The $150 million Virginia officials are considering contributing to the planned Silver Line extension could delay toll hikes on the Dulles Toll Road, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s financial advisors said Wednesday.
Bonds backed by future tolls are anticipated to be a primary source of funding for the second phase of the rail extension, which will take the Silver Line from its temporary terminus in Reston to Washington Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.
Although the number of drivers using the road would likely drop by about 18 percent, the toll highway could support toll rates of $4.50 per trip as soon as next year, according to an updated traffic and revenue study by airports authority contractor CDM Smith. That is double this year’s rate of $2.25 per trip.
However, the increase could be smoothed out with the $150 million in state funding, said Jim Taylor of Mercator Advisors. The authority would use the $150 million to help pay down its debt faster, reducing possible tolls by as much as $1.75 for a year or longer.
All of the tolling projections in the latest traffic and revenue study are theoretical. The airports authority board will have a public process later this year to formally consider a toll rate increase for 2013, and the amount of potential increase has not yet been proposed.
The newer traffic and revenue study anticipates slower growth during the next 20 years than a prior evaluation, slightly reducing the estimated toll revenues that can be achieved each year.
However, the prospective toll rates evaluated in the study remain largely the same, with sharp increases every five years and no change in the intervening years. For example, tolls could increase to $4.50 per trip in 2013, $6.75 per trip in 2018, $8.75 in 2023, and so on.
With each price increase, and with the advent of the Silver Line, the number of people using the toll road would go down from a little less than 100 million transactions per year now to about 75 million transactions per year in 2018, according to the latest projections.
Potential toll increases likely will change depending on the actual costs of the project, the interest rates of the financing, and the availability of other revenue sources to support the project, said authority President and CEO Jack Potter.
The numbers in the study assume the cost of the portion of the project backed by tolls is the full $3.2 billion, and that it is not reduced by having Fairfax and Loudoun counties build parking garages and the Route 28 station, Potter said. It also assumes the authority will get no additional state money.
“This is very dynamic,” he said of the tolling rates. “From the best we know, this is on the high end.”
The rates examined in the study also could accommodate a cost increase, Taylor said. It would just affect the length of the financing period.
“It’s not as if this is the project cost and this is what the tolls have to be,” Taylor said. “If things change ... we change our financing assumptions.”
Airports authority staff will propose toll rates for 2013 and future years on March 21. Public hearings on any proposed rate hikes would occur in June and July, and the board would likely set toll rates for the next few years in early fall.