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Greenway Charging Drivers More

Drivers on the Dulles Greenway paid 30 cents more today to get through the toll plaza. (See a list of the new rates here.) Some motorists think their time is worth the $3 they get charged to use the privately built highway, while others will put up with congested Route 7 or local roads, either because they feel the Greenway is too much for their budgets or because they believe they are taking a stand against price gouging.

Jonathan Mummolo wrote a story about the new tolls in Sunday's Post. The charge to use the Dulles Toll Road also will be going up, both to pay for highway maintenance and improvements and to help finance the Metrorail extension to Dulles and Loudoun County. That's part of the deal to have the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority take control of the Dulles Toll Road and build the rail line extension.

With the cost of building and maintaining highways going up, it's going to get more difficult for this region's drivers to avoid toll roads. You'll see them in Maryland on the Intercounty Connector in the Washington suburbs and on the express toll lanes north of Baltimore. In Virginia, drivers who don't carpool will pay if they want to use the express lanes to be built on Interstate 95/395 and the Capital Beltway. (Eric Weiss wrote the latest progress report on them on May 17.)

The threshold we haven't crossed yet is charging drivers to use existing roads, roads that they had been traveling at no charge. I think that's where we're headed, though, both as a congestion controller and as a way of financing the rising cost of maintaining highways.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 2, 2007; 10:16 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  
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Comments

"their taking a stand against price gouging."

The correct usage is "they're taking a stand..."

I don't like to be the language police, but the proper usage of there, their, and they're is a pet peeve...:)

Posted by: cb | July 2, 2007 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, cb, I'll fix it.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 2, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

"The threshold we haven't crossed yet is charging drivers to use existing roads, roads that they had been traveling at no charge. I think that's where we're headed, though, both as a congestion controller and as a way of financing the rising cost of maintaining highways."

Uh, color me stupid, but isn't that what the govt. claims the gasoline taxes are for?

Posted by: SoMD | July 2, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The Dulles Greenway's excessive tolls are the biggest rip-off known to man. I really feel for the folks out in Ashburn and Leesburg who conveniently live "right off" one of the Greenway exits. As was noted in Sunday's article in the Post, these folks are pretty much stuck using this road.

I've always wondered if the Dulles Greenway would make a better profit if they LOWERED the tolls, hence making the road more affordable to more citizens. From the beltway to the airport, the Dulles Toll Road costs pennies compared to the $3.00 one-way toll on the Greenway. At least, VDOT has made improvements to Route 28 with the interchanges at Old Ox and Waxpool.

Posted by: xyv1027 | July 2, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: SoMd, Yes, gas taxes are for financing roads. For various reasons, including government reluctance to raise taxes and the increased fuel efficiency of cars, they've become less effective as a revenue source. Some states, like Virginia, increasingly look to "user fees" like tolls to finance roads. Steve Ginsberg did an interesting story on this in The Post a couple of years ago. Here's a link:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/26/AR2005082601669.html

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 2, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why people are complaining about the toll increase. If you don't like to pay, use the no toll roads. Sure, it will be more time consuming but you have to adjust if you want/have to live in the far suburbs.

If I am heading west/northwest I use I-68 to I-79 to I-70. I don't like paying tolls either. I know that this is going to take more time as the various states are, without doubt, going to be working on parts of their interstates.

Posted by: MICHAEL1945 | July 2, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

The extremely high tolls on the Greenway are a consequence of the high cost of road building in suburbs. (And Loudoun County wasn't all that suburban when the Greenway was built.)

The tolls on the ICC, even though high, will pay much less than half the cost of building that road. The rest will be subsidized by all of us, including those who drive on free lanes because we can't afford the tolls, through Federal aid and by transferring money from other Maryland toll facilities (mostly the McHenry Tunnel and Bay Bridge).

The tolls seem like an imposition (and are, for many people) when there's no good alternative to paying them. Tolls and congestion charges are much fairer when there is good transit that gives you that choice. The Mayor of London makes that point in an op-ed about congestion charges in today's New York Times. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I'd point to an article I wrote last year on this subject at:
http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=658

Posted by: Ben Ross | July 2, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

The Greenway's price is definitely too high considering either that or 7 is the only way to access Ashburn and Leesburg from the east. You can take the back roads, but they are just that in form and function. If there were another limited access road and 267 was used for congestion alleviation then it would be fair to charge high rates for its use. I believe in the end the Greenway will not be used as much when the price goes up much like when it first opened. I bet most will bail out at 28 and take 7 the rest of the way.

Posted by: Sivad | July 2, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

"I've always wondered if the Dulles Greenway would make a better profit if they LOWERED the tolls, hence making the road more affordable to more citizens."

Reminds me of the old joke about the cinema owners who are discussing how to get more people into the building.

"Our cinema is too old and worn-out," says the first owner. "Let's raise the price by 25¢ and cover the seats with velour so that more people will want to come."

"No, let's raise the price by 50¢ and cover the seats with leather since it's fancier and more comfortable, so more people will like it," says the second owner.

The third owner looks at the two of them and says, "How about we lower the price by 50¢ and cover the seats with [butts]?"

Posted by: Rich | July 2, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

People don't understand how poorly planned the roads are out in Eastern Loudoun. If 28 hadn't been improved, it would be an absolutel nightmare. Even with that, I still see Waxpool towards Ashburn backed up every night with cars that would surely use the Greenway if the toll was lower. E. Loudoun has been built up around the Greenway, and the backroads don't all connect, so you're almost forced on to the Greenway in some cases, like getting to the airport! It's a shame residents and commuters have to live with this.

Posted by: Chris | July 2, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

"The tolls on the ICC, even though high, will pay much less than half the cost of building that road. The rest will be subsidized by all of us,"

Not true at all, so stop spreading lies.

I'm sure and you friends on the agenda-based website you listed are fully aware that highways are financed primarily with fuel taxes and user fess (tolls).

Unless you're buying gas and/or will be paying tolls to drive on it, you will hardly be among those "subsidizing" the ICC. Neither will any other non-driver/non-ICC user.

Your "user fee vs. subsidy" complaint is true, however regarding the upcoming Dulles rail. Fares will cover about 20% of the cost of operating and maintaining it; the rest will come from subsidies.

And guess what: TOLLS from the Dulles Toll road will be used to help fund the cost of building Dulles rail.

Do you know of any transit fares being used to finance roadbuilding? I don't think so.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 2, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

First of all, CEEAF, you know it's true that the tolls on the ICC will pay for less than half of construction. Don't imply it's not.

Furthermore, as for other roads in Maryland that are paid for through the Transportation Trust Fund, a large proportion of the so-called user fees that go into that fund really aren't user fees. Gasoline is exempt from sales tax, and the sales tax on a $3 gallon would be 15 cents. So our of the 23.5 cent gasoline tax, 8.5 cents is really a user fee and the other 15 cents is money diverted out of the general fund (which desperately needs the money to pay for education etc.). Similarly, the sales tax on new cars goes into the transportation fund.

And of course local roads are paid for mostly by real estate and income taxes.

Not to mention that every time I walk to the supermarket, I'm subsidizing the driver who parks for free in a $30,000 underground parking space.

Posted by: Ben Ross | July 2, 2007 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Ben - you at least could have attempted to put your closed-minded article on a website that sounds slightly unbiased.

We should increase the gas tax to pay for adequate transportation. It is the truest user fee in that the more you use it (heavier vehicles wear roads out faster and get worse mileage, while older vehicles pollute more and get worse mileage generally), the more you pay for it. Who can argue with that?

Posted by: Steven | July 2, 2007 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I can make an argument against the gas tax as the only source of transportation funding. Freeways, like the Beltway, Greenway, ICC, etc. cost a lot more to build than a simple local road. Yet drivers on the freeways consume less gas (assume for a second that it is not congested) per unit distance than drivers on local roads do. Therefore, local road drivers are subsidizing freeway drivers with all else being equal as far as fees are concerned. Thats why I'm a fan of tolls on "premium" roads like freeways.

Another argument against giving a 100% rate of return to jurisdictions based on the amount of gas bought in said jurisdiction: people don't always buy gas where they drive. I have yet to ever purchase gasoline in the District of Columbia despite living here....every gallon of gas I consume on DDOT and other (National Park Service...) roads in the District, the gas tax revenue goes to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Is that fair to DC? No. But I, like most other people, base such decisions on what is best for me, and I buy it where it is cheapest but still close to my daily commute route, which just so happens to be in Arlington. I work with people who commute to Fairfax from beyond Manassas, and they tell me they never buy gas near tyson's since it is quite a bit cheaper out there.

To me, tolls seem like the best way to allow motorists to "vote with their feet", as dollars spent on the Greenway are used for the Greenway, and the more Greenway drivers that pay the toll, the more money they have for improvements. While just about every other project in Virginia is waiting in a long line for funding (its formally called the TIP, Transportation Improvement Program...every state has one and its usually 6 or 7 years into the future), the Greenway was built at least a decade before it would otherwise have been. Then the road is barely 10 years old and they decided they needed to add a third lane. The beltway around Charlotte was short on capacity the day it opened, and they are looking at 2013 to start construction (traffic on it is awful, even by DC standards), wheras the Greenway just added another lane quickly and with little fanfare. Fairfax drivers don't have to pay a dime for it (through statewide gas taxes going to it) when they aren't the ones benefitting from it. Heck, even Loudoun drivers in Lovettsville who commute to Leesburg don't have to pay for it since it doesn't benefit them either. And one more benefit to tolls...it keeps the traffic levels down. Greenway is definitely free of frivolous trips since drivers think twice before jumping on. That means people who really need to get somewhere fast actually have more room on the road.

That being said, I think the Greenway would stand to make a few extra bucks by significantly cutting the toll during off peak and weekend hours. Anytime I've been on it on weekends, its quite empty compared to 28, 7, Dulles Toll Road, etc. But it is pretty easy to bypass the tolls during the off peak. Obviously Routes 28 and 7 work well, or you can even take 28 to Waxpool and just keep going forever (through a few fun unpaved sections!) and it will let you out on the Leesburg Bypass.

Posted by: Woodley Park | July 2, 2007 10:36 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't mind paying higher gas taxes and tolls for improved roads. What irks me to no end is when half of the money raised is siphoned off for Metro.

Look at Metro to Dulles. Tolls on the Toll Road are going up to pay for it, yet it will not reduce congestion. $5.1 Billion (as of now) for what? A white elephant that no one will use and one that will require subsidies in perpetuity.

According the the TransAct 2030 plan, for that $5.1 Billion, we could widen I-66 (8 regular lanes + 2 HOV) from the Beltway to US 15 ($700 million) and add 4 HOV lanes to the Beltway between the American Legion and Woodrow Wilson bridges ($2.6 Billion). We'd even have enough left over ($1.8 Billion) to make some other fixes on smaller roads.

Posted by: NoWanna | July 3, 2007 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Ben Ross,

You make some salient points about highway funding in Maryland.

Now where do you think all that transit has come come? It's not free and fares hardly make a dent in the cost of building and running it.

Also, keep in mind that road user fees (tolls) are siphoned off and appopriated to transit. That is the case in NY and Philadelphia. That's the main reason why the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority facilities in such bad shape. Money that could be spent on road maintenance has been redirected to the MTA. I see you rather intelligent response failed to note that.

You also conveniently left out the fact that Dulles Toll Road tolls were increased by 50% in 2005 and every pennny of the increased revenue is dedicated to funding Dulles rail, a project of extremely high cost ($5.2 billion and rising, plus perpetual operaing subsidies).

Dulles rail will not do anything to fulfill the true purpose of transit, namely reduce congestion and pollution and provide a transportation alternative to people who really need it. Studies have proven that Dulles rail will have a minimal impact on traffic congestion (and its attendant pollution).

And I would hardly call the affluent residents of the Dulles Corridor people in need of publicly-funded transit.

We are paying road user fess AND taxes to fund what is for all practical purposes a boondoggle for developers and an ego-trip for politicians and rail transit advocates.

Where is your eloquence about THAT?

Posted by: CEEAF | July 3, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

"Not to mention that every time I walk to the supermarket, I'm subsidizing the driver who parks for free in a $30,000 underground parking space."

You're not "subsidizing the driver who parks for free in a $30,000 underground parking space" at the grocery store unless the parking garage was built at public expense.

I know of no such grocery store in this region. Certainly not in DC which has a no-build policy regarding publicly-owned parking facilties. If there is one, please tell us.

If you're talking Montgomery County, that may be another matter. I admit to knowing nothing about how their public parking is managed.

I do know, however, that your Metro train and bus ride are 70% funded by me and several million others who can't use transit and therefor don't benefit much from it.

And spare me the "Metro helps drivers by taking cars off the road" response. All one has to do is look at the traffic to see the stupidy of that argument.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 3, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

CEEAF, I'm going to take a wild guess here and propose that the writer meant he paid higher food prices at the supermarket where there is underground parking. That is a kind of subsidy, since I'm sure if the parking garage was built privately, they would pass along the expense to shoppers. Wegmans is one such store that has an underground parking area...kind of :-)

Maybe that's what he was talking about in more general terms of subsidizing the activities of others through the prices we pay (not necessarily gas/roads related)?

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | July 3, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

CyanSquirrel,

Thanks for explaining.

If your explanation is correct, then Ben Ross's position is all the more silly since one CHOOSES to shop at a grocery store.

We have no choice about subsidizing transit or roads.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 3, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

True, true. I admit, I am a former believer that transit, if enough of it were built, would be good enough to get people from A to B. However, I've had a serious change of heart after living in this area for 5 years. Some faulty assumptions in the transit-only dogma that changed my mind include the notion that "destinations" people will want to visit will spring up around transit corridors AND will remain static (not relocate, etc.); that somehow lives will be arranged and planned out so that short/unplanned trips to areas serviced (or not) by transit will not be needed; and that transit can be all things to all people.

I visit home (Cleveland, Ohio area) and am amazed to see the free flowing traffic on heavily used highways in the area, even during rush hour. This only happens because they've added lanes and improved interchanges (6 and sometimes 8 lanes in each direction, almost never less than 4).

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know I am willing to pay for what I use, and if that means a gas tax, so be it.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | July 3, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

CyanSquirrel,

You echo my sentiments.

Having grown up in New York, I realize the benefit of transit.

But transit, especially rail transit, requires heavy density to make it cost-effective. That's the impetous behind the suburb-hating "smart growth" advocacy coming from the transitphiles. They are indeed seeking to create "destinations" along rail transit routes for the exact reasons you describe. Mind you, this is the same type of development they will condemn as "sprawl" if it goes up along any highway - new or existing.

The mindset that "transit can be all things to all people" is the driving force behind transit advocacy. It's the motivation for their entire program - creating the "destinations", opposing highways, demanding ever-more transit, the "smart growth" development policies to "make rail fit" the and draconian "make driving more expensive/less desirable/politically incorrect" schemes to force people onto transit .

The fact that transit fails to relieve congestion - EVEN in the core areas that it serves - is something they will either ignore or deny outright with silly comments like "transit takes cars of of roads" and "traffic would be worse without transit".

We have a long way to go in this region. Like you, I see the road infrastructure expanded to keep up with in other cities, even those with extensive transit systems and more density than we have here.

To be frankly, I think Metro, as beneficial as it is, is the biggest obstacle to fixing our traffic problem. Besides the "Metro is a cure-all" mentality, there are also the matters of pride and stubborness.

After $14 billion (and growing) spent to build the nation's second-largest subway, over $500 million annually in transit subsidies, and 30+ years of canceling highways, no one, least of all the the politicians and the transit advocates and environmentalists they pander to, is about to admit that maybe, just perhaps, Metro doesn't meet all of our needs, afterall.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 4, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

CyanSquirrel,

You echo my sentiments.

Having grown up in New York, I realize the benefit of transit.

But transit, especially rail transit, requires heavy density to make it cost-effective. That's the impetous behind the suburb-hating "smart growth" advocacy coming from the transitphiles. They are indeed seeking to create "destinations" along rail transit routes for the exact reasons you describe. Mind you, this is the same type of development they will condemn as "sprawl" if it goes up along any highway - new or existing.

The mindset that "transit can be all things to all people" is the driving force behind transit advocacy. It's the motivation for their entire program - creating the "destinations", opposing highways, demanding ever-more transit, the "smart growth" development policies to "make rail fit" the and draconian "make driving more expensive/less desirable/politically incorrect" schemes to force people onto transit .

The fact that transit fails to relieve congestion - EVEN in the core areas that it serves - is something they will either ignore or deny outright with silly comments like "transit takes cars of of roads" and "traffic would be worse without transit".

We have a long way to go in this region. Like you, I see the road infrastructure expanded to keep up with growth in other cities, even those with extensive transit systems and more density than we have here.

To be frank, I think Metro, as beneficial as it is, is the biggest obstacle to fixing our traffic problem. Besides the "Metro is a cure-all" mentality, there are also the matters of pride and stubborness.

After $14 billion (and growing) spent to build the nation's second-largest subway, over $500 million annually in transit subsidies, and 30+ years of canceling highways, no one, least of all the the politicians and the transit advocates and environmentalists they pander to, is about to admit that maybe, just perhaps, Metro doesn't meet all of our needs, afterall.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 4, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I just love how those who bray "you can't build your way out of congestion" holler "we need more rail!" with their next breath.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 4, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I was just let go from the company that takes your money, contracted by VDOT, I posted your checks for prepaid and unpaid toll's, admind fee's for late charges. I worked in the accounting department in the Clifton Forge and I seen the kind of dealings going on in this place.
The people of all the suburbs of Northern Virginia, Washington DC and Maryland are being ripped off at this very moment.
I was let go because I was not the type person they were looking for, I failed a backgound check, I wrote a bad check in 2001 is what I was told and fired.
Well, I think they fired me because I did not approve of what was going on there and was very vocal about it. I am 52 years old and have never been fired from a job, I worked for the Dept of Veteran's Affairs for 20 years and retired early, at the time of my retirement I was instumental in putting together a finance unit of all the VA Hospitals in Virginia, North Carolina, and Beckley West Virginia's, this also included the VA National Cemetary's in these states. So I do know something about finace.
These people obviously think I am stupid, and now I sit here and vent because what is going on is not right, some of it might even be against the law, and the honest people and taxpayers are the ones suffering from it.
This place needs to be ivestagated by the Inspector Gerneral's Office and the Attorney Generals of the states involved in this toll road mess.

Posted by: sharon martin | July 12, 2007 7:43 PM | Report abuse

If built, the ICC WILL empty the MD general fund portioned for roads for years to come, require a gigantic bond issue, waste all MD federal road funds for years to come, and the $7 per use toll being advertised is a bit of a bait-and-switch. There is no proof that IF the ICC could actually be built for the $3 billion claimed (this is doubtful), the toll may be $7 each way in 2007 dollars. MD currently has an estimated $1.5 billion budget deficit to deal with. Where is the money for the ICC going to come from? Fiscal accountability demands - and I hope tax-payers to the same - that the ICC be re-assessed. Does anyone else remember that the State's own study show little if any traffic relief resulting from the proposed ICC?

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