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

June 16, 2015 9:00 PM10 comments
FALLS CHURCH VICE MAYOR David Snyder (at podium) welcomed a large audience, only half of which is shown in this photo, to Falls Church's Henderson Middle School Tuesday for an information session on plans for the makeover of Interstate 66 inside the beltway. (Photo: News-Press)

FALLS CHURCH VICE MAYOR David Snyder (at podium) welcomed a large audience, only half of which is shown in this photo, to Falls Church’s Henderson Middle School Tuesday for an information session on plans for the makeover of Interstate 66 inside the beltway. (Photo: News-Press)

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.”

 

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10 Comments

  • I support tolls on I-66 100%

  • 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:

    * No widening
    * Publicly owned High-Occupancy Toll Lanes (HOT lanes) in the peak hours only, in both directions
    * Conversion from HOV-2 to HOV-3 during peak hours
    * Toll revenues go to transit needs in the corridor, including Lee Hwy
    * The highway remains free outside of peak hours

    This makes sense because:
    * Widening I-66 will only mean more cars and worse bottlenecks on access points in Falls Church, Arlington and DC. May also jeopardize the W&OD
    * This helps manage rush hour traffic and will help to address the traffic problem in what used to be the “reverse commute” direction.
    * The public will control the revenues and the money will be invested in more transit service.

    So carpoolers won’t pay the toll and although single drivers would pay the toll, they are restricted from the road now. The new scheme opens up the road for them that was previously restricted during rush hours. This also addresses the diversion question: single drivers that are currently not on I-66 (presumably on Lee Hwy and Arlington Blvd) will now be allowed to use it.

    • You completely ignore the facts that: 1) Reverse commuters face no restrictions now, and in fact some have considered this fact in establishing their places of residence. 2) Simply making things more difficult on people to use I-66, and for many a toll is a big deal, will unavoidably impact the residents who will now have to deal with additional traffic on local streets.

      Once again, improving the lives of the people who drive the economy of the entire state takes a back seat to expediency. We need a comprehensive and robust mass transit solution to the traffic quagmire, and one that is financed by returned a larger fraction of the many millions sent to Richmond. Combined with a rational increase to the state gas tax, we could, and should, focus on making NoVa a showplace for light rail and bus networks designed so that people actually use them instead of cars.

      • We certainly need better and improved transit options but the state just went through the process of increasing the gas tax so that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Lobbying the legislature for more money is a tired strategy and probably fool’s errand. In the meantime, conditions on I-66 continue to get worse, without any additional attention to transit. That’s why VDOT’s plan to tie at least part of the toll revenue to transit improvements in the corridor makes sense now.

        And, yes, the revenue commuters don’t face regulatory restrictions but they certainly are restricted now because of the traffic problems there (which ranks among the worst in the nation.)

        • Win Singleton

          We already have the funding though the Regional Congestion Relief Fee enacted in 2013 which collects $2.50 per
          $1,000 of the Sales Price at every real estate settlement here
          throughout Northern Virginia. These funds are going straight to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for use exclusively in Northern Virginia and they have already collected hundreds of millions of dollars.

  • Win Singleton

    What seems to be forgotten is that the Virginia legislature passed the Regional Congestion Relief Fee into law in 2013 which collects $2.50 per $1,000 of the Sales Price at every real estate settlement here throughout Northern Virginia. These funds are going straight to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for use exclusively in Northern Virginia – not down state. So far, hundreds of millions of dollars have been collected. So why aren’t those fees being used to fund this project rather than imposing a toll on all drivers both ways during peak hours to bring in revenue?

    From http://www.mwcog.org/transportation/weeklyreport/2015/01-20.asp that shows the Constrained Long Range Plan from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments –

    ————————————
    Inside the Beltway, the proposal calls for charging tolls for all vehicles with fewer than three people traveling either direction during morning or evening peak periods. Those with three or more people would travel for free. Today, the highway is restricted to vehicles with two or more people during peak periods, but only in the peak direction.

    The proposal also calls for widening a portion of I-66 by 2040 from two lanes in either direction to three — from Fairfax Drive to the Beltway.

    All together, the cost of the project is expected to approach $100 million.
    ————————————

    It is easy to see that the Regional Congestion Relief Fee could easily pay for that amount without any need for a toll at all.

    To say we need to add another toll road, instead of using the money already collected as cited above, in order to generate additional revenue to fund this project is to admit the failure of state and local government to meet one of the basic needs of all of it’s citizens, namely efficient transportation. This should all be funded out of the taxes all of us are already paying.

    • The problem is that the taxes all of us are already paying don’t come close to paying for the transportation investments we need.

      So an important point here is that the excess toll revenue would help support additional (but still TBD, far as I can tell) transit investments in the corridor.

  • Allen Muchnick

    Since the primary purpose of the proposed tolls is to reduce and effectively manage traffic congestion on I-66 (to better incentivize transit and ridesharing and thus move more people through the corridor with fewer delays) and NOT to raise revenue, the tolls on I-66 can and should be reduced to ZERO *whenever* I-66 is not congested. In that way, “reverse commuters” who travel alone or with just one passenger during the HOT restriction times would also not be tolled whenever I-66 traffic in that direction is not congested.

    If no or very low tolls (e.g., $0.01/mile-$0.05/mile) are charged to reverse commuters who travel outside the “peak of the peak” commuting period, when I-66 would not be congested, much of the grumbling among current motorists as well as the feared diversion of I-66 traffic onto alternative routes could be eliminated.

  • The project needs to include a congestion toll on all the approaches (GWP, Route 50, and I-66) to the Roosevelt Bridge during AM PEAK. The transaction point would be in Virginia. This project will be useless if this piece is not implemented.

  • Todd Gallant

    I have to admit that I’m not really thrilled by any of the arguments being made for the institution of more tolls. You present a logical approach and analysis that looks good on paper but it only increases the current angst with the system that’s already in place. Additionally, you now want to further tie people down to new car pooling
    rules in order to be able to drive to and from work. It’s not that I’m “un-green” but it’s a bit impractical to have to be tied down to the schedule of my other two ride
    sharing friends who may or may not work with me in my office location. We have different life schedules outside of the office and different family functions that start at all of the wrong times etc. Not to mention the unexpected (quite often) need to work late or show up early to prepare for that all important meeting. Ride sharing is not a bad idea but not a practical one either. I understand that paying for any improvement is a colossal headache but tolling is not the answer. As an
    individual rider I’m already required to add an extra hour to my drive time each
    way because I’m not allowed to use the major thoroughfares during “going to
    work” hours. Your explanation and proposals are telling me to either quit my job and find a different one closer to my home or tell my kids that they can’t play baseball this summer because dad has to spend the extra time and money in gas with my current trip or suck it up and pay the ever increasing tolls that have creeped up to a point that rivals my gas and maintenance costs.

    Cost aside, what the region really needs are more access points and a much stronger rail and bus program. Compare our great “leader of the free world”
    city to any other major city throughout the world and you will notice how absolutely
    terribly designed we are when it comes to connecting outside of the district. Unless the businesses and jobs surrounding our seat of government decide to move from the inner city location (highly unlikely) this problem will only continue to grow exponentially as land in Loudoun County fills up with multi-use living structures. More and more of our more affluent citizens are moving their families outside of the
    congestion in and around the beltway for a better cost of living, quieter family environment and good school systems. Let’s face it, Charlestown and Martinsburg West Virginia should be considered DC suburbs now.

    Just a few ideas. Some crazier than others….

    1. Open another bridge or two over the Potomac into Maryland and spread out the population from the Virginia side.

    2. Figure out where to build more access points into and out of Virginia instead of bottle necking the three existing roads that do.

    3. Build a double decker road system over current routes if land can’t be attained due to current population and structure.

    I don’t need to tell you that these things should have been done years ago at costs far less than they’ll be today. It hasn’t been a surprise that Loudoun and Fairfax counties have been the fastest growing in the nation for many years running. Unfortunately, as is customary for our region, we wait until the last possible minute to address a reactive need and have no strategic funding in place which could also be earning some sort of interest. This leads to the only course of action left which is taxing the users who really have no choice.

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