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Votes

Tolls Going Up For Local Drivers

Starting May 22, Dulles Toll Road fees will increase.

Despite opposition from the Board of Supervisors and Del. Joe T. May (R-33), the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to increase tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to fund Dulles Rail.

Starting May 22, commuters will pay 75 cents at the main toll plaza near Tysons Corner — an increase from 50 cents — and 50 cents at all entrance and exit ramps, an increase from 25 cents. The 35-cent toll at Sully Road/Route 28, currently 35 cents, will become 50 cents.

The toll will contribute to Virginia's portion of the cost of the first phase of Metro, which will extend rail from near East Falls Church, through Tysons Corner and to Wiehle Avenue in Reston by 2011, according to a Virginia Department of Transportation estimate. Phase two will extend Metro through Dulles International Airport to Route 772 in Loudoun. The total estimated cost is $3.5 billion.

NOT JUST OFFICIALS were annoyed at the idea of the toll hike, the first since the road opened in 1984. Broadlands resident Brian Beahm drives to Fairfax County every day for work, often carpooling with his wife. The toll hike will cost them $200 to $300 more a year, depending on how often they carpool.

Ashburn won't ever see a Metro stop — at least not under the current plan. So Beahm is annoyed that he's being asked to fund Metro when he already pays several dollars a day just to use the Dulles Greenway.

"Don't tax those of us who are stuck using the toll road," Beahm said. "Now I'm paying a toll for something I'll never use."

In its resolution, the Board of Supervisors opposed the toll hike, noting that Loudoun citizens were "unlikely to benefit from the extension." Del. Joe T. May voiced his dissent in a letter to Whittington Clement, Commonwealth Transportation Secretary and chairman of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

"What VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board are proposing for commuters on the Dulles Toll Road is, in reality, not a fee increase but an implicit tax increase," May wrote. "They are attempting to impose this tax while avoiding substantive public debate and preventing elected officials from going on the record."

May is chairman of the House of Delegates Transportation Appropriations subcommittee and has senior standing on the Transportation Committee.

With "avoiding substantive debate," May was referring to what many perceived was a rush job by VDOT to get the toll hike approved.

No local information session was scheduled to take place in Northern Virginia until local officials pressured VDOT. And no local hearing — minus an afternoon video conference in Chantilly — was set for commuters to voice their opinions.

Leonard "Hobie" Mitchel, a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and local developer, was also displeased with the way VDOT handled the discussion on the proposed toll hike.

Mitchel has proposed that the Commonwealth Transportation Board investigate installing a new procedure for considering toll hikes in the future.

"I think it should have been done better," Mitchel said.

KAREN RAE, Department of Rail and Public Transportation director, said that this toll hike should not precipitate many future hikes. This increase alone will fund the state contribution to Metro's cost for phase one and part of phase two. If no other transportation funds become available to finish phase two, another toll hike will be considered, but should not be a dramatic increase, Rae said.

"To the best of our knowledge, at the most it would be a similar increase tied to construction of phase two," she said.

Before settling on tolls as the preferred way to fund Metro, other funding mechanisms were considered, according to Rae.

"There was nowhere near enough dollars to fund a major transportation project," she said.