Post written by Grafton deButts, Vice President of Membership & Government Affairs
The Dulles Greenway in many ways is responsible for shaping Loudoun into the community we have today. Development follows permanent infrastructure. So when a four-lane highway opens up through the middle of a primarily undeveloped section of Loudoun bordering Fairfax County and Dulles Airport, as the nation on the precipice of an economic boom, big things would follow.
Unfortunately, as time passed, the toll-rates spiked, use of the road decreased, and the County was forced to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in local roadways to keep up with the demand. These “Greenway Alternatives” were not built to give Loudoun’s citizens other options, they were built because we had no choice. The citizens were overcrowding much smaller roads and avoiding the Greenway as they traveled through and into Loudoun each day.
The 2021 is a historic year in the sage of regulating this road as Delegate Subramanyam’s and Senator Bell’s Greenway bills now sit on the Governor’s desk awaiting a signature. These bills assure that riders are tolled fairly and that the TRIP II and Atlas Arteria, the Australian company which owns a majority state in TRIP II, is no longer able to use the road a vehicle for debt that is unrelated to operations. The Chamber played key roles in the support of these bills testifying before House and Senate Committees to ensure that lawmakers were aware of the impact of this road on our citizens and our businesses.
Here’s a few key phrases pulled out of the bills and what they mean for us:
- Alteration of certification of authority; powers and duties of the State Corporation Committee. The Dulles Greenway is currently the only roadway that is governed by the State Corporation Commission (SCC). Since the approval of this road, every other new public/private partnership is under the jurisdiction of the VDOT. Because of this the rules of the road, so to speak, are antiquated and often only a result of shrewd negotiation rather than best practices. TRIP II only had to show that their expenses were increasing year over year to justify their request for toll increases. These expenses included overhead costs, entertainment, and debt payments. Because of this, the SCC did not have the regulatory guidance to determine which expenses were relative to operation, nor for the benefit of those that drive the road.
- To include information demonstrating the financial fitness of the entity applying to operate the roadway. The expenses of the road were not increasing, or if they were, it was negligible. What was increasing was the debt being piled on this road. Lots of it. Some estimates have the debt on the road equaling six times the actual cost to build the road. This only happens because the Greenway is being used as a financial asset by the corporation that owns it to acquire new investments or access cash for shareholder payments. In the end, the only escalating expense, associated with the road, outside of lane addition in 2009 , is the debt.
- Proposed rates will be reasonable to the user in relation to the benefit obtained. This sentence may seem simple, but it also addresses a crucial and basic feature that the Greenway lacks: distance-based tolling. A 13-mile trip from Leesburg to the Toll Plaza costs the exact same as a 1-mile trip from Old Ox Rd. All future toll requests must now prove that the cost of driving the road is equal to the benefit the driver receives. If you drive more, you pay more. If you drive less, you pay less. Why did the Greenway not have this basic feature of all other toll roads? It’s simple. They didn’t have to.
Thanks to our efforts of the leaders of the Loudoun General assembly delegation and the members of the our Chamber that answered to call to pressure politicians to do what is right by the citizens of Loudoun. In the end, Loudoun County’s best interests firmly entrenched in the new rules that govern the Dulles Greenway. Any changes to toll rates will require significant justification and we have a path forward as we seek to make the Dulles Greenway an economic asset for our community in the future.