- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) yesterday announced a proposal to take control of the Dulles Toll Road, saying it would dedicate revenue to road improvements in the Dulles corridor and the planned Metrorail extension to Washington Dulles International Airport.

Controlling every aspect of the highway — from toll collections to maintenance — would assure that it is run efficiently and for the benefit of transportation projects, MWAA Chairman James E. Bennett said.

“It is important that all the revenues of the toll road remain in the corridor and be used for transportation improvements in the public interest, particularly expedited rail to Dulles,” Mr. Bennett said.

The 14-mile road, which connects the airport to the Capital Beltway and Interstate 66, sits on land owned by the MWAA.

It has been operated by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) under a transportation easement since it opened in 1984.

The 17-mile Airport Access Road runs parallel to the toll road and includes a median with a right of way for a rail line.

MWAA will ask the state to return control of the highway in exchange for assuming all financial and management responsibilities through an independent arm.

The authority also would take over the state’s role in construction and management of the Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County.

Officials hope to accelerate the project by leveraging toll revenues to borrow money.

“In order to operate Dulles Airport successfully in the future, we believe it is very important that the airport be served by rail,” Mr. Bennett said.

VDOT officials had heard of the proposal yesterday, but had no comment, said Tamara Neale, a VDOT spokeswoman.

The authority would undertake $3.5 billion in improvements to the highway, including upgrades in toll collection and management, improvements to interchanges and new flyovers from the Dulles Access Road, Mr. Bennett said.

The authority also would raise tolls “to keep up with the pace of inflation,” he said.

Metro chief executive officer Richard A. White praised the proposal, noting that about 17 percent of passengers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport — almost 12,000 people a day — use that Metro station.

“The airports authority clearly recognizes the importance of the rail-to-Dulles project to the airport itself and to the region as a whole,” Mr. White said.

A group opposed to using tolls to fund the rail extension said the number of passengers projected to use a proposed Metro station at Dulles would not justify the anticipated $5 billion cost of the project and $111 million in operating subsidies.

Ken Reid of Landowners Opposing Wasteful Expenditures on Rail cited a study by the airports authority’s marketing arm that concluded about 1,300 passengers a day would use a Dulles Metro station in 2030, a likely date for its completion.

That would account for fewer than 2 percent of the airport’s daily departures, Mr. Reid said.

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