23 Aug 2014
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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.

Chamber: Blame State for Metro Toll Hikes Chamber: Blame State for Metro Toll Hikes Chamber: Blame State for Metro Toll Hikes Chamber: Blame State for Metro Toll Hikes

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

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