Home Barbara Comstock Video: Del. Marcus Simon Calmly/Rationally/Factually Explains I-66 Tolls; Rep. Barbara Comstock Demagogues

Video: Del. Marcus Simon Calmly/Rationally/Factually Explains I-66 Tolls; Rep. Barbara Comstock Demagogues


Thanks to Del. Marcus Simon for calmly, rationally, methodically laying out – with those pesky things known as “facts” (heh) – what the deal is with inside-the-Beltway I-66 tolling. See below for the short section (~7 minutes) where I think he really lays it out concisely, in a nutshell. Also see below for the full video, in which Del. Simon responds to questions from constituents (and others). I’d really love to see this type of discourse by other elected officials, and also by politicians running in VA-10, etc., rather than angry tweets or other such unhelpful behavior. Again, thanks to Del. Simon for treating us like intelligent adults…

  1. Tolls are not about raising money, “this is not privately owned” or “for the benefit of any corporation”; “VDOT owns this facility inside the Beltway”…people have this project “confused with the Beltway HOT lanes and with the 66 outside the Beltway.”
  2. Tolls are about “changing people’s travel patterns and behavior”
  3. The money raised will “stay in the corridor and will be used by multimodal improvements.”
  4. This is about selling excess capacity on the HOV lanes, because “most of us couldn’t use those lanes…anyway,” but they were getting “clogged up and bogged down” with folks who claimed to be coming from Dulles Airport (that exemption is gone), with carpoolers who had hybrids that were grandfathered in and “cheaters” (who were bogging down I-66).
  5. Why are tolls as high as $35-$40?  a) those are only for going from “end to end” but b) “it’s really not designed to be paid….it is designed to keep single occupancy vehicles from getting on the road…because they want to keep the traffic flowing…or those HOV folks.” It is NOT “price gouging,” “that’s not what it’s about.”
  6. VDOT has promised some stats on what the average toll that people are paying really is, probably VERY few people actually paying $35 or $40.
  7. There are big benefits to these tolls, as they make the road useful for people who live in the area – Del. Simon provides a great example where he paid 50 cents and was able to pick up his daughter, drop her off at home in McLean and them make a meeting in Merrifield, something he couldn’t have done a week ago. “It helped our family…that’s a 50 cent toll that helped me get from point A to point B in literally half the time.”

And now, for how NOT to communicate with the public, here’s Rep. Barbara Comstock. As is her wont, Comstock unhelpfully demagogues the issue. I don’t know about you, but after she votes for the GOP tax monstrosity, which will screw over her constituents in VA-10, it’s very hard to take seriously her new-found “outrage” over supposed harm to her VA-10 constituents (again, note that previously, solo drivers couldn’t legally use I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour, now can CHOOSE to use it for a fee, or call Uber/Lyft, or take Metro, or carpool, etc. and not pay any toll at all – their choice).

  • A_Siegel

    Another advantage worth highlighting, with all the illegal use prior to the HOT, legal users were really slowed down. I’ve heard from some car poolers (HOV 2 or more) that their drives are much cleaner now than before the tolls.
    The extremely high tolls are well outside what any of the public discussions suggested would occur, from what I can tell. Purposeful or inadvertent misdirection is a legitimate question.
    However, the real point is to look at the purpose of the tolls: it is not primarily revenue enhancement (consider tolls getting into New York City — don’t seem to care, as long as $s being generated, if backup is moving at 2 miles/hour or 50 … and it seems always to be at that $2 level) but enhancing a better working transportation system. That includes not just I-66 but also Metro, busses, biking … Now, I will only use I-66 as a solo driver during priced hours for a solid reason where the $ payment will be worth the reduced travel time. If I chose to pay that fee (whether $050 or $50 (hopefully not)), I would be more outraged over getting stuck at 5 mph than at paying the toll.

  • AG

    As much as I would like to view the new system as a smart, multimodal, and pro-transit project, the system assumes several things that are not true:

    (1) that Metro is a reliable and affordable public transit system, which it is not. Need I note that it costs an upwards of $17 to get from Reston to Metro Center in DC during peak hours, including the $5+ parking garage fee. The delays, malfunctions, and persistent lack of access for people with disabilities due to elevator breakdowns are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Metro’s reliability.

    (2) that other roads can handle the added capacity due to increased numbers of solo drivers with hybrid plates who previously used the I-66 & solo drivers who used I-66 inside the Beltway between 9-9:30am and 6:30-7pm. The new rules extend the HOV restrictions by the half hour, creating lots more gridlock elsewhere.

    (3) that the highest volume occurred inside of restriction hours. But we know that the highest volume actually occurs OUTSIDE of the restricted hours. Thus, there is no congestion relief where it was most needed. People who are able to will time their commutes differently.

    (4) that the toll surges are due solely to increased demand. Anyone who has driven on this stretch of road understands the glaring infrastructure problems that inherently slow traffic at any time of the day on this road.

    I’m definitely not at all buying Barbara Comstock’s sham of a letter but that does not at all mean that the new restrictions haven’t created a monstrosity. They are to me well intentioned but remarkably tone deaf.

    The added investment in public transit also is unlikely to reduce the cost of public transit. This is a big point for me. We hear all of this talk of public transit investment. Every time investments are made, prices go up – not down. We pay some of the highest fares to ride the bus and take the Metro in the country. You’re not going to convince people to take subpar public transit at price points these high.

    Of course, this problem is bigger than Virginia and involves many different actors. But that to me says that putting this system into place here is not the right move yet.

  • Quizzical

    Tolls are not about raising money? It’s a cliche that whenever someone says it’s not about the money, it really is about the money.

    I’m sure the rest of it is true. They do want commuters to take mass transit if they can. They do want to change behavior. They do want traffic on I66 inside the beltway to move. They do want to enforce the HOV rules.

    I guess just like flowers are the language of love, tolls and fees are how VDOT and others tells us what behavior they want from is. So when they offer free parking at park and ride lots, with cheap express bus fares to a Metro station on the Fairfax Connector, there is a message there. If you can find a better value, take it.

  • Kenneth Ferland

    Seems like the smarter system would be to lower the HOV ‘head count’ threshold during these times of low demand. And then just put in a flat ‘missing head’ cost which applies at all time and call it a FINE not a toll.

    For example, in Rush-hour threshold 3, car with two passengers pay $10 fine, car with one passenger pays $20. Off-hour, threshold 2, car with two passengers pays nothing, car with one passenger pays $10.