Virginia lawmakers consider buying Greenway, backing Dulles Toll Road debt

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

Virginia lawmakers are considering creative and potentially expensive ways to keep tolls low on two roads they don't control: the Dulles Greenway and the Dulles Toll Road.

State leaders are now negotiating to buy the privately owned Greenway, a toll road west of Washington Dulles International Airport. And the General Assembly is considering legislation that would allow the state to borrow money through a bond issue to pay for the road's purchase and upkeep.

"I have to be able to negotiate an acceptable deal in terms of what we pay for it," said Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg, who is leading the push to buy the road. "I'm optimistic we're going to find a deal that works for both sides."

The Greenway could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, May said, but state ownership would be good news for commuters. The state is unlikely to raise tolls on the road, as its private owners are slated to do, he said. A trip down the Greenway now costs as much as $5.80 during peak periods.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a longtime critic of the high toll rates on the Greenway, called May's plan "a great idea."

"I commend Joe May for putting the bill in. The Greenway is out of control," Wolf said. "Tolls are going to go up so high ... they're going to have impact on economic development."

The General Assembly also is looking for a way to keep tolls lower on the Dulles Toll Road; tolls there are slated to rise to help pay for the $6 billion Dulles Rail project. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow the state to back $500 million in bonds for the Dulles Rail project, reducing the interest rate on the borrowed money so that tolls wouldn't have to be raised by as much.

"I really want to protect our citizens from having tolls reach higher amounts than they should," said Del. Randy Minchew, R-Leesburg, the bill's sponsor.

May said he hopes Minchew's idea works, but that it will be more difficult to push through the General Assembly.

"If we can make it work, I think it's a good idea," he said. "At the moment there will be some struggle over Virginia guaranteeing someone else's debt."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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