Tag Archives: tolls

“Q&A: I-66 toll lanes west of the Beltway”

By Max Smith | @amaxsmith | 

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.

While what’s known as “commercial close” is happening Thursday, the financial part of the deal, including some negotiations over how much the companies and the state could save based on design revisions that make the project cheaper, is not expected to close until July.

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.

Why no published toll rate?

A big question from drivers and opponents of the tolls, is often about what the actual toll rates will be.

“There is no published toll,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne. “What we’re saying is that it’s the same thing on 95.”

Layne said officials are not “hiding” from the public what the toll prices will be.

The tolls will fluctuate based on the number of cars using the lanes, with the goal of keeping traffic moving at 55 mph at a minimum.

“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.

However, the public will not get to see the way that the private companies set the tolls.

“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.

In response to critics who complain that driving the full length of the lanes both ways every day would be too expensive for solo drivers, Layne emphasized that drivers have the choice to stay in the regular lanes, take commuter buses or carpool to avoid paying a toll.

When will more details come out?

Some construction and other details may not be available until the financial part of the deal closes in July, Layne said.

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.

“Both teams came up with some incredible ideas. They could be things regarding maintenance and operations, but a lot of them were really about how you build this thing,” said Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick.

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.

“They brought some very, very cool alternative technical concepts that were real money,” Layne said.

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.

“As you might imagine, if you’ve closed on a house it takes a couple months. Closing on something like this takes a little bit longer,” Kilpatrick said.

Why did these companies pay up?

Virginia received two bids for the project after a third entity pulled out. The winning bid includes no direct state contribution to the project and a $500 million payment to the state from the winning companies.

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.

Virginia required that the deal include $800 million in transit funding and later corridor improvements, which come on top of the $500 million payment.

“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.

Layne also acknowledged that the state’s last-minute move to allow big rigs to use the lanes — as long as the lane designs meet basic noise and safety requirements — added significant value to the deal for the companies.

Why tolls at all?

Many opponents of the toll lanes argue the state should simply build more regular lanes.

“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.”

Studies supporting the project found that the toll lanes could move more people than regular lanes through the incentives for carpooling or taking a bus to avoid the tolls.

Are the other Express Lanes around here working?

About a third of vehicles using the 95 Express Lanes travel free because they have three or more people inside, said Virginia Deputy Transportation Secretary Nick Donohue.

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.

Eighty-five percent of toll-payers pay for five or fewer trips per month to use the 95 Express Lanes.

“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.

Various studies supporting the construction of the lanes suggest that adding lanes and pushing people to carpool or to take commuter buses will lead to shorter commutes for those in the regular lanes too, but that’s compared to the bigger traffic mess that would result if no changes were made to I-66.

“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.

“If you were to head westbound in the evening, all the way from the Beltway to the end of this project, with no improvement in the future … it would take 66 minutes with no improvement. That would drop by 22 minutes each afternoon even if you’re in the general purpose lanes and paying nothing,” he said.


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“495 and 95 toll prices were very high on Tuesday thats likely a sign they’re working”

The 495 Express Lanes on Virginia’s side of the Beltway offer those a choice of avoiding congestion for a price, which normally ranges between $8 to $18 depending on traffic and time. For those commuting on Tuesday December 6 this went to new levels.

The Tysons Express Lanes signs. Photo by Melissa Grinnell.


495’s toll lanes stretch from north of the Dulles Toll Road and run to Springfield. The cost of the lanes heading south peaked on December 6th at $31.30. For drivers going from Tysons, which houses many of Northern Virginia’s office buildings, to Springfield the cost peaked at $29.55.

Where the lanes end on the south side in Springfield drivers can pick up the 95 Express Lanes, which run south about 25 miles to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The cost of the 95 Express Lane peaked yesterday at $33.80. For drivers running the full route that entered into the lanes at 5:45 pm the cost was $64.35 for the one way commute from northern Virginia to the last toll road exit in Stafford.

A screenshot of Tuesday night's toll prices. Image from Transurban.

Disgruntled commuters should understand this is not a form of price gouging. When the express lanes back up, prices rise in order to limit traffic entering the lanes. When the lanes exceed the normal pricing that we’ve been accustomed too often this is an indication that there was an incident in the express lanes. Last night was one of these cases, as a car crash blocked the left lane of the express lanes, driving up the cost to the higher rates.

For those commuters that find themselves in a situation like last night where the express lanes failed to live up to expectations, there is a way to get reimbursed. Transurbran, which operates the lanes, evaluates refunds on a case by case basis and can be reached through their website. On the website they point out “Toll-paying customers will not choose to pay to use express lanes if they cannot consistently depend on a faster more reliable trip.”

The express lanes continue to offer an alternative for commuters that want to avoid sitting in congestion, but when commuters see the prices jump above the norms they are used to they should be aware of what potentially lies on the road ahead.

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“Midtown and Downtown Tunnel tolls to increase January 1”

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The new year will mean higher tolls for drivers who use the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels.

According to the Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) website, the rate drivers pay will go up January 1.

The toll will rise from $1.25 to $1.65 during off-peak driving hours. During peak hours, the passenger vehicle rate will jump from $1.50 to $1.95. People without an E-ZPass will pay even more.

“That’s a pretty huge chunk of money over time,” said Portsmouth resident Brad Bowen.

“I just think it’s ridiculous,” said resident Luvina Weatherspoon. “I just don’t get it.”

The dramatic increase is the result of a state deal coming to a close.

When tolling began in 2014, drivers were set to pay $1.84 during peak hours. But Governor Terry McAuliffe then agreed to “pay down” the tolls during the construction phase. With that ending, drivers will be back to the original rate, plus a permitted annual increase.

“With the contract [between Elizabeth River Crossings and VDOT], we are allowed to increase tolls by 3.5 percent or consumer price index, whichever one is greater,” said ERC Spokeswoman Leila Rice. “Keep in mind, we operate and maintain these facilities and we incur cost increases to maintain facilities. Tunnels are more expensive to maintain than open roadway.”

Rice said the company is “making an effort to help those who need assistance.”

She said that ERC pays HRT to enhance bus and ferry options for people to travel to and from Portsmouth toll-free.

Recently, the governor announced toll relief to give some locals a discount, depending on their income and the amount of trips they make through the tunnels.

10 On Your Side contacted Portsmouth Mayor-Elect John Rowe and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Psimas for comment on Tuesday, but they had not returned our calls as of the late evening hours Tuesday.

Aubrey Layne, Secretary of Transportation, said Tuesday that the contract between the state and ERC was made under a previous administration. He said his officials will continue to monitor the company’s performance.

Click here to view previous toll rates.

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“1st I-66 toll revenue project breaks ground in Loudoun Co.”

By Kathy Stewart | @KStewartWTOP 


Loudoun County supervisors, VDOT representatives and members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission break ground on a $6.1 million commuter lot in Aldie on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. Revenue collected from tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway will help cover the cost of the 300-space lot, which will provide express bus service to Downtown D.C. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

Loudoun County supervisors, VDOT representatives and members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission break ground on a $6.1 million commuter lot in Aldie on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. Revenue collected from tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway will help cover the cost of the 300-space lot, which will provide express bus service to Downtown D.C. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)


ALDIE, Va. — Northern Virginia officials broke ground Tuesday on a new park-and-ride lot in Loudoun County that will be partially paid for with Interstate 66 toll revenue.

The 300-space commuter lot in Aldie will provide express bus service to McPherson Square Metro Station in Downtown D.C. Bus service is set to begin on the same day that the I-66 tolls kick in — expected next July — for rush hour commuters traveling alone east of the Capital Beltway.

Toll revenues will provide more than $1 million for the $6.1 million parking lot project.

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“Whatever they call it, you pay more to go faster”

Would you do anything to get out of this rush-hour traffic where the Capital Beltway and I-270 merge? How about paying a toll for a faster lane? (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Would you do anything to get out of this rush-hour traffic where the Capital Beltway and I-270 merge? How about paying a toll for a faster lane? (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

 | Washington Post Columnist | September 24
Dear Dr. Gridlock:I am still somewhat confused by the difference between HOV and HOT lanes.

I have never liked the concept of tolls and prefer to avoid them at all costs. Should I need to drive to Leesburg, I simply go west on Route 7, bypassing the expensive toll [on the Dulles Toll Road].

There is very little time saved on the toll road versus Route 7. I have timed both routes and determined that the 10 minutes in savings using the toll road wasn’t worth the money.

I also do not use the high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway. I am never quite certain exactly where I can exit and don’t want to be going 60-plus mph without having knowledge of whether my intended exit will be available. I have witnessed cars slamming on brakes and trying to drive backward to get off the toll lane.

Regarding your Aug. 28 column, I found it interesting that no response was given as to what tourists and nonresidents driving into Washington on eastbound Interstate 66 will do when they won’t have any idea what HOV or HOT lanes are and won’t have a transponder. This is the height of arrogance on the part of highway planners.

I find it preposterous that the high taxes on a variety of items we pay for in Virginia can’t cover decent roads and non-toll lanes.

— Joan Fiander, Annandale

The forecast for my letter writer and many travelers with similar views is a dark and stormy one.

This past week, a group of civic, business and political leaders in Maryland launched a campaign for improvements to I-270 that includes adding toll lanes. In making their pitch, several leaders of Fix270Now cited what Virginia has been doing in creating a network of HOT lanes.

And right now, Virginia is proceeding with the extension of that network onto I-66 and the rest of I-395, exposing the Annandale community to this style of highway travel in virtually all directions.

It’s difficult to know exactly what the road system for the 21st century will wind up looking like. Driverless cars, ride hailing and quicker access to information about travel options will revolutionize our thinking.

But various forms of toll roads are part of the future we can actually see.

Let’s start with the basic question that Fiander asked about differences in titles. The HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes are the carpool lanes, and they’ve been around the D.C. region for years, encouraging people to travel together in exchange for the promise of a quicker, more reliable trip.

I hate the name “HOT lanes.” Few people outside the transportation business know what “high-occupancy or toll” means. The basic idea is that drivers pay a toll unless they meet the carpool “high-occupancy” requirement, in which case they get a free ride.

It gives drivers more options for using the lanes, and it gives governments more money to build the lanes.

But you won’t see “HOT” on any sign approaching the lanes. It’s not a type of sign recognized under federal rules. In his traffic reports on radio station WTOP, Bob Marbourg calls them the “E-ZPass lanes,” and that’s as good a name as any, because “E-ZPass” actually does appear on the signs.

Ready for the advanced class? Maryland has toll roads, but at least so far, they aren’t HOT lanes. There’s no free ride for high-occupancy vehicles. So Maryland has “express toll lanes.” (The Dulles Toll Road isn’t either of those. It’s just a toll road.)

If a plan does evolve for adding express lanes to I-270, and perhaps to the west side of the Beltway and the American Legion Bridge, then the Maryland government will have to decide whether it wants to match its system with the Virginia system and give the carpoolers a break.

Future tourists and visitors? They will be in the same spot as today’s tourists and visitors approaching either HOV or HOT lanes. They’ll have to watch the signs and get out of lanes they shouldn’t be in.  <Story>

“HOT lanes, innovative bids could solve Toronto’s infrastructure woes”

Rob Palter is a director in McKinsey & Co.’s Toronto office. Tyler Duvall is a principal in McKinsey’s Washington office.

When Toronto City Council settled on the so-called hybrid solution to the problem of the city’s crumbling Gardiner Expressway problem, many took it as a sign that the downtown artery’s saga might finally be approaching a conclusion.

Yet, after decades of commissions, studies and debates about what to do with the eyesore that separates downtown Toronto from the shore of Lake Ontario, council’s plan seems decidedly modest: Rebuild a 1.7-kilometre stretch of the expressway east of the downtown and pay for ongoing maintenance by opening public lands to development. Outright demolition, tunnels and other more comprehensive proposals? Too expensive, too technically complex, too hard to sell to voters.

No doubt, politicians are wary of charting a more ambitious course. The long list of budget-busting infrastructure projects – notably Boston’s Big Dig, which also involved replacing outdated downtown roadways – still haunts many North American commuters and taxpayers. But as council continues to delve into alternatives for addressing the Gardiner problem, one recent highway project could provide an instructive example of a more comprehensive, and innovative, solution.

The Capital Beltway HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes in Virginia unlocked traffic along two of the most congested stretches of highway in North America using a fundamentally different approach to procurement, financing and operation. Virginia faced a problem similar to what confronts Toronto: two clogged corridors badly in need of repair or replacement and lacking a feasible solution. (The state’s plan, requiring the expropriation of hundreds of properties, was both financially and politically unpalatable.)

In 2002, U.S. construction firm Fluor came to the government with a proposal: We will help you round up the financing, we will design and build the roads (affecting only a few properties) and we will operate the finished roadways. We will deliver a turnkey solution, taking on all the risk of costs, schedule and operation.

This unsolicited bid, which was later joined by Australian toll-road operator Transurban, was a stark departure from the traditional approach to public works, whereby a government agency decides it needs a bridge or a road, gets preliminary specs, puts them out for tender, selects the contractors, then picks an entirely different set for operation and maintenance. Here, the private sector took the initiative to revive a high-profile but stalled project.

After ensuring that the companies’ plan would indeed relieve congestion while protecting the public’s interests, the Virginia Department of Transportation struck a deal. In essence, VDOT officials acknowledged that opening up the process to industry experts could produce fresh ideas and innovative executions.

The result for Washington are two major sections of fresh blacktop, the second of which opened late last year, and more than 50 improved bridges, overpasses and interchanges. The new stretches of I-495 and 1-95 feature toll lanes whose cost changes dynamically based on traffic conditions (high-occupancy vehicles can use the lanes for free). The I-495 project, which cost $1.4-billion (U.S.), was financed using a mix of private equity, a federal government loan and public-sector grants, and the private consortium received an 80-year toll concession. The terms of the financing lowered the debt cost of capital by more than 2.5 per cent, producing $30-million in savings the first year alone.

Realizing that the traditional approach to infrastructure development is too slow and fails to promote innovation in design and delivery, more than 20 U.S. states have enacted legislation to enable such unsolicited bids. The laws require governments to give due consideration to any private-sector proposal that meets the unsolicited-bid standards by putting it through a review process and approving it if it meets the criteria. Infrastructure Ontario is moving in this direction by inviting feedback from the industry on preliminary designs and suggestions for alternative solutions. But to come forward, companies need an assurance that their investment in putting together a solid proposal won’t result in it lying unopened in a government file cabinet.

Most private-sector proposals will require a clear revenue stream. That usually means user fees (such as tolls) or payments by the government. While the public tends to resist tolls at first, experience around the world consistently shows that once drivers see the speed and convenience of tolled roads, the majority support them. There is one key fact to keep in mind: It is the benefits of having access to more and better roads that makes the public come around. Charging fees for the privilege of using the same crumbling infrastructure won’t fly.

With the Ontario government proposing a similar HOT-lane solution to ease congestion on a long stretch of the Queen Elizabeth Way next summer, it could be an opportune time to consider this solution for the QEW, the Gardiner and other congested roadways across the province.

The current Gardiner plan is ultimately a temporary fix – the eastern portion of the Gardiner handles only about 3 per cent of downtown traffic during peak hours. Exploring innovative solutions elsewhere may help Toronto City Council write a satisfying ending to the Gardiner saga.

“Purchasing the Dulles Greenway? VDOT doesn’t buy the idea” – WTOP

By Max Smith  / 

Buying the Dulles Greenway would be a bad deal for Virginia, a report indicates. (WTOP File/Ari Ashe)

WASHINGTON — The idea of buying the Dulles Greenway with the goal of lowering tolls would require hundreds of millions of dollars in upfront cash, and the chief financial officer of the Virginia Department of Transportation says the purchase would be a bad deal for the state.

Loudoun County lawmakers have lambasted the private road’s tolls for years, and the Virginia General Assembly in 2013 directed a review to determine whether purchasing the road would be a reasonable path forward.

VDOT CFO John Lawson says an update of that review has again found that it would not be a good deal for the state.

“The indicative purchase price has gone up [since 2013]; the present value of the future dividends appears to have increased, and the one that really is the biggest issue is that the defeasance cost of the outstanding debt has changed, and while it has gone down some … the cost to defease the existing debt is the piece that makes this road such an expensive proposition to the Commonwealth,” he told the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

 Depending on factors such as what kind of bonds were issued and whether tolls increase, buying the road would cost the state somewhere between about $400 million and $880 million up front. The high-end estimate was $747 million in 2013. < Full Story >