The beginning of September marked a changing point in the existence of the Dulles Greenway. Australian-based company Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) agreed to purchase 87 percent of the road for $533 million from previous owners TRIP II, and is currently negotiating the purchase of the remaining 13 percent from Kellogg, Brown, and Root.
"The Dulles Greenway has a number of highly attractive attributes that caught the attention of MIG and we have been actively pursuing the opportunity to invest in the road for some time," said Steve Allen, chief executive officer of Macquarie, in a press release. But what has now become a lucrative business venture and innovative idea, was once a project that faced opposition in its development and financial loss in the early years of operation.
WHILE MUCH IS known about the surface of the roads we travel, it is often the case that little is known about the history of their creation. What originates as a concept, takes years of planning to provide the routes that keep this area fluid. The developers of the Dulles Greenway, which opened in 1995, found a creative way to provide more access to Loudoun County.
When the Dulles Greenway opened its lanes, it became the first privately-owned toll road in Virginia since 1816. Prior to opening, the only major road from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area that connected to Leesburg was Route 7, which was approaching gridlock. The intention of the Greenway was to offer more efficient access for businesses and citizens.
As former Sen. Charles Waddell said, who at the time was the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
ACCORDING TO WADDELL, the Transportation Committee began to research the project in 1984. Up to that point, there was little interest by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to use public-private partnerships for funding the creation and maintenance of Virginia’s road networks. As congestion in Northern Virginia grew, Waddell and his administrative assistant at the time, Tom Hyland, saw little effort put toward curing the problem.
"We didn’t see any legislation on the books to deal with the transportation problem," said Hyland. "We didn’t see any leadership." This changed when Waddell became the chair of the Transportation Committee in 1984.
The first move for alternative funding was the creation of the Transportation Tax Improvement District along the Route 28 corridor. Commercial and industrial landowners in the newly created tax district volunteered to pay a 20 cent tax for every $100 of assessed land value, providing extra funding for a struggling road. The success of passing this concept provided the motivation necessary to push for the creation of the Dulles Greenway, an idea that previously carried a large amount of opposition and skepticism.
"At the time it was extremely risky to come up with new ideas surrounding transportation," said Hyland. "People were distrusting and wanted to rely on VDOT."
The environment in which roads are built changed when the General Assembly authorized the private development of toll roads in 1988.
BUT BEFORE the idea for a Dulles Toll Road extension could be realized, two major problems had to be solved. Financing for the project needed to be located, as well as the land on which the pavement could be laid.
Ralph Stanley, who was the former head of the Federal Transit Administration under President Ronald Reagan and a Loudoun resident, was a supporter of a Dulles Toll Road extension and began looking for investors. The result was a cooperative investment between Trip II — owned by Middleburg residents Maggie Bryant and her son, Michael Crane, and Kellogg, Brown and Root Inc., a Houston-based subsidiary of Haliburton.
Much like the tax district that was supported by local businesses in the Route 28 corridor, the land used for the development of the Greenway was possible only with private landowner participation.
"It was a good investment," said Waddell. "A lot of landowners along the toll road were asked to give land or reduce the price sales for the road." The developers believed that the investment made by landowners would benefit not only their interests, but the interests of the county as a whole.
By 1988 blueprints were being drawn for the road and construction started in 1991 — finally opening the 14-mile route connecting Leesburg to Washington Dulles International Airport in September 1995.
PROBLEMS WITH the Greenway arose after its opening when it was realized that not enough traffic was using the toll road to support the costs of investors and maintenance. When the Greenway opened, tolls were established at $1. "There was no way the tolls could have been set high enough to allow investors to make money," he said. "It was a white elephant at the time."
The projected traffic numbers were essentially based off of the Dulles Toll Road, which services the more developed areas of the region. At the time, Loudoun was developing but did not have the population that would support a toll road. This pushed the Greenway close to bankruptcy, which would have forced investors to turn the road over to the state. Instead, the project was refinanced and the original bondholders were paid off.
Within fours years of its 1995 opening, traffic on the Greenway began to increase dramatically. With the region expanding at the time, and more residents living in Loudoun, the annual traffic increase raised to an average of 17 percent. The State Corporation Commission also approved a series of toll increases — raising the toll to $2 with a scheduled increase to $3 in July 2007.
WITH THE INCREASE in traffic and population, Macquarie Infrastructure Group has acquired a road that, in more recent years, has proven lucrative. The Greenway, scheduled to be turned over to the state after 40 years of operation, has also been given a 20-year extension by the State Corporation Commission, which currently leaves 51 years left for private ownership and operation. Currently the Greenway, which handles more than 70,000 car trips a day is undergoing an expansion that will widen the road to a total of six lanes.