Virginia officials signed a deal with a group of private companies to finance, design, build, operate and maintain four toll lanes along Interstate 66 from the Capital Beltway to Gainesville. (WTOP File Photo/Dave Dildine)
WASHINGTON — State transportation leaders are shedding some light on the details of a deal that Virginia signed Thursday with private companies to finance, design, build, operate and maintain new toll lanes along Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway.
The new lanes — two in each direction — will run from Gainesville to the Beltway and will feature dynamic tolling like what’s in place on the 95 and 495 express lanes.
A big question from drivers and opponents of the tolls, is often about what the actual toll rates will be.
Layne said officials are not “hiding” from the public what the toll prices will be.
“Dynamically priced tolls are going to generate the same toll because it’s a managing of the traffic,” regardless of who manages them, Layne said.
“That is the only proprietary part of this whole process is their algorithm, and we have the ability to look and monitor through this to make sure that they are maintaining it based on the lowest toll necessary to maintain 55 mph,” Layne said.
When will more details come out?
That is because the state and the private companies may still need to negotiate how much the state will save and how much the companies will save for design changes that make construction cheaper.
Some of the changes from the baseline contract released by the state this summer include changes that avoid costly disruptions to Metro power systems, new interchange designs, and the companies choosing to perform their own snow and ice removal in the express lanes rather than relying on the state.
Kilpatrick said some early work on design and other aspects of the project will begin soon using a loan from the state that will be repaid next year when the financial agreement is finalized.
Why did these companies pay up?
The Spanish-led Express Mobility Partners beat out a group that included Transurban, the Australia-based company that operates the 95 and 495 express lanes.
“Here’s one thing you never know unless you have a true competition: you never know why a third party makes an offer,” Layne told the Commonwealth Transportation Board. He said interest rates, taxes, market share and other factors can all play into the motivations for bidders.
Why tolls at all?
“Without tolling, we can’t do it,” Layne said. “Limited resources have consequences. So the question isn’t do something else. The question is either do this or to accept the current.”
Are the other Express Lanes around here working?
That is about twice the rate of HOV traffic using the 495 Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway. He expects HOV use on I-66 will fall somewhere between the two.
“This idea that every day, people are hopping on the 95 Express Lanes and they’re being forced to pay a toll that’s dynamic is inaccurate,” Donohue said.
“If you’re heading eastbound in the morning, and you travel the entire 22 miles, in the future, with no improvements … we anticipate it would take you 90 minutes to travel those 22 miles. With these improvements, that goes down by 37 minutes. And that’s if you’re in the general purpose lane paying nothing,” Donohue said.