The notion that the user of a public service should be the one to pay for it makes sense in theory. But when the service is a roadway and the payments are tolls, the system can feel a bit unfair and clearly needs limits. It made sense when I voted to approve an authority in the early 1980s to build a toll road in the Dulles Corridor to provide traffic congestion relief for western Fairfax County and to open the area for economic development. Using the toll method of financing meant that we got the road and expanded it decades before it would have been considered through the usual methods of road financing. It even made some sense that toll collections be used as a percentage of financing for the extension of Metrorail in the corridor, since the mass transit system would help relieve future traffic congestion on the Toll Road. But there has to be limits on the use of tolls, and clearly the level of tolls proposed for the Dulles Toll Road is too high.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) that has responsibility for building the Metrorail extension in the corridor has asked for comments on the toll increases it is considering to finance Phase 2 of the rail project (www.mwaa.com). I wrote to them last week and told them that I thought the tolls being considered were “way beyond any justifiable or reasonable amounts.” I encourage you to make your views known on the proposed increases by writing to Dulles Toll Road Proposed Toll Rate Increases, 3900 Jermantown Road, Suite 300, Fairfax, VA 22030. A public meeting will be held on the issue at South Lakes High School on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. and on Sept. 13 at Spring Hill Elementary School in McLean at 7 p.m.
Some immediate pressure on toll increases have been relieved by the promise of federal, low-interest loans and by a cash contribution by the Commonwealth of Virginia of $150 million approved in the 2012 session of the General Assembly. My budget amendment for $500 million was not approved, but I will be seeking annual appropriations from the state for the project like the one approved this year.
I will be advocating to members of Virginia’s Congressional delegation that we seek direct federal appropriations for the project as well. The federal government paid for 80 percent of the Metro in the District of Columbia and almost 50 percent in Phase 1. Aside from low-interest loans, the federal government is not helping with Phase 2. I encourage you to join me in writing to our Congressional delegation to seek federal assistance. Any monies we get from these sources will reduce the need to raise tolls.
Tolls will be on the high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on the Capital Beltway. In southern Virginia the Governor is proceeding with plans to add tolls to I-95 in the most economically depressed region of the state. Needless to say, his plans have not been met with much favor from local residents. Tolls will be part of our future, but policy makers need to be reminded that tolls do have their limits.