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Letter: AAA Opposed to MWAA's Toll Plans

"It was a rotten formula at the start whose stench only gets worse with each passing year and the skyrocketing tolls that come with it."

according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), AAA Mid-Atlantic wants to reiterate clearly and loudly its opposition.

We understand that someone has to pay for the $6 billion cost of the construction of the Silver Line, but the overriding question in our mind is just who that should be. At last check, local motorists, via their tolls, are being forced to shoulder nearly 60% of the costs of this project.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, until pushed hard by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, had no cash in the pot—it sole contribution was to be the tolls paid by motorists. Now, after LaHood’s arm twisting, the state has $150 million in the pot--on a $6 billion project.

For many motorists, use of the Dulles Toll Road on a regular or daily basis is not a choice, it’s a necessity and the spiraling costs are hitting them in their pocketbooks very hard. Compounding this is the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority which seems to have a tin ear. From wanting to build a vastly more expensive station at Dulles, to trying to order up a new, lavish headquarters for its offices, it seems to not understand the cry of over-burdened motorists and commuters who are being nickled and dimed to death at the toll booth.

Since January of this year, motorists have been forking over $1.50 at the Main Toll Plaza and another 75 cents at the on-ramps and off-ramps. But let’s do the math, just as commuters and motorists are currently doing because they are being hit right and left as they travel through the toll plaza. On the top of that, the cost of a round-trip will increase next year and will soar eventually to as much as $9 by 2015.

Adding insult to injury, many Dulles Toll Road commuters also take the Dulles Greenway, where the peak tolls for a one-way trip are as much as $4.80. That’s a staggering fee for such a short road, making it one of the most expensive daily commutes in the country.

No less a figure than Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia 10th) has called these tolls “highway robbery,” and we concur.

Although we support the Silver Line to Dulles, and the use of toll revenue for transportation improvements along the Dulles corridor, forcing motorists to shoulder over half the costs is a disproportionate load, to say the least--it is not only draconian, it is also patently unfair. Drivers know it, and they are bailing out along both the Dulles Toll Road and the Dulles Greenway. With potential tragic consequences, so too are the drivers of large vehicles and trucks.

As Rep. Wolf has observed, “These outrageous tolls cause cars as well as large trucks from most area businesses to divert to side roads and residential streets.”

We say it again, as we have in the past, the latest round of toll increases probably will lead even more motorists to seek alternatives to the toll road, spreading congestion to nearby roads.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s Board of Directors approved the three-year schedule for new toll rates back in November of 2009. Now the motoring public will feel the full brunt of the toll rates on their wallets and household budgets. By capturing the hard-earned money of motorists at the toll booth, MWAA is financing the construction of the 23-mile, 11 station extension of Metrorail from East Falls Church to Washington Dulles International Airport west into Loudoun County.

We urge MWAA, as it prepares for its latest round of hearings, to slow the escalation of these fees. The costs of a project of this magnitude that will benefit an entire region should not be borne so disproportionately by the drivers on the Dulles Toll Road.

It was a rotten formula at the start whose stench only gets worse with each passing year and the skyrocketing tolls that come with it. As the latest round of toll hikes for a round-trip on the Dulles Toll Road prove, they don’t call it the “Silver Line” for nothing, but we think it’s now more deserving of a new name: “Platinum Line.”

Lon Anderson

AAA Mid-Atlantic Managing Director of Public and Government Affairs. 

Bob Bruhns September 14, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Seems to me that we should either stop Dulles Rail Phase II altogether, or at LEAST fight to get its price down to earth. It clearly costs almost two times what it should cost, based on comparison to earlier work, and based on item for item comparisons of the only item prices that were revealed to us. Citizens and taxpayers can only see the line item cost reports with big black lines covering the numbers. Only the elite are allowed to see those numbers. And what about Phase I prices? Again, we aren't allowed to see the line item prices - but Mark Canale, a Dulles Rail Project Manager for Fairfax County, said that Phase I line item prices were in line with the FTA listed prices for Phase II, and with WMATA line item prices. So it would seem that Phase I was overpriced as well - but, that work is already contracted, and most of it is already done and mostly paid for. So, for the most part we can only cut the Phase II costs now. Will citizens and taxpayers stand up and demand that the costs of Phase II should be brought down to earth? The planned tolls are clearly too high - even pro-rail shills say so. We can improve the situation by borrowing money at better interest rates, and by demanding that excessive prices be brought down to earth, and we will eventually lower the tolls by paying much or all of this from general taxes. Will we begin to look at this before, or after, toll road flight causes a regional traffic disaster of historic proportions?
Burt Rosenberg September 14, 2012 at 01:00 PM
These outrageous tolls must be rescinded! To saddle toll road users with nearly 60% of Silver Line costs is madness. Kudos to Frank Wolf and George Allen for supporting toll road users, who are being treated as sheep for the slaughter.
Morgan September 14, 2012 at 01:53 PM
It is even more outrageous that the COmmonwealth of Virginia is strangling the goose that lays the golden egg, AGAIN. The State is only putting up 2.5% of the cost of the project, yes two and one half percent. Just like the lack of funding for our institutions of higher learning -- at a whopping 8% support -- the current administration is ignoring the needs to improve infrastructure, improve education and provide for the health/welfare of our citizenry.
No Toll Increase September 14, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Virginia State Senator Richard Black is asking Gov. Bob McDonnell to have VDOT take the DTR back from MWAA- this is a huge step towards slowing or stopping toll increases. https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B64IfZTFiYIAeGo1dmpWVjlhMUE For more information, visit www.NoTOLLincrease.org
Burt Rosenberg September 14, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Yes, VDOT must take the DTR back from the inept, profligate MWAA, which set up the plan to rape toll road users, ever-increasingly into the future. Totally unacceptable, and must be stopped!
Dave Webster September 14, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Morgan, Virginia has contributed $3.52 Billion to the Silver Line, not the mere 2.5% you cite. In 2008, when Governor Kaine gave MWAA the rights to the Dulles Toll Road revenues for nothing in return, the Virginia Deparmtment of Rail and Public Transportation valued the Dulles Toll Road asset at $3.52 Billion. As far as the toll increases, the horse is out of the barn. All of the public comments in the world won't change the fact that MWAA has to raise toll rates have in order for the bonds to be issued. The only question is how high will they go. There will be no alternative financing arrangements coming down the pike that I can see. The only way to have stopped the present method of financing would have been to kill the entire project by forcing the Fairfax and Loudoun Board of Supervisors to opt out of the project.
Scott September 14, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Why not raise commercial real estate taxes? Aren't the commercial real estate owners going to be the biggest beneficiaries?
Dave Webster September 14, 2012 at 05:33 PM
The real estate owners are alreay paying by virtue of the special tax districts.
Scott September 14, 2012 at 05:47 PM
So have them pay more. Pass on the costs to those that stand to most benefit from the metro.
Tammi Petrine September 14, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Whoever first concocted the scheme to use DTR tolls for Silver Line funding AND any other elected "officials" who have perpetuated this obviously insane formula should be identified and driven from office. This dictum has been carefully considered, and is not a knee-jerk response to public fury at the impending disaster that colossal DTR tolls will cause to the welfare of the Dulled Corridor area. A tiny demographic selected to be the majority funder for a massive regional transportation improvement is an absolutely asinine concept that defies common sense, decency and financial responsibility. The more I become informed on the "deals" formed to guide Fairfax Co. ahead with development, the more horrified I become. And I am relatively new to the game. From my perspective, the Comstock parking garage, the recently approved tower on Reston Parkway and most egregious, the DTR toll rip-off are three examples of EXTREMELY irresponsible planning and deal making by county officials who are charged with running my local government in a fair, prudent and financially responsible manner. When I mark my ballot in the voting booth, I am depending on MY representative to defend my interests! And I have been actually damaged by the Comstock and DTR fiascos and will be further punished by the Tower deal. And the golf course outrage is on the horizon…
Tammi Petrine September 14, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Hey, elected representatives, Reston is MY HOME. You denied me the opportunity to form a town several years ago but if you think you can screw me repeatedly and ruin Reston in the process, you are crazy!!! You see, I am not alone. The public is awakening and they smell the stink too.
Bob Bruhns September 14, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Fairfax County rail station area business landowners were smart - they had their total contribution capped years ago. In Loudoun County, rail station area business landowners tried to slip by with no tax district at all - they planned to make people out in Purcelville, etc, pay the same tax rates as they did. That was really sneaky - there had been discussions of a Loudoun County tax district as far back as 2010! But the Loudoun County BOS couldn't keep that little "Oh gee, we forgot about that" game going this year, so now there is a business rail tax district in Loudoun County too.
Dave Webster September 14, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Bob is right. The total tax liability for the Phase II Tax District landowners is $330M which means if the project comes in way over budget Fairfax County taxpayers will foot the remaining portion of the bill.
Bob Bruhns September 16, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Fairfax County is on the hook for 16.1% of any cost overrun, Loudoun County is on the hook for 4.8% of any cost overrun, MWAA's air travelers are on the hook for 4.1% of any cost overrun, and the toll road drivers are on the hook for 75% of any cost overrun - and in each case, this is regardless of cause. This was written into the 2007 agreement that was signed by both Counties and MWAA, and reaffirmed this year. Scary stuff! Mame Reiley got the Phase I construction companies in line real quick, when she told them they better get Phase I back on schedule or they would not be allowed to bid on Phase II. I'm not sure how we'll keep them in line if there is any Phase II delay and overrun nonsense, but we'll have to do it somehow. Probably the contracts need to have a serious penalty for late delivery, and serious cost controls. Yes, I know that MWAA doesn't like cost control, but it's needed. Whoever manages the bid approval and contract process needs to include these features.
Anoneemous September 20, 2012 at 04:18 PM
The perfect solution for this problem is user fees! Those are not tolls you are paying. Those are user fees! Yep, that's the answer. Cost overruns? Stick the bidders with their own cost overruns!! If Developers bid too low, too bad.
Dave September 22, 2012 at 02:41 AM
And it's still a bit silly that the Dulles Access Road is 'free' - that road should be charged at the same rate that the Toll Road is, as they are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Silver Line... and for that matter, additional airport usage fees should be levied to rental cars as well as possibly a special surchage to use the Dulles Metro station once it is built. Some toll increases are reasonable, but this is looking a little silly. VA should take over administration of this project as well, MWAA has already shown waaaay too much preference to 'gold plate' contracts already....
Bob Bruhns September 22, 2012 at 03:42 AM
MWAA says that the reason the Dulles Access Road is free, is that it is federal and can only be used for Airport purposes. Is that true? And if so, is this something that our federal representatives should be changing?
Bob Bruhns September 22, 2012 at 04:30 PM
People need to look at the prices in the Silver Line job. We get multi-Billion dollar total numbers, and no detail - and then people who are hiding their identities behind pen-names, tell us that those prices are normal. But that is a lie - those prices are most definitely NOT normal. They are two times the normal prices, and not surprisingly the price of the overall job is close to two times what it should be as well. And now - as planned for more than ten years - most of the cost and finance charges are supposed to be paid by toll increases. Do you think that those toll increases might be affected by the 2 to 3 Billion dollars of excess cost in this project, PLUS the staggering finance charges we also have to pay when we borrow Billions of dollars to pay all of that? The financial chicanery that was played in July 2011 to hide some of the costs of Phase II, has revealed a few line item prices. Those prices are about two times what they should be, and the whole Silver Line job price appears to be nearly two times what it should have cost, and then we have to pay interest on all of the money we need to borrow, to pay for that. We are stuck with the excessive cost of Phase I, but we can still do something about the excessive cost of Phase II. Taxpayers and tollpayers really need to look at this, because they will be paying for this, and more, very soon. http://www.bruhns.us/civic/DullesRail/Dulles-Rail---Silver-Line-overcost-report---Bruhns.pdf

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