Tag: toll lanes on I-66

VDOT Plan to Add Tolls to I-66 Gets Tough Reception

The plans developed for a 25-year upgrade of Interstate 66 inside the Beltway by the Virginia Department of Transportation were presented at a heavily-attended public meeting at the Henderson Middle School in Falls Church Tuesday night, and left the audience more than a little unsettled, based on the comments and grumblings from many there.

The plans include the introduction of tolls for all vehicles carrying less than three passengers during rush hours in the morning and the evening, and going both ways.

The presentation faced a lot of angry criticism from the public that spoke up Tuesday night, including from Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder, who, even though he welcomed the audience on behalf of the City, issued a statement that exemplified the sharp criticism that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and other planning officials were subjected to.

Snyder criticized the “lack of clarity and assurance” in the proposals, including “whether people will actually pay the tolls on avoid them and further clog already congested roads such as Route 7 and 29…The only long-term solutions lie in alternatives to more lanes to serve single occupancy vehicles.”
Others assailed what they called “a money grab” and “holding Falls Church and Fairfax hostage to tolls.” Whereas the comprehensive plan is not slated to be completed until 2040, the tolling will come in the first phase set to go by 2017, according to the planners Tuesday.
The overall purpose of the plan, officially called the “I-66 Multimodal Project,” is three-fold: to move more people, “enhance connectivity” between travel modes, and to provide new travel options.
Its benefits, according to VDOT and its partner in this project, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), are to “move more people and enhance connectivity in the I-66 corridor, provide congestion relief and new travel choices, manage demand and ensure congestion-free travel, provide a seamless connection to nearly 40 miles of express lanes in the region, create a ‘carpool culture’ on I-66 by providing free, faster, more reliable trips for HOV-3, van pools and buses, and provide support for multimodal improvements in the corridor or on surrounding roadways that benefit mobility on I-66.”
It is not related to another plan which calls for the widening of I-66 west of the Beltway, although they interface and of course are on the same highway.
The more specific data many citizens demanded Tuesday night will be forthcoming in the fall, insisted VDOT officials. The studies of various components of the plan for more precise numbers will be coming over the next months.
Snyder’s concern for the spill-over effect onto side roads, like Routes 7 and 29 that criss-cross the City of Falls Church, was expressed at a Falls Church City Council work session Monday night, and was the concern of a number of those who spoke Tuesday.

However, in comments e-mailed to the News-Press following Tuesday’s meeting, Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth wrote, “We are generally supportive of the VDOT proposal. It is a viable alternative to widening which would do more harm to homes, neighborhoods, parks, schools and the highly utilized commuter bike trail.”

He added that “peak hour congestion pricing in both directions will ensure the road works effectively and with HOV and expanded transit could carry far more people per hour,” and would “certainly help to address the current severe congestion in the ‘reverse commute’ direction.”

Pending more data, he added, the “diversion of traffic…might turn out to be no more than the diversions prompted by the current traffic congestion on I-66,” and “is counterbalanced by the fact that currently single occupancy vehicles are barred from I-66 for the peak hours and have been using parallel roads. With the option to pay for a free moving facility as compared to navigating local arterials with stoplights, the toll option could help local streets.”

Robert Puentes, a planner and former member of the Falls Church Planning Commission, wrote online at FCNP.com that “The VDOT plan is the right one to deal with the intractable problems in the I-66 corridor. There’s a long way to go to refine the proposal and the devil’s in the details but the general plan is a good one.”

In an anonymous response to Puentes on FCNP.com, a commenter complained that “reverse commuters face no restrictions now and in fact some have considered this in establishing their places or residence.”

He argued, “We need a comprehensive and robust mass transit solution to the traffic quagmire…We could focus on making Northern Virginia a showplace for light rail and bus networks designed so that people actually could use them instead of cars.”

Read the original article here.

Searching For Transit In I-66 Expansion Plans; Public Funds Give Virginia Options

Virginia is thinking about taking a different approach to toll roads.

After ceding future toll revenue on the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes to the private-sector firm that built those highways in Northern Virginia, officials announced on Tuesday the results of an internal analysis on whether planned toll lanes on I-66 from the Beltway to Haymarket should remain under state control.

By fronting up to $600 million in public money for the estimated $2.1 billion project to build 25 miles of high-speed toll and carpool lanes on I-66 outside the Beltway, the state could reap hundreds of millions in toll revenue over the next 40 years to pay for other transportation improvements, said Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation.

“The private sector is going to build this road. The private sector is probably going to operate this road. I’m not sure if the private sector is going to finance this road,” Layne said in remarks to reporters.

If the state decides to publicly finance the widening of I-66 to 10 lanes (five in each direction: two HOT lanes and three regular purpose lanes), it would mark a significant departure from the policy of previous administrations.

In the multibillion-dollar deals that built the Express Lanes on I-495 and I-95, the state’s financial commitment was small; the international road-builder Transurban took on the risk by financing the projects through a combination of private capital and federal loans. Thus, Transurban received concessions from the state to collect almost all the toll revenue on I-495 and I-95 for the next 70 years.

Such an arrangement is known as a public-private partnership, or P3, and Layne would not rule out another P3 for I-66.

‘We didn’t get transit’

“We didn’t get transit,” Layne said. “We might have made a different decision or the public might have weighed in differently had they known the project would have been different.”
Although the two toll roads may be helping drive-alone commuters and carpoolers, Layne said the benefit is coming at the expense of something else.

Only a fraction of the thousands of vehicles in the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes are commuter buses. Transurban has little incentive to increase their number because buses do not pay Express Lanes tolls.

The 95 Express Lanes averaged 304 bus trips per day and the 495 Express Lanes averaged 177 in the most recent quarter ending March 31, according to data released by Transurban. These figures include school buses and charter buses.

Ridership remains relatively low on the new bus routes on I-495. OmniRide’s route from Woodbridge to Tysons Corner started in Nov. 2012. Fairfax County Connector launched express bus service to Tysons from Burke in January 2013 and added routes from Lorton and Springfield added two months later.

Two and a half years after opening to the public, 11 percent of all traffic on the 495 Express Lanes was either HOV-3 or otherwise exempt from paying toll (buses or emergency vehicles) during the most recent quarter, up from 8 percent in the April 2013 quarter, according to Transurban.

The future of I-66: buses, trains?

The McAuliffe administration would like to see a larger public transit share on I-66, although it is unclear what shape it would take.

The internal analysis unveiled by Layne before the Commonwealth Transportation Board on Tuesday “demonstrated that of the several available options for procuring the project, a publicly-financed design-build project may save taxpayers between $300 million and $600 million and provide for up to $500 million to be used for future transportation improvements in Northern Virginia,” according to a VDOT statement.

Transit advocates favor public ownership of future tolls on I-66.

“Our community is not going to support any project that does not put transit upfront as a major investment that we need in the I-66 corridor. Public ownership of the tolls may allow us to do that,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and critic of the prior Express Lanes concessions.

“We’ve been disappointed that they failed to look at a transit-first alternative, simply looking at transit, transit-oriented development, rural land conservation, measures to reduce the driving demand overall and to shape land use to encourage more transit use in the corridor,” he added.

State officials are expected to make a decision on the I-66 procurement process this summer.

Updated 8:30 a.m., May 20.

Read the original article here.