Vir­ginia trans­porta­tion chief pitches I-66 HOT lanes as part of a re­gional web

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - Dr. Grid­lock ROBERT THOM­SON Dr. Grid­lock also ap­pears Thurs­day in Lo­cal Liv­ing. Com­ments and ques­tions are wel­come and may be used in a col­umn, along with the writer’s name and home com­mu­nity. Write Dr. Grid­lock at The Wash­ing­ton Post, 1150 15th St. NW, W

The plan to cre­ate HOT lanes on In­ter­state 66 passed two of its many gov­ern­men­tal tests last week, al­though the ap­provals by the Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors and the re­gional Trans­porta­tion Plan­ning Board came with contingencies about fu­ture mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Vir­ginia Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Aubrey Layne ad­dressed many ques­tions about the I-66 projects dur­ing my on­line chat Mon­day. I have se­lected some key is­sues and edited the ques­tions and re­sponses for space.

The first ques­tion is from me, and the rest are from read­ers.

Q. Many com­muters write to me and say, Why don’t they just widen the high­way and for­get about this tolling part?

Layne: The goal is to move more peo­ple in the lim­ited space we have by car, bus and train. Be­cause of lim­ited resources and space, tolling has to be a part of megapro­jects like I-66. Right-ofway is ex­pen­sive and im­pact­ful to res­i­dents. HOT lanes on I-66, com­bined with I-95 and I-495, will pro­duce a re­gional HOT lanes net­work, af­ford­ing more re­li­able travel choices.

Q. What is Vir­ginia’s long-term plan for I-66 cor­ri­dor con­ges­tion in­side and just past the Belt­way? Con­vert­ing HOV2 to HOT3 lanes will raise money and lessen traf­fic on I-66, but it will sim­ply route trav­el­ers who can’t af­ford the ex­tra toll to smaller side roads. [Un­der the high-oc­cu­pancy toll sys­tem, driv­ers ride free if they meet the car­pool re­quire­ments. The cur­rent stan­dard of at least two per­sons per car, or HOV2, is sched­uled to rise to HOV/HOT3 by 2020.]

Layne: We have stud­ied the I-66 cor­ri­dor three times in the last 15 years. We think the cur­rent plan of­fers the best hope for con­ges­tion re­lief and im­prove­ments along the cor­ri­dor. I-66 in­side the Belt­way is dif­fer­ent from the Dulles Toll Road and the Green­way, be­cause solo driv­ers can­not use the road. Our tolling so­lu­tion re­duces traf­fic on par­al­lel routes by al­low­ing solo driv­ers, who to­day

are stuck on Route 50 and Route 29, the op­tion to use I-66 in­side the Belt­way.

Q. Some com­muters sim­ply have no choice — we live along I-66, and we work fur­ther down I66. We work ab­nor­mal or long hours and can’t have oth­ers re­ly­ing on us for a car­pool. What al­ter­na­tives will Vir­ginia pro­vide to get us to and from work in a rea­son­able amount of time with­out hav­ing to drive on toll lanes?

Layne: Out­side the Belt­way will con­tinue to have free lanes. In­side the Belt­way will re­main a free al­ter­na­tive out­side of rush hours. Dur­ing rush hours, it will be main­tained as a man­aged fa­cil­ity. [The toll will rise or fall to reg­u­late the flow of traf­fic.] We are work­ing to pro­vide en­hanced com­muter bus ser­vice through­out the cor­ri­dor.

Q. You stated, “In­side the Belt­way will re­main a free al­ter­na­tive out­side of rush hours.” I’m a lit­tle con­fused. I thought HOT lanes AL­WAYS have a toll, it just may drop as low as $1 out­side of rush hours?

Layne: No. I-66 in­side the Belt­way is dif­fer­ent. It will be free on week­ends, evenings and mid­day for all driv­ers.

Q. Will a park-and-ride be placed near the in­ter­sec­tion of I-66 and the Belt­way to pro­vide non­stop com­muter buses into the Dis­trict?

Layne: The I-66 project will in­clude new park-and-ride lots and new bus ser­vice, pro­vid­ing a one-seat ride into the Dis­trict. Be­cause of its con­strained rightof-way, noth­ing is planned for the in­ter­sec­tion of I-66 and I-495. Hope­fully, other op­tions will prove to be con­ve­nient for you.

Q. My es­ti­mate is that at least 25 per­cent of the driv­ers [on I-66 HOV lanes] do not meet the three ba­sic re­quire­ments of two or more pas­sen­gers, or com­ing from Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port, or a fuel-ef­fi­cient car [with the proper state-is­sued li­cense plates]. It ap­pears to be en­forced very loosely. What will stop com­muters from flaut­ing the sys­tem on new HOT lanes?

Layne: On the 95 Ex­press Lanes [the HOT lanes that Vir­ginia opened in De­cem­ber], we have seen the vi­o­la­tion rate drop dra­mat­i­cally. The toll gantries and video cam­eras pro­vide new mech­a­nisms for bet­ter en­force­ment of the rules.

Q. What makes you think that solo driv­ers who are us­ing side roads will be will­ing to pay the big tolls on I-66? And if large num­bers of them do so, wouldn’t that de­feat the whole plan by in­creas­ing con­ges­tion?

Layne: Our ex­pe­ri­ence with the 95 Ex­press Lanes shows driv­ers will switch from gen­eral pur­pose to ex­press lanes. We ex­pect the same be­hav­ior on I-66. Tolls will vary based on con­ges­tion to en­sure free-flow­ing traf­fic. HOV2 will change to HOV3 in 2020 re­gard­less of this project.

We be­lieve this project will mit­i­gate that im­pact. In ad­di­tion, ex­cess rev­enues gen­er­ated in the cor­ri­dor will be avail­able for en­hance­ments to I-66 and other roads should traf­fic de­vi­ate from our mod­el­ing.

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