County supervisors have unanimously directed the county staff to support “any legislative initiatives proposed in 2018 General Assembly Session that would improve the situation with I-66 tolls, including any efforts to lessen the exorbitant fees being levied on the citizens of the Commonwealth, including public safety personnel.”
Supervisors made the change to their state legislative agenda Tuesday amid backlash to new dynamic tolls in I-66 inside the beltway, which shot as high as $40 one-way on the second day of tolling.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), who had debated Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne earlier in the day on WAMU’s “The Kojo Nnamdi” Show, said the McAuliffe administration seems committed to the tolls.
Supervisors have complained that they were misled about the tolling when it was proposed, saying they were led to believe tolls would be around $9 for eastbound traffic at peak times.
The algorithm used to measure congestion and set tolls has not been publicly disclosed. Layne has said the tolling was a compromise between the state and localities.
“I’m sure that if the members of the General Assembly and even Arlington had known that the toll was going to be $40, instead of $6, $7, or $9 depending on when the secretary was saying it, we wouldn’t have had a compromise like this and this would never would have happened,” Letourneau said. “So, I suspect the General Assembly will take action.”
Two of Loudoun’s representatives in Richmond, Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33) and Del. John Bell (D-87) were among the state legislators joining in a press conference Thursday afternoon in Fairfax County calling for the tolling system to be suspended until a more affordable program can be developed and more mass transit alternatives are available for commuters.
The board did not support Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr.’s (R-Blue Ridge) recommendations to include language supporting a cap on tolls, or directing the tolls be removed after they have recouped the cost of the I-66 widening project inside the beltway. Letourneau said, “we need flexibility with these positions.”
“This is just for 66,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “When you think about coming from the [Dulles] Greenway to the toll roads, I mean for God’s sake, why have a job? Because all of your money is going to go into the toll booth.”
And board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said, at this point, the tolls will need “a seriously creative solution.” He pointed out the dynamic tolling is meant to keep speeds on I-66 at 55 miles per hour by discouraging commuters, and that lower tolls may allow more congestion. He also said the toll’s planners in the Virginia Department of Transportation may not have anticipated the number of commuters who travel toll-free under exemptions such as for motorcycles or high-occupancy vehicles.
“They’ve made this model and it’s turning out the model isn’t working,” Buona said. “It’s going to be hard to fix it.”
The board also supported Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr.’s (R-Broad Run) motion to endorse ongoing drafting efforts to create a resolution submitted to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission by Loudoun’s representatives on that commission taking “a strong stance on the I-66 tolls.”
On Thursday afternoon, VDOT released an analysis of Monday’s tolling data showing commuters paid a lower average toll than expected $17 daily rate.
According to those figures, the average round-trip toll price was $14.50, with the average morning toll paid of $10.70 and average afternoon toll paid of $3.80.
During the morning rush hour period, 5:30-9:30 a.m. total of 13,473 vehicles used I-66 Inside the Beltway. Of that total, 5,082, or 38 percent, were carpoolers who traveled free and 34 percent paid less than $10. Only 39 vehicles, or 0.29 percent, paid the posted highest toll of $34.50, VDOT said. Additionally, travel times were reduced by 5 to 18 minutes compared with last December.
During Monday’s afternoon rush hours, 3-7 p.m, a total of 16,307 vehicles used I-66 Inside the Beltway, including 4,964, or 30 percent, carpoolers who traveled for free. Travel times were reduced by up to 8 minutes over last year.
“Contrary to the continued political rhetoric of critics, I-66 Inside the Beltway Express Lanes tolls have been based on sound planning and with the ultimate goal of improving travel for everyone,” Layne stated. “We want to move more people, improve connectivity and provide additional travel choices. This is about unlocking gridlock on I-66 as Governor McAuliffe pledged.”