Almost 30 people took time out of their afternoon Tuesday, Jan. 30, to express their opposition to the proposed toll increase on the Dulles Greenway, during the first special hearing held by the State Corporation Commission (SCC). Residents were joined by county leaders and organization representatives in opposing an increase that would make a one-way trip on the Greenway more than $4 by 2012.
"Many commuters who live west of Washington, D.C., have little choice but to travel on the Greenway," Congressman Frank Wolf (R-10) said. "This is nothing more than highway robbery."
TOLL ROAD Investors Partnership II (TRIP II), the owners of the Dulles Greenway, has proposed a toll increase 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 scheduled 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.
Some residents said they did not understand the need for the toll increase and that there has been no proof that an increase is needed.
"I wish the owners were here to tell us what were their reasons," Purcellville resident Joyce Hart said. "All they are doing [with their improvements] is funneling more cars into ridiculous bottle necks."
MANY OF THE speakers told the SCC's representative that they felt trapped, since many of them have no choice but to use the Greenway.
"I feel I am held hostage," Katherine Mulder, an Ashburn resident, said. "I feel held hostage by SCC and TRIP II who had a short-term solution for traffic in Loudoun County."
"I actually can't threaten to boycott the toll road," Hart said. "Due to time constraints I often have no choice. The toll is now a hardship. It is already too much. It'd been creeping up incrementally and I notice it."
Citizens were also angered by that fact that there are no staggered tolls on the Greenway, like the ones in place on the Dulles Toll Road.
"[This proposal] fails to consider the staggered toll, regardless of the distance traveled," resident Enda Cross said. "The total charge should be based on the total distance driven."
Other residents said they have already begun to use other roads to commute by, even though the Greenway is the most convenient route.
"A lot of my neighbors are simply going around [the Greenway]," Ashburn resident Carol Kost, whose house backs up to exit 5 of the roadway, said. "They are not using it. A lot of the regular users are clogging the other roads now."
H. ROGER ZURN JR., who served at Sterling District supervisor from 1988 to 1996 and is currently the county's treasurer, reminded the SCC of what the county was told when they approved the construction of the Greenway in 1992.
"At that time [Supervisors] were given full assurances that this was going to be an affordable alternative to Route 7 and that the tolls would be kept to a minimum of what it would cost to maintain," he said. "Had [this proposed cost] even been broached for a one-way trip, this never would have taken off."
John B. Townsend II, government and public affairs manager for AAA's Mid-Atlantic Region, said that it is not only Loudoun County commuters who will be affected by the proposed toll increase, but residents from around the region.
"[It] will be burdensome on motorists, especially those on fixed incomes or with lower incomes," he said. "It would not only make the Dulles Greenway one of the most costly toll roads in the region, it would also make the Greenway one of the most expensive toll roads in the nation."
As of press time, residents had yet to begin testifying the second public hearing scheduled for Tuesday evening at 6:30.