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Thursday, December 14, 2017

I-66 tolling is not causing more traffic on Route 7 or 50, VDOT claims

The new express lanes on I-66. [WTOP/Dave Dildine]
Express lane tolling on Interstate 66 inside the beltway has not had a negative impact on other roads in the Seven Corners area, says Amanda Baxter, special projects development manager at the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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. 


Anonymous said...

I find this interesting. I drive home on 50 every evening from DC to 7 corners. I have noticed the backups on 50 are starting further in Arlington (i.e. at George Mason and 50) than before (Wilson and 50). I attributed this to the former HOV violators that are now using 50 and it seems like a lot. It has added approximately 10-13 minutes to the commute home. I feel like that is significant since I like close enough in that those further out would have more time. But perhaps it is just more Christmas shoppers. Has anyone else noticed a difference?

Mister Broyhill said...

ANON 1:17 I too take a similar route and have noticed the difference.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I trust VDOT's assertions. Traffic has been more bumper to bumper on 50 than it was before. Even Columbia Pike seems worse.

Jeffrey Longo said...

My bullshit detector is going nuts with this one. Going to need to see exactly how they did their measuring, because anecdotally the roads have seemed notably more congested. I’m not going to be taking their word on this.

Josh Byrd said...

Even Sleepy Hollow seems to have more backups since the tolls.

Anonymous said...

I have noted VDOT putting out any counters (the electronic devices) to measure traffic on 50 or 7. So how do they know if traffic is any more congested or not? And, logically if less cars are traveling 66 then what they used to - those cars have to go somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Me, as well. Back ups do seem to start earlier. And I agree with others, here — haven’t seen any counters, so how does VDOT know.

Anonymous said...

Considering Solo drivers where not allowed on I66 at all during those times before but now have to pay toll if they want to use it, does that mean solo driver who were cheating before are being forced onto other roads?

Anonymous said...

In addition to (or in lieu of) tolls on I-66, they should just make it a four lane double-decker highway. Fewer exits on top level to speed travel time. Car volume is not going down anytime soon with all the housing going in... everywhere. Time to build vertically.

Jeffrey Longo said...

I lost you at double decker... I don't know where you think there will be money to build that kind of thing. Also, so you expand the capacity up to the river - but then what? DC's roads can't handle that kind of capacity, so 66 will still back up.

i66 certainly has room to be expanded, but there's only so much you can expand its capacity before other areas become a problem.

Anonymous said...

Yes. There were lots of cheaters prior. Also they extended the restricted time by several hours. Hybrid cars were allowed to use the HOV lanes and now are no longer able to do so. Apparently there were a lot of hybrid drivers using 66, so now they have to use other roads, get a passenger, or pay the toll.

Anonymous said...

Time to build a metro system that is accessible and reliable. Mason District has the worse access to metro. An express bus that get stuck in traffic to get to the Pentagon. Doubles the commute time. Driving is a pain but still cuts the commuting time down. Until Fairfax grows up and commits to a metro system that gets its citizens to work traffic will continue to increase. Poor leadership keeps focusing on HS name changes and their pet social programs instead of making Fairfax a desirable place to live and work. Time to get rid of leadership and bring in innovative and youthful leaders that understands the issues.

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