The Club for Growth

Phillip Rodokanakis



Railroaded Again

An unelected group, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, is raising rates on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for METRO improvements. I call that taxation without representation.


 

What fueled the American Revolution more than 200 years ago was the issue of taxation without representation. Most Americans firmly believe that electoral representation is the fundamental kingpin of our country’s political system.

 

Apparently, our legislators in Richmond have forgotten this important historical lesson.

 

In the late 1970s and 1980s, the population around the Dulles corridor in Northern Virginia exploded. However, no new roads were built to accommodate the new residents who were stuck in impossible traffic jams on secondary roads.

 

At the urging of Fairfax County, a statute was enacted in 1979 authorizing the issuance of bonds to pay for the construction of a four-lane highway. The bonds were to be repaid by charging tolls at most entrance and exit points on what came to be known as the Dulles Toll Road (DTR).

 

The DTR parallels the limited access, four-lane highway to Dulles Airport. The Federal authority overseeing Dulles Airport has consistently refused to let daily commuters use the road to the airport, although some mass-transit buses are allowed to access this road during peak commuting hours.

 

Since its inception the DTR has proven to be the Commonwealth’s most successful toll road. It was so successful that within years after the four-lane highway was completed, the movement on this road had come to a standstill during rush-hour traffic. So in 1989, the General Assembly enacted another statute authorizing the issuance of additional bonds.

 

The new bonds were to pay for the construction of four additional lanes, so that the DTR would be expanded to an eight-lane highway. Again, it was envisioned that tolls would continue to be collected to pay for the additional construction. However, the DTR users were promised that the tolls would be removed in 2016 once the principal and interest on the outstanding bonds were paid off.

 

In 1990, the General Assembly amended the language in the original statute. It authorized the Commonwealth Transportation Board to provide additional improvements on the DTR, including for the funding of mass transit.

 

Historically, tolls were used to pay for turnpikes and other roads that were constructed without being funded by general state revenues. Tolls represent the ultimate user fee—those who use the road pay for its construction. That way, the state doesn’t have to raise taxes to build a road that will benefit only a small segment of the population.

 

The idea that toll revenues would be used for anything other than repaying the principal and interest on the bond obligations, road maintenance or additional road improvements is unheard of in Virginia. On the contrary, the Virginia State Revenue Bond Act, specifically calls for the removal of tolls once the bonds issued for such construction have been paid.

 

Unfortunately, when it comes to the DTR, our legislators saw fit to exempt it from the provisions of the State Revenue Bond Act. Accordingly, the provisions that apply to any other toll facility in Virginia are not applicable to the DTR.

 

When the statute was amended to authorize the transportation board to use toll proceeds to fund mass transit, no one thought much about it. It makes sense to provide for parking lots and other mass transit facilities along the DTR so that the toll payers could have an option of taking an express bus to downtown Washington, for example.

 

But now the transportation board—an unelected and unaccounted body—has taken this concept one step further. It is raising the tolls on the DTR to pay the state’s share of funding the extension of Metro Rail to Dulles Airport, a project that makes little economic sense.

 

The state has committed to pay 25 percent of the construction costs of the Metro extension. When the state makes this sort of commitments, it generally pays with general tax revenues. In this case, our elected officials have decided to impose a discriminating tax on a select segment of the state’s population—a tax no different than a sin tax.

 

Their sin is that they commute on the DTR, which has turned into a cash cow, raising more than $41.8 million in 2004. After paying the principal and interest on the debt as well as accounting for the maintenance costs, the DTR returned a net profit of $14.5 million—that’s a lot of quarters!

 

But that’s not good enough for the greedy tax-and-spend mentality that is ingrained in our Richmond commissars. So, the users of the DTR will pay anywhere from 70 percent to 100 percent more in tolls starting in May 2005. This tax increase is imposed at a time when the State sits on a $1.2 billion surplus.

 

This is nothing short of highway robbery, reminiscent of the days of Robin Hood. Only, instead of robbing the rich to pay the poor, the transportation board is robbing hard-working Virginians to pay off the special interests profiting from the Rail-to-Dulles boondoggle.

 

Very few, if any, of the toll payers that commute on the DTR will ever benefit from the extension of Metro to Dulles. As it currently stands, less than 4 percent of the residents in Fairfax County use the Metro. It is highly unlikely that the per capita usage will increase significantly no matter how many new rail stations are added, because this line won’t serve existing commuting patterns.

 

Keep in mind that the Fairfax County currently pays $56 million a year to cover Metro’s operating deficit—a deficit that will increase exponentially if Rail to Dulles ever comes to fruition.

 

And let’s not forget that heavy rail is a 19th century technology. It makes little sense in this day and age to build such mass-transit dinosaurs, which are expensive and inflexible. Today’s technology offers us Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternatives that can be built at a fraction of the cost and are extremely flexible in meeting the shifting demands of 21st century commuters.

 

Allowing unelected bureaucrats to raise taxes on a segment of our population is contrary to everything this country stands for. Given that the CTB cannot be held accountable for raising taxes, the affected electorate should vote against incumbent legislators who are hiding behind the big lie that they had nothing to do with the toll increase.

 

-- February 28, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phillip Rodokanakis, a Certified Fraud Examiner, lives in Oak Hill. He is the managing partner of U.S. Data Forensics, LLC, a company specializing in Computer Forensics, Fraud Investigations, and Litigation Support. He is also the Vice President of the Virginia Club for Growth.

 

He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

 


 

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