Newsletter
Southbound vehicles on the Capital Beltway in Merrifield travel on regular and express lanes

Virginia is reconsidering the future of funding for transportation infrastructure, as the rise of electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles has cut into the gas tax revenue that helps pay for those projects.

One option the Commonwealth has started pursuing is a “mileage-based user fee” that drivers would pay depending on how much or little they travel. Drivers could opt into the voluntary system in lieu of paying a mandatory highway use fee that first took effect on July 1, 2020.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) says the highway use fee — which applies to cars that average at least 25 miles per gallon and is calculated based on the fuels tax at the time of a vehicle’s registration and the average number of miles it travels in the state — is a precursor to Virginia’s planned mileage-based user fee program.

“For most of the past decade, Virginia, like the rest of the country, has been wrestling with the challenge of identifying the best approach to generating sufficient revenues to support transportation investments,” she said in a statement. “As cars have become more fuel efficient and electric vehicle adoption increases, it is increasingly difficult to strike the right balance of raising adequate revenues from traditional sources and adhering to a usage-based philosophy of highway financing.”

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is currently fielding requests from private contractors to operate the program, which it anticipates rolling out in July 2022. Led by the DMV, a workgroup tasked with developing the program is slated to deliver an interim report to the Commonwealth this December.

The working group is identifying all requirements to Virginia’s mileage-based user fee program with “a priority on consumer privacy protection and equity,” DMV spokesperson Jessica Cowardin said in a statement.

Seeking new ways to fund road repairs and transit projects, Virginia established the mileage-based fee program in April 2020 when the General Assembly adopted a major transportation bill that also established the highway use fee and raised gas taxes for the first time in more than three decades.

The bill also lowered vehicle registration fees by $10 and repealed an annual $64 fee for electric and alternative fuel vehicles.

The changes, which include tying the gas tax rate to the Consumer Price Index to keep up with inflation starting next year, will help Virginia diversify its funding sources to offset stagnant or declining gas tax revenue, state legislators say.

The consultant KPMG previously estimated that Virginia would lose nearly 33% of its gas tax revenues by 2030 due to fuel efficiency, or approximately $260 million.

“Neither the [Highway Use Fee] nor the EV Registration fee are intended to suppress the sales of fuel efficient or electric vehicles, but simply recapture the average annual revenue from the foregone gas taxes,” Howell said.

The idea of taxing drivers based on how much they travel instead of the fuel they use has been gaining traction throughout the U.S. over the past decade.

Despite inflation, the federal gas tax rate has been locked in at 18.4 cents per gallon since it went up from 14.1 cents in 1993, meaning there’s less money to fund highway improvements.

“Many cars are not using gas at all, such as electric, so that system of highway finance has been coming apart for a long time,” said Jonathan Gifford, director of George Mason University’s Center for Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy in Arlington.

If Virginia wants to encourage a transition to clean energy and electric vehicles, which “is absolutely essential to addressing climate change, we will need to look to other options” to pay for transportation projects, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President Jason Stanford says. Read More

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Thursday Morning Notes

Fairfax Connector Reminds Passengers To Wear Face Masks — “Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) officials would like to remind Fairfax Connector passengers that they must wear a mask or a face covering, as now federally mandated, when taking public transit or visiting a transit hub in Fairfax County. This safety measure, which has been in place on board Fairfax Connector buses since May 2020, aims to protect passengers and bus operators during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” [Fairfax Connector]

Fairfax County Public Schools to Hold Virtual Job Fair — FCPS is “searching for educators with a strong academic background and a passion to make a difference in the lives of students. To open the 2021-22 school year hiring season, FCPS will host a virtual Instructional Job Fair on Saturday, February 20, from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.” [FCPS]

Sens. Kaine and Warner Raise Concerns About Continued Mail Delays — “From Dec. 19 to 31, according to statistics in the [court] filings that the Senators cited in their letter, Northern Virginia residents received less than half of their first class mail on-time. While the holiday crush is surely to be a contributing factor, rates started dropping in mid-September.” [ARLNow]

Virginia Pauses E-Z Pass Deactivations During Pandemic — For the next six months, Virginia is suspending its policy of deactivating E-Z Pass accounts if they go unused for a year, since fewer people are traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of users who got a notice that their account would be deactivated last year nearly doubled from 2019. [The Virginian-Pilot]

The Boro Partners with Red Cross for Blood Drive — “#TheBoroTysons is partnering with @americanredcro5 to host another blood drive on March 4th from 9am-3pm in Boro Station (1775 Greensboro Station Place). Donors will receive free antibody testing. Help save a life and reserve your spot!” [@TheBoroTysons/Twitter]

McLean Contractor Buys Fairfax Firm — “McLean-based tech contractor IntelliBridge Inc. announced Monday it has acquired Fairfax-based tech company Alethix LLC. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but the acquisition will add DevSecOps and cloud services to IntelliBridge (which is backed by Enlightenment Capital), and also expand its clientele to include homeland security, federal-civilian and defense agencies.” [Virginia Business]

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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Cash will no longer be accepted at the Dulles Toll Road beginning next year.

The decision, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, was made in response to customers’ preferences for electronic toll payments, according to a statement released yesterday by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

No loose change will be accepted, and tollbooth change baskets will be removed as part of the permanent move.

Here’s more information from MWAA on acceptable forms of payment:

Any lane can be used with a valid E-ZPass account or other form of electronic tolling. Customers can visit E-ZPass Virginia for information on how to obtain an E-ZPass. If toll-lane cameras identify a license plate associated with an E-ZPass account, that account will be charged for the transaction even if an E-ZPass is not present in the vehicle.

To make it easier to get an E-ZPass, the minimum opening account balance has been temporarily reduced to $20 per transponder (from $35) for online and phone applications. E-Z Pass also offers a reloadable Virginia E-Z Pass Card, these can be purchased your local CVS Pharmacy and 7-11 Convenience Stores.

The GoTollSlora and Peasey Drive On smartphone apps are also accepted as payment. 

Motorists passing through all toll plaza lanes without electronic payment will be sent a payment notice by mail. Missed tolls which are paid within six days of the violation will not be charged an administrative fee. Customers are encouraged to visit the Virginia Department of Transportation’s online toll violation payment website for information on proactively paying missed tolls.

In early April, manual toll collecting was suspended in response to COVID-19. All personnel from toll booths were removed, and cash-exchange toll collections were suspended.

Electronic tolling became the preferred method of payment in 2003, when more than $18 million was collected with E-ZPass, compared to roughly $17 million collected in cash that calendar year.

In 2017, roughly $130 million was collected via E-ZPass while nearly $18 million was collected by cash, according to a 2018 study by the MWAA.

Photo via MWAA

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Updated 5/22/2019 — A new plan could widen the Beltway in McLean, but nearby residents say the plan won’t do anything to fix the bottleneck of traffic.

At a meeting in Cooper Middle School (977 Balls Hill Road) yesterday (May 20), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) presented plans to add new toll lanes from the Dulles Toll Road to the American Legion Bridge to help alleviate a severe bottleneck in the region.

The plans for the toll roads have been in the works since last June, but the need for a solution to Beltway congestion was highlighted in March when a tanker crash paralyzed regional traffic.

VDOT’s plans call for the expansion of express lanes to the bridge and connections with the Dulles Toll Road. A connection to the George Washington Parkway is being considered, but options are included to not have the express lanes connect to the parkway.

VDOT officials said the three bridges in McLean that pass over the Beltway would be replaced and would include new pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

But for over an hour, McLean residents expressed outrage at the expansion of the Beltway and a perception that the decision had already been made behind closed doors. Residents who felt empowered by a recent rejection of a proposal to limit access to Georgetown Pike from McLean — a proposal that new state legislation means could come back — asked why this expansion was being treated as a done deal.

“[That] was a transportation solution for a neighborhood problem,” Susan Shaw, megaprojects director for VDOT, said at the meeting. “This project is a regional transportation project. We will consider input from communities, but we will also be considering transportation improvements for the region. If we only let direct impact communities decide — we would never provide any regional project.

One of the biggest criticisms — raised by State Senate candidate Nicole Merlene running against Barbara Favola — was that the success of the project seemed dependent on the expansion of the bridge and connection to toll roads on the Maryland side, projects that are still in early stages.

Shaw said that no traffic analysis was ready yet to show the impact of the toll lanes without improvements on the Maryland side, but she said that would be considered before final approval.

“We don’t have that traffic analysis yet, but I would expect there to be a bottleneck without increased capacity on the bridge,” said Shaw. “I think the question is, ‘Are there other improvements that we would see on this project? If there’s a period of time where Virginia is in on this project and Maryland is not, are there transportation benefits?’ That will be included in the assessment.”

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Morning Notes

New Theater Coming to Tysons Galleria — “The soon-to-close Macy’s at Tysons Galleria will be replaced with multiple storefronts — including what appears to be an iPic movie theater — each with their own facade and materials to set them apart. That’s the word from a Fairfax County staff report published last week ahead of a planning commission hearing on an amended sign plan for the Galleria, which specifically addresses the 260,000-square-foot Macy’s. That store alone accounts for 30 percent of the upscale Galleria.” [Washington Business Journal]

Journalist’s Mosque Opposition Questioned — The leader of the community opposition to an expansion of the McLean Islamic Center’s prayer service is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi asks: should mainstream journalists be taking activist stances against religious institutions, even in a community setting? [Washington Post]

McLean Fire Causes Extensive Damage — The manage estimate from Friday’s big house fire in McLean is $1.1 million. Three people were displaced by the fire. The cause is still under investigation, according to the Fairfax County Fire Department. [Facebook]

Positive Results for I-66 Tolls — “Since HOV lanes went into effect on I-66 one year ago, the results have been largely positive. Carpooling has increased, and motorists are traveling at higher speeds and experiencing fewer collisions thanks to less congestion.” [Greater Greater Washington, WTOP]

DXC Makes Another Acquisition — “Tysons-based DXC Technology announced Monday plans to acquire Luxoft Holding Inc. (NYSE: LXFT) in a deal worth roughly $2 billion. The New York-based Luxoft provides digital strategy consulting and engineering services for countries across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.” [Washington Business Journal, BusinessWire]

Photo courtesy @tysonspartners

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Starting Jan. 1, prices are scheduled to go up for those driving on the Dulles Toll Road.

The cost to passenger vehicles will increase from $2.50 to $3.25 at the main toll plaza and from $1 to $1.50 on ramps, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).

The toll road is operated and maintained by the MWAA.  The toll increases were approved in November to help finance the further expansion of the Silver Line’s Phase 2 development.

The Silver Line’s expansion is financed by a combination of toll-road revenues, airport contributions and federal, state and local government appropriations.

The new rate increases are the first since 2014. But the increase has also drawn opposition from groups like airport workers union UNITE HERE Local 23, which says the cost of the Silver Line should be pushed onto airlines rather than commuters.

Photo via MWAA

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Morning Notes

I-66 Tolls Shifted Behavior, Did Not Improve Traffic — “The new high-occupancy toll lanes on one of the busiest highways in the Washington region have sparked dramatic shifts in commuter behavior, prompting motorists to alter their commute times and routes, data show, while yielding tolls as high as $47.50 — some of the highest per mile in the country.” [Washington Post]

‘Green’ Vienna Businesses Recognized — “Nine Vienna businesses who have successfully completed the Town’s 2018 Sustainability Challenge were recognized at last night’s Town Council meeting… Through the program, certified businesses tally points on a checklist of green practices that they undertake as part of day-to-day operations.” [FairfaxNews]

Local Restaurants Open On Christmas — Staying in town for the holidays and planning to dine out? Patch has compiled a list of McLean, Vienna and Tysons restaurants that are planning to remain open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. [Patch, Patch]

Rough Night for Silver Line Commuters — Those heading home on the Silver Line last night faced delays, offloading and other issues during the evening commute due to a track problem outside of Foggy Bottom. [Twitter, Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Crash in Idylwood Area Closes Road — Idylwood Road was closed in both directions during this morning’s rush hour due to a two-vehicle crash that caused live wires to fall across the roadway. [Twitter, Twitter]

High I-66 Tolls This Morning — “Hump day is often considered one of the heavier traffic days for local commuters, and the day after the elections was no exception. The toll along I-66 lanes, inside the Beltway, reached $45.50 just before 9 a.m. The toll prices are dynamic and change every six minutes, depending on speed and traffic volume. Those who are solo and traveling at peak times have to pay them.” [Washington Post]

Last Night’s Sunset — Across the D.C. area last night, the sky lit up at sunset after an extended stretch of rain and overcast gloom. The spectacular sunset was particularly picturesque when set against the Tysons skyline. [Twitter, Twitter]

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