New Tolls Hit Eye-Popping Levels On Virginia Interstate

Dec 6, 2017

Credit soomness/flickr

Drivers in Northern Virginia are being hit with tolls for a one-way trip that are about as much as a tank of gas.

Transportation officials have long dreamed of figuring out a way to change behavior — a way to discourage single-occupancy vehicles clogging roads and creating gridlock. Now they may have found one: dynamic pricing on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia. The more drivers on the road, the higher the price on the express lanes.  On day two of the new system, single occupancy vehicles had to fork over $40 for a one-way trip during the morning rush hour.

“Like all prices, they do have greater impact on people who have limited means, ” says  Blue Wooldridge at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. 

“There are some things that should be available to all residents, and one of them would be transportation.” Imagine driving to your minimum-wage job, he says, only to be hit with a bill that’s essentially the same price as a tank of gas.

So far, the variable tolling is limited to I-66 in Northern Virginia. But Frank Shafroth at George Mason University says this could easily be implemented in Hampton Roads or Richmond. “The state’s probably going to move to more kinds of tolling because of the harder time to collect taxes under what the White House and the Congress are proposing,” Shafroth says.

The issue is already taking the fast lane to the next session of the General Assembly, which starts next month. Some lawmakers are calling for a cap to the tolls, which currently have no limit to the prices they can charge drivers. Transportation officials say that would undermine their goal of changing behavior and eliminating gridlock. 

 This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.