495 Express Lanes near Gallows Road
The 495 Express Lanes, seen here near Gallows Road, are an example of tolling on new highway lanes. So far, we haven’t tolled existing lanes. (Dayna Smith/The Washington Post.)

While new highway lanes opened recently in the D.C. area are tolled, there’s a threshold we have yet to cross: Imposing tolls on lanes already built. The D.C. region’s Transportation Planning Board will look at the idea, along with many others, as it continues to develop a set of transportation goals and strategies.

The board is scheduled to hear a staff presentation on the evolving plan at its monthly meeting in D.C. on Wednesday.

Ron Kirby Ronald F. Kirby (Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments)

Ron Kirby, the board’s director of transportation planning, is scheduled to join me at noon today (Monday) for an online chat. He can take your questions about the draft Regional Transportation Priorities Plan or other topics on how we set our transportation goals and then carry them out. Use this link to submit questions and view the online discussion.

During the planning board’s noon meeting Wednesday  at 777 N. Capitol St. NE near Union Station, members will be briefed about the public’s comments on the draft plan and on potential revisions.

The planning staff said an initial review of the comments found many urging that “congestion pricing” strategies be applied to existing highway lanes. We have two types of congestion pricing in the D.C. region. Maryland’s Intercounty Connector is an example of variable pricing, in which the toll is set higher for rush hours and lower for off-peak hours. Another strategy, called dynamic pricing, is used on Virginia’s 495 Express Lanes along the Capital Beltway, and will be used on the 95 Express Lanes south of the Beltway.

In variable pricing, the toll can changed frequently, based on the current level of congestion in the express lanes. Drivers see toll rates on electronic message boards as they approach the entrances to the express lanes.

Of course, in both systems congestion management is only one goal of the tolls. The other is to pay for the lanes.

In polls, drivers have been supportive of tolling as a financial concept, and they prefer it to increases in gas taxes. But they have yet to confront a plan to impose tolls on lanes already built.

Whatever the Transportation Planning Board winds up including in its priorities plan will be advice for the region. It would be up to the governments of Maryland, Virginia and D.C. to decide whether they want to impose further tolls on highways.

A public opinion survey incorporated into the draft transportation plan found that people see these things as our main transportation challenges: transit crowding, Metro repairs, roadway congestion and road repairs.

See a full review of the goals and strategies in the draft Regional Transportation Priorities Plan.