I-66 Inside Beltway tolls speed up rush hour commutes, VDOT says

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Updated Dec 18, 2017
Graphic by Virginia DOTGraphic by Virginia DOT

The Virginia Department of Transportation says morning and afternoon commutes are getting faster on I-66 Inside the Beltway with new Express Lanes that opened December 4.

The lanes are designed to encourage carpooling, with vehicles carrying two or more passengers exempt from tolls. Solo drivers pay a toll to use the less-congested lanes. The toll is charged only during rush hours and is determined by the amount of traffic congestion. The tolls were criticized by some during its first week, when they reached $40 on one day.

The toll system appears to be leveling out, and travel times are becoming more predictable, according to VDOT’s assessment of the tolls for the first four days.

“Based on four days of data, it is clear that the Express Lanes on I-66 Inside the Beltway are already providing an improved and more reliable trip for carpoolers, bus riders and solo drivers who choose to pay,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne. “Travel times on I-66 were 10-12 minutes over the four-hour rush period last week compared with 15 to 30 minutes last December, and travel times on parallel roads are either similar to last year or improved.”

VDOT reports that the average round-trip price was $14.28 – with the morning average being $10.25 and the afternoon rush average at $4.03. The tolls are automatically charged on drivers’ E-ZPasses.

The agency also says the tolls led to more carpooling. On December 4, 38 percent of Express Lane drivers had two or more drivers. That figure rose to 43 percent on December 7.

The highest price paid for a toll was $40 paid by 28 drivers during the morning rush hour on December 5. After that day, peak tolls have ranged from a low of $10.75 in the afternoon to a morning high of $26.75 through December 7.

The VDOT also notes that travel speeds have increased during the morning commute. Last December, traffic between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. traveled 30 mph or less and stayed below 45 mph until after 10 a.m. In contrast, travel speeds throughout the morning commutes during the first week of the Express Lanes were 55 to 60 mph.

Some had wondered whether the faster travel times were coming at the expense of parallel routes. VDOT says that was not the case, with Route 7, 29 and 50 seeing similar or faster travel times from last December.

The toll revenues are used to increase carpooling and bus service, as well as make other traffic improvements, on the state’s I-66 corridor, the agency says.