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McAuliffe: Reverse commuters might not have to pay I-66 tolls

WASHINGTON — The McAuliffe administration is backtracking from a proposal to toll reverse commuters who drive on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway.

Under plans to increase the number of cars using the narrow interstate, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration had called to charge solo drivers who travel outbound in the morning and inbound in the evening a $3 toll round trip. Drivers traveling in the opposite direction could pay as much as $17 a day round trip.

But during a visit to WTOP for “Ask the Governor” Wednesday, McAuliffe said there’s been no final verdict on whether to toll reverse commuters and that he wants to hear from more drivers before announcing a decision in late December.

His transportation Sec. Aubrey Layne went a step further.

“Our intention is not to toll the reverse lanes,” Layne said. “We’re pushing to avoid that if possible.”

Currently, HOV restrictions are in place inbound in the mornings and outbound in the evenings between the Beltway and the D.C. line. But the state’s previously stated plans would impose HOV restrictions for drivers traveling in both directions for both the morning and afternoon commutes.

Fairfax County leaders have expressed reservations in recent months to top transportation leaders, including Layne, about charging reverse commuters. Officials were uneasy at the proposal and the impact it would have on the local economy and parallel roads.

“My first instinct would be to test it without a toll for reverse commuters to begin with,” says Supervisor Jeff McKay, D-Lee District. “The announcement is a positive development in my mind.”

Fairfax County transportation officials report tolls would increased traffic on U.S. 29 in the reverse direction 50 percent in the morning rush. U.S. 50 would see reverse traffic increase 40 percent and VA 7 could see a 35 percent jump. The impact on reverse commuters in the evening would be less.

However, transportation officials also stressed that these roads could handle the increased traffic in the reverse direction.

“We want to encourage reverse commuting. There are people living in Arlington or DC working in Fairfax County. Reverse commuting is part of solving our traffic congestion. Let’s not punish people for reverse commuting,” says McKay.

McAuliffe is facing increasing pressure from state Republicans who oppose the toll plan, which they say would not add capacity and would charge Virginians to use a road they have already paid for.

The tolls have become a campaign issue ahead of Tuesday’s election. All 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot and Democrats need to win one additional seat to retake control of the state Senate.

“They’re doing a lot of scrambling,” said House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, of the administration’s announcement that reverse tolls could come off the table for consideration.

Howell has said the legislature would intervene if McAuliffe doesn’t pull the toll plan altogether.

McAuliffe, who defended the plan, says allowing solo drivers to use the road would be an increase in capacity. He says he’s offering solutions to a persistent and growing problem.

“We’re at gridlock,” he said. “We got to take action.”

WTOP’s Ari Ashe and Max Smith contributed to this report.

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