Virginia Board Approves Rush-Hour Tolling Plan for Busy I-66 Inside Capital Beltway

AASHTO Journal, 11 December 2015

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board voted Dec. 9 to accept a plan from Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne and Gov. Terry McAuliffe to begin high-occupancy tolling of rush-hour traffic on 10 miles of Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway to Washington, D.C.

The plan is part of a set of projects to ease some of the worst traffic congestion in northern Virginia and perhaps the nation.

The Washington Post said this is the first time that the Virginia Department of Transportation would develop HOT lanes without adding lane capacity. It plans to do so by converting the route’s existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which are subject to police enforcement, to tolled lanes by installing automated tolling infrastructure.

VaDOT_logo.jpgThat is expected to be ready by mid-2017. But the Post said the plan faces a fight comes January in the General Assembly, where opponents are backing legislation to block tolling of existing I-66 lanes.

VDOT said the policy panel approved “new travel choices to ease congestion and improve reliability on I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hours.” Improvements under the plan “will move more people with fewer vehicles,” it said, by increasing transit and carpool use while drivers of single-occupant vehicles pay tolls to use the highway for the first time.

“After years of exhaustive study and public input, we finally have a pragmatic solution that can be can be implemented quickly and provide real results to improve traffic flow on one of the nation’s most congested roadways,” said Layne.

“There is no question that something has to be done now to get traffic moving on I-66 inside the Beltway, and I am confident we have the right solution to bring congestion relief at a reasonable cost,” said VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick.

The CTB also approved an agreement with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission in which VDOT will develop and manage the tolling operation, and the NVTC will invest toll revenues in multimodal improvements in the corridor aimed at moving more people through carpools and buses. That commission had already approved its part of the agreement to invest toll revenues.

The project aims to deliver reliable rush-hour travel speeds of 45 mph in the peak direction on a route that now becomes a daily slow-moving slog of bumper-to-bumper vehicles.

It would implement dynamic tolling in 2017 for single-occupant vehicles but exempt traffic with two riders or more, with average tolls projected at $6 a trip depending on distance traveled. That would change to three-person minimums in 2020 to avoid paying tolls.The lanes will remain free to all traffic during off-peak periods, and there will be no tolling in the reverse commute.

VDOT expects the planto reduce more than 26,000 person-hours of delay a day by 2040 and move 40,000 more people along I-66 each day. The agency estimates 2018 toll revenue of $18 million, and said all toll receipts will be used on transportation improvements in that corridor.

It also has a backup feature in case traffic is not flowing better in five years; toll revenues will then be used to widen part of I-66 eastbound, from where it links up with the Dulles Connector Road to the heavily used Ballston interchange.

But, said Layne, “before spending a minimum of $100 million to widen the road, it is fiscally responsible for the commonwealth to exhaust all common-sense options that will get traffic to move more efficiently through increased bus use, transit options and better managing the space we have by encouraging carpooling.

“Improvements can start quickly in a cost-efficient manner,” he added. “This project finances itself, with every cent raised from toll revenues going back into the corridor.”

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