DC airports outfit to hike tolls 80% on Dulles Toll Road to fund metro rail line

July 13, 2009
By Peter Samuel

Dulles Toll Road (DTR) toll rates will be nearly doubled by 2012 under a plan being considered by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) who want to use tolls and toll revenue bonds to finance just over half the cost of a 5.26b metro-rail line. A "Plan of Finance" for the Dulles metrorail project by the airports authority's Corridor Advisory Committee lays out two options, one of which doubles tolls at the mainline plaza from their present 75c to $1.50 by the end of this year and increases ramp tolls from 50c to 75c.

The second option would raise toll rates at the mainline plaza 25c in 2010, another 25c in 2011 and a third 25c in 2012. Most trips on the DTR involve a mainline toll and a ramp toll so the average trip on the 18km (12 mile) road would go $1.25 now to $2.25, or 80%. If the average trip is 15km (9mi) the toll rate would go from 8.3c/km (13.4c/mi) to 15c/km (24c/mi).

ADDITION: Meetings Wednesday morning (July 15 9am) will consider "Material Changes" to the revenue bonds and trust indenture, select a pricing advisor for bond sales, update the recommended plan of finance, hear new cost estimates, and consider amendments to toll rates. Mercator Advisors LLC are lead financial advisers to MWAA. (ADDED 2009-07-13 14:30)

Wilbur Smith Assoc (WSA) estimated for MWAA that Option 1 would increase toll revenues from $65m now to $101m in 2010 and $107m in 2012, whereas the Option 2 phase-in would increase toll revenues: 2010 $87.4m, 2011 $97.1m, 2012 $107.1m.

Option 1 garners an aggregate $377m over four years 2009-2012 compared to $357m with the Option 2 three year phase-in.

WSA's new traffic and revenue study has not yet been released by the airports agency. [ADDITION: A spokesman said Monday that the WSA T&R report is only preliminary and not ready for public release. She said the final T&R study by WSA will be released as part of the bond prospectus. 2009-07-13 11:20)

A graph in the Finance Plan presentation showing changing forecasts suggests WSA reduced their estimates of revenue between a December 2006 and an August 2008 report. They appear to have gone from a 2011 to 2013 estimate of toll revenue of around $125m 2006-12 to about $97m 2008-08. The graph shows they now (2009-05) project revenue in those years at the $107m in 2012.

That's a 65% increase in revenue from an 80% increase in toll rates, suggesting a decline in traffic from present levels of about 9%.

2020 projections keep getting better

For 2020 the three WSA projections show toll revenue on the DTR for 2020 as $180m (2006-12), $195m (2008-08) and $220m (2009-05). We can only read off the graph since MWAA hasn't released the reports with their tables.

You have to wonder why WSA's reported forecasts of DTR toll revenue for 2020 would get progressively more optimistic between December 2006 and May 2009, swelling in two iterations by about 15%. (Do they now assume a two-term Reaganite president ushering in a new era of economic growth from 2012 on?)

Need $220m tolls/year by 2020

Anyway, the DTR "Plan of Finance" presentation states bluntly: "Gross toll revenue on the DTR will need increase from approximately $65 million in 2008 to $87 million in 2010 and $220 million by 2020 to cover potential debt service costs."

That's because MWAA plan to issue $2,956m of DTR toll revenue bonds 2009 through 2013, nearly half of that in the next 18 months.

Other sources of money for the metro-rail line will be $2489m comprised: $900m federal grants, $275m Virginia state monies, Loudoun County $252m, Fairfax County $846m, MWAA airport money $215m.  The Dulles Toll Road contributes $2767m (53%) on this reckoning, about $190m less than the amount to be issued in toll revenue bonds - so they have some spare cash for reserves.

Traffic has been rather flat on the  Dulles Toll Road 2006 through 2008 at around 110m transactions/year (300k/day). 2005's traffic volume has never been reached again.

2005 saw a toll increase, but from 2001 onward growth in traffic had been slight.

Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) has gained market share at the expense of Dulles and anti-growth policies in Fairfax and Loudoun counties have reduced the pace of new development in the corridor. Also competing tax supported roads such as I-66, VA7, VA28 have been improved.

1991 through 2001 were the boom years for the Dulles Toll Road with traffic growing from 137k transactions/day to 287k, a 110% increase. That's 7% to 8% per year.

Those glory days are past.

BACKGROUND: Dulles Toll Road opened in 1985 and was widened progressively from 2 travel lanes each direction to 4 lanes per direction. It straddles the untolled Dulles Airport Access Highway of 2x2 lanes which opened with the Airport in 1965. DAAH has no offramps westbound and no onramps eastbound to prevent it being used by commuters who are serviced by the DTR tolled lanes.

The metro-rail Silver line, 37km (23 miles) in length with eleven stations is a spur off the existing Orange line at I-66 in Falls Church, proceeding in the median of the Dulles Toll Road/Airport Access Highway/ I-66 connector road almost to the Beltway, diverting south into Tysons Corner then heading back up to the Dulles Toll/Access Road running in the median to Dulles Airport, from there joining the Dulles Greenway, running in its median about a third the length of the Greenway terminating in Loudoun County at VA772.

On present plans MWAA will turn over the Silver line to Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) to operate trains and bear the costs of operating losses.  WMATA runs the rest of the DC area metro-rail system, the second largest in the country after New York's subways.

on the metro-rail project:

http://www.dullesmetro.com/

on Dulles Toll Road:

http://www.metwashairports.com/tollroad

TOLLROADSnews 2009-07-12

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