Tolls on Interstate 66 hit $40 during the Tuesday morning rush, the second day of operation for the new express lanes from the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia to downtown Washington.
At about 8 a.m., a driver entering the interstate at the Beltway would have paid $36.50. Minutes later, the toll reached $40. That tops the peak toll of Monday’s debut commute, which reached $34.50.
But despite complaints from some drivers that the rates are excessive, Virginia transportation officials said the lanes are working exactly as they are supposed to. Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne declared Monday’s opening a success and said the lanes will help the state accomplish its goal of “moving more people, not more vehicles” in the corridor.
The tolls are dynamic and the pricing changes every six minutes, based on the demand and volume of traffic along the road. The goal is to keep a traffic flowing at 55 mph. During Monday and Tuesday’s commutes, the speeds stayed consistent at 57 mph, state officials said. This saved motorists travel time and enabled commuter buses to run on-time, Layne said at a Tuesday morning meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
“As long as people are willing to pay, that is what will drive the tolling,” Layne said. Those complaining that the tolls are unfair have options, he said.
“No one has to pay a toll. You simply could have put another person in your car and avoid a toll,” Layne said. “This is fair to everyone because everyone has a choice. And that is why we did this. We wanted to change behavior, we don’t have the resources to continue to lay asphalt and have congested roadways.”
The tolls are among the highest in the United States for a toll highway.
For most drivers, there was anticipation — and excitement — about another alternative to traffic-clogged roads. But the high prices to go just a 10 miles left many drivers with sticker shock. Hashtags #I66 tolls and #highwayrobbery quickly became popular on social media.
To be sure, there are other roads that can be used as an alternative to taking the new toll lanes. Motorcycles and vehicles carrying two or more people have free use of the lanes.
On Tuesday morning, VDOT officials said that as Day 2 of the tolls started, they hadn’t seen any major increase in traffic on surrounding roads. VDOT is monitoring Route 50, Route 123, Route 7, Lee Highway, the Beltway and the George Washington Parkway to see if there were increased traffic volumes.
Michelle Holland, a VDOT spokeswoman, said Tuesday that during Monday evening’s rush-hour commute, there were reports by traffic engineers of a “little bit of an uptick in traffic” on surrounding roads but no major backups. At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Holland said arterial roads were “looking good.” She said they were less congested at this hour than they were at the same time a year ago.
“It’s been a good opening. It is about what we expected,” Layne said.