WASHINGTON — The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is giving Northern Virginia residents the chance to weigh in on the authority's hotly-debated Dulles Toll Road rate increase schedule.
MWAA has asked for public comments, setting a deadline of Sept. 16, and will feature three "open house" events in the communities of Ashburn, Reston, and McLean.
The authority is also encouraging comment online and through the mail regarding the toll rate proposal, which would raise rates from their present $2.25 mark for two-axle vehicles to $2.75 next year, $3.50 in 2014, and $4.50 in 2015.
The tolls back the bonds used to finance the construction of the Dulles Metrorail project, an extension of the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority's Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.
MWAA operates the road under a 50-year agreement signed in 2008 with Virginia.
The toll rates have been a subject of contention for residents along the Dulles Corridor. A dustup occurred early this year after Terry Maynard of the Reston Citizens Association criticized the revenue projections produced for MWAA by the firm CDM Smith, accusing the forecast of an "optimism bias" and imploring the authority and other stakeholders to defer further advancement of the project without further analysis. One of the projections produced for MWAA showed tolls reaching $6.75 by 2020 and $10.75 by 2030.
Both CDM Smith and MWAA defended the projections and denied any irregularity in the numbers.
An "online open house" now available at the MWAA website touts the benefits the tolls could bring to the corridor. The authority will also have informational exhibits at the live events, MWAA spokesman Kimberly Gibbs said in a statement.
The comment period opens against a turbulent backdrop.
A multi-party effort aimed at reforming the MWAA board of directors in the wake of conflict-of-interest scandals is underway, and a letter signed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray urged the authority leaders to immediately strive for transparency and stricter oversight.
Maynard said Reston plans to take advantage of the formal chance to comment.
"While it is not clear yet what we will say or how we will say it, we almost certainly have something to say on the matter," Maynard said. "Given MWAA's constant repetition that it and it alone has toll setting authority, I doubt it will have much impact, but we will give it a try."