TURN ON the World Series these days and, at the commercial break, you’ll be subjected to an onslaught of political advertising, courtesy of Republicans running for the Virginia state legislature. Like many political ads, these are crass, misleading and pitched toward exploiting voters’ fears — in this case, about the costs of commuting.
The bogeyman invoked to strike terror in commuters is the specter of punishingly high tolls on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia — specifically $17 tolls, as scary as any Halloween fright. The 30-second spots suggest that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) plans to impose that levy on all drivers who use I-66, a major artery for commuters in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties.
That’s false. In fact, rush-hour drivers who drive legally on I-66 now — meaning those with at least one passenger — would be untouched by the governor’s plan. They drive the road for free now and would continue to do so.
You’d never guess that from the disingenuous ads sponsored by a pair of Republicans: Harry “Hal” Parrish, candidate for the state Senate in Prince William; and Craig Parisot, who’s running for the House of Delegates in Fairfax. Both suggest flatly that $17 tolls are on the way — and only a vote for them might stop the madness.
Here’s what the ads neglect to mention: If the tolls go into effect, they’d apply only at rush hour to solo drivers on I-66 inside the Beltway, who have been forbidden from using that segment of road during peak traffic times since it opened more than 30 years ago. Under the change proposed by Mr. McAuliffe, those solo drivers would be allowed to use I-66 at rush hour, for the first time ever — and yes, they’d be charged according to a price schedule that, in the event of heavy traffic, could top out at $17 round-trip.
That’s a vastly better deal than the status quo, under which commuters face fines starting at $125 and topping out at $1,000 (plus points on their licenses) if they are caught on I-66 driving solo at rush hour. Do Mr. Parrish and Mr. Parisot prefer $1,000 fines to $17 tolls? Or do they simply prefer solo drivers cheat by driving that segment of I-66 at rush hour, as some scofflaws do? (There’s also a free option for solo drivers: Continue using ancillary roads such as Routes 50 and 29 at rush hour.)
The underlying problem is that Virginia Republicans have long hated paying for the roads citizens use and need. For years they blocked attempts to raise new revenue for transportation, even as the state’s highway network crumbled. Now aspiring GOP lawmakers such as Mr. Parrish and Mr. Parisot oppose Mr. McAuliffe’s plan, which would raise funds for an array of badly needed improvements to I-66 and the surrounding corridor. What they lack is better ideas for relieving congestion on one of the region’s most traffic-choked routes.