Commentary: A Workable Solution for I-66

Commentary: A Workable Solution for I-66

There was a great deal of concern about “$17 tolls” inside the beltway on I-66 during the recent election. I shared those concerns as I did not want to set a precedent of tolling a road that we were not adding infrastructure to. As you know solo drivers cannot use I-66 during rush hour and must wait until 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. to access the road depending on the direction of travel. While I still have concerns over the tolls, the agreement between the Commonwealth and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission provides new insight on how this project will work.

I feel better about the tolling as the average toll will cost $6 and part of the revenue collected will be spent on multimodal (transit) options to improve thru-put on this extraordinary congested highway and will in the future be used to widen the road eastbound. At its December meeting the Commonwealth Transportation Board received a presentation on the congestion benefits of this proposal using the Northern Virginia congestion rating process I helped put in place with Del. Jim LeMunyon (HB 599 and SB 531). The rating process shows that the Governor’s proposal will eliminate 26,000 person hours of delay a day in the future. Of all the proposals considered, including a plan that only adds lanes to I-66 inside the beltway, the Governor’s plan to improve multimodal options by far reduces the most congestion. If we can reduce the need for up to a lane of traffic through transit enhancements that will include carpooling, buses, improved van pools, and areas for riders to negotiate shared vehicles (slugging) then the Governor’s idea appears to have merit. The same congestion analysis showed that simply widening I-66 eastbound without the transit improvements and conversion to dynamic tolling would only reduce 6,000 person hour of delay a day — about 20 percent of the benefits compared to the current plan.

Due to growth in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and the Coleman decision, a 1977 Federal Department of Transportation decision that gave Arlington County more control over options on I-66, I-66 will never be an easy journey. Arlington has now made concessions for the I-66 project and for the expansion of express lanes from Edsall Road in Springfield/Alexandria to Washington D.C. on I-395. This is welcome progress though not a panacea or these congested roadways. While perfect solutions may not exist, progress is essential and making progress on multi-modal/transit options as well as Express lane extensions and additional lanes are welcome news that will keep us moving forward.

In an ideal world we would have a different solution to I-66. However, the decisions in the past like HOV requirements and taxing gasoline on a wholesale basis limit the choices we have today. Given the current constraints faced in this corridor the Administration’s plan offers the best opportunity to improve travel for commuters.