Anti-Dulles Rail campaigners misrepresent Virginia state law on tolls

September 2, 2009

There are solid arguments that financing of a new rail line in the median of Dulles Toll Road with toll revenues is bad public policy. The area of northern Virginia beyond Tysons Corner is predominantly automobile-country with dispersed workplaces, and suburban houses. And it's prosperous enough for every adult to own their car.

Travelers to Washington Dulles Airport will be better served by cars, vans, buses or taxis than by schlepping luggage up and down escalators, and sitting or standing through 16 to 18 station stops on a downtown oriented commuter subway.

Most of them are headed for a home or a hotel after a long flight and a slow, uncomfortable subway ride has nothing to recommend itself.

That Dulles Rail is an irresponsible $5 billion folly - the worst kind of DC boondoggle - is certainly arguable.

Even the advocates admit there is no way that users of the train could ever be got to pay for the costs of Dulles Rail.

User benefits come nowhere near costs

Benefits to users won't come near a fraction of costs so rail fares don't provide a serious revenue stream.

Instead the promoters of Dulles Rail choose to leech off the motorists who do put a high value on the service the Toll Road provides.

Questionable transfer to MWAA

There seem to be serious legal and constitutional problems in Virginia's transfer of the Dulles Toll Road to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority - an entity under the control of appointees of Virginia, Maryland, DC, and the US Government.

Amazingly the Virginia General Assembly never passed any enabling legislation. It was done by executive fiat.

Populist falsehoods about tolls

But opponents of Dulles Rail instead of being content to make fact-based, logical points, have chosen to deploy a barrage of populist falsehoods and absurdities about tolls on the Dulles Toll Road (DTR), hoping to fight the rail boondoggle by cutting off its toll funding.

State law

One of their themes is that DTR tolls are illegal since Virginia state law, they claim, demands that tolls be ended at the time the original construction bonds are retired. This is the theme of their flyers, and questions at meetings.

Pertinent state law is Virginia Code 33.1-287:
" 33.1-287.  Cessation of tolls

"When the particular revenue bonds issued for any project or projects and the interest thereon have been paid, or a sufficient amount has been provided for their payment and continues to be held for that purpose, the Board shall cease to charge tolls for the use of such project or projects and thereafter such project or projects shall be free;

(Our break here for emphasis - editor)

"...however, the Board may thereafter charge tolls for the use of any such project when tolls are required for maintaining, repairing, operating, improving, and reconstructing such project, when such tolls have been or are pledged by the Board to the payment of revenue bonds issued under the provisions of the article for another project or projects on approval of the General Assembly or when such tolls are designated by the Board to be deposited into the Transportation Trust Fund. But any such pledge of tolls of a project to the payment of bonds issued for another project shall not be effectual until the principal and interest of the bonds issued for the first mentioned project shall have been paid or provision made for their payment."

The words after "however" in Virginia law clearly provide authority to continue tolls beyond the repayment of original bonds.

A sincere politician promised...

Another anti-toll argument being used is that a leading sponsor of the Dulles Toll Road, the late state senator Omer Hirst (1913-2003) promised that tolls would be ended. Not only was it a promise, it was a "sincere" promise, one anti-toller writes.

When it's "paid for" the tolls will go, the Hirsts among politicians always say.

Senator Omer Hirst was not "sincere" enough about ending tolls to write a simple bill requiring tolls to end on the retirement of the original bonds.

And the senator wasn't sincere enough to address how future roadway expenses would be funded without tolls.

It's easy for politicians of one generation to make promises about how a toll will somehow go away in the not too distant future (but after he is responsible for the state budget).

Promising tolls will be temporary is an easy way of gaining support from the naive.

A road is never ever "paid for"

Such promises of detolling fly in the face of the fact that a road is never "paid for."

All roads go on costing money to operate, maintain, rebuild and expand for as long as people need to get around and own vehicles that need the road to run on. And for as long as the elements of sun, rain, frost and ice stress and erode manmade structures like roads and their bridges and equipment.

It is no more logical to expect tolls to be ended when road bonds are paid off than it is to expect a leasable building to go rent-free when the mortgage is paid off. Efficient use, a revenue stream for upkeep and reinvestment and a competitive return on capital all argue for permanent rents, and tolls - editor

TOLLROADSnews 2009-09-02

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