Know the basics: I-66 tolls start in December inside Beltway

WASHINGTON — Tolls for solo drivers and expanded rush-hour periods begin Monday, Dec. 4 on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway.

Just weeks from the start of tolls between the Beltway and U.S. 29 in Rosslyn, more than 40 percent of drivers using the road did not have a required E-ZPass of any kind.

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the basic rules submitted to WTOP that we took to Virginia transportation officials:

What times do these rules apply?

The new weekday rush-hour period on I-66 inside the Beltway is 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. toward U.S. 29 in Rosslyn and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. toward the Beltway.

This is an expansion from the previous two and a half hours each way, where drivers were legally required to have at least one other person in the car to use the road. (As many as half of drivers were believed to be breaking that law.)

During the new hours, an E-ZPass is now required for all drivers, except motorcycles, to avoid a violation. An E-ZPass Flex is required to legally ride free with two or more total people in the car.

“Motorcycles will travel for free and do not need an E-ZPass,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary Grindly Johnson.

What if I drive outside of those times? Does anything change outside of rush hour?

The road operates like any other highway outside of those times.

That includes no change for reverse commuters who can continue to use the road from D.C. toward the Beltway in the morning and from the Beltway toward D.C. in the afternoon. Trucks continue to be banned on I-66 inside the Beltway.

What do I have to do to ride free? What happens if I forget to switch my E-ZPass Flex from HOV mode to regular mode or the other way around?

During the hours where tolls will be in place, vehicles carrying at least two people can ride free as long as there is an E-ZPass Flex mounted in the car that is switched to HOV mode. The Flex transponder, which beeps when switched into the mode, indicates to the toll system and police that the car is traveling as an HOV.

“You have to be very careful with this, because if you don’t have two people in the car with you, and you have it on HOV, that’s not very good — that is a violation,” Johnson said.

“Without an E-ZPass, an image of your license [plate] will be captured and you will receive a violation notice plus an administrative fee,” she added.

Drivers who do not immediately respond to a violation notice can face additional penalties in court ranging from $50 to $500 based on the number of times they have violated the tolling rules. That civil penalty is in addition to the unpaid toll and additional administrative fees and court costs. If those bills are not paid, the state can suspend a car owner’s driver’s license.

VDOT Tolling Division Administrator David Caudill said drivers using the lanes alone need to make sure their E-ZPass account is funded, and emphasized for carpoolers the importance of placing the Flex transponder in the correct mode.

“The system is reliant on the declaration from the driver, so if you have two people or more in your vehicle, the driver needs to make sure that it’s in the HOV mode. We won’t be able to go back and recreate that [to cancel the charge],” Caudill said.

There are no plans for any grace period for violators, state officials said.

Who has to pay?

Any driver riding alone during the restricted times, including traffic to or from Dulles International Airport and hybrid vehicles, must pay an automated toll that rises and falls based on traffic in the lanes.

“It’s dynamically priced … basically, that’s an algorithm that measures congestion, and as the congestion increases, the toll increases, and as the congestion goes down, the toll decreases,” Caudill said.

The idea is similar to the tolls for the 95 and 495 Express Lanes, but Caudill declined to predict what solo drivers will be asked to pay.

An E-ZPass of some kind is required to avoid a violation.

What if I don’t have an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex?

Drivers can trade in an existing Virginia E-ZPass transponder for an E-ZPass Flex, or start a new account online or at many Northern Virginia grocery stores.

There is no additional charge for the Flex transponder as long as it is used for an HOV trip once every six months. If it is not, Virginia charges a one-time $10 fee.

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