Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Solution: Tolling the Airport Access Road


UPDATE 12-12-2012: The MWAA Board approved an amendment to their lease agreement, which would allow non-aviation commercial development on their property. Gov. Bob McDonnell should refuse to sign this amendment until MWAA allows tolls on the Airport Access Road.
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It is not fair to take money from one person and give them absolutely nothing in return. That is exactly how many view the idea of extracting tolls from Dulles Toll Road users to fund the Silver Line extension.

Planners claim the rail extension will help the Dulles Airport grow. In a more perfect world, people who use the Silver Line and the Dulles Airport would be the ones paying to build the rail line. Instead, through a mixed up set of decisions, the current plan has train riders and airport customers paying very little. That needs to change.


Benefits:

  • Tolling out-of town airport users provides relief for local commuters  
  • A well-planned expansion of the Access Road lanes would expand east-west capacity for cars and buses
  • This extremely low-cost alteration could guarantee congestion-free travel from Rt. 28 to Tyson’s and the Beltway 
  • The unfair scheme of shifting tolls from the Dulles Toll Road could be phased out and eventually eliminated

Challenges:

  • MWAA may want to protect its customers by giving away a free ride  
  • Congressional action to force and or approve this action may be necessary

Tolling Dulles Airport customers traveling on the Access Road inside of Route 267 is a fair and equitable way to fund the Silver Line. Fairfax Senator Janet Howell agrees, saying on her website, “The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority should approve tolling the Dulles Access Road.  As a matter of simple equity, this is essential.” Congressman Frank Wolf also agrees.

The Dulles Access Road, which is presently serving ONLY the airport, carries 44,000 cars per day on four lanes. The Dulles Toll Rd. carries 127,000 cars per day on eight lanes, one of which, in each direction, is HOV 2+ during peak hours. (VDOT 2010 traffic data).

MWAA believes extending the rail to Dulles Airport, and the property they intend to develop commercially, is a good investment. So why ask local commuters to pay for it while Dulles Airport customers and employees pay no tolls? This is unfair, and it can and must be changed.

MWAA’s leaders have admitted that the current toll-funding scheme will not work. Why? People refuse to submit to this highway robbery, instead opting to use alternative roadways like the un-tolled Rt. 7 and Rt. 50. Before long, the DTR-toll-heavy funding scheme unravels. At that point the cards will fall, the Silver Line money pit will be underway and the underfunded mess will be dropped in the laps of an even broader group of people who realize no benefit from the Dulles Airport or the Silver Line.

Recently, the I-495 Express Lanes (HOT Lanes) opened. They provide an excellent example for improving transportation capacity and generating revenue. The HOT Lanes are a win-win, providing a faster option while pulling traffic off the existing un-tolled lanes.

The Dulles Access Road should be reworked to include HOT Lanes by expanding the existing 4 lanes to six lanes, three lanes in each direction.  MWAA claims this can be done. The Access Road could be opened to non-airport traffic, including commuters who can afford to pay voluntary tolls to use HOT Lanes. By adding all-electronic tolling facilities and a few eastbound access points, traffic capacity would expand sufficiently to allow buses, carpools, and drivers willing to pay extra a congestion-free road between Loudoun and Tyson’s Corner and the beltway. Again, this is a winning alternative that would allow DTR tolls to be lowered, or even eliminated, as was promised when the Commonwealth promoted the idea to build the DTR.

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