I-66 to gain toll lanes inside, outside the Beltway

WASHINGTON — The Virginia Department of Transportation is moving forward with a plan to add toll lanes along Interstate 66, both inside and outside of the Capital Beltway, during the next seven years.

Renee Hamilton, Deputy District Administrator at VDOT, briefed lawmakers during a National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board meeting Wednesday.

Outside the Beltway, VDOT would add one new lane from the Beltway to Haymarket, then convert the existing HOV lane to a toll lane. VDOT would also change the HOV rules to require three or more passengers instead of the current two or more passenger rule.

Similar to the 495 and 95 express lanes, HOV users would ride for free and non-HOV users would have to pay a toll. New barriers would be installed to prevent drivers from bobbing in and out of the lanes.

VDOT wants to begin construction in 2017 and complete it in 2022. Similar to the express lanes, the project would be paid for with a mix of public and private funding.

“We want to create a culture on I-66 where people get out of their single occupancy vehicles and either carpool or take mass transit. But unlike 95, we need to create a culture with slugging in that corridor. And we need to have rapid bus service in the corridor,” says Hamilton.

But Stewart Schwartz, with the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is very skeptical about the plan. He says it’ll induce more drivers to commute long-distance alone. He also says VDOT has made promises about providing robust bus service on the 495 and 95 express lanes but neither have come to fruition.

“If they consider rapid bus service as a top justification for the project, then we expect guarantees that VDOT will fund rapid bus service in the corridor. They’ve failed to do it on the 495 and 95 Express Lane deals,” says Schwartz.

Two of the three options for configuring the proposed toll lanes would leave room in the center for a future Metro Orange Line expansion from Vienna to Haymarket.

Inside the Beltway, VDOT is considering converting all lanes in both directions to toll lanes for non-HOV users during rush hours between the Capital Beltway and Route 29 in Rosslyn. Currently, non-HOV users cannot travel inbound in the morning or outbound in the afternoon east of the Beltway.

This plan would allow all motorists to travel inside the Beltway, with HOV users getting a free trip and non-HOV users paying a toll during the rush. Outside of rush hour, all lanes would be free to everyone.

“Again, we want to encourage multimodal solutions in the corridor, including carpooling and rapid bus service. And we think this is the best way to do it,” says Hamilton.

VDOT does not plan to widen I-66 inside the Beltway yet, and any efforts to do so could meet stiff resistance in Arlington. The state and county have butted heads in recent years over the expansion of both I-66 and Interstate 395, including a lawsuit that stopped the new express lanes before the Arlington line.

VDOT hopes to begin tolling inside the Beltway to begin in 2017.

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