Yikes, the I-66 Toll Hits $44

Image of the $44 toll captured by commuter Chris Kane and published by the Washington Post.

Uh, oh, the Interstate 66 inside-the-Beltway toll hit a new high — $44 — Thursday morning. That price lasted only six minutes, and Virginia Department of Transportation officials attributed the increased demand along I-66 to congestion at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and an incident on Interstate 395 that created a “potential ripple effect.”

Whatever the cause, we can be sure that this will not be the last time that there are ripple effects from congestion at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge or an accident on I-395.

I know all the arguments in favor of dynamically priced tolls as a tool for rationing scarce highway capacity, and I even agree with them. But I’m also a realist. Politically, $44 tolls for a 10-mile ride will be hard to sustain. While only a tiny fraction of drivers paid that top fare, plenty of other drivers paid $20, $30 or more. Trying doing that day after day — such sums add up fast. Drivers don’t care one whit for economic theory and maximizing utility. All they know is that they’re they’re being robbed while “someone else” is making out like a bandit.

When voters get mad, legislators get mad. When legislators get mad, they do stupid things. This cannot end well.