The State Corporation Commission held a remote public hearing on the Dulles Greenway’s proposal to increase tolls each year for the next five years on Tuesday, and heard from elected officials, business leaders and residents that they should deny the toll increase.
“The proposal to increase tolls yet again—over 30 percent over 5 years in the middle of a pandemic that has caused record unemployment claims in Loudoun and around the Commonwealth—is so egregious and such an insult to the residents of Loudoun County—that it is truly as if TRIP II is taunting us,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “They are confident that there is literally nothing that the Commission won’t approve.” He asked the SCC to “say enough is enough.”
The Greenway is asking the state to grant it annual toll increases for the next five years, ranging from a 5-percent increase on off-peak traffic for 2022 to a 6.8-percent increase on peak hour traffic in 2025. If approved, tolls would stand at $6.15 per one-way trip in off-peak hours, and $7.90 in peak hours by 2025. A commuter traveling twice a day on the Greenway during rush hour, five days a week, 52 weeks a year would pay $4,108 in tolls annually.
Today those tolls are $4.75 and $5.80.
The electronic hearing was held in lieu of local in-person testimony due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Greenway runs right through the center of Ashburn, but most residents actively avoid driving on it,” said Supervisor Sylvia Russell Glass (D-Broad Run). “They tell their friends who are visiting to take alternate routes, and it doesn’t even come to mind when residents think about how to drive in or out of town.”
Well over 150 people filed comments electronically before the hearing, and of the emailed public comments available in the SCC’s records so far, none are in favor of the toll increase. Person after person told the SCC they already avoid the Greenway due to the tolls.
“We were thrilled when the Greenway was first built, thinking it would be a very convenient and reasonably priced way to travel from home to various places of business and pleasure,” wrote longtime locals Paul and Cynthia Orlando of Locust Grove. “How wrong we were!”
Scott Bradford of Chantilly called the Greenway “a running joke among people in Loudoun County and around the region.” Kamran Grasselli of Brambleton described it as “the bane of all commuters heading eastward from the Leesburg/Ashburn area.” And Kevin Mitchell of Ashburn told the SCC that in about 20 years of living in Loudoun, he had never written in, “but this is so outrageous that I felt compelled to write. A rate increase of 30% over a five-year period is scandalous. They are making so much money off of Loudoun commuters it’s insane—dare I say ‘highway robbery’?”
He was among many people who wrote the SCC critical of the Greenway for seeking the historic toll increases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charles Houston, of Fieldstone Farm near Waterford, also wrote “COVID 19 hit my wife and I very hard, and the last thing we need are huge increases in the tolls.”
Others wondered at the finances behind the state’s only private highway. Those finances are kept mostly secret, even as the SCC hears toll increase requests—and in this case, paperwork has already been filed and signed to keep those finances secret again.
“The Greenway cost a little over $400 million to build in the 1990s. After 25 years of collecting tolls, the debt has tripled to $1B,” wrote Anthony Lomelin of Purcellville. “How is that possible? Who’s benefiting, who pockets are being lined and how can you condone such mismanagement?”
“Please do not give in to corporate greed and do your job as public officials to put peoples interest first and foremost!” implored Pradyut Bafna of Ashburn.
Some of the leaders in Loudoun’s business community also offered their comments, like Joel Bassam of Eastern Automotive Group, who previously came to the spotlight when he announced the company had committed to donate $10,000 a week to food banks each week the 2018-2019 federal government shutdown continued. He said the road is a “lifeline” for many commuters in the area, and that the workforce has been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic already.
“This would put a further damper on that recovery,” Bassam wrote. “The unreasonable toll has already had a major impact on the traffic surrounding the road, as working families simply cannot afford to use the road regularly.”
Richard Entsminger, Vice President of the development firm Elm Street Communities, which has been involved projects around Loudoun like the Lovettsville Square, The Elms at Arcola, and the ongoing Cattail Run project near Leesburg, commented that both that the prices put a hardship on businesses and their employee, and wrote frankly: “On a personal level, despite making a very good income, I have already abandoned the Greenway in the morning as a cost saving measure.”
Likewise, Amy Owen, the president of the nonprofit Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties, wrote that an increase in tolls disproportionately impacts the most needy in Loudoun.
“Without question, this is the wrong time to increase costs for members of our community who are struggling now—and likely to struggle for years to come,” Owen wrote. She was among several nonprofit leaders who wrote to object on behalf of the people they serve, such as Mobile Hope and Women Giving Back.
But perhaps most eloquent was Doug Wilson of Leesburg, who simply wrote: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Toll Road Investors Partnership II, the Australian-owned company that owns the Greenway, has until July 24 to file rebuttal testimony. More information about the proposed rate hike, including links to documents associated with the case, is on the SCC’s website.