Tolls stabilize during first afternoon rush hour on I-66 inside Beltway

Eastbound tolls on Interstate 66 fluctuated, but increased gradually during the morning rush-hour on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — The first day of dynamic tolling for solo drivers on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway saw tolls reach near $35 in the morning before reaching more moderate levels during the Monday afternoon rush hour.

As of about 6:30 p.m., the toll for the entire stretch of westbound I-66 from D.C. to the Beltway was estimated at $7.75, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s toll calculator.

Drivers on eastbound Interstate 66 saw tolls fluctuate frantically Monday morning, topping out at $34.50.

The tolls are in effect from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. westbound.

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.)

Under the new rules, drivers must have at least one other person in the car and an E-ZPass Flex switched to High Occupancy Vehicle mode. All other drivers will be charged a toll that rises and falls based on the amount of traffic in the lanes.

The high morning tolls prompted the advocacy group The 66 Alliance to call for the tolls on I-66 to be suspended, saying that “Northern Virginia commuters have been sold a bill of goods” by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

“The 66 Alliance calls on VDOT to suspend the I-66 toll program immediately and for the Virginia General Assembly to investigate VDOT, Secretary Layne and the I-66 toll program before the program is permitted to be re-launched,” founder Greg Scott said in a statement.

A smooth morning

Traffic moved smoothly throughout the morning, and WTOP’s traffic center reported that the number of drivers on I-66 declined compared to typical Monday morning volume.

“There were no delays inside the Beltway; that’s the point of congestion pricing — to keep the carpools and paying solo drivers moving. As demand goes up, the price does too,” said WTOP’s traffic reporter Dave Dildine.

VDOT reported that the average speed on I-66 during the morning rush hour was 57 mph, up from 37 mph at the same time a year ago.

“Overall, we were pleased, and things ran smoothly,” said Michelle Holland, of VDOT. She added that traffic ran at “a more consistent, safer speed.”

She said 37 percent of cars on the road were in carpools, and “we want people to continue to look for ways to share the ride, so that we can get more cars off the road and focus on moving more people through the corridor.”

The George Washington Parkway absorbed the brunt of the traffic, with Virginia Route 123 and U.S. 50 picking up extra drivers as well. A WTOP listener reported that getting onto Interstate 495 south in Fairfax County was “a mess” during the rush hour.

Many area drivers weren’t happy about the changes:

 

 

6:54a. $8!!! Bailed to 123 and GW parkway. #ouch @nbcwashington @VAExpressLanes @VaDOTNOVA

— Dawn W (@DFW1016) December 4, 2017

A few WTOP listeners defended the tolls, saying those most affected are drivers of hybrids who now have to pay the toll, and pointing out that carpools with an EZPass Flex still ride free.

 

 

Toll estimates can be calculated online through VDOT’s toll calculator.

Using the stretch without an E-ZPass is a violation. VDOT said that “Drivers who missed a toll or traveled without a transponder can visit 66expresslanes.org and select ‘Missed a Toll,’ and enter their license plate. The transaction will show within three days of travel, and can be paid within six days of travel to avoid receiving a violation notice.”

Read more about the rules and changes in WTOP’s three-part series to answer drivers’ many frequently asked questions:

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WTOP’s Dick Uliano and Max Smith contributed to this report.


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