Tag: HOV lanes

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 >>

HOV switch on I-66 pushed back until 2020

FAIRFAX, Va. — The Virginia Department of Transportation has delayed a move to convert high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) rules on Interstate 66 until 2020, three years after tolls are introduced inside the Capital Beltway.

VDOT has suggested the conversion might happen when tolling began in 2017 during a meeting before the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board in January. Under the Constrained Long-Ranged Transportation Plan, VDOT must convert I-66 from HOV-2 to HOV-3 by 2020.

“It’s part of our air quality commitments and changing it would risk us losing federal transportation dollars,” said Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

There is a consensus among many across the spectrum that the delay is a good move.

“It’s a smart choice to say they’d start at two and move to three because slugging is a different culture,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “Both for buses and slugs, you need places for that to happen outside of the corridor. This gives us a chance to get that infrastructure into place.”

Adding tolls and changing the HOV rules would eliminate the clean plate exemption, which allows certain hybrid vehicles to use the HOV lanes even without two people. The Coalition for Smarter Growth backs the delay as well, even though the group aims to get as many cars off the road as possible.

“This decision makes sense,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Delaying until 2020 puts it in sync with what they’re doing on I-66 outside the Beltway. We’ve recommended that VDOT do some market studies to make sure that HOV-3 is going to be effective and there will be demand for it.”

Even Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity supports the move, although he has serious concerns with the overall plan on I-66 inside the Beltway.

“With HOV-2 and the hybrids — our HOV is just not working,” Herrity said. “We need to get that fixed. We’re going to need to go to HOV-3 in that corridor. It’s very unpopular, but if we want to move people through carpooling, then we need to go to HOV-3.”

Among those opponents are groups like the 66 Alliance.

“For owners of hybrid, electric and other clean fuel vehicles, that could mean you would pay tolls of up to $10,000 per year to continue to drive in the HOV lanes during rush hour,” the group wrote on its website. “HOV-2 carpoolers would be forced to find another carpooler, pick up an unknown passenger [aka “a slug”], or pay similar tolls to enjoy the same HOV privileges you currently take for granted.”

There could be one potential problem from the delay. Drivers will need an E-ZPass Flex transponder in HOV ON mode in order to get a free trip with two passengers, similar to the 495 and 95 Express Lanes.

But since the HOV-rules will not be in sync between 2017 and 2020, vehicles with two people will have to remember to turn on the HOV mode on I-66, then turn it off before entering the 495 or 95 Express Lanes.

If a driver were to forget to turn off the HOV mode when exiting I-66 for the Capital Beltway, he or she could be subject to a ticket for an HOV violation on the Express Lanes. The first violation carries a $125 fine and then it escalates up to $1000 for a fourth offense.

Read on WTOP >>

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.