New bill seeks to extend I-66 exemption for hybrid commuters

WASHINGTON — Commuters hoping to continue receiving the financial and time-saving benefit of owning a hybrid car in Virginia are trying to rally support for new legislation that would extend the clean fuel vehicle exemption through 2020.

Greg Scott, founder of 66 Alliance, said he and several dozen commuters from northern Virginia were in Richmond on Tuesday — known as Lobby Day — to ask lawmakers to support a new bill by Del. Tag Greason, R-Loudoun, which will seek to preserve a benefit that was adopted to promote the sale of fuel saving and low emission vehicles.

“Right now a person with a Clean Fuel Vehicle plate is allowed to use I-66 during rush hour with only one person in the car, so the HOV or carpool rules don’t apply,” said Scott. “Sometime in the second quarter of 2017 the Virginia Department of Transportation is going to sunset that privilege or program, and require us to pay tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway.”

Scott said the change will have a major negative effect on his commute.

“This will either cost me $10,000 a year in tolls, or if I take an overland route, it’ll cost me an hour a day on my commute,” said Scott. “An hour a day, 48 weeks a year, we’re talking about 10 days away from my family — neither one of those is an acceptable choice for me.”

Michelle Holland, a spokeswoman for VDOT Megaprojects, said tolling inside the Beltway could begin as early as summer.

In fact, the agency is set to install its first tolling gantry on Tuesday evening, Holland said. The gantry is the metal piping structure that will be erected over I-66 to house the license plate readers used in electronic tolling.

Scott said Greason’s bill would extend the Clean Fuel Vehicle exemption through 2020.

“That would undo what VDOT has planned,” said Scott.

When tolling begins inside the Beltway, under VDOT’s plan, drivers of hybrid vehicles would have to meet the same HOV-2 occupancy rules as drivers in standard cars.

VDOT has said the longstanding plan to end the exemption is based on federal rules requiring the discontinuing of HOV lanes by hybrids when congestion slows traffic to less than 45 miles per hour.

Scott’s group disputes VDOT’s reasoning, claiming that toll cheaters are more responsible for congestion than hybrid drivers.

“The real reason VDOT is seeking to sunset this program is simply to collect toll revenue from people like myself and other Alliance members,” said Scott. “This is about money, I believe.”

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