Tolls on Virginia’s new Express Lanes on Interstate 66 Inside the Beltway have been raising eyebrows – and emptying wallets – with some drivers paying as much as $40 to travel 10 miles.
The first week of the new lanes’ operations, which began December 4, has seen a backlash from drivers, and politicians are vowing to curtail the charges.
The express lanes from Northern Virginia to Washington, D.C., are free for drivers with one or more passengers. But solo drivers who want to enter the zippier lanes must pay a toll, which rises and falls depending on the amount of traffic. High-traffic times on the heavily commuted route yield higher tolls in the Express Lanes.
The tolls, which are charged on drivers’ E-ZPasses, seemed to reach a peak on December 5 at $40, according to The Washington Post. The Post reports that peak tolls dropped to $23 on December 6 and $25.50 on December 7.
The Inside Beltway Express Lanes are in effect during rush hours – 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and 3 to 7 p.m. westbound Monday through Friday. All other times, the lanes operate free as normal lanes without occupancy restrictions.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is standing behind its new tolling system, saying that morning and afternoon commutes on December 4 were faster than that same day in 2016 – at 10-12 minutes versus 10-20 minutes. VDOT also says the average round-trip toll price during peak hours was $14.50, which is lower than the estimated average toll rate of $17 predicted in 2015.
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne noted in the Post article that drivers don’t have to pay the toll if they have a passenger in their vehicle or choose to stay in the regular lanes.
“Contrary to the continued political rhetoric of critics, I-66 Inside the Beltway Express Lanes tolls have been based on sound planning and with the ultimate goal of improving travel for everyone,” Layne said in a news release. “We want to move more people, improve connectivity and provide additional travel choices. This is about unlocking gridlock on I-66 as Governor McAuliffe pledged.”
The VDOT is planning similar Express Lanes on I-66 Outside the Beltway. After those lanes open, scheduled for 2020, vehicles in the lanes must have at least three occupants to avoid the tolls.