Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s plan to create HOT lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway got a bit of a boost in the Senate on Monday when a subcommittee recommended killing a bill that would block tolling of the existing lanes.
The subcommittee on tolling doesn’t have the final say, but its recommendation to the full Transportation Committee will carry great weight when the committee votes on Wednesday in Richmond.
Senate Bill 234, sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax), would amend existing transportation law in this way: “No toll shall be imposed or collected for the use of any existing component of Interstate 66 east of mile marker 67 [inside the Beltway]. Toll revenue from additional capacity constructed after Jan. 1, 2017, shall be used only for the construction and maintenance of such additional capacity.”
Petersen’s bill is one of several that would effectively block the McAuliffe administration’s plan to create high-occupancy toll lanes to replace today’s High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes at peak periods. House Bill 1, introduced by Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-Fairfax), has a similar goal.
All the proposals, including McAuliffe’s, anticipate an eventual widening of the lanes inside the Beltway. The key distinction is that the bills would bar tolling before widening occurs. The Democratic governor’s plan is to create the HOT lanes in summer 2017, see how effective they are in managing traffic, and then decide whether the widening should proceed. The state’s plan is to use tolling revenue to support ways of allowing commuters to leave their cars behind for the I-66 trip. Those ways include encouraging carpooling and enhancing the commuter bus system. Toll revenue also would be used to finance a widening, if it were deemed necessary. The state’s estimate on the cost of widening is $122 million.
While Northern Virginia already has an extensive network of HOT lanes on the Beltway and I-95/395, those projects expanded the highways immediately. Tolling before widening was a focal point for opposition to the McAuliffe plan throughout 2015 and emerged as an issue during the fall General Assembly campaign.
The Virginia Department of Transportation also has a plan to create HOT lanes on I-66 outside the Beltway by 2021, but that project would immediately expand today’s single HOV lane in each direction to a double lane.
In the Virginia General Assembly, there are a variety of ways to revive proposals. If House Bill 1 is approved by the full House of Delegates, it will be sent over to the Senate for consideration. But the unfavorable reception for Petersen’s bill in the Senate subcommittee suggests that a version submitted by the House would fare no better.