This toll gantry in Arlington is not in use yet, and is currently being tested.
Photo by Mike Salmon.
On Monday, Dec. 4, drivers on I-66 inside the beltway during morning and evening rush hours will need an EZ-Pass or EZ-Pass Flex to travel on the highway, in accordance with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) newest tolling option to improve the traffic in Northern Virginia.
“Our goal here is to move more people through the corridor,” said VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick at a meeting in the VDOT Northern Virginia District Office. The exact date hadn’t been established up until then, but the plans were unveiled to officials and media outlets at the meeting Nov. 9.
The toll plan was called “the key to the heart of unlocking Northern Virginia,” added Nick Donahue, Deputy Secretary of Transportation. who was at the meeting in place of Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.
For those traveling on I-66 inside the beltway, tolls will be in place for single-occupancy cars on eastbound lanes in the morning and westbound lanes in the afternoons. It will be toll-free for vehicles with at least two passengers but they will need the EZ-Pass Flex that has a switch to indicate the HOV mode.
This toll plan is operated by VDOT and not a third-party, so all the tolls that are collected will be used to improve transportation on I-66 inside the beltway corridor. Kilpatrick mentioned some improvements that are already planned, including a ramp from I-66 to the West Falls Church Metro station, an additional eastbound lane on I-66 from the Dulles Toll Road to Fairfax Drive, new bus lines and elevating the current bike trail crossing at Route 29. “These are the physical improvements planned,” Kilpatrick said.
In the next few weeks, drivers in Arlington will see some activity on the roads as VDOT prepares for day one of the new plan. On the morning of Dec. 4, there will be messages on the variable message signs 30 minutes in advance as to when the tolls are starting.
One question from a Prince William official’s office had to do with rush hour in the evening. If a car without a EZ-Pass got on the lanes before 3 p.m. when the tolls started, would the rest of their ride be free? They would be in violation and receive a ticket. “It’s not about when you get in the lanes, it is if you are in the lanes when it reaches the HOV hours,” said Kilpatrick. David Caudill, VDOT Tolling Manager, stressed the importance of being prepared. “Make sure you have an EZ-Pass responder,” he said.
Up until now, drivers going to Dulles Airport had an exemption for the restricted times on I-66 but that disappears with the new plan. “There are no exemptions if you are going to Dulles,” said Grindly Johnson, VDOT’s Deputy Secretary of Transportation. Hybrids will be treated like all the other cars as well, and the state sent out special notices to hybrid drivers. “Hybrid drivers should have received notification,” said Johnson.
According to VDOT, the I-66 toll plan has been in the news frequently, and its advertising campaign, “I Drive, I Carpool and I Ride,” has already begun.
A worry that has come up in meetings over the last two years was the influx of drivers on the surrounding roads to avoid paying tolls. VDOT is aware of that concern, Kilpatrick said, and “we’re going to be monitoring the adjacent roadways too.”
This tolling on I-66 inside the beltway will be coupled with a plan for outside the beltway too where VDOT is working with a private party to build one lane in each direction for 22 miles from Vienna to Gainesville, and there will be two express lanes on each side, similar to I-495. This project, priced at $3 billion, is expected to be done in 2022, and when they open, I-66 inside the beltway will be going up to HOV-3 to ride free, so all of I-66 express lanes will be the same.