Jennifer McCord, a VDOT spokeswoman, said in an email the price was driven by a variety of factors, including “heavy demand and congestion observed into D.C.” She also cited congestion at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and an incident on Interstate 395 that created a “potential ripple effect,” prompting the toll increase.
Chris Kane, of Manassas, was driving by himself Thursday when he noticed the signage indicating a $44 toll. He tweeted a photo while stuck in traffic, using the hashtag #highwayrobbery.
“I’m sorry but I’ll just leave earlier or take RT50 into DC,” he tweeted. “That’s insane.”
The tolls run on a dynamic pricing system that changes every six minutes based on demand. They debuted Dec. 4 and are meant to alleviate traffic on the highway during peak usage times.
Transportation planners hope the tolls will encourage drivers to carpool or use public transportation during peak travel times. Drivers are charged to use the express lanes if they are alone, but usage is free with two or more occupants in a vehicle with an E-ZPass Flex transponder.
Some drivers and politicians have expressed shock at the toll prices. Tolls are in place on a 10-mile stretch of I-66 between the Capital Beltway and the District in the direction of peak travel. Motorcycles and vehicles carrying two or more people aren’t charged, and usage outside of peak travel times is free for all motorists.
In the first week the tolls debuted, the peak hit the $40 mark during a morning rush. VDOT said the average toll for a round-trip ride in its first days was about $14.50. That is below the estimated $17 that state transportation officials said it would cost two years ago when the idea was pitched.
Tolls typically reach their peak during the morning rush between about 8 and 8:30 a.m.
Some lawmakers in Virginia have called for tolls to be suspended. Republican and Democrat elected officials have called the tolls “outrageous” and “unacceptable.” Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne has called attacks on the program “political rhetoric” based on “inaccurate data” from lawmakers who have long opposed tolling.