Wolf Asks for Distance-Pricing on Dulles Greenway

Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10) today expressed his frustration that a recently appointed group to make the Dulles Greenway more commuter friendly is not going to address the issue of distance pricing.

In a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, Wolf said he was “disappointed” that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was not going to allow the group to discuss toll rates or distance pricing.   VDOT appointed the group at Wolf’s request and Wolf had hoped the group would address the road’s toll structure and work to ensure that more signs are erected to better inform drivers of the cost of using the road.

Wolf also said he was disappointed that no local elected officials or members of the General Assembly were named to the group.

“It was my hope that this committee would be a way for commuters to sit face-to-face with the elected officials who exercise authority over the state law that encompasses the current agreement and know that their concerns about the toll structure would be heard,” Wolf stated.   “Sadly, this will be impossible under the structure outlined at the initial meeting.”

Wolf pointed to the New Jersey Turnpike and the Indiana Toll Road as examples of public and private roads using distance-pricing, a toll structure based on where a driver enters and exits the road, rather than payment of a toll based on the full length of the road no matter how far the trip.   “At the very least, the Greenway should be required to do a study on distance-based pricing,” wrote Wolf.

The full text of Wolf’s letter is available below and on his Web site at wolf.house.gov.

Dear Sean:

Two members of my staff participated last week in the first meeting of the advisory committee you authorized to study ways to make the Dulles Greenway more user friendly. I was disappointed to learn that, despite my repeated requests to study the toll structure and the state law permitting the public-private partnership allowing an Australian parent company to own the Greenway, the committee was told that discussion of these issues was categorically forbidden by VDOT.

I appreciate the difficulties you and Governor McDonnell’s administration face. As the State Corporation Commission stated when it approved the most recent toll increase application for the Greenway, “The Commonwealth made a series of policy decisions that leave us little choice but to make the decision we make in this case.” Nevertheless, I believe we all have a duty to correct a wrong when one is clearly identified. The current agreement with the Greenway is neither balanced nor fair, save for Toll Road Investors Partnership II’s bottom line. I want to work with you and the governor in amending the Greenway agreement to provide greater protection for the users of the road.

You are well aware of my concerns about the Greenway. My letters dated July 26, 2010, and February 18, 2011, (enclosed) clearly explain what I believe must be done to protect commuters from the increasingly exorbitant tolls on the Greenway. While I was encouraged that you agreed to set up a task force to examine the Greenway and eventually include citizen representatives, I am disappointed that the parameters not only disallow a process for examining the toll structure, but that you also declined to include local elected officials.

It was my hope that this committee would be a way for commuters to sit face-to-face with the elected officials who exercise authority over the state law that encompasses the current agreement and know that their concerns about the toll structure would be heard. Sadly, this will be impossible under the structure outlined at the initial meeting. While I appreciate the fact that VDOT will work with the Greenway owners to improve signage, the committee structure appears to be a fig leaf.

Enclosed is the letter recently sent to you by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, which asks that the committee examine distance pricing, and include local and state elected officials as members, among other items. I fully support the county’s request. There is clearly support from the local and federal officials representing Greenway users.

At the very least, the Greenway should be required to do a study on distance-based pricing. Public roads, such as the New Jersey Turnpike, and private roads, such as the Indiana Toll Road, use distance-based pricing. I was disappointed earlier this year when I read in the enclosed Ashburn Patch article that TRIP II declined to even perform such a study. According to the article, TRIP II CEO Tom Sines said, “We didn’t do a full-blown study. There is a risk in that this would not increase revenue and the company would be out $6.5 million that I would have to explain to the bond holders. It’s just a gamble.” While new equipment to implement distance-based pricing might cost $6.5 million, a feasibility study most surely would cost much less. Yet, the Greenway owners steadfastly refuse to even do a study.

It is also distressing in the extreme to see former Virginia Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement lobbying on behalf of the Greenway. It is my understanding that he is regularly seen at the State Capitol and at Commonwealth Transportation Board meetings. This relationship troubles me. Here is a person whose job was to help our region with transportation issues now working against our interests as a paid lobbyist for a foreign company to keep tolls high on northern Virginia residents. Is there any wonder that people don’t trust government?

While I sincerely appreciate your willingness to examine signage and include citizen representatives, I implore you once more to address this problem in a decisive way. I can assure you that I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that this important issue is successfully resolved.

Best wishes.

Frank Wolf

Member of Congress

Comments

  1. Good for Rep. Wolf! The toll rate needs to change to be fair.

    • Slow Lane says:

      If the current tolls are considered the “average” of distance based tolls for each entry point then a new toll structure with distance based tolls could only be harmful for Clarke area commuters. Driving the full length of the Greenway could end up costing $8.00 or more one way which could definitely deter usage and just make the rates go up more.

  2. Stu Kintraffic says:

    The Greenway is the poster child of privatization gone wrong. Instead of having this critical commuter route under their control, our representatives are forced to go to the corporation and try to persuade and cajole.

  3. Dmaxnjackson says:

    The inflated price is the reason I quit taking the thing. With a ll the fly overs on 7 now, it is not that bad of a commute. Keep your Greenway.

  4. Lots of people who live in the Ashburn area do not use the Greenway because of the cost. Introducing distance-based pricing will most likely increase the use of the road by those closer in, thus offsetting the reduction in cost. I would not foresee increases in tolls for the full ride solely because of the introduction of distance-based pricing.