(Updated at 9:30 p.m. on 10/26/2023) Several Republicans campaigning to represent parts of Fairfax County in the General Assembly have vowed to change up Virginia’s interstate tolling system if they’re elected on Nov. 7.
With the McLean Metro station in Tysons as a backdrop, the candidates unveiled a “Tolling Equity and Relief Plan” last Friday (Oct. 20) that they argued would reduce congestion and lower the cost of using the Express Lanes on I-66 and the Capital Beltway (I-495).
Crafted by former Congressman Frank Wolf, who represented Virginia’s 10th district from 1981 to 2015, the proposal calls for frequent Express Lanes drivers to get rebates from toll and state tax revenues, lower high-occupancy vehicle requirements, and standardization of toll rates on I-66 inside and outside the Beltway.
“We are hearing many complaints about the high cost of the tolls — especially on the new I-66 express lanes but also I-495 and other toll roads, which is adding to the cost of living of Northern Virginia families,” said Ken Reid, who organized the press conference. “Government must do its part to give the region’s motorists a break.”
A former Loudoun County supervisor, Reid is vying for the State Senate District 37 seat against Saddam Azlan Salim, who won the Democratic primary in June over longtime Sen. Chap Peterson. The district includes Tysons, Vienna, Oakton, Merrifield and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
Other candidates who endorsed the proposed legislation include:
- Mark Springman, competing for Senate District 34 against incumbent Scott Surovell
- Matt Lang, competing for Senate District 38 against Sen. Jennifer Boysko in a district reshaped by redistricting
- Kristin Lee Hoffman, competing for House District 6 against Del. Rip Sullivan
- Maxwell Fisher, competing for House District 8 against incumbent Irene Shin
- Nhan Huynh, competing for House District 9 against incumbent Karrie Delaney
- James Thomas, competing for House District 10 against incumbent Dan Helmer
- Ed McGovern, competing for House District 18 against Del. Kathy Tran
According to a press release from Reid’s campaign, the Tolling Equity and Relief plan would offer rebates to commuters who use the I-66 and/or I-495 Express Lanes more than 30 times a month, similar to a SunPass toll relief program that took effect in Florida this year.
The plan would also reinstate HOV-2 “at certain hours” on both interstates. Drivers were able to use the I-66 Express Lanes for free if they had at least two passengers until last December, when the Virginia Department of Transportation raised the requirement to HOV-3.
Per the press release, the plan would allocate toll revenue to widening I-66 to three lanes in each direction from the Dulles Access Road in Pimmit Hills to the Nash Street tunnel in Rosslyn.
“No funds would go to bike trails or other modes of transit until that project is done,” Reid’s campaign said.
Virginia currently uses I-66 and I-395/95 toll revenue for a Commuter Choice grant program that supports road and public transit improvement projects in those corridors. Recently funded projects include a north entrance for the McLean Metro station and Fairfax City’s first Capital Bikeshare stations.
VDOT told FFXnow it’s aware of the proposal put forward by the candidates, but it “stands by” the 90 miles of express lanes that have been built to date in Northern Virginia, stating that they “provide faster and more reliable travel for customers who choose to pay a toll, as well as for buses, vanpools and carpools who can travel the lanes for free.”
Noting that the I-66 Express Lanes weren’t open to most single-occupant vehicles during rush hours until 2017, the department says changing the tolling policies inside the Beltway would have “major impacts” on the effectiveness of the lanes and funding for transit projects.
(Correction: This article initially said the I-66 Express Lanes weren’t open to any single-occupant vehicles until 2017. As noted by commenter static, there were exceptions for hybrid vehicles and drivers going to and from Dulles Airport.)
Any changes to the policies for the lanes outside the Beltway would require not only a change in state law, but also revisions to VDOT’s agreement with private operator I-66 Express Mobility Partners that would “likely incur significant public costs” over the 50-year term, according to the department.
(Correction: The company Transurban operates the I-495, I-395 and I-95 Express Lanes, not the I-66 ones as previously stated.)
“A key feature of express lanes is their ability to keep traffic moving by managing demand and balancing the number of vehicles in the lanes through dynamic tolls that respond to real time conditions and requirements for minimum vehicle occupancy,” VDOT said. “Standardizing toll rates and/or changing the HOV requirements would limit the ability to manage demand, exposing the lanes to congestion and unreliability. Ultimately, this would decrease the benefit for all express lanes users including HOV-3+ carpools, vanpools and buses.”
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