Frequently Asked Questions about the Toll Setting Process - Fall 2009
* Indicates updated question/answer
1. Are tolls going up and what will be the new toll? *
The Airports Authority conducted a series of public hearings in August and September and held a 30-day comment period to hear from the public regarding the proposed toll increase (click here for details) on the Dulles Toll Road.
Afinal recommendation (click here to view the document) from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority staff was presented to the Board of Directors and it was approved. The first toll increase will become effective January 1, 2010.
2. Why are the toll rates changing? *
Increases to the Dulles Toll Road (DTR) tolls are part of a long-established plan to help fund construction of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project (Project). 48% of the funds come from Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the federal government and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. 52% of the funds come from the bonds which the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority will sell and which are backed by the tolls. In addition to funding the Metrorail Project, the toll increase will also pay for improvements to the DTR and elsewhere within the Dulles Corridor.
3. I’m not planning to ride rail so what’s the benefit of the toll increase for me?
Once completed, the new Dulles Corridor Metrorail line will be a new transportation option that is not available in the Dulles Corridor today. The toll increases will also be used to fund improvements to the DTR itself such as improved interchanges, enhanced toll collection systems and a well-maintained roadway and toll plazas.
4. How will the increased toll road revenues be spent?
All revenue generated by the tolls will be invested entirely in the Dulles Corridor where it will be used to fund construction of the Metrorail Project and improvements to the Dulles Corridor including:
- Upgrading DTR interchanges and other roads identified as part of the corridor
- Upgrading toll collection and management system
- Constructing flyover ramps
- Upgrading traffic management infrastructure
- Enhancing the toll plazas
- Maintaining and constructing sound walls
5. Why is the Airports Authority now in charge of the Dulles Toll Road (DTR) and the Dulles Metrorail Project?
Access to Dulles International Airport is one of the Airport Authority’s primary responsibilities and goals. The Airports Authority has a strong interest in bringing Metrorail service to Dulles International Airport. Once completed, the new rail line will offer the traveling public a direct, convenient and reliable connection to Dulles Airport.
On December 29, 2006, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Airports Authority entered into an agreement providing a permit for the Airports Authority to operate the Dulles Toll Road and collect toll revenues to fund construction of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
The Airports Authority has also had experience in managing major construction programs at Dulles International and Reagan National Airports and currently operates and maintains the Dulles Airport Access Highway as well as the Dulles Toll Road. The DTR was built on land controlled by the Airports Authority. The Authority gave an easement to the Commonwealth to construct the road. Most of the new Metrorail line will also be built on Airports Authority property with a large segment of the 23-mile line constructed in the median of the Dulles Access Highway and a new station at Dulles International Airport.
6. Why can’t the Airports Authority get more federal money for the Dulles Metrorail Project (Project)?
In March 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $900 million federal grant agreement for Phase 1 of the Dulles Metrorail Project, which will run from I-66 to Wiehle Avenue.
In September 2009, the Airports Authority submitted grant applications under the United States Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Under this grant program, the Airports Authority has requested $90 Million in ARRA TIGER grants to support the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
In the future, the Airports Authority will continue to explore opportunities for federal funding of some portion of Phase II of the Project. However, the reality is these requests will be competing with communities across the nation for limited federal funding for rail projects. Nevertheless, every effort will be made to find additional funding sources.
The Airports Authority is also looking for additional funding for DTR projects and has submitted a TIGER grant application seeking federal funding to enable the Airports Authority to provide an Open Road Tolling (ORT) program to reduce congestion on the Dulles Toll Road (DTR). The Airports Authority is also seeking federal funds for other Dulles Corridor improvements to construct new ramps between the Dulles Airport Access Highway and the I-495 Beltway and to widen Route 606 in Loudoun County.
7. Why are Dulles Toll Road (DTR) drivers paying for Dulles Metrorail Project?
Since the 1990s, the Commonwealth of Virginia planned to fund a substantial portion of the Metrorail Project with revenues from the Dulles Toll Road. Through their contributions, DTR drivers will help to bring rail to the Dulles Corridor, as well as physical improvements to the Toll Road itself, to increase transportation options available within the Dulles Corridor.
All tolls paid by DTR drivers will remain within the Dulles Corridor, where they will be expended entirely on transportation-related improvements and facilities.
8. Who will operate the Metrorail line after it is completed by the Airports Authority?
WMATA, currently the operator of the Metrorail system throughout the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area will be the operator of the new Dulles Corridor Metrorail line once it is constructed. WMATA will be fully responsible for all costs to operate, maintain and improve the new rail line.
9. Is the Airports Authority also raising tolls on the Dulles Greenway?
No, the Airports Authority does not own or operate the Dulles Greenway; nor is it responsible for Greenway tolls.
Nor does the Dulles Toll Road have any formal financial or operational relationship with Dulles Greenway. The Dulles Toll Road is a public road that was built by the Commonwealth of Virginia many years before the Greenway, and is now operated by the Airports Authority under a 50-year permit from the Commonwealth. The Dulles Toll Road is an integral part of the Dulles Corridor and, as noted above, contributes revenue to support the construction of the Metrorail in the Corridor.
For more information about the Dulles Greenway, visit their website: www.dullesgreenway.com.
10. Why are the tolls not coming off the Dulles Toll Road once the debt has been paid on the road?
Since the early 1990s, Commonwealth policy has been to use revenues from the Dulles Toll Road for non-DTR improvements in the Dulles Corridor, including the construction of a rail line in the Corridor. That policy was applied when the Commonwealth of Virginia transferred operations of the Dulles Toll Road to the Airports Authority on November 1, 2008. As part of the transfer, and consistent with this longstanding Commonwealth policy, the Airports Authority was authorized to use Dulles Toll Road revenues as part of the financing plan to construct the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. In exchange, the Airports Authority assumed the obligation to construct the Dulles Metrorail Project to Dulles and beyond into Loudoun County.
Once the debt for the Metrorail Project is paid, the control of the toll road will revert back to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Commonwealth will determine the use of the tolls.
11. Why is the region as a whole not helping to pay for the Metrorail line to Dulles? Why is the financing of this project different?
On May 25, 2000, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) adopted a policy that all design, engineering, construction and financing costs of an extension to the original103-mile regional Metrorail system, would be funded by the WMATA member jurisdiction in which the extension is located and without cost to other member jurisdictions. The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project is an extension to the original 103-mile Metrorail system.
This policy was applied to the Largo, MD extension to the Metrorail system which was funded by the State of Maryland, with grant assistance from the federal government, but with no financial contributions from Virginia or the District of Columbia.
12. What specific projects/improvements will be implemented in the Dulles Corridor? *
The Airports Authority is analyzing the toll plaza and potential safety enhancements along with a physical conditions assessment of the DTR and its related facilities. Preliminary engineering is also anticipated on the widening of Route 606. In addition, improvements to the Dulles Corridor/I-495 interchange are under design.
Long range plans will include development of a plan to replace/construct three to five miles of sound walls and repair/maintain ten additional miles along the Dulles Toll Road. There will also be upgrades in the traffic management infrastructure and plans to improve key roads within the Dulles Corridor.
13. Why not raise the tolls to an even greater extent for cash customers and give E-ZPass customers a discount?
The toll revenue requirements are such that the increases must occur for both cash paying customers and E-ZPass customers in order to meet Dulles Toll Road operations and maintenance needs, and to construct the Metrorail project. A discount for E-ZPass customers in future years may be considered as revenue requirements beyond 2012 are evaluated. The goal ultimately will be to minimize and potentially eliminate toll cash transactions in the future. Currently, E-ZPass users comprise 70% of the total transactions on the toll road—a high rate when compared to toll roads industry-wide.
14. Where is the Airports Authority given the legal authority to raise the tolls on a public road?
The Airports Authority was created by and receives its power under statues enacted by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia. These statues empower the Airports Authority to charge fees for the use of facilities on land it leases from the federal government. The Dulles Toll Road is located upon such land. In addition, the Permit and Operating Agreement between the Commonwealth and the Authority allows for the Airports Authority to set tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.
15. Why is the Airports Authority not contributing more as the primary goal of this project to bring rail to Dulles Airport?
While bringing rail to Dulles International Airport is a major goal of the Airports Authority, other organizations and entities, both government and private, in Northern Virginia have long recognized the importance of bringing rail service to the Dulles Corridor and the economic and other opportunities that rail service would bring to their communities.
The funding allocation decisions for the financing plan of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project were made over a period of time by the various government entities involved in the development of this project. The funding allocation attributed to the Airports Authority is 4.1% of the project cost. In addition to this contribution, the Airports Authority is making the median of the Dulles Airport Access Highway available to the rail line, from I-66 to Dulles International Airport. The Airports Authority is also providing land on Dulles Airport property to WMATA for a rail yard. These additional contributions substantially increase the value of the Airports Authority’s total financial commitment.
16. Why are airport users not being charged a “fee” to assist in paying for the Metrorail?
In accordance with the local funding agreement, the Airports Authority will provide 4.1% of the total cost to construct the Dulles Metrorail Project. The Airports Authority currently intends to use passenger facility charges (PFCs) to fund this contribution. Passenger facility charges are charges assessed against each person buying an airline ticket for travel from Dulles Airport; so airport users will be contributing to the construction of the Metrorail Project and, more specifically, for construction of the rail station that will be located at the airport.
Airports are legislatively limited in their ability to assess and collect PFCs for non-airport or aviation projects, and their use must be for specific airport projects.
17. What is the current revenue for the Dulles Toll Road and who makes the decision on how the money is spent? *
Revenue for calendar year 2009 is estimated at about $66 million. With the toll rate increase scheduled to take effect on January 1, revenue for calendar year 2010 is expected to be $87 million. Since November 1, 2008, the decisions of how DTR revenues are spent have been subject to the Airports Authority’s budget process. Each year, generally in December, the Board of Directors of the Airports Authority approves the Authority’s budget. Toll road revenues will be budgeted to pay Operating and Maintenance Expenses of the Toll Road, for the construction of the Metrorail Project (primarily through the payment of debt service on bonds), and for other Dulles Corridor improvements in accordance with the Permit and Operating Agreement.
18. What will happen to the “tolls” once the Metrorail is built and debt paid off?
The Airports Authority’s Permit and Operating Agreement with the Commonwealth is for a period of 50 years; it began on November 1, 2008, and runs until October 31, 2058. It is expected that all debt on the toll road which was incurred to finance construction of the Metrorail Project will have been paid in full by the time the agreement expires in 2058. At that time, control of the toll road will revert back to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Commonwealth will determine the level of tolls and the use of toll revenues.
19. Why not put a toll on other roads such as I-270/I-66 to help pay for the Metrorail? Why are DTR users the only ones being charged?
Under the Permit and Operating Agreement, the Airports Authority only has responsibility for the Dulles Toll Road. I-270 in Maryland and I-66 in Virginia fall under the jurisdiction of others entities and decisions whether to toll those roadways and how to spend any toll revenues would need to be made by those entities.
20. Wasn’t the original plan that the federal government would pay 50 percent of the rail project and Virginia and local governments would each pay 25 percent? What are the current funding commitments and why did they change?
- The original plan was that the federal government (through grants from the FTA) would pay 50% of the entire Metrorail Project cost (i.e., both Phases 1 and 2), the Commonwealth would pay 25% using DTR revenues, and local governments would pay 25%.
- That plan was based on an early cost estimate made a number of years ago and prior to preliminary engineering and environmental studies that resulted in an improved estimate for the total project cost.
- The Full Funding Agreement with the federal government caps the federal share for Phase 1 of the project (Interstate 66 to Wiehle Avenue) at $900M which necessarily changes the percentages for the partners’ share. At this time, no federal funds have been committed to Phase 2. The current absence of federal funds for Phase 2 has resulted in the DTR taking over the share of Phase 2 costs that the original plan had “assigned” to the federal government.
- As a result of increases in the estimated project cost and the lack of a federal funding commitment for Phase 2, the original funding plan was revised. The current funding structure, based on a projected total project cost of $5.25 billion, is:
- Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Airports Authority contribution is 25%.
- Federal contribution is 17.1%, which is based upon a fixed FTA grant for Phase 1 of $900M.
- The Commonwealth contribution is 5.2%, which is based upon a fixed contribution of $275M consisting of non-toll road funding.
- The DTR contribution provides the remaining amount, and is 52.6%.
21. Why is there not a toll booth at the Rt. 7 westbound exit?
Toll booth locations were previously established by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Airports Authority’s initial tolling booth configuration simply carries the existing toll locations forward. In the next year, a full corridor mobility study will be conducted, and will identify whether specific tolling locations should be modified.
22. What is the Airport Authority’s role in planning and developing property adjacent to rail stations?
The Airports Authority has planning and land use approval jurisdiction over development that occurs on property it leases from the federal government, subject to contractual and regulatory restrictions of the federal government. Planning and approval jurisdiction over development occurring on property adjacent to Airports Authority land lies with the local government in which the property is located.