Friday, July 13, 2018

Sensationalistic NBC4 Story on I-66 Tolls


 
On July 11, 2018, our Washington DC NBC4 station aired an unconscionable and sensationalistic two-minute "news" story titled "Lawmakers Consider Adding More I-66 Tolls", with the prominent tag line "Costly Commute" : [ https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Lawmakers-Consider-Adding-More-I-66-Tolls-487932251.html ].

The story begins with a video clip of slow-moving, congested I-66 traffic (eastbound in the late afternoon just east of N Sycamore St), which of course is not how I-66 operates when tolling is in effect.  Introducing the story, news anchor Wendy Rieger says, amidst muffled laughter, "and now there is talk about putting even more tolls on one of our most notorious roads, the beloved I-66".

Local transportation reporter Adam Tuss then graphically reminds viewers of the notorious "sky-high" "near $50" I-66 tolls before asserting: "but now, now there's chatter about putting tolls on both inbound and outbound sections of the road during both rush hours"The text version of the story states "...and now lawmakers are discussing adding more tolls on Interstate 66" in the "reverse-commute" direction. 

Oddly, this story fails to identify even one "lawmaker".  In fact, the only public official mentioned at all is Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine, who is currently not a "lawmaker".

More critically, this story never bothers to say why I-66 is now tolled, much less explain that the congestion-priced tolling has created a virtuous cycle that 1) ensures fast and reliable trips for I-66 express bus passengers, carpoolers, and toll payers; 2) invests much of the new toll revenue in expanded multimodal travel options in the corridor that benefit the toll payers, and 3) is now moving many more people on our regional urban core's finite highway capacity--without diverting scarce transportation funds from other projects--and with no overall worsening of traffic congestion on nearby parallel roads.

Instead, the story primarily features "man on the street" reactions to more "sky-high" tolls from two motorists buying gasoline at the Exxon station at Lee Hwy and Washington Blvd in East Falls Church, in an attempt to illustrate strong public opposition to the "ripoff" tolls.  In doing so, this story merely perpetuates the public's ignorance of the many and substantial benefits of VDOT's Transform 66 initiative and exploits populist opposition to paying tolls.

Meanwhile, Tuss ignores the real-time I-66 tolling signs in the background which display westbound toll prices of only $1.50 to travel the two tolled I-66 segments from East Falls Church to I-495 South.

Although one of the interviewed motorists is a professional chauffeur who, of course, would pay no toll at all for a congestion-free trip whenever chauffeuring even one passenger, that fact isn't mentioned either.  His false remark that "only the rich can afford to drive, to be on the 66" is left unchallenged.  Surely, this chauffeur's passengers would prefer to avoid I-66 congestion during their trips and would not want their pickup times delayed by I-66 congestion either.

Critically, this sensationalistic story mentions none of these project benefits documented in VDOT's Transform66: Inside the Beltway Six-Month Performance Report (individual slides from this presentation are referenced below}:

1) Assuming only one passenger in every carpool and vanpool, a clear majority (at least 61%) of auto travelers using the tolled I-66 lanes--those in autos with two or more people--pay absolutely no toll at all (Slide 30).  Moreover, when the tolls are highest, the share of I-66 auto travelers who pay no toll at all is substantially higher than 61% (at least 74-81%; Slide 25 and May 2018 Performance Report).  Counting the 6,000+ express bus passengers from Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax Counties who now also travel toll-free (and faster) each workday on the tolled I-66 express lanes (see page 39 of this NVTC document), more than 65% of all I-66 express lane travelers are now enjoying toll-free trips, and fewer than 35% of the express lane travelers pay any toll at all.

2) The tolling regime is now moving thousands more people/day on I-66 during the tolling hours (more than 5,100 additional vehicles in May 2018 vs January 2018, nearly half of which are HOV2+; Slide 30) and with no overall degradation (actually, a modest overall improvement) in the traffic congestion on nearby parallel arterial roads (Slides 9-12, 19-22).
 
3) The notorious, "sky-high" AM tolls are charged only during the peak of the former HOV2+ hours (i.e., 7:30-9:00 AM), when the proportion of carpools is highest and most solo motorists could not lawfully use I-66 at all before the tolling was implemented.  From 5:30-6:30 AM, the average eastbound toll has been less than $2.64 (Slide 25).

4) Only 0.28% of all I-66 toll payers paid more than $40 for a one-way trip during the first six months of tolling (Slide 24).

5) Since tolling began, crashes along I-66 have decreased 12.% eastbound and 15.0% westbound, saving lives, time, and money (Slide 34).

In addition, as the travel modeling in VDOT's 2015 Transform66 Tolling Study predicted, due to far less travel demand and HOV (toll-free) travel in the reverse-commute direction, reverse-commute tolls, if ever implemented, would have far lower average prices (e.g., 1/5th or less) than the current average toll prices in the peak direction only (see Slide 19 in that presentation).   Furthermore, even if many reverse commuters diverted from I-66 onto alternative routes, the excess reverse-commute capacity of those alternative routes would keep them from becoming severely congested.

Moreover, most solo motorists could readily use I-66 for free during tolling hours, simply by traveling with a prescreened passenger matched by a professional ridesharing service or a "slug" passenger waiting at a growing number of slugline locations.  In addition, ample nearby toll-free parallel expressways and arterial highways exist, and the time needed to drive those alternative routes is generally not substantially longer than using the congested I-66 prior to the tolling (e.g., 3.2  minutes longer to TR Bridge from EB I-66 @ I-495 via I-495 and Rte 50 at 6:00 AM [Slide 32], 1.9 minutes *shorter* to TR Bridge from EB VA-267 @ I-495 via I-495 and GWMP to TR Bridge [Slide 33]) .  In other words, nobody is forced to pay the I-66 tolls, and hardly anyone is unduly penalized by avoiding the tolls.  Paying the I-66 tolls is entirely a choice, and thousands of additional motorists have begun voluntarily paying those tolls in recent months in exchange for a faster and more reliable trip.

Tuss also fails to note that the proposal to toll I-66 inside the Beltway in both directions, during peak weekday hours only, is hardly new.  It was a fundamental recommendation in VDOT's 2011-2013 I-66 Multimodal Study and an integral part of VDOT's Transform 66 planning process until Governor McAuliffe removed it in October 2015, a few weeks before a general election for the entire Virginia General Assembly.  In addition, during the 2018 Virginia General Assembly session, several legislators filed bills and/or budget amendments to initiate I-66 tolling in the reverse-commute direction, although all such bills and budget amendments ultimately failed.  Clearly, the objective of this story was to spin up viewers, not to report any real news.

NBC4's website touts "Adam Tuss and the News4 team" as "covering everything that slows you down on roads and transit", but this "news team" failed miserably at explaining the many virtues of VDOT's Transform I-66 congestion-pricing program; namely, that it has vastly improved both motorist and express bus speeds and already moves many more people along the corridor, with no diversion of scarce federal or state transportation funds from other projects or programs or any other public expenditures.

In short, this despicable "news" story was produced solely to generate controversy, not to enlighten the public or better people's lives.   We must tell NBC4 management that such "yellow journalism" is clearly unacceptable and demand that NBC4 air a full and fair rebuttal to this unbalanced I-66 tolling story.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bills Filed for the 2018 Session of the Virginia General Assembly to Limit or Stop the Tolling of I-66 Inside the Beltway








Summary as introduced:
HOT lanes on Interstate 66; operating hours. Sets the operating hours for HOT lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on the eastbound lanes and from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on the westbound lanes.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Statement to Prince William County Delegation to the Virginia General Assembly, January 6, 2018



I’m Allen Muchnick, a City of Manassas resident.  I’ve helped lead the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation since 1999.  The following remarks are my own.

Most of you oppose the recent congestion-priced tolling of I-66 inside the Beltway, but that opposition is misguided and counterproductive.  After spending the past 18 years fighting for a wiser I-66 inside the Beltway, I’m quite familiar with all the arguments against the tolls and would be happy to meet with any of you to discuss this issue.  For now, here are some facts:

I-66 inside the Beltway is the most controversial Interstate highway segment ever built, has two Metrorail lines in its median, and has always had peak-period HOV restrictions.   The congestion-priced tolls merely replace the former HOV restrictions, which had failed to keep I-66 free-flowing for express buses and carpools due to several HOV exemptions and rampant HOV cheating.

NOBODY is forced to pay these tolls.  Ample toll-free alternative routes exist inside the Beltway, including the Route 50 and GWMP expressways.  Those who formerly drove on I-66 before or after the former HOV hours, often at 30 MPH or less, are not inordinately delayed by using an alternative route, and they now have the option of traveling I-66 at 55 MPH by paying the toll or carpooling.

The new I-66 tolls are less unfair than the tolls on the I-495 or I-95 express lanes:  only one passenger is needed for toll-free travel, and the bulk of the toll revenue is being invested in transit (including PRTC bus and VRE), ride-sharing, roadway, and other multimodal I-66 corridor improvements that benefit the toll payers.   Moreover, without this tolling, widening I-66 both outside and inside the Beltway would be politically and financially infeasible.

The toll prices are irrelevant; they are the minimum needed to keep I-66 free flowing for express buses and carpools.  Save your outrage for the decades of congestion delay endured by I- 66 bus riders and carpoolers.  Save your outrage for the decades of inadequate support of bus transit and ridesharing by Prince William’s elected officials.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Monday, December 11, 2017

I-66 Toll Prices Are Not Exorbitant



An examination of the "historical" toll prices for I-66 inside-the-Beltway, archived at [ https://vai66tolls.com/# ], shows that VDOT's 2015 estimate of $17 daily round-trip tolls was reasonably accurate, especially for the hours before the former HOV-2 restrictions.

Public attention has largely focused on the high "peak of the peak" tolls, but those high tolls occurred during the former HOV-2 hours (6:30 am-9:00 am eastbound and 4:00 pm-6:30 pm westbound), when most I-66 traffic had formerly been carpools (which should be accommodated and kept free-flowing) and the former SOV traffic had been HOV cheaters and those with outdated legal exemptions.

Many of those objecting to the high I-66 tolls cite concerns for those commuters (often from the outer suburbs) who formerly drove solo on I-66 between 5:30 am and 6:30 am eastbound and between 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm westbound to avoid the previous HOV restrictions.  Tolling opponents claim that carpooling is infeasible for many outer suburban I-66 commuters, slugging has been practically nonexistent, and viable bus transit options often don't exist.

According to the archived toll prices at [ https://vai66tolls.com/#  ], the toll prices last week for the full eastbound trip (Capital Beltway to Washington DC) at 6:00 am and at 6:15 am were as follows:

Date                Price at 6:00 AM             Price at 6:15 AM
12/4 (M)                $9.75                                    $12.75
12/5 (Tu)               $7.00                                      $6.25
12/6 (W)                $7.50                                      $7.50
12/7 (Th)               $7.25                                      $6.50
12/8 (F)                 $7.00                                      $6.75

The toll prices last week for a full westbound trip (Washington DC to the Capital Beltway) at 3:30 pm and 4:00 pm were as follows:

Date                Price at 3:30 PM             Price at 4:00 PM
12/4 (M)                $7.00                                      $6.25
12/5 (Tu)               $7.00                                      $6.50
12/6 (W)                $8.00                                      $6.75
12/7 (Th)               $7.25                                      $6.50
12/8 (F)                 $6.75                                      $6.75

These prices, which may decline in the coming weeks as some solo I-66 drivers modify their route, travel time, or mode to avoid or reduce their tolls, are comparable to the cost of parking at an outer Orange Line station and taking Metrorail downtown, so few of these motorists will switch to slower and less convenient Metrorail, especially if they have free parking at work.

For those SOV commuters who wish to continue to drive alone and avoid all tolls, several nearby toll-free arterial highways remain available for the roughly 10-mile trip between the Capital Beltway and downtown Washington DC, including Routes 29, 50, 123, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  Even at an average overall speed of 30 MPH (a common speed for I-66 before the tolling), a 10-mile trip on an alternative route should add only about 10 minutes to a commuter's travel time, compared to the free-flowing I-66.  Moreover, as more I-66 commuters switch to ridersharing or transit or choose to now drive solo on I-66 and pay the toll, these alternative, toll-free routes should see less, not more, traffic.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Audrey Clement's Statement at Feb. 2016 TPB Meeting



Audrey Clement, Ph.D.
Member, Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation
February 20, 2016

As you know, a plan recently approved by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) that would have tolled I-66 inside the Beltway in 2017 and widen it later only if necessary was scuttled in a deal worked out between Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and tolling opponents in the Virginia General Assembly.

Under the new plan VDOT will widen eastbound I-66 between the Dulles Toll Road and Exit 71 at Fairfax Drive in exchange for federal highway funds to pay for the added lane--at a cost of $140 million--and tolls to pay for more transit. The Governor bills the deal as a compromise and says he’s happy with it. Another official who is happy with it is Delegate Jim LeMunyon of Centreville, who led the opposition to tolling I-66.

Even as he whipped up anti-tolling hysteria along the I-66 corridor, LeMunyon didn’t oppose tolling himself. He just opposed tolling without widening. Yet a cost benefit analysis mandated by HB 599, legislation that LeMunyon himself sponsored in 2012, shows tolling alone as the most cost effective solution to congestion on I-66 on every object metric reported.


Nevertheless Governor McAuliffe thinks he’s dodged a bullet, because tolling opponents could have insisted on widening I-66 all the way to Rosslyn.

In fact that is precisely what Delegate LeMunyon wants to do. He is the principal patron of HJR 110, which requires the Virginia Secretary Transportation to study:

  •  adding “one, two, and three new lanes and multi-modal capacity to Interstate 66 in each direction between the Capital Beltway and Washington, D.C.”; 
  • combining Route 29 and I66 in Arlington into a limited access, double deck highway;
  • buying up land for additional lanes; and
  • selling air rights to pay for it.


My principal objection to the “compromise” is not that it will dump induced traffic at a key intersection in Ballston where plans for 1,000 new units of hi-rise housing with parking are also in the works—thus making Ballston a dangerous place to walk or ride a bike. Think Tysons Corner. My objection to the deal is that it is just the first leg in a plan that will ultimately pave over Arlington with an eight to ten lane super highway as per HJR 110 and dump the induced traffic at the terminus of I-66 on Constitution Avenue in DC.

ACST Statement at Feb. 2016 TPB Meeting



Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation
Statement to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board
by Allen Muchnick, president, February 17, 2016

I’m Allen Muchnick with the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (or ACST).  Since 1999, ACST has advocated "wiser, not wider" management and multimodal improvements to I-66 inside the Beltway, to most effectively move people and minimize highway congestion and travel times.

One year ago, VDOT proposed the I-66 inside the Beltway Multimodal Project for addition to the CLRP.  Since then, this project was substantially modified in several ways, in response to feedback and pushback from the public and some of their elected officials.  In particular, the restoration of HOV-3 was delayed until after 2020, HOV requirements and tolling in the reverse-commute direction were dropped entirely, and the completion of a four-mile eastbound widening of I-66 to Ballston was advanced from approximately 2025 to 2019.  The new CLRP project description form for this project, dated February 10, needs to be updated already to incorporate VDOT’s upcoming environmental assessment study for the four-mile eastbound widening.

Ever since the landmark 1977 Coleman Decision was nullified by Congress in 1999, our region has suffered from the lack of an adopted long-term management plan for this key multimodal corridor.  While VDOT’s 2011-2013 I-66 Multimodal Study pointed in the right direction, the changes to the Multimodal Project over the past year were partly a step backward.

VDOT’s upcoming NEPA study for the four-mile eastbound widening is a critical opportunity for our region to develop and adopt a new long-term management plan for this entire corridor between I-495 and Rosslyn.  Besides evaluating, avoiding, minimizing, and fully mitigating the adverse impacts of the wider highway on adjacent communities and the natural and built environment, the upcoming NEPA study should develop and establish an accepted ongoing process to determine: 1) how and when HOV requirements and tolls should be expanded in the reverse-commute direction and even during peak weekend hours and 2) how and when HOV-3 should be restored.

The NEPA study should also carefully ascertain that the proposed four-mile eastbound widening does not create new eastbound bottlenecks where travel lanes are dropped at the East Falls Church and/or Ballston exits.

To best evaluate the merits of the proposed widening, the No Build Alternative for this NEPA study should include the peak-direction HOT operations that are scheduled for implementation by summer 2017, and at least one Build Alternative should include HOT operations in both directions without the widening.   

In conclusion, we ask the TPB to ensure that the upcoming NEPA study for the four-mile eastbound widening of I-66 is carefully scoped and crafted to develop and establish a new and robust long-term plan for wisely managing the I-66 inside the Beltway Multimodal Corridor for many years to come, to best move more people and minimize highway congestion and travel times.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

ACST Talking Points for Anti-Tolling Bills



      SUPPORT THE CURRENT PLAN FOR 
I-66 INSIDE THE BELTWAY

Oppose HB 1 (LeMunyon), HB 631 (J. Bell),
HB 916 (Bulova), SB 234 (Petersen), SB 516 (McPike)

The Legislation

HB 1, HB 631, HB 916, SB 234 and SB 516 would prohibit tolls from being imposed on I-66 in Northern Virginia inside the Capital Beltway.

Reasons to Oppose HB 1, HB 631, HB 916, SB 234, SB516

  1. These bills would kill the comprehensive proposal (Transform66) to improve I-66 inside the Beltway developed by VDOT and the Secretary of Transportation’s Office. This proposal is the result of years of study and negotiation and has been approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
  2. The plan these bills would kill would turn the current part-time, peak-direction-only high-occupancy-vehicle-only facility (2.5 hours/weekday) into a high-occupancy-vehicle/toll facility (4 hours/weekday), provides for widening a segment of the highway, and uses a competitive process to dedicate all excess toll revenue (beyond the costs to build, operate, and maintain the toll facility) to cost-effective multimodal improvements within the corridor that will move an estimated 40,000 more people each day, faster and more reliably.
  3. The bill patrons suggest widening more of I-66 instead. This would be far more costly and less effective and would likely not be accomplished for many years, if ever. Using the congestion-reduction and cost-effectiveness analyses developed for Northern Virginia pursuant to HB 599 (2012), VDOT has shown that the proposed HOT conversion is six times more cost effective than widening at reducing congestion. It would cost an estimated $100 million to add one more eastbound lane for only four miles, and perhaps as much as $1 billion to widen all the way to DC.
  4. The current plan does not prohibit widening. It provides for widening one segment, after making more cost-effective improvements first.
  5. The project does include tolling – but only during peak weekday hours and only for solo drivers (who cannot legally use the facility today). Thus, it provides new (and reliably fast) access to I-66 inside the Beltway for motorists driving alone. And it will improve toll-free travel options for corridor commuters: carpools and bus commuters will see faster and more reliable trips and funding will go to expanding commuter bus and ridesharing services.
  6. The project is self-financing. It would be built, operated, and maintained without any federal, state, or regional transportation funds (other than a loan that would be paid back by toll revenues), leaving scarce transportation dollars for other needed projects throughout the Commonwealth.
  7. Killing the current plan would likely lead to another decade or more of political and traffic gridlock.