Tag: HOT lanes

I-66 tolling plan wins Commonwealth Transportation Board approval

The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) on Dec. 9 approved the McAuliffe administration’s proposal to allow single-occupant vehicles to use Interstate 66 inside the Beltway during rush hour, so long as they’re willing to pay for the privilege.

State Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, who chairs the board, called the unanimous vote a victory for both commuters who use I-66 and those who travel on surrounding roadways.

“The data is showing that all people will benefit, all people’s lives will be enhanced,” Layne said at the CTB meeting, held in Alexandria.

But critics kept up their drumbeat that unless I-66 eastbound is widened – sooner rather than later – the latest proposal is merely a stopgap that avoids the bigger questions.

“The issue isn’t tolling or transit, but how soon widening can be achieved,” said Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “This proposal kicks the well-documented need for widening down the road.”

Under the proposal OK’d by the state transportation panel, driving on I-66 eastbound during the morning rush and westbound during the evening rush will still be free, so long as there are two or more passengers in the vehicle (a number that eventually will rise to three). Those with one occupant, currently banned during rush hour, will be able to use the road in return for paying tolls whose amounts remain uncertain.

Some of the funds raised through the tolling will go to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which will parcel them out for improvements along the corridor.

The proposal has drawn pushback from advocates and lawmakers in the outer suburbs, who say their residents shouldn’t be forced to pay to use the road. But Layne countered that using excess capacity on I-66 will both raise funds and take drivers off surrounding arteries.

Saying that he understood the frustration of the plan’s opponents, and has taken some of their concerns into account, Layne said the Commonwealth Transportation Board and Virginia Department of Transportation do not have magic wands to solve all problems.

“Our role is to deal with the resources we have, and continue moving forward,” he said. “Our charge is to use [resources] as efficiently and as wisely as we can.”

Under the proposal, consideration of widening I-66’s eastbound side from the Dulles Toll Road to Ballston will not be considered until the 2020s, and only will go forward if certain thresholds are met.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth said those promoting widening as a panacea are stuck in a 1950s mindset.

“We should do our transportation-management smart,” Schwartz said. He noted that even if that portion of I-66 is widened, “there is no place for the cars to go” because Potomac River bridges and roadways in the District of Columbia can’t be widened to accommodate the increased traffic flow.

State officials say that once the project is up and running in 2017 – the last year of McAuliffe’s term – they will monitor what transpires and make adjustments as needed.

That’s a good idea, said Joung Lee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. He told CTB members that, based on past experience across the country, they should anticipate teething pains.

“You’re not going to find that sweet spot right away,” Lee said. “It will take some tweaks and some experimentation.”

Read at Inside NOVA >>

I-66 Expansion Is Probably Inevitable, And Decision ‘Will Not Be Vague,’ VDOT Says

Expanding I-66 inside the Beltway eventually will be necessary to meet Virginia’s goal of congestion relief in the corridor, says the commonwealth’s top transportation official.

“There is some traffic management we can do, but eventually there’s going to be expansion needed,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne in remarks to reporters Thursday at VDOT headquarters in Fairfax.

And by expansion, he essentially means adding a third lane eastbound between I-495 to Fairfax Drive. Adding a third lane on the other side isn’t practical, given constraints within the I-66 corridor.

When might it happen? It will depend on the effectiveness of initial steps designed to move an additional 40,000 people per day along the corridor. They will be a mix of congestion pricing with E-ZPass toll lanes and public transit, biking, and walking options paid for with toll revenues.

If “throughput” doesn’t adequately improve, the state would move toward adding the third eastbound lane.

“It’s both transportation and political realities that are driving this plan,” Layne said. “We agree we should exhaust every other opportunity that we can to move more people through before we [make] capacity changes.”

Data will drive any decision, he said.

“It will not be vague once the metrics are established,” Layne said.


Tolls first, another lane years later

Political leaders in jurisdictions inside the Beltway have long opposed expanding I-66 but reached an accord with VDOT on the possibility of building more lanes sometime before 2040. First, toll revenues will be used to pay for multi-modal options within the corridor, which includes Routes 29 and 50.

Starting in 2017 rush hour tolls will be charged during mornings and afternoons in both directions on I-66 inside the Beltway. HOV-2 carpoolers will ride free; the restriction will be tightened to HOV-3 in 2020.

Eastbound tolls during morning rush hour will cost as much as $9; westbound tolls will be $1. In the afternoon rush hour, westbound traffic will be charged tolls as high as $8, with eastbound motorists paying $2. Officials caution that the tolls will be dynamically priced based on traffic flow. Federal law requires that traffic maintain speeds of at least 45 miles per hour.

Drive-alone commuters currently are prohibited from using I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour, but the Virginia Department of Transportation estimates more than a third of eastbound traffic during mornings and close to 50 percent of westbound traffic in the afternoons is single-occupant vehicles. Not all are HOV violators, however. Some are exempted hybrid vehicles or emergency responders.

Still, the plan to toll the existing lanes would eliminate the majority of the cheaters while also enticing some drive-alone commuters who now avoid I-66 inside the Beltway to pay the toll for a faster ride. Sharp disagreements remain, though, on the issue of adding lane capacity.


Congestion pricing

Charging high tolls without adding capacity is a form of congestion pricing designed to stop single-occupant vehicles from flooding downtown D.C. and other destinations, although Layne declined to use that term.

“It’s a dynamic pricing plan that reduces congestion,” he said. “The objective is to move more people, and the way to do that is increasing transit that is available.” More than one-fourth of eastbound vehicles trips on I-66 that begin east of Rt. 267 end in the District of Columbia, according to VDOT data.

“I would say a poll would show that the overwhelming percentage of people in Northern Virginia including Arlington favor widening I-66. It is such an obvious need. Traffic backs up on 66 all the time,” said Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that lobbies for major, regional highway improvements.

Additional capacity is necessary for off-peak travel times, too, when tolls would not be charged, Chase said.

“If you just increase tolls during peak periods and add transit, you will totally ignore the congestion that occurs the rest of the day and on weekends,” he said. “If you are serious about reducing congestion on I-66 you have to add new lanes.” Chase noted his position would benefit high-capacity commuter buses in addition to cars.

Opposed to Chase’s view is Stewart Schwartz, the head of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which opposes major highway expansions in favor of transit and transit-oriented real estate development.

“What is ridiculous about the idea of widening I-66 is where do the cars go in Washington, D.C? Where do they go in the neighborhoods of Arlington and so forth? We have got to stop this process of building more [lanes] for more and more cars, and start focusing on moving more people,” he said.

Some congestion experts point to induced demand as the reason to avoid widening highways. In other words, build it and they congestion will come — eventually.

“The smartest solution is pricing,” said Todd Litman, the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia.

“It is foolish to add extra, free capacity. We know that for sure, because it won’t solve the problem that people are concerned about it. It won’t reduce traffic congestion because of the induced travel. There is latent demand,” said Litman, who noted each additional highway lane can accommodate only 2,000 cars per hour before degrading.

“On the one hand, there is a reluctance to expand roads,” Litman added. “On the other hand, motorists are extremely reluctant to pay anything. A lot of people are offended at the very idea that they should have to pay to use a road. Motorists are significantly subsidized and yet they still complain any time anyone wants to charge them more. They are particularly upset about the idea of congestion pricing. That is, any sort of pricing that is intended to change their behavior.”

The tolls drive-alone motorists pay for rush hour access to I-66 inside the Beltway will be used to increase mobility throughout the corridor, and officials said it will not take years for those improvements to be felt.

“We hope to put the multi-modal improvements in place on day one, if not sooner, and we think they will immediately start to make an impact,” said Nick Donohue, Virginia’s deputy secretary of transportation.

“You can expect to see new commuter buses, new carpool assistance, vanpools, and better access to the Metrorail stations,” he said.

Outside the Beltway

Secretary Layne’s remarks followed a major presentation by VDOT of its plans to transform I-66 outside the Beltway, the 25 miles from I-495 to Haymarket.

Construction is supposed to begin in 2017. The highway will be expanded to five lanes in each direction: three regular lanes and two express toll lanes with an HOV-3 exemption. The new lanes are scheduled to open in 2021.

First, however, VDOT must decide who will build it and under what financing mechanism. In December officials are expected to decide whether the project will be a full concession to a private-sector road builder, or publicly financed so the state may keep the toll revenues. In either case, Layne said there will be a public-private partnership.

Under current design plans, eleven homes would be condemned for the expanded right-of-way. Five are in Dunn Loring, where Deanna Heier said she and her neighbors are being penalized despite making the right decisions.

“We need to find a way that people can still live in Northern Virginia without running them over with highways. We picked these houses because they are near the Dunn Loring Metro. We picked it because it is near our work. But we are the ones who have to suffer for people who made a different decision.”

Heier’s home will not be displaced, but a ramp will “tower” over her house, she says, and the property surrounding the neighborhood’s school, Stenwood Elementary, will be impacted. Plus, there are four years of construction to look forward to.

Read this on WAMU >>

Estimates on I-66 tolls may shock commuters

HOT lane tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway could be $7 during the morning rush eastbound and $9 at the peak of the westbound rush in the afternoon, according to the Virginia transportation secretary’s office.

In Virginia’s high-occupancy toll lane systems, the toll varies with the level of traffic. It rises as travel demand increases to ensure that traffic remains free-flowing. At 8:15 a.m. Monday, the toll for using the northbound HOT lanes on the Beltway was $12.85.

But the state’s proposal for creating nearly 10 miles of HOT lanes on I-66 inside the Beltway is a bit different from the systems on the Beltway and on I-95/395. I-66 would not be expanded to add HOT lanes. Instead, the existing lanes would all become HOT lanes in both directions during the peak periods. Drivers who meet the carpool rules would travel free, but other drivers would pay the variable toll.

That proposal, which the state hopes to implement in 2017, has riled up long-distance commuters who would rather see the state widen the highway.

Others back the HOT lanes concept. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a regional environmental advocacy group, issued a statement Friday in support of the state’s plan, emphasizing that the toll revenue would support transit improvements in the I-66 corridor.

“We believe that the package of solutions proposed by VDOT is the most cost-effective and efficient approach to addressing I-66 congestion as soon as possible, and for maximizing the number of people who can commute through the corridor during rush hour, while also guaranteeing a much more reliable trip for everyone,” said Stewart Schwartz, the coalition’s executive director.

Schwartz was my guest for an online discussion Monday, and we talked about this issue.

Using the toll estimates in a transportation department document (reported by WTOP last week), the coalition made some comparisons.

The cost for a Metrorail trip from Vienna to Metro Center is $10.30, including station parking for $4.85 and the Metrorail peak fare of $5.45. The peak toll reported for the I-95 HOT lanes was $20.90, or 72 cents per mile for 29 miles compared with the state’s estimate of a 94 cents per mile toll on I-66. The maximum reported toll on the Beltway HOT lanes was $15.05 for the full 14-mile trip, or $1.08 per mile. (The coalition drew the maximum HOT lanes tolls from the quarterly reports produced by the operator, Transurban.)

The office of Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne confirmed Monday that the $7 and $9 figures are the Virginia Department of Transportation estimates for the peak tolls. While the carpool standard for a free ride in the HOT lanes will eventually rise to three people per vehicle, VDOT is considering whether to maintain the current two-person carpool standard for the first few years after the HOT lanes open.

These are some of the other highlights.

The system proposed for I-66 is different from the existing HOT lanes systems in that it would be operated and maintained by the state, rather than a private partner. The toll revenue remaining after expenses would support programs encouraging drivers to leave their cars behind for a trip in the I-66 corridor. These programs would be selected by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission board. They are to be implemented within four years of the funding allocation.

Under today’s rules, I-66 inside the Beltway is not open to drivers who don’t meet the carpool rules at peak periods. These HOV restrictions have created a pent-up demand among commuters, and the current outlet is to use other roads in the corridor. State transportation officials say that creating HOT lanes would allow some of that pent-up demand to use I-66, if the drivers are willing to pay the toll, and also ease congestion during the morning rush on the local roads that absorb today’s spill-over traffic.

There would be some bailout traffic from I-66 in the reverse-peak direction. These are drivers unwilling to pay tolls estimated at $1 westbound in the morning and $2 eastbound in the afternoon. Today, those trips are free and without HOV restrictions. Virginia transportation officials estimate the effect of this diversion on local roads will be minor.

Many drivers would not pay the full toll, because they don’t make the entire trip on I-66 inside the Beltway.

By 2022, vehicles with fewer than three occupants would pay an estimated toll of $8 during the morning peak and $1 dollar toll during the evening peak hours traveling eastbound. Traveling westbound, they would pay an estimated $1 during the morning rush and $3 during the evening peak hours, according to the VDOT numbers. By that year, VDOT hopes to have rebuild 25 miles of I-66 outside the Beltway so that it has three regular lanes and two HOT lanes in each direction. The department has not yet released estimates for typical tolls in the HOT lanes outside the Beltway.

Read on The Washington Post >>

I-66 coalition asks Virginia to reopen its congestion-relief study

The I-66 Corridor Coalition, a new group of community, transportation and environmental groups, is calling on the Virginia government to reopen a congestion-relief study for the interstate outside the Capital Beltway so that a broad range of options can be reconsidered. That study was completed in 2013.

Meeting to address concerns on I-66 HOT lanes

In announcing the forum, the Coalition for Smarter Growth named some of the popular topics in Fairfax County: How will homes and neighborhoods be affected? Will there be enhanced opportunities for walking and biking? What transit alternatives are being developed? How will the project affect parks, streams and natural habitats? What are the likely effects on everyone during the construction period?

Public meeting held on widening I-66, adding tolls

Schwartz says he believes transit is the best way to solve congestion problems. Hamilton says carpooling and rapid bus service with limited stops along the Express Lanes would encourage transit. But Schwartz counters that similar promises about new rapid bus service were made regarding the 495 and 95 Express Lanes and neither actually happened.

Virginia plan to make part of I-66 all HOT for rush hour raises concerns

Virginia officials have been saying for a long time that the traffic problems on I-66 are so bad that no single relief program will be sufficient. The toll revenue can raise money for other programs that could help get commuters out of their cars and open more highway space. Those efforts can include extra bus service and enhanced commuter lots.

Toll lanes lead way to major expansion of highway capacity in Virginia and Maryland

“Proponents of HOT lanes have always made ‘bus rapid transit,’ ‘express bus’ or ‘rapid bus’ a prime selling point for the HOT lanes, along with citing the extension of routes for carpooling. Yet the funding for expanded transit hasn’t followed,” Schwartz said.

Virginia officials consider HOT Lanes on I-66 through Arlington

It will also be the way the state attacks traffic congestion on I-66 from the Beltway west to Haymarket, as The Washington Post first reported. But adding lane capacity to 66 inside the Beltway has always been a tougher sell because of the opposition of Arlington County.

Officials to consider road widening, HOT lanes through Arlington portion of I-66

The state’s plans for an environmental assessment come as transportation officials are also moving forward on improvements outside the Beltway — plans that include building new high-occupancy toll roads in place of HOV lanes, creating space for rail and implementing other traffic-calming measures.