Dulles Broad Run Starfish district supervisor Shawn Williams (whom I think of as a pretty good guy whose party let him down), sent out a newsletter today. It included a description of efforts made by outgoing delegate David Ramadan and the Loudoun board of supervisors to lower tolls on the Greenway. Here’s what Sup. Williams said:
Last month, Delegate David Ramadan, who represents Virginia’s 87th District, and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors took new steps in the ongoing effort to lower Greenway tolls. Both Ramadan and Loudoun County filed legal briefs with the State Corporation Commission in appeal of its Hearing Examiner’s findings, which did not result in a change to Greenway tolls.
The Board of Supervisors, along with Delegate David Ramadan, who represents Virginia’s 87th District, has taken steps to address this legal issue. In December of 2012, Delegate Ramadan filed a complaint with the State Corporation Commission and in January of 2013 the commission approved an investigation of the Greenway tolls. The complaint argued that the commission should set tolls at a level (1) “which is reasonable to the user in relation to the benefit obtained;” (2) “which will not materially discourage use of the roadway by the public;” and (3) which will provide the operator no more than a reasonable return as determined by the commission.” Loudoun County supports Ramadan’s approach as a party to this legal action.
The case initially went to a Hearing Examiner appointed by the State Corporation Commission, who did not rule in our favor. However, both the Board of Supervisors and Delegate Ramadan filed legal briefs with the State Corporation Commission in appeal of its Hearing Examiner’s findings, which did not result in a change to Greenway tolls because we believe this ruling was in error. Following the filing of the legal briefs onMarch 30th of this year, the full State Corporation Commission is expected to hear the case in the coming months.
I think most Ashburn area commuters would agree that the Greenway is discouraging use of their road due to high tolls. Clear evidence of this fact can be found in the daily traffic jams on Waxpool Road and Route 28. , the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has classified portions of Waxpool Road and Route 28, which serve as the main alternative to the Greenway for commuters from the Ashburn area, with a Level of Service of ‘F.’ Subsequently, VDOT and Loudoun County have been forced to expend significant funds for traffic improvements and maintenance on the alternative corridors that could have been unnecessary if the Greenway’s fee structure were more reasonable.
Now that’s all well and good, as it looks like our electeds are fighting for us. Except… the decision to set tolls where they are was authorized–as it must be, under the Code of Virginia–by the State Corporation Commission. That’s the same State Corporation Commission that is reading all those legal briefs Williams talks about. In effect, with the fox guarding the hen-house, our electeds have have taken their complaints to the fox. Ramadan is not a lawyer, but I am and Williams is. The two of us who are know what the chances of getting a judge to rule against himself or herself is, and the chances of the SCC ruling against itself are probably about the same.
The solution, which the SCC has pointed out before, is to change the law. Right now, existing law requires the SCC to agree to a rate schedule that guarantees the Greenway a reasonable profit (and, with Republicans running the legislature, one would dearly love to ask them what Ayn Rand would have said about a law that guarantees a private company’s profits). Without a change in the law that governs the SCC’s rulings, the tolls on the Greenway are never going down. Likewise, as every Loudouner knows, distance pricing would be a major step in the right direction. Again, the SCC itself has said it is powerless to impose distance pricing, because of existing law.
David Ramadan has tried to make “fighting” the Greenway a feature of his two terms in office. But it’s a fight he has always known he can’t win, because the real solution would require a change in existing law. Shawn Williams and the rest of the Loudoun supervisors can’t change existing law. Who can? The legislature that includes David Ramadan as one of its members can. The General Assembly could mandate distance pricing. The General Assembly could grant the SCC more flexibility in its oversight of the Greenway. But neither Ramadan nor any other delegate whose constituents pay the Greenway’s tolls has tried to change those laws. (Jim LeMunyon, while famously calling the Greenway tolls “taxes,” tried to give local government the power to veto toll increases, a transparent ploy to make them take the blame for it when they had to choose between allowing higher tolls or raising local taxes, which he has since abandoned after everybody started laughing.)
Filing a legal brief is about all a local elected can do. But one of David Ramadan’s enduring failures as a legislator will always be that he claimed to want lower tolls on the Greenway, yet never used the power that he alone, as a member of the legislature, had to get them for us. Instead, he fought an irrelevant battle he could never win, where the only prize was the credit he gave himself for having fought it.