WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday, December 1, 2017) ––For the first time since Interstate 66 was built as an east-west limited-access freeway, commuters will no longer have to sing-along in a “Carpool Karaoke” while driving during rush hour inside the I-495 Capital Beltway corridor. Starting at 5:30 A.M. Monday, December 4, solo drivers will have access to the brand new I-66 Express Lanes inside the Beltway corridor.
It might cost them a pretty penny to cruise along the I-66 Express Lanes between I-495 and Route 29 in Rosslyn during peak travel times in the morning and evening. Express yourself. An E-ZPass is de rigueur.
A mad dash is under way for E-ZPass Flex transponders ahead of the I-66 Express Lanes debut. Sales are up 925 percent over last November at the AAA Mid-Atlantic Fairfax store. Yet the big question remains how much will solo drivers have to fork over to travel on I-66 during peak periods on the first leg of the project? That has dogged the project from the outset, as drivers heard jeremiads that I-66 could become one of the most expensive toll roads in the US and the Washington metro area. The rates on the table of tolls will all depend upon the amount of traffic heading in the peak direction, during peak times on the I-66 Express Lanes.
5,881.87“As in the case of Express Lanes on I-495 and I-95 in Northern Virginia, and the Intercounty Connector (ICC) in Maryland, motorists traveling the I-66 Express Lanes inside the Capital Beltway aren’t required to stop and deposit the obligatory obol coins of Charon in toll booths. There aren’t any,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Drivers can lock in the toll rate before entering I-66 Express Lanes. Tolls will be collected at ‘warp speed,’ as solo drivers zip underneath tolling structures via E-ZPass and E-ZPass Flex devices mounted inside vehicles. The technology is transforming our way of thinking about toll collection, notes the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). But will public acceptance of dynamic tolling increase with the advent of the I-66 Express Lanes?”
“Demand for the lanes will be managed through dynamic tolling” from 5:30 A.M. until 9:30 A.M. eastbound, and then from 3:00 P.M. until 7:00 P.M. westbound, Monday through Friday. In layman’s terms, it means “tolls are continually adjusted according to traffic conditions.” Drivers must assume “there is no cap on the toll pricing.” Pay careful attention to the current price displayed on electronic signs before entering the Express Lanes. I-66 is plagued by HOV cheaters. A third to half of all rush hour commuters travel alone in the lanes. Enforcement is strict. Fines are heavy. The lanes are free to all during off-peak periods and weekends.
“Beginning Monday, December 4, dynamic tolling will be in effect along a nine-mile stretch of I-66, from I-495 to U.S. Route 29 in Rosslyn during peak hours – 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 to 7 p.m. westbound, Monday through Friday,” the Fairfax County Government has announced with fanfare. Supporters say the I-66 Express Lanes inside the Capital Beltway corridor project is not only a game-changer, it is also a “traffic tamer.” That is saying a lot for one of the most congested roadways in the most congested area in the nation. But will it cost solo drivers the staggering sum of $85 per work week to drive the 9-mile stretch, as many drivers fear? Before committing to take the Express Lanes, “drivers will see two pricing signs.”
The transformation of I-66 will ultimately cost $3.7 billion when the entire expansion is completed in 2022. Once the latest avatar of the I-66 opens to the motoring public, gone will be the “current ban on single-occupancy vehicles during restricted periods.” Here is the other big change: users will be charged what VDOT calls a “demand- and distance-based toll.” Rumors of tolls of $1.50 per mile surfaced as the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) weighed adding the roadway to the region’s financially Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP). In this atmosphere, it was projected solo drivers would be charged $9 during the morning rush hour, plus, another $8 during the evening rush hour, for a total of $17 per day.
The table of tolls became cannon fodder during the 2015 campaign for seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. For example, in a letter to the editor, one Virginia Delegate charged, “While VDOT has refused to disclose proposed toll costs for I-66, data from VDOT studies indicate that a single or double occupant vehicle will pay $75/day round trip from Haymarket to I-495 and $17 a day round trip inside I-495 during high drive time. This amounts to $92/day, $460/week, or $23,000/year for those commuting to DC.” Will that happen?
Until now, under HOV requirements, access to I-66 during rush hours was legally restricted to commuters hooking a ride in a vanpool or carpool, drivers tooling around in vehicles bearing authorized clean special fuel license plates, Dulles Airport travelers and motorcycles. The sea-change will make “travel better and easier for everyone who uses the I-66 corridor,” the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) promises. As before, the peak commuting direction along the new-fangled I-66 Express Lanes inside the Capital Beltway corridor is eastbound in the AM peak hours and westbound in the PM peak hour. First proposed nearly eight decades ago in 1938, I-66 Inside the Beltway is “one of the region’s major transportation choke points,” notes the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (NVTA).
The I-66 inside the Beltway Corridor officially opened to traffic in December 1982. Staring Monday, solo drivers can “get their kicks” on the I- 66 corridor inside the Capital Beltway. All you need is an E-ZPass to pay your toll. The E-ZPass Flex empowers carpoolers to ride for free during rush hours along the I-66 inside the Capital Beltway corridor. It allows drivers in vehicles “that meet the HOV requirement to travel for free during tolled periods by switching their device to HOV mode,” explain VDOT and AAA Mid-Atlantic. Commuters can obtain their E-ZPass Flex by signing up online, going to one of VDOT’s customer service locations or visiting a participating retail location including AAA Mid-Atlantic, Giant and Wegmans.
The pent-up demand is high for E-ZPass Flex transponders, and they are flying off the shelf and out the door at AAA Mid-Atlantic sites in Virginia and in downtown Washington, D.C., at 1405 G Street NW.
When drivers boogie down the I-66 Express Lanes and pass under overhead gantries, their E-ZPass account will be debited in the amount of the trip. “Commuters who choose not to drive will enjoy better and more frequent transit services, as well as other improvements that will be funded by toll revenues,” VDOT adds.
The cost for both the E-ZPass Standard transponder and the E-ZPass Flex transponder is $35 at AAA Mid-Atlantic. Buy it now ––use it right away. Motorists will get $15 in prepaid tolls they can use immediately and will get the remaining $20 balance in prepaid tolls once they register their transponders. By 2015, the United States boasted 3,295 miles on toll lanes on interstates (compared to 2,794 miles in 2005) and 2,259 miles of toll lanes on non-interstate highways (compared to 1,834 miles in 2004), notes the FHWA.
A long-deferred dream will come true for solo drivers Monday. Erstwhile, “the original eight-lane I-66 proposal inside the Beltway was blocked due to citizen opposition and a decision by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. I-66 was downscaled to four lanes (2 each way), with HOV-4 rush hour restrictions (meaning that a vehicle must have at least 4 persons onboard to legally use the highway) in the peak direction (years later reduced to HOV-3, and then to HOV-2), and with no large trucks allowed at any time,” according to Roads to the Future. “Construction spanned from 1977 to 1982, and cost $280 million. The Vienna (K) Route (Orange Line) Metrorail extension from the Ballston Station to the Vienna Station was opened in 1986.
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