Upcoming I-66 toll lane briefing, vote still has opponents

WASHINGTON — Plans to put new toll lanes on Interstate 66 similar to the Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway are moving forward this week, but opponents are still trying to stop them.

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board is scheduled to be briefed Tuesday and vote Wednesday on steps needed to reach “commercial close” — the signing of a public-private partnership contract — on the deal that would bring the toll lanes to 22 miles of I-66 from the Beltway to University Boulevard in Gainesville, Virginia.

A source with knowledge of the situation told WTOP that the commercial close for the $2.3 billion agreement with a group of private companies to design, build and operate the lanes will happen this week. The financial side of the deal is scheduled to close by next summer.

Virginia will lend the group up to $24 million for preliminary work between now and then, if the loan is approved Wednesday. That initial work would include final design plans that would go to a public hearing in September. Construction is scheduled to start in fall 2017 with the toll lanes open in July 2022.

Del. Bob Marshall, who represents the western end of the area, has long opposed any toll plans and is still hoping for changes to the project.

“They need to delay this,” Marshall said in an interview. “Just widen the road. Add an additional general lane,” he said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has studied the I-66 corridor for years, which led to the current plan for three regular lanes and two toll lanes in each direction. In the toll lanes, vehicles with three or more people can ride free with an EZ-Pass Flex that is switched to HOV mode.

VDOT told Marshall that specific toll estimates used by the winning bidders for the project cannot be released until the deal is finalized, since the estimates are proprietary information.

A study done before the bidding moved forward estimated that the eastbound morning rush hour tolls at the point between Fairfax County Parkway and Monument Drive would be about 60 cents per mile (in 2013 dollars) when the lanes open in 2022. That study was also done before VDOT agreed to allow trucks to use the lanes.

While the study emphasized that the per-mile costs will vary along the route based on the amount of traffic in the lanes, that would lead to an approximate total cost for the length of the lanes at $13.20. Any tolls for I-66 inside the Beltway, which will only apply in the peak direction at rush hour when they begin next year, would be additional.

Inside the Beltway, vehicles with two or more people in the car and an EZ-Pass Flex will be allowed to travel free during the tolling period until the lanes outside the Beltway open. At that point, the entire corridor is expected to switch to a requirement of three or more people in the car.

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