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Questioning Proposed Toll Increase

Bringing Metrorail to Dulles International Airport has been a priority for almost a decade. And yet when the plans came to a critical juncture last week — how to fund the first phase of the $3.5 billion project — suddenly everything seemed to be going way too fast.

On Feb. 2, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced it was going to consider raising tolls along the Dulles Toll Road in order to fund Dulles Rail. Tolls would increase from 50 cents to 75 cents at the main toll plaza near Tysons Corner and from 25 cents to 50 cents at other entrance and exit ramps. The 35 cent toll at Sully Road/Route 28 would increase to 50 cents. It will be the first toll hike since the road opened in 1984.

The decision would be made by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Richmond after taking public comment Feb. 16, at 3 p.m. Residents of Northern Virginia can participate by attending a video conference in Chantilly at the VDOT District Office at 14685 Avion Parkway.

"We do video conferencing a lot in VDOT," said spokesperson Tamara Neale. "It's just a very effective cost efficient way to get as much public comment as possible."

Commuters can also comment via the VDOT Web site, www.virginiadot.org.

Vice Chairman Bruce Tulloch was not pleased with the way the announcement was handled. He lobbied to get a meeting held in Loudoun that actual Dulles Toll Road commuters could attend to get the full story — and he succeeded. Commonwealth Transportation Board representative Kate Hanley will be available to answer questions and take comment about the proposed toll increase Feb. 11, at 6:30 p.m., in the Government Center at 1 Harrison St., S.E., Leesburg.

"I don't think the public has been adequately informed of the total program," Tulloch said.

Even Leonard "Hobie" Mitchel, Commonwealth Transportation Board member and local developer, was displeased with the way things were handled.

"It's not that I have a problem with Dulles Rail," he said. "It's the notification."

TULLOCH'S CONCERN ABOUT the "total program" may be legitimate: the proposed toll increase would only cover Virginia's financial contribution to the first phase and part of the second phase of rail. Phase one would extend the orange line for 11 miles from near East Falls Church through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. Its estimated cost is $1.5 billion. VDOT estimates that phase one will be completed by 2011.

Rail to Dulles International Airport, however, is not expected for completion until 2015. Phase two will cost $2 billion. The total cost — $3.5 billion — will be paid by 50 percent federal, 25 percent state and 25 percent local funds.