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Weren’t Maximum I-66 Tolls Supposed to Be $7 During AM Rush Hour? So Much for That?

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Wait, weren’t maximum tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway supposed to be $7 during morning rush hour? That’s what this September 2015 WTOP story reported, per VDOT.  Well, guess how high tolls were this morning?  Hint: a lot higher than $7 (see screen shots below). So what’s the deal? And where’s all this windfall going, by the way? I sure hope into investments in high-quality (e.g, NOT right next to traffic spewing out fumes) bicycle lanes, rapid/reliable buses, Metrorail with dedicated funding, carpooling options, etc, etc., and NOT to the private, for-profit company running this operation. The broader question is whether roads built with public money should be accessible only to those who have $34.50 or whatever to spend on their morning commute — or convenient, reliable alternatives to get back and forth from work. Plus, of course, are we investing money into encouraging sprawl development or into transit-oriented smart growth? Are we coordinating land use and transportation in a smart way that takes into account a variety of factors, including of course serious environmental concerns?



UPDATE 6 pm from VDOT:

A.M. STATS: 66 EXPRESS LANES INSIDE THE BELTWAY
Usage statistics following first morning rush hour
 

FAIRFAX –– (4 p.m.) The new 66 Express Lanes inside the Beltway opened to traffic for the first time today, 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. from I-495 to U.S. Route 29 in Rosslyn. During the four-hour period, about 11,000 vehicles passed through the Dulles Connector Road merge to the eastbound 66 Express Lanes, which is the most heavily traveled point on the lanes.
Following the first morning rush hour for drivers using the new 66 Express Lanes inside the Beltway, the Virginia Department of Transportation provides the following statistics:
E-ZPass
About 86% of users traveled with E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex. The remaining 14% were likely traveling without a transponder (this figure also include motorcycles, which do not need a transponder to use the lanes).
High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV-2+)
About 37% of vehicles traveled as carpools and rode for free (using E-Z Pass Flex set to HOV-this also includes buses) over the four-hour period.
Average Speeds and Travel Times
Average speeds on this segment of I-66 were 57 miles per hour, compared with an average of 37 mph at last year this time.

Average travel times were 10-12 minutes for the I-66 corridor during the morning rush hour, compared with a range of 15 to 25 minutes during a typical Monday morning period.

Arterial Routes
Signals and engineering staff monitored parallel arterial routes such as George Washington Parkway, Routes 7, 29, 50, 123 and 193. On average, traffic volumes, speeds, and travel times remained similar when compared with figures from last year at this time.

Pricing
Prices for a trip along the entire nine-mile corridor ranged from $4.50 at 5:36 a.m. to $34.50 at 8:36 a.m. Each price remained for six minutes (toll prices are updated every six minutes).
As traffic volumes climb, the system responds by raising the toll price to help manage the number of vehicles getting on the roadway, to keep the traffic flowing freely. The price is an indication that the system is becoming fuller and fuller.
If You Traveled Without a Transponder
Drivers who missed a toll or traveled without a transponder can visit 66expresslanes.organd select “Missed a Toll,” and enter their license plate. The transaction will show within three days of travel, and can be paid within six days of travel to avoid receiving a violation notice.
VDOT will mail a violation notice on the seventh day to drivers who traveled without a transponder.

At any time, drivers can call the E-ZPass Customer Service Center at 1-877-762-7824 for help from call-takers.

More on the Rules
Beginning today, on weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and 3 to 7 p.m.westbound inside the Beltway, vehicles with two or more people can continue to use I-66 for free with an E-ZPass Flex, while single-occupant drivers have a new option to use this stretch of I-66 by paying a toll via E-ZPass.
All vehicles traveling during these periods need an E-ZPass transponder, and HOV-2+ vehicles need an E-ZPass Flex transponder switched to HOV mode to travel for free.
Exemptions for Dulles International Airport users and Clean Special Fuel License Plate vehicles (hybrids) are no longer in effect. The lanes remain open to all users during off-peak periods, including weekends.
The I-66 Inside the Beltway Express Lanes-the nation’s first peak-period, all-lanes-dynamically-tolled roadway-are designed to offer new travel choices that move more people on I-66 with greater speed and reliability. Toll prices will change based on real-time traffic volumes in order to manage demand for the lanes and keep traffic moving.
Reminders for Drivers
  • Get an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex: All drivers on this section of I-66 during express lane hours must have an E-ZPass if driving alone, or an E-ZPass Flex if traveling toll-free as HOV-2+. Get an E-ZPass and view all available retail locations at http://www.ezpassva.com/ or by calling 877-762-7824.
  • Plan ahead and know your travel options: I-66 drivers are advised to plan ahead for their commutes as the region adjusts to new rules of the road. Consider carpooling or taking a bus. Visit www.CommuterConnections.org for information on all local commuting options. Also visit I-66 Commuter Choice to learn about new multimodal options in the corridor.
  • Download the app: Download the 66 Express Lanes mobile app or visit 66expresslanes.org for current toll price estimates (and soon historical toll rates) to help plan your commute and decide whether to use the Express Lanes.
For more information, visit 66ExpressLanes.org.
Follow VDOT Northern Virginia on Twitter: @vadotnova
END
  • Quizzical

    The tolls will be as high as they need to be to keep traffic moving, VDOT says. In other words, if you have to ask what the toll is, they don’t want you there.

    • Of course, the solo drivers were never supposed to be there, so this gives them the option, but only if they have the $$$.

      • Perseus1986

        The solo drivers before, and now too if they are not wanting to pay tolls, would just use Arlington Blvd anyway and come in on the Roosevelt Bridge with 66 into Washington. If they want to really make drivers think twice about driving into DC alone they should make the tolls at all points of entry with high fares for solo drivers.

  • Perseus1986

    I’m all for it. Basically the message is if you are commuting into Washington, you have no real excuse to be solo driving inside the Beltway. Those that do are wasting space on the road and resources by and large. Make them pay the high fees.

    • My understanding is that the three recounts not subject to litigation (e.g, other than HD-28) will be done by the end of this week. Not sure about HD-28, as there are active lawsuits…

  • Chris Slatt

    The WTOP story was poorly written – $7-$9 was the projected AVERAGE toll. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d9efe0449ebd01927d9c957bbc33d5d2d4df88ae2a00359ff03c0e0abc95a132.png

    • Fair point. Still, were tolls as high as we saw today ever envisioned and articulated by Gov. McAuliffe or other elected officials? If so, I don’t recall that…

      • Chris Slatt

        VDOT tried very hard to never float a max toll, though I think at some point they threw out $19 or something in that range as a “common maximum” projecting it would only go over that under extreme circumstances or something similar. I can’t find the presentation now.

        The entire value proposition is predicated on being able to raise the toll as high as necessary to keep traffic moving, so it’s really hard to give a maximum. If you cap it, then potentially you end up with congestion because you aren’t giving people enough of a disincentive to take the HOT lanes which lowers the toll road’s credibility in the future AND (more importantly) penalizes the HOV travelers.

        If the toll regularly exceeds $15 each way, there are a lot of people who aren’t going to be able to take them with any sort of regularity. But every person who DOES take them is paying into a pot that will improve the overall transportation system in the corridor. That’s the magic sauce that helps the equity of this HOT facility. You don’t get that on 95 or 495.

        • dave schutz

          I’m not personally convinced that the toll ought to be excused for car pools. The enforcement problems of distinguishing between solos and pools are high, and if all cars pay the same toll – say, $12 or so – you provide a pretty big incentive for toll sharing car pools.
          If there’s too much spillover to Rte 50 and Lee Hwy – toll them, too!

          • Quizzical

            Now that you mention it, I wonder how are they going to prevent solo drivers from flipping their EZ pass transponder to HOV? Seems like it will have to involve examination of photographs.

          • dave schutz

            The VDOT rep at a meeting to which I went said they have a way of knowing. There are problems with enforcement! but this isn’t one of them.

  • Quizzical

    “Exemptions for Dulles International Airport users and Clean Special Fuel License Plate vehicles (hybrids) are no longer in effect.” Does that apply to electric vehicles too?

    It always appeared to me, whenever I had a chance to look, that there were a high percentage of solo drivers on I-66 during HOV hours who weren’t driving hybrids. This new system seems to make it harder to cheat. We’ll see.

  • Quizzical

    This post is a wake up call for everyone to re-evaluate their commute periodically. There might be a better solution.