Virginia says Dulles tolls don't have to rise so much

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

Drivers on the Dulles Toll Road could save nearly $1 per trip -- or about $450 per year for regular commuters -- if the authority in charge of the toll road would change how it used its money, Virginia officials said.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees both the toll road and the Dulles Rail project, will have a $5.4 billion projected surplus decades from now and the authority can tap that projected reserve now to keep tolls from doubling next year as planned, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.

The authority said tolls may have to double to $4.50 one way next year and jump to $16.75 by 2043 to raise about 75 percent of the $6 billion needed to build Metro's new Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport.

But VDOT Chief Financial Officer John Lawson said tolls don't need to go that high. The authority's financing plan for the rail project could be restructured to cut 90 cents from the toll increases each year.

"We believe there's opportunity for them through the restructuring of their debt issuances or just the use of their $5.4 billion in surplus to help support a better funding of the project," he said.

But an airports authority representative told the Washington Examiner that Virginia's analysis is wrong.

"It is not, nor was it ever our intent, to actually build up a surplus; this was misunderstood by the commonwealth," airports spokesman Rob Yingling said in a statement. "We would carefully and continuously manage finances to make required roadway improvements and pay the debt for the rail in a manner to minimize toll increases."

VDOT distributed the analysis to General Assembly Republicans during the budget debate last month to counter Democrats' efforts to secure an extra $300 million in state funding for the rail project that would help keep toll increases to a minimum.

Virginia officials will meet with the airports authority and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in the coming weeks to discuss the issue, Lawson said.

Virginia lawmakers may also schedule a hearing on VDOT's proposal.

"I frankly think that it warrants a much further look," said Del. Joe May, R-Loudoun, chairman of the House of Delegates' Transportation Committee. "There may turn out to be some reason why we can't do it, but I'd rather hear why we can't rather than we why shouldn't. ... Goodness knows it's not as if that project were overfunded."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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