By Ryan Persaud and Yasmine Jumaa
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A month after the fury over what many drivers considered excessive tolls on Interstate 66, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne defended the tolls, saying they are necessary for increasing the flow of traffic on the highway in Northern Virginia.
The tolls, which vary based on demand and amount of traffic, have reached as high as $44 for a 10-mile drive since they were implemented on Dec. 4.
“I would’ve anticipated that happening a lot lower than the $44, but it did not,” Layne said. “People chose to pay it, but it was a choice. Our other option is we could just limit the road when it reaches a certain level [to] HOV users. The issue with that is that we’re taking away that choice for the people who want to pay it.”
Layne spoke Tuesday to the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability. His report came a month after Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, called the I-66 tolls “exorbitant” and “unacceptable.”
The tolling is in effect weekdays only, during rush hours and in the peak direction, on about 10 miles of I-66, from Route 29 in Rosslyn to Interstate 495.
Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said the high tolls are a result of a lack of state funding for road projects.
“This is all symptomatic of not having enough money to begin with to build the highways,” Wagner said. “We’re having to do these unique types of programs to build these highways.”
Del.-elect Danica Roem, a Democrat from Manassas, told Layne about constituents hit hard by the tolls. They included a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who must drive by himself as a part of his treatment. The constituent said that avoiding the tolls added 45 minutes to his commute.
Layne insisted that commuters can take alternate routes such as Route 50 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. But another constituent Roem spoke to said he commutes from Manassas Park to Georgetown and cannot take any alternate pathways. The driver stated that he does not know how to budget his money due to the varying tolls.
“That’s the beast of the dynamic tolling process: You don’t know what it’s going to be each day until the time you get there because it’s basically volume control,” Roem said. “He [the constituent from Manassas Park] had a number of concerns with this.”
Layne said the revenue from the tolls goes toward funding other transportation projects.
“They will help pay for the road construction; they will help pay for multi-modal transportation and operation of the road,” Layne said.
After monitoring the corridors surrounding I-66 and alternative routes, Layne said that so far the data indicated no significant change in travel time on those routes.
“We need to continue to monitor this, and it may require that we do adjustments, but as of right now we do not see any significant impact to these parallel corridors,” Layne said.
Last month, Hugo released a statement criticizing Layne and Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the toll rates.
“Governor McAuliffe has gone on TV several times this week saying $40 toll prices are the way ‘it’s supposed to work.’ I could not disagree more,” Hugo said. “The hard-working people of Northern Virginia should not be forced to get a part-time job to be able to afford to drive to their full-time job.”
These are Layne’s final days as the commonwealth’s secretary of transportation. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has appointed former Lynchburg lawmaker Shannon Valentine to the position.