Jennifer McCord, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said the toll fell short of the $47.25 record set Jan. 18 for six minutes during the morning commute. She said the steep prices both days coincided with heavy congestion on the roughly 10 miles of I-66 inside the Beltway.
On Wednesday, she said congestion was centered west of the Glebe Road interchange, as well as the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge coming into the District. McCord said two disabled vehicles were on the highway’s shoulder during that time, but no lanes were blocked.
Part of the Clara Barton Parkway also was shut down for emergency repairs in Maryland, which could have contributed to higher tolls as traffic spilled over from other roads.
Transportation officials say the tolls, which launched in December, are intended to help alleviate traffic along one of the most congested roadways in the region for those willing to pay.
The toll hit $44 at one point in December and reached $40 on their second day of operation earlier that month. There is no cap on the toll pricing, which changes as congestion rises and falls in the direction of peak travel.
Transportation planners have said they hoped the toll would encourage commuters 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 people in a vehicle with an E-ZPass Flex transponder.
Driving in the toll lanes with a passenger, she said, cuts her commute by five minutes compared with riding alone in HOV lanes that were in place before tolling began. But it also means less flexibility in her schedule and the pressure of knowing someone is depending on her for a ride.
“It makes it challenging for people to plan their routes with any certainty or predictability,” Simmon said.
She called the tolls “wildly unpredictable” and said they can spike during short periods of time.
“The idea that you can arrive at I-66 and look up at the sign and then make a decision sort of betrays a misunderstanding of commuting,” she said, noting that alternates routes have to be chosen ahead of time. “If you’re looking at the sign, you’re now limited in your options for alternate routes.”
When tolling was discussed in 2015, transportation officials said that, on average, the price would run about $9 for 10 variations of trips drivers could take on the highway. VDOT officials said the system bases rates on the volume and speed that it is trying to maintain.
Toll lanes are in place from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. westbound, Monday through Friday. The lanes are free to all drivers during off-peak hours and weekends.