Is the Dulles Toll Road toll a toll? Or a tax? And who has jurisdiction to make the decision?
Those are among the questions being pondered by a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in D.C., which today heard arguments from the group called “No Toll Increase.” The group has challenged the legality of using a portion of the tolls collected on the busy commuter highway to fund construction and operation of the Metro Silver Line.
The group’s attorney, Bob Sincar, argued before the panel that, under Virginia law, proceeds from tolls can only be used to fund construction and maintenance of the roads and bridges on which the toll is collected. He also argued that since the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which owns the toll road and is building the Silver Line, is not an elected body it does not have the authority to impose a tax.
But the MWAA’s attorney, Stuart Raphael, said the tolls are clearly user fees, not a tax, since they only imposed on those using the road, not on those who choose to use other roads, take the train or stay home. He argued that all the proceeds of the tolls are used within the Dulles transportation corridor, thereby benefiting everyone within the corridor.
A question that could derail the court’s deliberations is whether it has jurisdiction over the matter. One judge suggestion the case should be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia.
The MWAA is an interstate compact. Its governing board is made up of representatives appointed by elected officials from Virginia, D.C., and the federal government. None of its members answers directly to voters and until recently, the board operated largely without oversight. It has since come under withering criticism for lavish spending, lax personnel policies and displaying a lack of concern to local citizens’ sensitivities.