The base toll on the Dulles Greenway, exasperatingly high for many drivers, is in line with state law and should not be reduced, an examiner with the State Corporation Commission has concluded.
In her 67-page report, following a yearlong investigation, SCC Hearing Examiner A. Ann Berkebile found no support for reducing the base toll rate approved by the commission on Jan. 16, 2013. But she did conclude that distance-based tolling, a high priority for the business community, is worth further study by Greenway owner Toll Road Investment Partnership II LP.
"I am unable to find that the Greenway's toll rates are appropriately subject to modification in this proceeding," Berkebile wrote.
The "presumption of legitimacy associated with the Greenway's existing rates has not been overcome in this case," she continued.
The toll for traveling the length of the 14-mile Greenway (and even short distances in between) is currently $4.90 — $5.90 if drivers exit onto the Dulles Toll Road. TRIP II has a request before the SCC to hike tolls by another 15 cents in each direction, beginning in mid-February.
TRIP II is permitted by state law to hike Greenway tolls up to 2.8 percent per year and to request an additional increase to cover any increases in its property tax bill.
The SCC launched its investigation into Greenway tolls on Jan. 30, 2013, at the request of Del. David Ramadan, R-Loudoun. Multiple public hearings and reams of written testimony from business leaders, elected officials and Greenway drivers suggested users are struggling to afford the privately-owned highway on a daily basis.
But that does not mean the tolls are out of whack, Berkebile found. She came to four main conclusions:
- The SCC is limited by law in its authority to adjust toll rates.
- The Greenway's off-peak toll rates for multi-axle vehicles are not cost-effective and should be reduced by 16 percent, if the Commission is not currently precluded from doing that.
- Ramadan "failed to prove that the Greenway's remaining toll rates are out of compliance" with state law.
- TRIP II should be directed to perform a feasibility study of distance-based tolls on the Greenway, a tolling structure the highway owner does not support.
Berkebile's report is a recommendation the full commission must still adopt, modify or reject. Written comments are due by April 7, unless Ramadan, who's currently in Richmond for the General Assembly session, files his comments by Feb. 14, in which case, comments will be due by March 7.
In a statement, Ramadan said he disagreed with the examiner's report and will ask the commission to reject it.
"In the coming days, my legal team will be evaluating the 67 page Report and will determine a strategy moving forward," Ramadan said. "I remain committed to fighting for lower tolls even if it means petitioning the Supreme Court of Virginia."
Once the commission issues a final order, there will be a 20-day period to request a rehearing. After that, any participant in the case will have an automatic appeal right to the Virginia Supreme Court. That's likely where this issue is headed.
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