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Wolf: Dulles Greenway is 'highway robbery'

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) once again urged Virginia transportation officials this week to reduce toll fares on the Dulles Greenway, calling fare hikes in recent years "highway robbery."

It's a common refrain for Wolf, a longtime critic of the Greenway plan who has said the toll road has been unfairly aided by the "poorly drafted" 1988 law and heavy lobbying at the state level against proposals that would put an inflation-based toll-increase structure in place.

Wolf sent a letter Wednesday to Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton. Greenway fares now cost as much as $4.50 each way during rush hour commutes.

"I have said it before and will say it again, this is highway robbery," Wolf said in a statement. "The Greenway is perhaps the most expensive toll road per mile in the country. This is a quality-of-life issue for those people living along the Greenway or who use it on a daily basis."

The 14-mile private toll road has been rapidly losing commuters but gaining revenue. For most drivers who use the Greenway, it's a largely unavoidable necessity in an area lacking mass transit. During workday rush hours, motorists who drive the toll road's entire stretch to the airport save roughly 30 minutes compared with alternative routes.

Toll Road Investors Partnership II, or TRIP II, the company that owns the road, has said the increases help pay for the road's construction, including possible widening to 12 lanes, and continued maintenance.

Wolf also asked the state to force TRIP II to place signs near the main toll plaza and on roadways leading to the entrance with rate information, and to create a task force of state elected officials and citizens to "examine ways to make the road more user-friendly and potentially provide relief to drivers who use - or would use - the Greenway on a regular basis."

The full text of Wolf's letter after the jump:

July 26, 2010 The Honorable Sean Connaughton Secretary Virginia Department of Transportation PO Box 1475 Richmond VA 23218 Dear Sean:

I have been openly critical of the cost of the tolls on the Dulles Greenway for several years and the increase that went into effect on July 1 only added fuel to the fire. During rush hours, it now costs $4.50 to use the road, and if drivers are coming from or going onto the Dulles Toll Road the rate is $5.25. That means a daily round trip would be $10.50. Over the course of a month, a daily commuter could spend the equivalent of a car payment. If you live in one of the communities just off the Greenway, you could easily get on and off the road multiple times a day.

I have said it before, and will say it again: this is highway robbery. And, as you well know, the Greenway's tolls are not going to improve transportation in Virginia but rather go to the bottom line of Australian-based Macquarie Group, the parent company of the firm that owns the road.

While I am fully aware that the recent rate hike was approved by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) - against my strong objections, I need to add - drivers who use that road are being ripped off. The 14-mile Greenway is, or close to being, the most expensive toll road per mile in the country, and it is having a serious impact on people who live in Loudoun, Clarke and points farther west who use the road every day.

I write today for three reasons. The first is for you to consider supporting legislation that not only rolls back the previously approved toll increases, but provides consumers with greater protections as the state considers more public-private ventures to address the Commonwealth's transportation infrastructure. When the SCC approved the most recent toll increases in 2007, it readily admitted that its hands were tied when it came to making its decision, stating "the Commonwealth made a series of policy decisions that leave us little choice but to make the decision we make in this case." In my opinion, the current law protects the interests of the owner of the toll road rather than the consumers of the road. At public hearings to discuss the recent rate increases, almost no one spoke in favor of the proposed increase. A law which allows no ability to consider the burden on my constituents and others who use the Greenway to commute to work, or to take their children to day care or soccer practice is a law in need of revision.

My second request is that the company which owns the Greenway be required to erect large signs at each of the entrances and exits of the road clearly stating the cost of the tolls. The signs should be large enough that drivers can read them regardless of what lane they are in, particularly as drivers approach the main toll booth from the east. The existing sign can only be read from the far right lane. There are large signs approaching the main toll plaza for the Dulles Toll Road. At minimum, the same signage should be at the main toll plaza of the Greenway.

Signs also need to be in place on local roads leading to the entrance ramps. For example, there is no sign listing the cost of the toll for drivers getting on the Greenway from the Route 7 bypass heading east. Posting the cost of the toll on a small sign a few hundred feet from a toll booth when exiting the Greenway onto a local road is unacceptable. Drivers have a right to know the cost of using the road before getting on the road, particularly in this age of the "E-Z Pass" where most people only see a statement at the end of the month.

My third request is that you appoint a task force made up of members of the General Assembly in northern Virginia whose districts are near the Greenway, local elected officials in Loudoun, Clarke, Frederick and Winchester, and citizens from the region to examine ways to make the road more user-friendly and potentially provide relief to the drivers who use - or would use - Greenway on a regular basis. The Commonwealth Transportation Board also should be engaged on this issue.

This is a quality of life issue for those people living along the Greenway or who use it on a daily basis. I hope you will seriously consider my requests.

Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress

By Derek Kravitz  | July 28, 2010; 3:48 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting, Driving, Northern Virginia, Virginia  
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My fare on Metro is up to $5 each way and I can't avoid it with my commute. Guess's all trade offs. Having to pay $4.50 for your commute each way via a toll road would be no different than paying for your commute via metro. If you don't like it move closer or find another means to commute. Maybe it will take longer but maybe it will be cheaper too. all comes down to trade offs.

Posted by: Razor04 | July 28, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Frank one of the supporters of the HOT lanes on the beltway and I-95? These hot lanes are going to cost the taxpayers dearly. It is doubtful that the lanes will ease congestion.

Posted by: ffxkid | July 28, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Frank Wolf, you've been in office since 1981. Why haven't you actually done anything about the Greenway instead of simply writing open letters?

Posted by: obvriver | July 28, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

"Why haven't you actually done anything about the Greenway instead of simply writing open letters?"

He's a Congressman. Congress has no say in the operation of that road, given that it's a highway that runs solely within one state and that was constructed with no federal funding. What else do you suggest that he should do?

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 29, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

What? A congressman can force me to conduct a private business transaction (see Obamacare) but can't regulate a public road? Something stinks, and it's not just the smokers.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 29, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

That road is not a federal issue. It's a state road, built by a private company pursuant to a state statute, with no federal investment. Why do people think the federal government is supposed to have a hand in everything?

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 29, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

If the road is part of the National Highway System (it likely is, but I'm not sure) the Feds do have a vested interest.

I think they should go to distance-based "ticket-system" tolling for E-ZPass users. Right now, someone going from the Toll Road onto the first Loudoun exit (Route 606) pays the full $5.25. That's rediculous, when you can get off at Route 28 north for only 75 cents (or cut through Dulles Airport and out the back entrance onto Ariane Way for free). If you have E-ZPass, charge based on distance, and you'd get a lot more short-haul customers. For me, $5.25 is a bit much, but semi-worth it to go all the way to Leesburg. But to go a mile to Route 606, forget it!

Posted by: thetan | July 29, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I view the toll to Route 606 as being sort of like the "Tourist Exit" in Portland you told me about back in 2007. To me it would be well worth it to get off at VA-28 (going westbound) and to loop around that way to avoid the additional $4.50 charge to take the Greenway to its first exit. The additional charge is $4.50 because you pay 75¢ when you exit at VA-28. If you continue onto the Greenway, they charge you $5.25, whereas someone entering the Greenway from VA-28 pays $4.50. The additional 75¢ is collected by the Greenway for the Toll Road to avoid the need to have two separate tollbooths, i.e., you're "exiting" the Dulles Toll Road even though you're staying on the same VA-267.

I don't commute on the Greenway. I use it when I'm going out to Leesburg or beyond to play golf, and the toll is lower because I go on Saturdays. To me the toll in that situation is well worth it to avoid the hassle of going up to VA-7 and the traffic that comes along with going that way. I'm sure if I drove it every day I might feel very differently. (The Greenway is also a road that ought to be posted at 70 mph under the new statute, but VDOT's not considering non-Interstates for the time being.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 29, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

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