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If you’re thinking about using the Dulles Access Highway for “non-airport business” to avoid tolls or traffic, it will cost you. That’s the message Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Chief Stephen L. Holl wants to get out to the public.

To get that message across, MWAA Police are currently posting special patrols to catch drivers making u-turns at Washington Dulles International Airport simply to avoid use of the toll road. This illegal practice is known as “backtracking” and is punishable by a monetary fine and lost points on a violator’s drivers license.

“Backtracking is a moving violation that carries a penalty of three points plus fines beginning at $92. It is cheating and it is illegal,” Holl said. “It’s not fair to those who play by the rules and stick to the Toll Road for commuting and local travel. Our ongoing efforts to curb this illegal practice will help ensure the access highway is used properly.”

Mobile electronic signs placed at key points around Dulles International Airport currently advise drivers of the enforcement action. Police — some in unmarked cars — will pull over and ticket drivers once it becomes clear they are using the Access Highway without conducting airport business. According to Holl, official “airport business” is a somewhat cryptic term that can be redefined each year by judges hearing the cases of ticketed drivers pleading their cases. Nonetheless, police will ticket anyone suspected of the illegal activity.

“We give out about 1,000 tickets for backtracking each year,” Holl said.

According to MWAA, the Airports Authority does not receive money from these fines. Instead, fines are paid to the county in which the citation is written. Revenue from the Dulles Toll Road pays for the operation and maintenance of the road and helps fund construction of the Metrorail Silver Line in the Dulles Corridor.

“The majority of the citations are issued in Fairfax County,” said MWAA spokesman Rob Yingling.

According to Yingling, besides illegally avoiding tolls and traffic backups at toll booths, backtrackers also reduce the convenience of the Access Highway for airport users and add extra congestion to the HOV segment of I-66 inside the Capital Beltway, which has exceptions for airport traffic.

MWAA operates and maintains both the Dulles Airport Access Road and the Dulles Toll Road and manages construction of the Metro Silver Line project.

“No taxpayer money is used to operate the toll road, which is funded by toll revenues, or the airports, which are funded through aircraft landing fees, rents and revenues from concessions,” said Yingling. “The Silver Line construction is funded by a combination of toll-road revenues, airport contributions and federal, state and local government appropriations.”

MWAA employs its own police force to maintain order along both the toll road and access highway and in both Dulles and Reagan airports.“We have about 220 police officers total,” said Holl.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com