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Chamber: Blame State for Metro Toll Hikes

Loudoun Chamber president Tony Howard makes the case for additional state transportation funding and cooperation in the General Assembly.

Last month, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority held several public hearings to gather public input on the proposal to raise tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for Virginia‘s share of the Dulles Rail Project. 

Though these toll hikes are planned to fund Virginia’s share of the project, MWAA was the one vilified by the opponents of this project.

On Oct. 17, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors will stage a public hearing on the proposal to create two special tax districts in eastern Loudoun to pay for the County’s share of the project.

No doubt the loyal opposition will again be out in force to oppose these tax districts and the completion of the Dulles Rail Project that is favored by 80 percent of Loudoun residents.

But even amongst the majority of Loudoun residents who favor Dulles Rail and other transportation investments, there are valid questions and even strong resentment over the state of Virginia’s transportation program.

The toll rate plan and proposed tax districts represent a new reality in Virginia, one in which the Commonwealth neglects its responsibility to fund transportation improvements and local governments are forced to raise the money needed to build new road and rail capacity.

But this is a reality that Virginians need not accept. Our Commonwealth is facing a crisis that is threatening our economy and quality of life, and it is the job of every Virginian to do something about it.

Consider this evidence of Virginia’s dysfunctional transportation program:

  • Dulles Toll Road tolls may go to $4.50 for a one way trip in 2015, just to cover the State’s share of the Dulles Rail Project [Editor’s note: That’s in addition to tolls collected on the privately operated Dulles Greenway.]
  • While Northern Virginia’s businesses and commuters are responsible for more than 90 percent of the cost of Phase 2, Virginia’s contributions will barely pay for two years worth of interest on the bonds to finance the project.
  • Virginia’s transportation construction budget will be bankrupt by 2017, when maintenance needs will consume all of the Commonwealth transportation dollars;
  • Loudoun’s Supervisors are considering using County money to fund local transportation projects beyond Dulles Rail, a job that has been a state responsibility since the 1920s;
  • Loudoun received just $182,000 in state funding for our secondary road needs last year, and a measly $1,000 this year.

These stories are a testimony to the crisis that is consuming Virginia’s transportation program, and to the failure of Virginia’s elected leadership to provide the money that is necessary to avert this crisis.

So what can be done? It starts with leadership and compromise.

Virginia needs leaders in Richmond who are willing to make the hard choices and to compromise on a solution.

Republican leaders have to accept that tax increases – especially those dedicated to road and rail construction – are necessary.

Democrats have to accept that transportation, as a core responsibility of state government, deserves a share of Virginia’s General Fund budget.

Of course, there are leaders in Richmond, including many of Loudoun’s representatives, who are willing to cross the aisle, and even cross their own leadership, to address this issue.

Sadly, they are in the minority. 

The majority of Virginia’s elected leaders are failing to meet their financial and moral obligations to adequately fund infrastructure projects.

It is a situation that won’t change until a majority of Virginia’s drivers, businesses and taxpayers get fed up with the toll hikes, bankrupt construction budgets and failing roads. 

We must awaken to this crisis and demand the leadership that is needed to fix this mess.

Tony Howard
President & CEO, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce

David A. LaRock October 05, 2012 at 05:11 PM
"What is the Loudoun Chamber doing?" Panhandling.
David A. LaRock October 07, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Rob, thanks for all your effort. Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Howard has led the Chamber in a direction where there is little attention paid to the long term well being of the community and the people served by the businesses in the Chamber. He/they endorse more spending and growth, even when the price of these is debt. He does not need to know what is going on when his plan consists of more spending and more taxes. I believe time will show that is no way to run a business or a community.
Bob Bruhns October 07, 2012 at 01:47 PM
The Chambers of Commerce wanted us to approve this near-double priced rail line. Do they run their own businesses that way? If so, they should step forward and tell us how they pay almost twice the going rate for office space, heating and air conditioning, energy, etc. What? They DON'T pay nearly two times what things should cost? And they DON'T borrow huge sums of money to pay for that? Well, then... why do they want US to do that? 'Tis a puzzlement.
Rob Whitfield October 07, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Bob and Dave, the Loudoun County Economic Development Commission as well as the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce demonstrated a complete lack of objective and factually based critical review of numbers involved in Dulles Rail. If the businesses in which these so called leaders are involved make decisions about costly investments in a similar manner to what was done for Dulles Rail, without regard to downstream costs, then we should be concerned. More likely, some involved at LEDC and the Chamber have current or prospective direct and/or indirect ownership interests in real property near planned transit stations. The guiding philosophy of those who favor heavy rail transit appears to be "other people's money first."
Bob Bruhns October 07, 2012 at 10:42 PM
I guess they know which side gets the butter. What's going on with the Loudoun County tax districts? The business people there better get on the stick and cap their tax contribution at the claimed $270 million, 1) Before tens of thousands of toll road refugees divert to the side roads, causing traffic jams the like of which we have never seen, and county leaders get Tifia loans (that have to be paid back by county taxpayers - imagine that) to pay the tolls down, 2) Before Loudoun County people realize that the $270 million does not include the $168 million for the three Metro parking garages, 3) Before WMATA comes around looking for $13.5 Billion for deferred Metro maintenance and capital needs, and 4) Before the prices all suddenly skyrocket, and Loudoun County is on the hook for 4.8% of the increases plus whatever additional percentage it takes on to pay down the tolls. Betcha Loudoun County's Ken Ried didn't think beyond the claimed $270 million and the claimed revenues from the tax amoeba district. Fairfax County is in the same hot water, but its pain will be more than three times as bad. Betcha a lot of people who voted for this mess are going to retire soon, and move away.

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