Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tolls Must Have Limits, Del. Ken Plum, Reston Connection, September 13, 2012

The notion that the user of a public service should be the one to pay for it makes sense in theory. But when the service is a roadway and the payments are tolls, the system can feel a bit unfair and clearly needs limits. It made sense when I voted to approve an authority in the early 1980s to build a toll road in the Dulles Corridor to provide traffic congestion relief for western Fairfax County and to open the area for economic development. Using the toll method of financing meant that we got the road and expanded it decades before it would have been considered through the usual methods of road financing. It even made some sense that toll collections be used as a percentage of financing for the extension of Metrorail in the corridor, since the mass transit system would help relieve future traffic congestion on the Toll Road. But there has to be limits on the use of tolls, and clearly the level of tolls proposed for the Dulles Toll Road is too high. . . .
Click here for the rest of Del. Plum's commentary.

While Reston 2020 clearly shares Del.  Plum's about the prospect of higher tolls, one has to ask why he waited until this late date to express his concern.  The writing has been on the walls for years.
  • In 2009, MWAA's traffic and revenue forecast consultant Wilbur Smith Associates (WSA--now CDM Smith) published a preliminary forecast pointing to tolls on the DTR reaching $11, a sum that Reston 2020 pointed out would be insufficient to pay off its bonds under the 2007 "funding partners" (MWAA, Loudoun, & Fairfax) agreement.  Of course, the "partner" that they decided should pay well over half the cost of the Silver Line was the one who was not at the table--the toll road user.
  • In January 2012, CDM Smith published the preliminary summary of its updated forecast, subsequently validated in its April 2012 draft, that showed tolls would need to go to $18.75, including tolls of $4.50 in 2013--the toll MWAA has now proposed for 2015. 
Certainly the man who is Chairman of the Dulles Corridor Railway Association (DCRA)--the principal lobbying group for rail to Dulles--knew what was coming.  Yet he and his local senatorial counterpart, Janet Howell, didn't say a thing about the issue of abusive toll hikes until opponents in last year's state senatorial campaign pressed the issue.  (To her credit, Howell was one of the leaders in trying to increase the state's contribution from $150MM to $450MM to relieve toll hikes, but she failed.)

So I ask what is Del. Plum doing NOW to make sure that toll road users aren't stuck with a doubling of tolls in three years?  And what if the federal government again turns down MWAA's request for TIFIA funding--which is likely?  And what is DCRA doing to prevent the toll increases?

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