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Officials try to explain Dulles toll hikes

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Photo - The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is planning to raise rates on the Dulles Toll Road. (Examiner file photo)
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is planning to raise rates on the Dulles Toll Road. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

Officials overseeing the Dulles Toll Road and the Dulles Rail project swarmed a McLean elementary school Thursday night in the last of three sessions designed to educate residents on the rising costs of travelling the toll road and to get feedback.

Fourteen Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, or MWAA, staff members were on hand to point to large charts and explain the rail project's financing to the handful of residents who trickled through, many of whom weren't happy about the likely prospect of tolls rising to $2.75 in 2013, $3.50 in 2014 and $4.50 in 2015.

Reston resident Danilo Cicak said he and his wife, who both commute on the toll road, already spend $140 per month in tolls.

"I don't mind paying for some. The question is: How far is it going to go?" he said.

McLean resident Shiela Shrestha said she would sign a petition against the toll increases.

"I'm not happy, but that's about it," she said. "I'm going to tell my friends and families to go and petition to see if we can stop it."

Local business owner Geoff Pohanka said he was worried the rising tolls would hurt the area's economy.

"It's going to choke off the area economically. ... People are toll-averse in this country," he said. "Local communities can't afford to pay for projects like this 100 percent. It doesn't work."

The authority has so far received nearly 500 online comments, in addition to written and oral comments on the toll increases, a spokeswoman said.

Tolls from the road are paying for about 75 percent of Metro's $6 billion Silver Line, which is under construction and planned to go to Washington Dulles International Airport and beyond.

MWAA president and CEO Jack Potter said he was urging people to leave comments and to join his side in getting more money for the rail project from Virginia and the federal government, to offset tolls.

"We're very interested in getting comments from as many of the people that are affected as possible, and we want to be able to share any concerns that they have with elected officials both at the state and federal level and use those comments to support our request for additional funding and for help when it comes to reducing the financing [costs]," he said.

But even at the bland public information session, the airports authority could not escape the shadow of controversy on its oft-criticized board.

"The airports authority, if anything, is insensitive to the cost -- $9,000 trips to Prague, the underground station," Pohanka said. "If they'll award projects without bids, if they'll make trips that don't seem like they make sense, if they do make bad decisions on the little items, maybe they're making bad decisions on the big items."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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