Va. to boost loan to I-66 companies by $9M

WASHINGTON — Virginia plans to loan the private companies designing and building toll lanes on Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway $9 million more than originally planned after other financing for the project was delayed.

Documents prepared for Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board largely blame the need to increase the state loan from $30 million approved last December to $39 million on delays in approvals of a federal low-interest loan. Such approvals can slow during a transition between administrations. The original deadline for final financing agreements required for the “financial close” had been July.

The additional $9 million would fund continuing early work on the 22.5 miles of two new toll lanes in each direction between the Beltway and Gainesville.

When the $2.3 billion lanes open in 2022, cars with three or more people inside and an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV mode will ride free, while all other cars or trucks will pay a toll that rises and falls based on the amount of traffic in the toll lanes. It is the same setup as the Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway.

Public hearings on the designs are now expected in November. The only currently scheduled public hearing on any part of the project is Oct. 10 at Piney Branch Elementary in Bristow. That meeting is solely focused on plans for a new park and ride at U.S. 29 and University Boulevard in Gainesville which is due to open for new bus service in 2019.

Major construction along Interstate 66 itself is due to begin next year after financing is finalized.

The financial approvals are expected next month in line with an extension permitted by the agreement between VDOT and Express Mobility Partners, which several people close to the project would keep the overall project on schedule.

Inside the Beltway

Inside the Beltway on Interstate 66, separate rush-hour-only tolls begin in December.

Begin in December

The tolls will only apply to people driving alone eastbound (toward Rosslyn and D.C.) in the morning, and westbound in the afternoon.

For a free ride during the expanded rush-hour periods, there must be two or more people in the car and an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV mode. Former exceptions to HOV rules for travelers heading to Dulles Airport will be eliminated.

Today, it is illegal to drive alone eastbound on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. or westbound from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

With the change, drivers can legally make that trip at those times by paying the toll that will rise or fall based on the traffic in the lanes, but the rush-hour period is also being expanded so that the rules will apply for four hours each way.

When tolls begin Dec. 4, the HOV or toll rules will apply from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. westbound.

Drivers have already been seeing flashes from the cameras that are part of the tolling system as part of expanded testing of the technology.

Unlike the privately operated tolls outside the Beltway, the Virginia Department of Transportation will retain direct responsibility for the inside-the-Beltway operations.

When toll lanes outside the Beltway open in summer 2022, the HOV requirement for a free ride inside the Beltway is expected to increase from two people in the car to three.

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