Toll Road would pay for half of the projected cost of the Silver Line rail project, under the current proposal of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Residents in Virginia had their first chance to publicly weigh in on that plan last night.
The one-way toll for the full length of the road would increase from $2.25 to $2.75 in January, then to $3.50 in 2014, and to $4.50 in 2015, under current toll projections. Rates would continue to rise $2 every five years for the next 40 years unless other sources of funding are secured to mitigate the toll increases.
MWAA, the agency building the Silver line project, took public comments on the increases Thursday at an open house.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Bayush Radadaya of Ashburn, who drives the Dulles Toll Road to work and was attending the forum. “Right now I can afford it, but once it doubles I cannot, because gas prices are so much.”
Unlike a typical public hearing where residents take turns speaking into a microphone to a panel of officials, the event inside a high school cafeteria in Ashburn was informal. MWAA officials were on hand to answer questions, residents could read about the project on posters displaying charts and maps and submit written comments into a cardboard box.
"You can throw a comment on a card but I’m not quite sure you necessarily have input,” said Pete Sabbatino of Ashburn.
The Airports Authority says public feedback will be taken seriously when establishing the new toll rates later this year.
"The benefit of the [open house] is that we have an opportunity to educate people about the project,” said MWAA CEO Jack Potter.
Critics look for more government dollars
Toll revenues are projected to cover about 75 percent of the Silver line’s phase two costs, meaning roughly $2.02 billion from the Dulles Toll Road would finance the next phase. The total cost of the Silver line is estimated at $5.5 billion.
Critics of the tolls point to the project's minimal federal funding — $900 million for Phase 1, none for Phase 2 — and relatively small contribution by the state of Virginia — $150 million. The airports authority is working to increase those figures, Potter says, which would reduce the toll increases and give drivers a break. MWAA is requesting a loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.
“It’s a 2.4 percent loan versus what we’re able to get in the open bond market of about 6 percent, so that would significantly lower our cost for financing the debt,” explains Potter.
To Loudoun County resident Daniel Davies, the plan to finance a rail project out of the pockets of car commuters is unfair.
"The toll rates, plus what the toll avoidance is going to do to our communities and the traffic along Route 7 and Route 28 is just going to be gridlock,” said Davies, referring to drivers who will dodge the higher tolls on the highway by re-routing to local and state roads.
Davies also opposes the Virginia legislature providing any additional funding for the Silver line, he says, because the state already handed over control of the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA, an asset valued at more than $3 billion.