Hundreds of protesters have signed a petition to fight higher tolls even as the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority kicked off a series of meetings Thursday to get public input on the toll increase, which would pay for the construction of the $6 billion Dulles Rail line.
The rates would rise to $2.75 in 2013 for a one-way trip on the toll road, and up to $3.50 in 2014 and $4.50 in 2015, according to the authority's proposal.
The electronic petition at NoTollIncrease.org, which so far has about 400 signers and hundreds of comments, reads: "By signing this petition I am saying NO to skyrocketing tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. ... Stop strangling our roads and the region's economy with tolls and traffic congestion."
Activists who opposed Loudoun County's participation in the Silver Line rail are behind the petition.
"Once Loudoun voted to get into the project, there's the same problems with the project, as far as it's going to make the tolls and the traffic and taxes worse for people," said petition organizer Daniel Davies. "So we're just moving along with the next stages to do everything we can to protect the people here in Loudoun County from the consequences of rail to Loudoun."
Airports officials say they're working hard to keep tolls as low as possible and that the tolls would drop if Virginia contributed more money to the rail project.
"We are keenly aware that the toll increases are a burden to motorists, and we are doing all we can to seek alternative sources of funding to help keep toll increases as low as possible," said airports spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs.
Davies said he and other activists aren't trying to sway airports leaders' minds as much as they are trying to get the Virginia General Assembly to intervene. They would like the state to take back the toll road, which was leased to the airports authority in 2008.
But even state lawmakers worried about the tolls don't have plans to attempt that, or to give more money to the rail project, said Del. Randy Minchew, R-Leesburg.
"Any money sent to MWAA for the toll project is going to be coming out of money we need for road improvements in Northern Virginia," he said, adding that he would be seeking "some kind of solution in place to make sure these tolls do not go out of control."