About 700 more people each day total are commuting along the Interstate 66 corridor inside the Capital Beltway now compared to before tolls for solo drivers and an expanded rush-hour period began, and there are also fewer car trips each morning.
The numbers from Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments traffic counts provided in a corridor performance report from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission is the most specific data provided yet on corridor-wide changes since tolling started in late 2017.
Virginia state officials have said the goal of the tolls has been to move more people in the corridor, and see the higher count of commuters as a sign the system is working.
“The I-66 ITB [Inside The Beltway] corridor moved more people more efficiently in 2019 than in 2015,” the report said.
Overall, as the region and traffic has continued to grow, about 750 fewer vehicles are headed inbound between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. each morning past Glebe Road on I-66, Lee Highway (U.S. 29), Washington Boulevard (Va. 237), Wilson Boulevard and Arlington Boulevard (U.S. 50).
The counts do not include other routes such as the George Washington Parkway, and cannot specifically attribute changes to tolling or HOV hours changes.
The increase in people moving along the counted roads in the corridor from 59,226 to 59,957 amounts to about 1.2%, while the decrease in vehicles from 27,904 to 27,157 amounts to about 2.7%, compared to early 2015.
Carpooling has also increased slightly in the corridor, but the overall average number of people in each car remains flat.
“Overall, 65% of the corridor’s morning rush-hour inbound trips were made by transit or HOV in early 2019, compared to 64% in early 2015,” the report said.
Transit trips are 41.5% of all inbound morning rush-hour trips, up 0.4% compared to 2015.
Much of the transit increase has been on Metro as service has bounced back over the last two years, on VRE and on significantly expanded commuter buses. Local bus routes have continued significant declines in ridership, down 28% over the last four years.
The report finds commuter buses and rail are not competing but instead serve different types of riders.
Since the 2019 numbers were collected, toll lane usage has appeared to drop somewhat with slower speeds on I-66.
The report also covers baseline data for I-395 tolls collected before the rush-hour HOV lanes became 24/7 toll lanes in November.
Baseline morning traffic counts at Glebe Road on I-395 and roads such as the GW Parkway, Columbia Pike and Route 1, plus ridership on VRE’s Fredericksburg Line north of Alexandria and Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines north of Braddock Road, find slugging and carpooling in the I-395 corridor was already moving many more people.
“About 60% of the corridor’s morning peak-period inbound trips are made by transit, carpool or vanpool,” the report said.
About 41.6% of trips across the corridor were in cars with one or two people, 28.2% of trips were in HOVs and 30.2% of trips were on transit.
In the I-395 corridor, carpooling means riding with at least three total people in the car.
The I-66 corridor is also scheduled to switch to HOV-3 when toll lanes outside the Beltway open around the end of 2022.
With heavy carpooling and slugging going back decades on I-95 and I-395, cars averaged 1.85 people per vehicle on I-395 itself in spring 2019. For the whole corridor, the average inbound during the morning rush hour is 1.51 people per car.
“The ability of non-HOVs to access the Express Lanes with payment of a toll suggests that average automobile occupancy is unlikely to shift upward significantly in future counts,” the report said.
Some new transit options did launch in November as tolling began.
“Transit service improvements are reportedly performing well, particularly the added trips on two DASH local routes, as well as new PRTC commuter routes from Stafford County to the Pentagon and D.C.,” the report said.
The I-395 data in the report is meant to provide a baseline that will be compared to future, followup studies next year.
The data were collected between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. in the middle of a week in April.
More transit options coming
The next round of applications for transit projects funded by I-66 toll revenue has just been submitted.
Regional agencies are seeking about $38 million, but only about $25 million is expected to be available.
The applications include requests for funding for second Metro entrances at Ballston and McLean, a bus-only lane on Lee Highway in Rosslyn, new bus service between Crystal City and Reston South Park and Ride, renewals of Loudoun and OmniRide commuter bus routes, City of Fairfax Bikeshare expansion, restoration of Metrobus Route 28X between Tysons and Mark Center, a new commuter bus route between Gainesville and NoMa in D.C., and a new park and ride in Vienna at the Patrick Henry Library.
The projects will be evaluated over the next few months, with final approval of selected projects expected in June.
Another portion of the I-66 toll revenue is about to be shifted to pay for Long Bridge construction, which will allow for expanded Amtrak and VRE service.
Down the line, some of the money could also support a second Rosslyn Metro station and second tunnel into D.C. for the Blue, Orange or Silver Line, or a future separate line through downtown.