Yikes, the I-66 Toll Hits $44

Image of the $44 toll captured by commuter Chris Kane and published by the Washington Post.

Uh, oh, the Interstate 66 inside-the-Beltway toll hit a new high — $44 — Thursday morning. That price lasted only six minutes, and Virginia Department of Transportation officials attributed the increased demand along I-66 to congestion at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and an incident on Interstate 395 that created a “potential ripple effect.”

Whatever the cause, we can be sure that this will not be the last time that there are ripple effects from congestion at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge or an accident on I-395.

I know all the arguments in favor of dynamically priced tolls as a tool for rationing scarce highway capacity, and I even agree with them. But I’m also a realist. Politically, $44 tolls for a 10-mile ride will be hard to sustain. While only a tiny fraction of drivers paid that top fare, plenty of other drivers paid $20, $30 or more. Trying doing that day after day — such sums add up fast. Drivers don’t care one whit for economic theory and maximizing utility. All they know is that they’re they’re being robbed while “someone else” is making out like a bandit.

When voters get mad, legislators get mad. When legislators get mad, they do stupid things. This cannot end well.

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28 responses to “Yikes, the I-66 Toll Hits $44

  1. It will be disappointing if they change the policy. This should bring in almost $40M in revenue to support TDM. The commonwealth wants to use the some of the revenue to support a second rosslyn station and expanded long bridge. http://www.novatransit.org/uploads/meetings/2017/Dec2017kit.pdf#page=95

    Long Bridge:
    http://longbridgeproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/LB_EIS_2017_1214-Public-Meeting-Boards-24×36-FINAL.pdf

    Second Rosslyn Station:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2017/12/13/a-second-metro-station-for-rosslyn/?utm_term=.ef4e98016dcd

  2. Did traffic keep moving at a decent pace during that period? It’s a pure “time is money” equation, right? Many, many people have touted this as a panacea so let’s see how it plays out for a while. As you’ve noted, before this system was installed single drivers were prohibited (perhaps they used to cheat) and even with this system a car with sufficient riders remains free….my prediction is in a few months it will be almost all car-pool compliant vehicles.

  3. “All they know is that they’re they’re being robbed while “someone else” is making out like a bandit.”

    You are right. And in how many ways are the wealthy “making out like a bandit?” Many ways far beyond just the tolls. This is why this will fail. It is grossly immoral.

    • The same principle applies to the costs higher education. So the current system will far too. The larger and more important question is whether these outrages will bring down our society with them.

  4. fixed-price tolls won’t work unless you set the toll near the high point. Otherwise – you’ll have people paying a lower toll but sitting in gridlock.

    Once you realize that the tolls are set in real-time by a computer – with the express purpose of maintaining a 45 mph minimum speed..adjusting to the congestion level in real time – it makes no sense to go back to fixed tolls.

    It was not possible until technology brought vehicle transponders and road-sensors that can be accessed by computers in real time. Prior to this “variable” tolls were implemented by time-slots..with the toll – fixed for a given time window.

    This is how supply/demand really does work in the real world , it’s what conservatives have usually supported for most products and services including health care. – Congestion Pricing actually came from Conservative think tanks like Heritage…

  5. Shouldn’t Metrorail prices increase when cars are overcrowded? WMATA does charge higher rates during rush periods, but why not use dynamic pricing when there are overflow crowds, such as the peak of the peak, after Nats’ games or the 4th of July?

    What’s the difference?

  6. This is public theft. The stealing of something you did not build to benefit yourself on the backs others then rewarding yourself for the mess you made at the expense of everyone else instead of fixing the problem that you knowingly caused in the first. It is a sure sign of a culture in decline. And its a sure sign of the abuse of the majority of citizens by one class of privileged people. It is a government that does not deserve to stand.

    • Reed, who are the robbers? The state owns the roads, and the state is collecting the money from the tolls. The state is plowing the money back into alternative transport modes for the I-66 corridor. One can legitimately debate how well the state will invest these funds and effective those alternatives will be, but it’s not as if private parties are making gobs of money from this.

      • “but it’s not as if private parties are making gobs of money from this.”
        correct, however every other vdot toll in the past decade does have them, and that precedent has been set.
        trust is not given.

        • “Trust is not given.”

          Why not? The McAuliffe administration inherited a mess from the McDonnell administration and cleaned it up. Working with the General Assembly, the McAuliffe team re-wrote the Public Private Partnership law. Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne adopted an entirely different approach for I-66 than had been contemplated previously. I think the administration has earned trust on this particular issue.

      • Believe me, they are making gobs of money. They built the place wrong to make gobs of money so made a mess of other citizens lives and now are trying to bail themselves out of their growing losses (think commercial notes and mortgages coming due on obsolete building) by using these punitive tolls that will fix nothing, only make matters far worse, instead of solving the problem which they have known how to solve for decades. These are classic robber barons run amuck in a corrupt system.

  7. In all fairness to VDOT, the contract with Transurban does contain provisions that require profit-sharing with VDOT at some level. I don’t know what that is. But there is also a requirement for VDOT to spend the money locally and not first send it to Richmond.

  8. I noticed this article on thursday (https://wtop.com/dc-transit/2017/12/first-4-days-66-tolling-numbers/), regarding the numbers through the week, and I find it INCREDIBLY interesting that using congesting based pricing, the times with more users have a lower average rate.
    Because that is not how congesting pricing works.
    How convenient it will be for VDOT when they claim proprietary data on their algorithm and will not release it to the public.
    And even if it is correct, and they are right, without releasing it, people like me will never trust them and will always talk against them.

  9. I’ve expressed some sympathy here for the plight of SOV commuters who found themselves hit by tolls in hours that used to be free, due to expansion of the HOV hours.

    But according to the WaPo, this $44 toll was at a time in the heart of the former HOV hours, at 8:26-8:30 am. So any SOV paying that toll today is someone who could not have even used I66 at that hour before this month — legally, that is. And those meeting HOV2 requirements not only paid no tolls, but got there at full speed, rather than half that as was typically the case around 8:30am before December.

    What are these SOV spoiled brats complaining about?! #nosympathy

  10. conspiracy theories are popular these days but the simple reality is that there are two choices for I-66 – let it gridlock at peak hour or use congestion pricing to keep if flowing.

    We’re going to see more and more of congestion pricing as a method to manage congestion … most every urban area in the country is either using it now or has it under consideration – not at a revenue generator – but as a way to keep free-flow conditions on the roads.

    It does not preclude building more roads or widening existing ones when the right-of-way is available and money is available – but more and more either one or the other or both is not – and the simple reality is if you do widen roads it only invites more SOV drivers.

    Don’t blame govt, or VDOT or entertain conspiracy theories.. just recognize that the real problem is that too many people want to drive their cars solo and we are basically out of roads to continue that.

    And yes.. spoiled brats is one way to correctly describe some of them.

    People want what they want and to hell with everything else..

    • Larry some of the “spoiled brats” are in Arlington, banning needed road regional projects such as I-66 expansion. Some of you are saying driving SOV should be painful and curtailed and effectively banned, but geez nice attitude. We have millions of drivers here. We have 2 big bottlenecks up here due to lack of lanes, I66 through Arlington and I495 thru to MD over the bridge.

      • Nice Comment, TBill. A bit of common sense and fair thinking injected into a sea of confused thinking, avoidance of fact and bogus analysis. American who want to drive their own car are responsible for Northern Virginia’s Development Nightmare, and need to be severely punished, threaten with bankruptcy, so they can never drive their car alone again. It’s akin to blaming your wife and kids, or you cousins and uncles and sisters, or neighbors for you own incompetence, ignorance, or greed.

        What is happening here. Several Reasons or agendas come to mind:

        1/ Stuck on Stupid.
        2/ Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil.
        3/ A severe case of Projections, blaming the victim.
        4/ The Red Herring Tactic.
        5/ Blind Privilege and greed.
        6/ Myopia.
        7/ Original Sin run amuck.

        Or some combination of the above.

  11. I think it would be helpful to remember in this conversation that Arlington County made a strategic decision not to widen I-66. Accordingly, with such restricted capacity, VDOT limited access to inside-the-Beltway to HOVs and hybrids during rush hour. No one else could use the highway during that time. Remarkably, there was no controversy. Yet all these highly relevant facts seem to be forgotten.

    The only losers from HOT lanes are the hybrid drivers. They now have to pay. But solo drivers of regular cars now have access to the highway if they are willing to pay, which they were not before.

    How is the new situation any worse than what transpired before? If you didn’t drive a Prius or other hybrid, you were out of luck. Now, if you’re desperate to get into D.C. quickly, you now have an option you didn’t before.

    • “I think it would be helpful to remember in this conversation that Arlington County made a strategic decision not to widen I-66.”

      I have heard that claim recently too. I consider it a legend. One I never heard during the time spend over the better part of four years there in Arlington County acquiring a site and developing a building there starting in the very early 1980s. No, what drove that horrible decision was the newly emergence environmentalists in the neighborhood and region who were chaining themselves to old trees in the right of way that had long been planned for eight lanes until the environmentalist forced it down to two lanes over objections from others, including me, who hated the decision to cut off access to the outer suburbs. At that point Arlington’s location has Tysons beat hands down period. There was no reason to cut off access from the Beltway or Dulles whatsoever. Narrowing those lanes were a threat to my project, not a benefit.

    • Jim- Fair point, but I do not think it is Hybrid drivers who are complaining (maybe a few) – don’t forget nobody could get I-66 Clean Fuels plates since July_2011, so those numbers are dwindling . I did see a number 17,000 grandfathered Clean Fuels plates still in use, but I am not thinking all of those are I-66 commuters….maybe half.

      The bigger numbers of HOT lane losers are the SOV commuters who went into work early to hit the HOV before 6:30…that time window was changed to 5:30AM. Then you have quite a number of SOV cheaters, so that “ban” on SOV was never water tight.

      Also if I understand the logic of the HOT tolls is to set them higher at 5:30AM to discourage early use of the lanes and then the toll drops a bit. This why the HOT lanes on I95 generated traffic jams at 5:30AM that never existing before, by forcing everyone off the HOV lanes at 5:30AM, I’ve heard said.

      Luckily for me I am retired and live a bit south of the I66 mess. But I can see on weekends traffic backing to Fairfax on I66 due to the lane bottleneck in Arlington.

  12. I think it would be helpful to remember in this conversation that Arlington County made a strategic decision not to widen I-66. Accordingly, with such restricted capacity, VDOT limited access to inside-the-Beltway to HOVs and hybrids during rush hour. No one else could use the highway during that time. Remarkably, there was no controversy. Yet all these highly relevant facts seem to be forgotten.

    The only losers from HOT lanes are the hybrid drivers. They now have to pay. But solo drivers of regular cars now have access to the highway if they are willing to pay, which they were not before.

    How is the new situation any worse than what transpired previously? If you didn’t drive a Prius or other hybrid, you were out of luck. Now, if you’re desperate to get into D.C. quickly, you now have an option you didn’t before.

  13. “Now, if you’re desperate to get into D.C. quickly, you now have an option you didn’t before.”

    No, if you are wealthy you can increasingly drive anywhere you want with convenience in Northern Virginia. If you are not rich, you increasingly cannot drive anywhere with convenience. These tolls will assure that privilege for the rich, and those the rich chose to advantage by manipulating these tolls that are chump change for the wealthy corporate interests and individuals and peanuts compared to immediate threat to their businesses and real estate investments, and the cost otherwise to fix the underlying problems. Not those fixes can be put off yet again.

    Hence these dynamic tolls fix the travel problems of those interests who proposed and pushed through these tolls at the expense of their fellow citizens. Meanwhile, no one has been and no one now will be forced to effectively work on the highly flawed land use and development policies that have caused the problem in the first. Hence the dynamic tolls only encourage and ratify more of the same irresponsible land use polices and development that have plagued the region since the mid-198os. Here, Tyson’s is the original core problem, and always has been, as its use throttles transit in all directions given the surrounding geography, and how it too has been developed. Hence, for example, those traffic backups east of I495 down I66 past Falls Church that TBill describes have been going on regularly since it opened in 1982, but the root cause has always been the inexcusable land use at Tyson’s Corner as it has been acerbated and now put on steroids by an incompetent transportation policies that have made matters far worse. The examples are many, large and small, that act cumulatively causing the entire systems to fail. For example, I-66 inside the beltway severed Arlington north side into two parts, cutting off or severally limiting “secondary and tertiary roads, that earlier had snaked through the county providing commuters numerous options, alternative, and back ways, in times of overloads. I66 as it was build destroyed much of this flexibility, leaving a limited number of access points the quickly became chokes points that jam up quickly now in all directions for miles. The result has been feast or famine, going 55+ mile an hour in off hours, or getting caught quick in gridlock during ever lengthening parts of the day and night.

    These tolls will not solve the problem for anyone but rich. For then, it will provide them, their families, friends, and customers with multiple long term advantages, not the least of which is a highly efficient and coercive tool that the can manipulate at will, minute by minute, if need he, to keep their advantages in place at the expense of everyone else.

    • “Hence the dynamic tolls only encourage and ratify more of the same irresponsible land use polices and development that have plagued the region since the mid-198os. “

      Well, we agree on the origin of the problem — decades of catastrophic land use policies, along with transportation policies designed to support them. The question is what do we do about the situation in which we find themselves.

      We do not have blank slate. We cannot start from fresh. We have to work with what we have. As you and I have long agreed, Reed, we need to create what you call “traffic eating” land use patterns that encourage walking, biking, shared ridership, and, when someone absolutely needs a car for a trip, that encourages shorter trips. Unfortunately, those changes take decades to transform a region as large as Northern Virginia. What do we do in the meantime? I am hopeful that the Mobility-as-a-Service revolution will make good things possible. But that’s still some years off.

      If you don’t like the HOT lanes on I-66, what do you propose? The HOV lane status quo that favored hybrid vehicles (a sop to those willing to pay more for their automobile, a different kind of sop to the affluent.) How well was that working? What other practical alternatives does VDOT have to ameliorate the problem now?

    • Regarding Jim’s 11.15 am comment.

      Start with a building moratorium. No more building in N. Va. (or Fairfax County) until they modify their laws to prohibit building permits for any new construction that adds to the current traffic overload, and to require that all building permits demand new projects that Eats Traffic to the maximum extent reasonable given its circumstances, or that by very special exception are proven to be traffic neutral in lieu of existing structure there in place that are not traffic neutral.

      In addition, stipulate that all dynamic tolls should be lifted until such a traffic eating development ordinance is passed and is proven effective via its enforcement mechanisms. Until such time, and in the interim, a wholly new toll regime must devised and put to public referendum before implemented.

      WHY? Here are three reasons.

      1/ This is the only way that the special interests behind these tolls will agree to enact legislation that addresses effectively the roots of traffic gridlock. It is the only way these special interests will agree to stop building projects that add to the traffic problem instead of reducing it. Here recall TooManyTaxes recent comment in response to my question on that subject.

      2/ The moratorium will force the special interests behind the dynamic tolls to back off their continued push for special privileges as the exclusive remedy that otherwise will render their cooperation impossible to obtain in future. It will also focus all stakeholders now on the general welfare of all citizens since these special interests will then be forced to consider an equitable solution given the ongoing current economic threat to their investment assets. Nothing focuses one’s attention more on solutions than one’s liability and potential loss by reason of mortgages in default on vacate obsolete buildings that no one wants to rent. So now the focus will broader and more productive than before, since a fair and holistic solution benefiting all will LAST and will GIVE this region and its people back the future its deserves. For Now:

      3/ The current Toll regime as now set up does not work to benefit all citizens equally, and harms many of those citizens instead. Nor does it work to reduce traffic fairly for the benefit on all people and interests in the region.

      Indeed, it is not a transportation plan at all. It is instead a highly targeted and refined set of business strategies and tactics, disguised as tolls to fix traffic problems, but in fact designed to benefit a very few number of business and commercial interests (large corporate & real estate interests, and their owners) at the expense of most all other interests and stakeholders in the DC region, including most small businesses, and those dependent on them, not mention the convenience, lifestyle, and quality of life of vast numbers of people and families who lack the wealth of those who have pushed for and now manipulate these tolls.

      • A major wake up call of this dynamic toll regime is the great power that it can place in the hands of the few to control the many. The advent of these ever expanding new technologies, how they are deployed and who controls them, who they serve and advantage, and who they disadvantage, will surely be one the major challenges, dangers, and flash points in our future. Orwell’s 1984 has more currency and relevance to today than ever before.

  14. I hear planning could have been better, but NoVA was not destined to be farmland and forest west of Arlington…there actually are cars on the road.

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