Loudoun County is asking the Virginia State Corporation Commission to extend the hearing date for the rate hike request by the owners of the Dulles Greenway, a rate hike request the county strongly opposes. Loudoun County has filed a request with the State Corporation Commission for an extension of time until October 2, 2020, to file direct testimony in the case and also to reschedule the public hearings for later in the year.
“It is insensitive of TRIP II to rush through this proceeding to raise tolls on the Greenway at a time when everyone’s financial future is uncertain due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall. “A toll rate increase of this magnitude would put a heavy economic burden on workers in Loudoun County, many of whom may not be getting a paycheck for the next few months.”
Toll Road Investors Partnership II, LP (“TRIP II”), the Australia-based company which owns the Greenway, seeks a 6 to 6.8 percent toll rate increase each year over the next five years, which is an increase of approximately one-third in toll rates over that period. TRIP II has refused the county’s request to reschedule the current proceedings, which include an evidentiary hearing before the State Corporation Commission in June. The opportunities for public input are currently set for May while the Governor’s stay-at-home order is in effect. In addition, the county faces April deadlines to file substantive exhibits and testimony.
“The county simply does not have the time needed to prepare for the hearing,” said Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet. “Every facet of the Loudoun County government has been focused 24/7 on mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and protecting the health and safety of our residents, businesses and county employees, while still providing essential and critical services to our community.”
Under the current SCC schedule, which was adopted before the COVID-19 crisis, the county had about a month from the time that it intervened to prepare its case for fighting the toll rate increase. The county requested an extension because its resources have been redirected to the pandemic response. In addition, in-person public hearings in the case are currently scheduled to be held in May in Loudoun County at a time when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has issued multiple executive orders requiring residents to stay at home, except for essential travel.
“The Greenway never fails to disappoint, but this may be a new low,” said Dulles District Supervisor Matt Letourneau, who also serves as chairman of the Board’s Finance/Government Operations and Economic Development Committee. “The last thing Loudoun residents need right now is another toll increase. The county will fight this rate case regardless of the schedule, but during this unprecedented time it is impossible to obtain accurate traffic counts and make this process fair. I know our staff will do the best job they can but their focus should be on dealing with the daily challenges of COVID-19, not preparing for a comprehensive toll rate case.”
“It is unreasonable for Trip II to expect that we can devote the time needed to respond to this unreasonable rate hike request while we are in this unprecedented state of emergency,” said County Attorney Leo Rogers. “We are perplexed by TRIP II’s refusal to change the public hearing schedule when the entire country is in the grip of a pandemic; there is no reason the decision whether to increase toll prices must be made immediately.”
Raising tolls on the Greenway is an important topic that affects the lives of many county residents. The county believes moving forward with Tripp II’s request for toll increases on the current schedule will deny the opportunity for the county to adequately participate in the proceeding due to its obligations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, if hearings were permitted to be held in May as currently scheduled, the public’s right to comment on the toll increases will be severely compromised.
The requested toll increases are not mandated by any statute, regulation or prior Commission order, nor is there any requirement that the commission rule on the application by a certain date. In addition, TRIP II has not stated that it would be unfairly harmed by any extension in implementing its requested toll increases; yet in its response to the county’s request for an extension, TRIP II requested that the SCC “deny the county’s motion in its entirety.”
The SCC could make a decision regarding the county’s request for an extension by the end of this week.
Copies of the filings related to Loudoun County’s request for an extension—including those listed below—are available on the SCC’s website.
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