Highway Robbery

Wow! Commuters on the Dulles Toll Road, now paying $4 for a round trip, could be paying $40 by the year 2040 to help pay for construction of the Dulles rail extension, reports the Washington Examiner. Those numbers came from financial consultants reporting yesterday to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The tolls could be 30% lower if the project can qualify for lower interest-rate financing from a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, but that probably won’t prove to be much consolation to Northern Virginia commuters. Not all motorists will drive the full distance and pay the full freight, but in theory some could be paying $10,000 a year for the privilege of using the toll road. Reducing that sum to only $7,000 a year won’t be much consolation — it’s still equal to what many will be paying on their car loans!

Unidentified “officials” (presumably MWAA officials) are so concerned that they’re considering actually tolling the free access road to the airport, which runs in between the toll lanes. Do ya think? Faced with the prospect of charging local-destination drivers up to $40 per round trip MWAA actually may slap a toll on a free expressway to help pay for other people who are riding the Metro, whose fares, by the way, will be massively subsidized. You gotta love it.

I am making a surmise here: MWAA officials plan not to charge Metro riders the full cost of operating the rail service because, if they did, fewer people would ride it, thus defeating the whole purpose of building the rail line. Board members understand the idea that there is a limit to peoples’ willingness to pay to ride the rail.

Assuming they embrace that logic, I would heartily urge MWAA’s board to ask its financial consultants the following questions: If MWAA charged up to $2o per trip for access to the Dulles Toll Road, would drivers avoid using the toll road? Might they revert to such unseemly remedies as car sharing, riding buses or telecommuting or… taking alternate routes? And if they do, would they do so in such large numbers as to undermine the traffic counts that MWAA is planning on to generate the revenue required to meet its share of the Rail-to-Dulles bond obligations?

In other words, is it possible that the project costs have escalated so much that no matter how aggressively MWAA gouges Dulles Toll Road commuters, it might be impossible to raise the sums of money required to pay the rail line’s debt service?

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