Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lawmakers: ‘Just say no’
By LAUREN HOUGH / Journal Staff Writer http://www.journal-news.net/News/articles.asp?articleID=3863

LEESBURG — After the frenzy of rush hour had ended, local lawmakers gathered Friday morning to send out impassioned cries on behalf of their commuting constituents.

The park and ride lot at the Dulles North Transit Center was transformed into a stage for a press conference, called by representatives of AAA Mid-Atlantic, to protest a proposed increase of nearly 100 percent in the tolls on the Dulles Greenway.

The 14-mile highway, also known as VA 267, runs from Leesburg to the Dulles Airport and is privately owned by the Toll Road Investors Partnership II, L.P. (TRIP II).

On July 19, TRIP II Chief Executive Officer Tom Sines filed a new toll schedule application with the State Corporation Commission (SCC), detailing plans to raise the $2.70 toll for 2-axle vehicles to a total charge of $4.80 in the next five years.

The now-contentious proposal is for an increase AAA Mid-Atlantic Public and Government Affairs director Mahlon “Lon” Anderson calls a “significant wrong.”

“(Motorists) will be charged nearly $10 a day to commute,” Anderson said. “It’s just too much.”

For Anderson and the four lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who gathered on behalf of their constituents, the message was simple: Just don’t do it.

“It’s a bad deal for motorists,” Anderson said. “It’s not fair.”

If the proposed increases are accepted, the cost of using the highway will skyrocket to 34 cents per mile, making it the most expensive toll road not only in Virginia, but also in the entire United States.

Many in attendance at the press conference were directed to take the Greenway to the commuter lot, and, to their own chagrin, were charged the full $2.70 toll for riding just one short mile.

“From the beginning, this road was to be a public/private partnership. Today, there is no public in this partnership. This is a company bent on turning this road into a cash cow,” said U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va.

Wolf said that the Macquerie Bank of Australia, which owns the road, made more than a billion dollars in revenue last year, according to their Web site.

“Many commuters who live in this area have no choice when it comes to how they get to work. They must rely on the Greenway.”

Wolf pointed to other toll roads throughout the country, such as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Turnpikes, which charge anywhere from three cents to six cents per mile.

He calculated that the average commuter, who now pays $1,350 in tolls to travel to work 50 weeks a year, will spend $2,400 in 2012 just to travel on the Greenway.

Of the estimated 64,000 daily travelers on the highway, thousands are West Virginians on their way to work, Capito estimated.

“This is going to have a huge influence on their ability to get to work everyday,” the Congresswoman said.

Many of her constituents choose to live in West Virginia for the quality of life the state offers but keep their jobs in Washington, D.C., she said.

That choice, however, comes at a price, in the form of an increased length and time of their commute.

Raising the toll on such a frequently traveled road would create more of a burden on those residents, who use the highway not only for work, but also to get to the mall or the airport, Capito said.

It was e-mails sent from Eastern Panhandle commuters that first alerted the Congresswoman to the toll increase proposal, which she also opposed in a letter sent last week to the SCC.

“This is really a good example of why constituents want to make sure they make their voices heard,” Capito said.

It is also a cautionary tale for the state, which, in the midst of highway funding deficits, could look to charge residents tolls on certain roads.

“It’s looked to be a quick fix to get what you want,” Capito said. “Then you pay the consequences.”

Anderson said that toll roads, often public/private partnerships, are the straw that drowning governments reach for when they can’t find the funds to do what they need to do.

He urged concerned citizens to voice their opposition to the proposed toll increases to the SCC during the public comment period, which closes on Thursday.

The auto club has set up an online Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aaamidatlantic, where commuters can e-mail or mail their comments directly to the SCC.

“You’ve heard how much the corporation stands to make, and how much motorists stand to lose,” he said. “The message is simple: Say ‘no way’ to $10 a day.”

— Staff writer Lauren Hough can be reached at 263-8931, ext. 163, or at lhough@journal-news.net
Section: News Posted: 9/23/2006

George Eliot GeorgeEliot2009@yahoo.com


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