(what follows is the verbatim op-ed piece the Washington Post said they were going to run, but never did. More on this in the coming post.)
I served on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and Northern Virginia Transportation Commission in 2015 when the I-66 Inside the Beltway tolling plan was unveiled by Gov. McAuliffe’s Transportation Secretary, Aubrey Layne.
We were all outraged at the prospect of an $8.50 toll going East in the A.M., and same on the return trip in the P.M.
The toll revenue, we were told, would be used for a third inbound lane, but not if tolls reduced traffic congestion on the road. For decades, Arlington and Falls Church politicians and residents have kept this road from being widened using litigation and political maneuvering — despite the fact it is an interstate highway built by tax dollars.
Unlike the Capital Beltway HOT lanes, which toll 24/7 and in both directions, the I-66 “toll scam” only applies to solo drivers going Eastbound AM and Westbound PM. Hence, Arlington, Falls Church, Alexandria, and yes, DC and Maryland residents, can commute solo westward in the AM and pay no toll at all. An estimated 27% of Westbound motorists on I-66 are DC and Maryland but pay nothing for corridor road improvements.
Yet, a Fairfax, Prince William or Loudoun resident heading East in the morning pays some $14.50 to $40 depending on congestion on I-66. Totally outrageous given the high tolls thousands pay daily for the Dulles Greenway and Dulles Toll Road. In addition, despite the fact I-66 traffic can be bad in both directions nights or weekends, there is no toll – again, another advantage to Arlington and Falls Church.
During the fall 2015 campaign, Republican delegate and senate candidates put on their yard signs “Stop $17 I-66 tolls” and Democrat Sen. Jennifer Wexton joined the chorus in opposition to the 66 tolling.
McAuliffe and Layne assured the angry delegates and senators that the tolls would not be $8.50, but $6. This price was repeated in a VDOT press release when the Commonwealth Transportation Board — which comprises McAuliffe appointees — approved the plan in December 2015.
Del. Jim Lemunyon then introduced a bill in the 2016 session, HB 1, which would not allow tolling until the third inbound lane was in progress, but there was no toll cap.
This bill passed the House Transportation Committee, with all Democrats voting “nay.” His bill went to House Appropriations, where it was killed at the Governor’s request. There was apparently no Senate companion bill.
So, in my view, not only did McAuliffe and Layne mislead us, but our General Assembly let us down.
Indeed, I-66 is supposed to be HOV restricted, which means folks with special transponders who have at least a second passenger can ride for free.
Rather than being “induced” to carpool or use transit, I think most of these solo drivers will either change their work hours to avoid the high toll, or use Route 50 and GW Parkway as alternatives — thus messing up the commutes of others.
Due to the tolling, average daily traffic on i-66 eastbound is now only 15,000 cars going east — almost all carpoolers — versus an average 50,000 before tolling began. So, will there be enough revenue to widen 66 to three lanes?
On Dec. 7, VDOT awarded a $85 million contract to widen 66 and add access improvements from the Dulles Access road split to Fairfax Drive/Glebe Road. This is now slated for completion in 2021 – a few years earlier than expected. This is a good thing, but I still believe restriping and using the LEFT shoulder should be done in the interim.
I am concerned given the broken promises by McAullife and Layne some snag could delay this widening. Plus, some toll revenue goes to local projects in the 66 corridor – which include bike and pedestrian lanes for Arlington.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th) has written Layne with a number of concerns about 66 tolling. I would urge her to have USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao intervene and allow rules changes to toll westbound I-66 users in the AM.
Users from Maryland, DC, Arlington, Alexandria going West in the morning, and East in the evening, should be paying something, too.
I urge Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun commuters to lobby Governor McAuliffe and incoming Gov. Ralph Northam, along with our delegates and senators of both parties, to make this tolling more equitable and create an interim third lane inbound now through restriping and use of the shoulder. Let’s stop letting Arlington and Falls Church dictate transportation policy for the region.
Former Leesburg Supervisor and Town Councilmember