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Richmond Judge Puts Va. Toll Road Transfer Back on Track

Thu November 20, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) A Richmond judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s planned transfer of the Dulles Toll Road to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, ruling Oct. 17 that toll revenue is not the same as taxes.

Two northern Virginia residents claimed in their lawsuit that the transfer would violate the state Constitution because it wasn’t approved by the General Assembly. They also claimed the power to tax — or in this case, collect tolls — is vested in the legislature, which may delegate that power only to local or regional governing bodies.

Circuit Judge Margaret P. Spencer said in a one-paragraph order that there was legislative authority for the transfer and that tolls “are neither taxes nor revenue of the Commonwealth.” She granted the state’s motion for a judgment in its favor and dismissed the lawsuit.

This marks the second time Spencer has thrown out the lawsuit. The first time, she ruled that state transportation officials are immune from such claims, but that ruling was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court in June.

Patrick McSweeney, attorney for plaintiffs Patrick Gray and James Nagle, said he was unsure whether he would appeal again because he had not discussed the latest ruling with his clients.

Under a 50-year agreement with the state, the airports authority would operate the road and collect the tolls, some of which would be spent on construction of a 23-mi. (37 km) Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport.

“Moving this substantial project forward through strong partnerships will result in greater transportation choices for Virginia residents, particularly in our most congested regions,” Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said in response to Spencer’s ruling.

State Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer noted that the transfer is necessary for the state to obtain federal approval of the project, which he said is “critical to the success of Virginia’s economy.”

Gray and Nagle want toll fees to go toward maintenance of the road rather than the rail project. They also are concerned that the state will give up control over the amount of the tolls, which range from 50 cents to 75 cents.

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