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Toll gantry construction begins along I-66

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, third from right, and other state official unveil a variable message sign that will be hung as part of a project to convert a portion of Interstate 66 into toll lanes. Also pictured from left are VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick, Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, Deputy Transportation Secretary Grindly Johnson and from the right Deputy Transportation Secretary Nick Donohue and Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Jennifer Mitchell. Solo drivers will pay a toll to use the lanes inside of the Capital Beltway during the morning rush hour eastbound and westbound in the afternoon. The construction project was officially launched Monday morning on an overpass in Arlington County. (WTOP/Max Smith)

ARLINGTON — Construction officially began Monday to add toll gantries over Interstate 66 east of the Capital Beltway.

Rush hour tolls for solo drivers are scheduled to begin next summer. Eight electronic toll gantries and a number of pricing signs will be installed in the meantime. That work will require some lane and ramp closures, mainly during overnight hours, which will be announced in advance.

“This will give solo drivers for the first time ever a new option to use lanes that are now restricted by paying a variable toll during the travel times,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at the official groundbreaking held on an overpass in Arlington County.

During construction, all lanes of I-66 inside the Beltway will continue to serve high occupancy vehicles during the morning rush heading eastbound and during the afternoon rush heading westbound. As part of the changes that will bring tolls for solo drivers, the rush hour periods will extend to four hours each, instead of the current 2.5 hours.

Once the tolls are activated, vehicles with two or more people will travel free with an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV mode. But all other drivers will pay the toll that will rise and fall based on the amount of traffic in the lanes. The idea is that higher tolls deter just enough drivers from entering the lanes when they are crowded to allow traffic to keep moving.

Project planning documents have estimated an average $6, one-way toll.

“The toll revenues will now fund travel options like ride-sharing and enhance commuter bus service … so more people will leave their cars in the garage and use public transit to get to work. We are committed to creating a carpool culture for I-66 travelers,” McAuliffe said.

So far, $10 million has been allocated to such projects with the goal of getting many of the new transit options in place before tolls begin.

The tolls will also fund maintenance, construction and operation of the system, which includes one construction contract that was nearly twice what was originally budgeted. However VDOT does not expect that to significantly impact the money available for the project.

“It’s not just about moving traffic, it’s about moving people,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said.

Separately, but in a deal that was crucial to sidestepping opposition in the General Assembly, the state plans to build an additional eastbound lane between the Dulles Connector Road and Ballston, a regular chokepoint for traffic.

The Virginia Department of Transportation expects to change the HOV standard for I-66 from a minimum of two people to a minimum of three in the car around 2021, when new toll lanes are expected to open between the Beltway and Gainesville. The toll lanes west of the Beltway will require drivers to either pay the tolls or to meet HOV requirements regardless of the time of day — similar to the 495 Express Lanes.

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