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Proposed Greenway toll increase to go to evidentiary hearing in Richmond.

Following a full afternoon and evening of public comment from Loudoun residents and county leaders Jan. 30, the proposed Greenway toll increase will head back to Richmond for a March 13 evidentiary hearing, Andy Farmer, spokesperson for the State Corporation Commission said.

Toll Road Investors Partnership II (TRIP II), the owners of the Dulles Greenway, applied to the SCC for a toll increase up to a ceiling of $4.80 by 2012, $1.60 more than the current $3.20 peak-hour toll. Drivers now pay $3 for nonpeak hours. A 20 percent higher rush-hour toll would be put in place during three hours in the morning on east-bound traffic and three hours in the afternoon for west-bound traffic.

According to the schedule proposed by TRIP II, by Jan. 1, 2009, drivers would be paying $3.40 during off-peak hours and $4 during rush hours. July 1, 2010, the tolls would increase to $3.70 and $4.50, respectively. The final increase to $4 during nonpeak hours and $4.80 during rush hours would occur Jan. 1, 2012.

THE EVIDENTIARY hearing, Farmer said, is an opportunity for TRIP II to present the case for the increase, as well as for members of the SCC's staff to give their own analysis of the application.

"The hearing will be audio casting on [the SCC's] Web site," Farmer said. "So people can listen in to what is happening."

While last Tuesday's Leesburg public hearings marked the end of the public comment period for the application, Farmer said that there will be time immediately before the hearing for the public to speak. The hearing will take place in the SCC's Tyler building in Richmond.

Following the hearing, Farmer said, lawyer for both TRIP II and the SCC will present closing briefs. At that time, Howard Anderson, the hearing examiner who presided over the Leesburg hearings, will prepare a report, making a recommendation about the application to the commissioners.

The length of the process of reviewing and making a decision on an application can vary, Farmer said, and there is no deadline by which a decision must be rendered on TRIP II's proposal.

"It is hard to put a time frame on it," he said. "We are talking a matter of weeks or months. Every case is different."

WHILE THERE HAS been no indication from TRIP II as to why it decided to apply for the toll increase, several speakers at the Jan. 30 public hearing said they believed the company had a right to receive a return on its private investment, but did not understand why it was requesting the increase at this time.

"It is too much, too soon and is unfair to the residents of Northern Virginia, especially the residents of Loudoun County," Sen. Mark Herring (D-33), who came up from Richmond with other representatives from the county, said. "They already have approval for an increase to $3. TRIP II has not even finished its latest round of toll increases and it already wants approval for more."

Senate hopeful John Andrews, who founded NoTollIncrease.org, an organization lobbying against the proposal, said that the debt incurred by the Greenway was the reason behind the requested increases.

"Specifically, the Dulles Greenway's indebtedness has spiraled out of control, from $355 million in 1993 to $1.3 billion today," he said. "That is what is really driving these massive toll increases and it has to stop."