Many Northern Virginia motorists and politicians seem to be having mental breakdowns over the opening of HOT lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway. Most notably, they point to the first-day, one-way $34.50 peak toll as an outrage against the driving public. Ironically, though, morning and afternoon commutes were faster during the first four days of HOT lane operation than the same period last year, asserts the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The average toll price during morning rush hour was $10.70 and during evening rush hour $3.80, stated VDOT in a press release issued yesterday evening. Only 39 vehicles paid the posted highest toll of $34.50. A third paid less than $10. And average travel times for the 10-mile route were 10 to 12 minutes compared to 15 to 30 minutes last December.
VDOT analysis also showed that of the 13,307 vehicles that used I-66 Inside the Beltway between 5:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Monday, 5,082 were carpoolers who traveled free. Traffic was heavier but travel times were comparable during the evening commute the other direction.
“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,” said Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne. “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.”
VDOT also noted that, except for an incident that closed two or three lanes of traffic on Route 50 Monday evening, travel on parallel roads such as Route 50, Route 29, and Route 7 were “either similar or improved compared with last December.”
The VDOT statement did not address observations that serious delays occurred at points accessing I-66 inside the Beltway.
Bacon’s bottom line: Assuming VDOT is not cherry picking its data, it appears that the HOT lanes are working as advertised, and that the people who are most upset by the HOT lanes are those who were prepared to be upset by HOT lanes to begin with. However, any conclusion is preliminary until the public has had a chance to review and critique the travel data.