|The new express lanes on I-66. [WTOP/Dave Dildine]|
Since the tolls went into effect on Dec. 4, “drivers on parallel arterial roadways, including Routes 7, 29, and 50, experienced similar or improved travel times,” Baxter told the Bailey’s Crossroads Seven Corners Revitalization Corporation at the group’s Dec. 12 meeting.
On Dec. 6, eastbound and westbound traffic on Route 50, for example, was “nearly identical” to that on the same day a year ago, she said. Westbound traffic on Route 7 on Dec. 6 was a little slower at the start of the evening rush, then was about the same as a year ago.
The tolls went into effect Dec. 4 for solo drivers eastbound between 5:30 and 9:30 a.m. and westbound between 3 and 7 p.m. on weekdays. The express lanes cover a nine-mile stretch between the I-495 interchange and Route 29 in Rosslyn. Drivers using the express lanes during the those hours must have an E-Zpass – a transponder attached to their windshield – for paying tolls.
Drivers with two more occupants aren’t charged a toll but must set their transponder to the HOV-2 setting.
Tolls are adjusted according to traffic demand – with the goal of keeping vehicles moving. The more traffic, the higher the toll.
The fact that tolls climbed to $40 at one point drew national media attention. According to Baxter, there was just a six-minute interval when 28 drivers paid $40 during the morning commute on Dec. 5. Thirty-nine drivers paid $34.50 on the morning of Dec. 4.
The average toll for eastbound drivers in the morning during the first week ranged from $8.20 on Dec. 6 to $12.87 on Dec. 5, she said.
The average toll for westbound drivers in the evening ranged from $3.80 on Dec. 4 to $4.30 on Dec. 7.
The tolls have been higher during the morning hours than for westbound traffic during the p.m. That’s because the vast majority of a.m. traffic is funneled into Arlington or Washington, D.C., while p.m. commuters have more destinations. Baxter says that makes it much easier to manage p.m. traffic; the greater capacity and larger number of people exiting before the beltway leads to lower tolls.
VDOT is putting historical information on its website and phone app showing the tolls charged at various times so people can decide in advance whether a faster trip is worth the cost.
VDOT found during the first week of tolling, it took drivers 10 to 12 minutes to the traverse express lanes between 5:30 and 9:30 a.m. That compares to 15 to 30 minutes during the same period in December 2016. The average a.m. speed for the first week was 57 mph.
Baxter advised drivers who don’t have a transponder and enter I-66 by mistake to pay the toll online. A $1.50 administration fee will be added to their toll. Drivers who get a toll bill in the mail will be charged a $12.50 administration fee.
A beacon on the gantries and state trooper cruisers monitor vehicles to determine whether they are HOV-2 or not.
The I-66 express lanes are operated by VDOT, not a private company, while the express lanes on the beltway and I-95 are managed by Transurban in partnership with VDOT.
The toll revenue from I-66 will be invested in the I-66 corridor for expanded bus, carpool, and other travel options aimed at moving people more efficiently, Baxter said. VDOT launched a new express bus route on I-66 on the first day of tolling between the Fairfax County Government Center and Foggy Bottom.
Construction for the I-66 widening project is slated to begin in July 2018, she said said. The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved an $85.7 million contract to Lane Construction Corp. of Chantilly Dec. 6.
The project calls for a new through-lane on I-66 eastbound between the Dulles Connector Road and Fairfax Drive in Ballston; ramp modifications on exit 66 (Route 7), exit 69 (N. Sycamore Street/East Falls Church Metro Station), and exit 71 (N. Glebe Road); repairs to bridges; new sound barriers; and a new crossing of the W&OD trail at Lee Highway.
The new eastbound lane is slated to open in September 2020. The rest of the project is expected to be completed in October 2021.