Tuesday, May 14, 2019

ACST Statement to Commonwealth Transportation Board on I-66 Toll Cheating, May 13, 2019

Statement of Audrey Clement, Board Member
Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation
May 13, 2019

I am speaking on behalf of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST), not on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission of which I am a member.

On May 2, 2019, VDOT Tolling Division Administrator David Caudill--(804) 786-2454--provided the Arlington Transportation Commission with an overview of tolling enforcement operations on I-66 Inside the Beltway.  On May 8, 2019, Mr. Caudill further reported:

“Since December 4, 2017 [during the first 74 weeks of tolling], Virginia State Police troopers have issued 258 citations eastbound and 615 citations westbound. 91 citations have been written between 7:30AM and 8:30AM.”

91 peak-hour HOV citations in the 356 tolling days during 74-week reporting period reduces to only about one peak hour citation for every four days of tolling or 0.256 HOV citations per peak-toll-price hour.

Through a FOIA request to the Virginia State Police (VSP), ACST had earlier learned that during the first 53 weeks of tolling ending on December 8, 2018, there were 702 HOV citations.

Since then only 171 (873-702) citations were issued in the 101 tolling days through May 3 for an average rate of 1.69/tolling day or 0.211 per toll-price-hour.  A 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility's 14,000 daily HOV vehicle trips would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day or 17 citations per toll-price-hour.  Actual HOV citation numbers are a fraction of that, indicating that VSP’s toll enforcement activities are lax and getting worse.

Significantly lower numbers of citations on eastbound I-66 further indicate that toll cheating contributes to higher peak hour toll prices documented in the a.m. on inbound I-66.  Absent an adequate enforcement regime, tolls will continue to spike on eastbound I-66, fueling political opposition to the program, despite its success at reducing congestion.

Spring 2019 Transportation Public Hearing Statement

Statement of Allen Muchnick at the
Spring 2019 Transportation Public Hearing for Northern Virginia
May 13, 2019

I'm Allen Muchnick, a City of Manassas resident, speaking on my own behalf.   

Thank you for this combined public hearing for Northern Virginia Transportation Projects.  In the future, please include the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board at these combined public hearings, since the TPB is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for Northern Virginia, and funded projects in our region should reflect and advance the TPB’s planning studies and objectives.

In particular, projects funded in Northern Virginia should advance the seven aspirational transportation initiatives in Visualize 2045, our adopted regional transportation plan; namely:

·         Expand the express highway network
·         Expand bus rapid transit and transit ways
·         Move more people on Metrorail
·         Bring jobs and housing closer together
·         Increase telecommuting and other options for commuting
·         Improve walk and bike access to transit
·         Complete the National Capital Trail

In recent years, our region has seen a welcome evolution toward objective evaluations of proposed transportation projects, to cost effectively move more people, in an effort to cease the endless cycles of highway widening, induced driving, and suburban sprawl, which are wasteful, render our communities less livable, and contribute to our climate crisis.

Thus, I support the general methodology and the recommended funding awards under both the Smart Scale and Commuter Choice Programs.

The establishment of a regional network of HOT lanes that will soon include all the interstate highways within Northern Virginia will create premier express-bus transit ways along the I-66, I-95/I-395, and I-495 corridors.   While the Commonwealth must promptly address the difficulties with manual HOV enforcement and toll cheating by solo motorists throughout the HOT lane network, the outer suburban localities should enthusiastically embrace this high-speed bus way infrastructure because it can finally provide effective commuting alternatives to solo motoring in crippling congestion.

It’s long past time to stop adding limited-access lane miles in urbanized areas for toll-free travel by solo motorists.   All new and widened freeways, including the Godwin Drive Extension, the Bi-County Parkway, and expansions of the Fairfax County and Prince William Parkways, should be built as congestion-priced toll roads, to provide an effective express bus and rideshare alternative and to ensure that these roads never become congested.  


Friday, March 15, 2019

ACST Investigates HOV Enforcement and Toll Cheating on I-66 Inside the Beltway

In December 2018 and January 2019, the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST) initiated a series of  Freedom of Information Act (FOIA ) requests with First Sergeant Steven R. Mittendorff, Area Commander with the Virginia State Police, Arlington Field Office.  His contact information is: 

1426-A Columbia Pike, Arlington, Virginia 22204 | phone 703.521.5073 | iPhone 571.283.3414 | fax 703.845.6564

In addition, because First Sgt Mittendorff did not have this information at hand, our inquiry regarding the amounts of monthly reimbursements that VDOT pays the Virginia State Police from I-66 toll revenue for VSP activities on I-66 ITB was answered by Ms. Monica Bhaita, VDOT Tolling Operations Manager, for the I-66 ITB Tolling Facility.

Pursuant to this (redacted and scanned) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between VDOT and VSP, during the first year (12 months) of tolling operations, VDOT reimbursed VSP approximately $550,000 from I-66 toll revenue for new VSP enforcement activities during the eight weekday tolling hours.  

Reportedly, this redacted MOU directs VSP to station at least four additional state troopers in patrol vehicles (one at each operating toll gantry) to manually inspect the passing vehicles for those with an E-ZPass Flex in the HOV mode and without any passengers (only a driver), except when pursuing traffic violations or responding to traffic incidents.  Troopers witnessing suspected HOV violations are supposed to pursue and stop the suspect vehicle, to determine whether an HOV violation is indeed happening.

Note that under Reporting Requirements on page 4 of this MOU, the VSP Area Commander (1st Sgt Middendorff) is supposed to issue daily, monthly, and quarterly HOV-enforcement reports--"with vehicle information and the time/date of violations"--to VDOT's "I-66 ITB Facility Manager", presumably Ms. Bhaita.  In our FOIA inquiries to 1st Sgt Mittendorf, we specifically requested time and location data for the HOV-violation citations as well as copies of every HOV-enforcement report that VSP had submitted to VDOT over the previous year.  However, 1st Sgt Mittendorff replied that the times and locations of the HOV-violation citations were never captured or included in his reports to VDOT, that it would require substantial staff time for VSP to review the original summonses in order to provide that missing information, and that ACST would need to reimburse VSP for that staff time.

Instead, ACST received this VSP-database-generated incident summary report for the first 53 weeks of I-66 tolling (December 4, 2017 through December 7, 2018; a screenshot of the most relevant portion of this report is shown immediately below): 

VSP Incidents Summary for the First 53 Weeks of I-66 Tolling.  
Click on the image to see more data columns.

The relevant data are shown above for Incident Type # 17 (HOV Violations).  The number of HOV violations (1326) in the upper leftmost data column is the total number of HOV stops completed, whereas the number of HOV violations (702) in the lower leftmost "TOT-S/A" column is the total number of HOV summonses (citations) issued (to 700 passenger vehicles plus 2 "other" vehicle types).   According to this report, for 546 (41%) of the 1326 traffic stops for suspected HOV violations no HOV violation had in fact occurred, whereas for 106 (8%) of those 1326 traffic stops only a warning was issued.

Dividing the 702 HOV citations in this report by the 253 8-hour tolling days in this 53-week reporting period, yields an average of 2.77 HOV citations for every 8 hours of tolling.  (If one subtracts the 32 HOV citations issued during VSP's November 30, 2018 special enforcement campaign from the 702 total, the VSP issued only 670 HOV citations on the 252 remaining days, yielding a more representative average of 2.66 HOV citations/tolling day).

When ACST asked 1st Sgt Mittendorff for the HOV-citation data for specific individual days, he replied that the shortest reporting period possible with his database is one week.  Therefore, ACST requested similar weekly reports for the second quarter of 2018 (April-June), when the weather and daylight conditions should be optimal for police enforcement.  The total numbers of HOV citations issued during those 13 weeks were as follows: 19, 19, 18, 6, 21, 21, 4, 8, 5, 13, 25, 9, and 18, for a total of 186 citations.  This equates to an average of 14.3 citations/week, 2.95 citations/tolling day (186/63 tolling days), and 0.37 citations/hour of tolling (with four state troopers working simultaneously).  Furthermore, for 5 of those 13 weeks, the numbers of HOV citations for the entire 40-hour tolling week were in the single digits.

As stated in this January 5, 2019 statement linked here, a 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility's 14,000 vehicle trips/day taken with an E-ZPass Flex set in the HOV mode would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day, whereas the VSP has cited fewer than 3 vehicles/day, on average, for HOV violations.

Moreover, the following paragraph in this January 4, 2019 WTOP report suggests that approximately 400 solo motorists, who have typically been cheating the tolls on Fridays, either paid the toll or switched to an alternate route on Friday, November 30, 2018, when VSP conducted its highly publicized first special HOV enforcement campaign during I-66 tolling (carpools should have quotation marks below):  

"On Nov. 30, when Virginia State Police publicized extra enforcement of HOV or toll rules, the number of carpools dropped by 397 compared to similar days. Police wrote 32 HOV citations to people driving alone with an E-ZPass Flex in HOV mode, up from an average of 2.5 on other similar days."

Most importantly, for the following reasons, it seems likely that VSP has issued the bulk of these HOV citations along westbound I-66 in the afternoon/evening and only relatively few HOV citations along eastbound I-66 in the morning:
  1. The traffic density along I-66 ITB is greater eastbound in the morning, especially between 7:30-9:00 am, compared to westbound in the afternoon/evening.  
  2. Due to the previous westbound-only I-66 "spot improvements", eastbound I-66 has had far less paved shoulder space than westbound I-66 to pull over suspected violators.  
  3. The act of stopping vehicles is likely to increase I-66 congestion and cause toll prices to spike further at the very time that I-66 traffic congestion and toll prices are already greatest. 
  4. Now that construction activities for the four-mile eastbound widening of I-66 (from the merge with the Dulles Connector Road to Ballston) are well underway, there currently is practically no paved shoulder space at all to pull over vehicles between mile markers 67 and 71, so HOV enforcement is now largely infeasible along that segment.
Since I-66 HOV enforcement is especially difficult in the eastbound direction, while the incentive to cheat the I-66 tolls is simultaneously greatest when the toll prices are highest (eastbound from 7:30-9:00 am), it seems very likely that hundreds of solo motorists are cheating the tolls eastbound during this time of peak toll prices every day, while far less toll cheating is likely occurring in the westbound direction (and probably before 6:30 am also).

Because, since mid-2012, VDOT justified its proposal to replace the former I-66 HOV restrictions with the high-occupancy/tolling scheme on the grounds that it would effectively end the formerly rampant HOV cheating, it's incumbent on VDOT and VSP to demonstrate that toll-cheating can be minimized effectively.  The evidence documented above suggests that toll cheating has not been effectively minimized and may, in fact, be contributing significantly to the notorious $40+ eastbound I-66 toll prices.

Moreover, a similar situation may prevail on the I-95 and I-495 express lanes operated by Transurban.  Transurban may not worry about toll cheating, as long as adequate revenue is collected from its toll-paying customers.

Because the users of Virginia's express lanes deserve effective HOV enforcement, VSP and VDOT should be required to routinely collect and report meaningful data on HOV enforcement and toll cheating on every Virginia express lane facility. 

If this HOV enforcement data demonstrates that toll cheating is indeed a significant problem on I-66 ITB and/or other express lanes, the Commonwealth should conduct a full, fair, and open study to determine whether automated vehicle occupancy detection and/or automated HOV enforcement is feasible.  If automated occupancy detection and/or HOV enforcement is technically infeasible or cannot be implemented for some political reason, the Commonwealth should consider ending the exemption from tolls for HOVs. 

After all, tolling every vehicle is simpler, safer, more effective, and fairer, because the effective toll paid per vehicle occupant is directly proportional to the number of vehicle occupants.  On the other hand, risking the lives of state troopers and the traveling public to manually enforce a law that does not affect public safely seems dangerous and foolish.


May 8, 2019 Update:

On May 8, 2019, ACST received the following additional information about I-66 HOV enforcement from David Caudill, P.E., VDOT Tolling Operations Division:
Since December 4, 2017, Virginia State Police troopers have issued 258 citations eastbound and 615 citations Westbound.  91 citations have been written between 7:30AM and 8:30AM.

Thus, since the tolling began, only 29.6% of the HOV citations (258/873) were issued in the eastbound direction and only 10.4% (91/873) were issued during the hour of peak toll prices (7:30-8:30 AM).

During the first 74 weeks of tolling, only 91 HOV citations were issued during the hour of peak toll prices.  Including those citations issued during the two "special HOV enforcement days" (11/30/18 and 12/13/18) but excluding the 14 federal holidays when tolling was suspended, VSP issued, on average, only about one HOV citation for every four days of tolling (91 citations over 356 tolling days) during the 7:30-8:30 AM hour (0.256 HOV citations/peak-toll-price hour).

Moreover, since VSP's report for the first 53 weeks of tolling (ending 12/8/18), the rate of HOV citations has dropped substantially.  Only 171 citations (873 minus 702) were issued over the 21 weeks since 12/8/18, including those issued during the second "special HOV enforcement day" (12/13/18).   Over those 101 tolling days (excludes four federal holidays), the average rate of HOV citations fell to 1.69/tolling day (171/101) and 0.211/hour of tolling.

This additional information about tolling in the eastbound direction and during the hour of peak daily toll prices confirms our suspicions that: 1) literally hundreds of drive-alone motorists are routinely cheating the I-66 tolls and 2) such toll cheating contributes to the high toll prices charged on I-66.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

I-66 and Its Current Widening is Eroding the W&OD Trail Along Four Mile Run

February 12, 2019

The Honorable Christian Dorsey, Chairman
The Honorable Libby Garvey, Vice Chair
The Honorable Eric Gutshall, Member
The Honorable Katie Cristol, Member
The Honorable Matt de Ferranti, Member
Arlington County Board
Ellen M. Bozman Government Center
2100 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 300
Arlington, VA  22201r

            Re:  I-66 Widening Project Impacts on Four Mile Run and the W&OD Trail

Dear Members of the County Board:

            As residents of the Madison Manor Civic Association (MMCA) and members of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST), we write today to express our concern about excess stormwater runoff associated with the I-66 Inside the Beltway widening project that is causing serious damage to Four Mile Run, the W&OD Trail, and negatively impacting the community.

            Over the past two years, MMCA has had several meetings with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) regarding the I-66 widening project.  In addition to concerns about noise and increased emissions associated with the project, MMCA, ACST, and a number of residents have expressed concerns about stormwater runoff and the impact on Four Mile Run and other neighborhood facilities.  Specifically, the MMCA and ACST have noted that current VDOT stormwater facilities do not meet current building specifications, are currently underperforming due to inadequate and frequently clogged intake facilities, and will be negatively impacted by the widening project.

            The County Board has also expressed similar concerns to VDOT.  In a January 28, 2017, Board Resolution regarding the I-66 widening project, the Board specifically requested that VDOT ensure that “any new stormwater management facilities proposed with this project be adequately maintained, specifically that erosion and sediment controls should be outlined and contain information on inspection and enforcement actions.”

            Unfortunately, our concerns about damage due to increased runoff have recently manifested themselves in erosion on Four Mile Run that is threatening a portion of the W&OD Trail between Ohio Street and George Mason Drive with imminent collapse.  It is our understanding that the County intends to close a portion of the W&OD Trail on or about February 18, 2019, for an emergency repair project.  While we appreciate the County taking rapid action to fix the Trail, we are concerned about the impact the detour will have on adjoining neighborhoods (and especially children who use the Trail to get to schools) and the fact this appears to be a temporary fix paid for by Arlington taxpayers that will not involve any action by VDOT to prevent the excess runoff that is causing this problem in the first place.

            Accordingly, we urge the County Board to demand that VDOT take immediate action to fix its current underperforming stormwater system along the I-66 corridor and stop the degradation of Four Mile Run, the W&OD Trail, and other Arlington neighborhood assets in the Four Mile Run watershed.


Dr. Alison Denton
Madison Manor Civic Association

Christopher Day
Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation

cc:  Virginia Department of Transportation

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Statement to Prince William County State Legislators Regarding Toll Cheating on I-66 Inside the Beltway

Statement of Allen Muchnick to the 
Prince William Delegation to the Virginia General Assembly
January 5, 2019

I'm Allen Muchnick, a City of Manassas resident, speaking on my own behalf.  I’m concerned that HOV enforcement during the tolling of I-66 inside the Beltway has generally been inadequate.

VDOT’s alteration of the 36-year-old I-66 HOV restrictions to add congestion-priced tolls for solo motorists has generally been a substantial success.  It has increased ridesharing and express bus ridership, moving more people through the corridor.  During weekday commuting hours, traffic congestion on I-66 has largely ended, while congestion on alternative routes is essentially unchanged or lessened.  Moreover, at least $20 million/year of toll revenue is now being invested in multimodal corridor improvements, creating a virtuous cycle.

Despite the outcry over “exorbitant tolls”, about two-thirds of the people who use I-66 during tolling are carpoolers or bus riders who pay no toll at all.  That share is even greater when the toll prices are highest.

Nevertheless, no project is perfect, and I’m concerned that many drive-alone motorists have been unlawfully cheating the I-66 tolls, by improperly sliding an E-ZPass Flex transponder to the "HOV setting".

Such toll cheating is unfair to all law-abiding I-66 travelers and raises the prices charged to those who do pay those tolls.  Moreover, since toll cheaters are immune to the variable pricing message,  toll cheating likely contributes to the notoriously high ($40-plus) peak AM I-66 tolls, is greatest when the tolls are highest, and causes some I-66 congestion that delays ridesharers, bus passengers, and toll-paying motorists.

Since mid-2012, VDOT consistently told the public that the change from HOV-2+ to high-occupancy/tolling would effectively end the previously rampant HOV cheating by solo motorists.  To that end, the previously lawful HOV exemptions for drivers traveling to or from Dulles Airport and for vehicles with grandfathered clean fuel license plates were finally ended, and VDOT now dedicates at least $550,000/year of I-66 toll revenue to constantly station at least four State Troopers along I-66 during tolling, presumably to vigorously enforce the HOV-2+ requirement for a toll-free trip.

To understand the nature and extent of HOV enforcement during tolling, I requested information from the Virginia State Police (VSP).  I’ve learned that VSP does not report or collect much useful data on HOV enforcement and has no estimate of HOV violations. 

According to VSP, no special HOV-enforcement initiatives were conducted during the first 51 weeks of tolling.  A "targeted HOV enforcement" initiative on November 30, 2018 resulted in 32 HOV-violation summonses, despite considerable advance publicity.  A second such initiative, also with advance publicity, was conducted on December 13, 2018.

During the first 53 weeks of tolling, only 702 HOV-violation summonses were issued during routine HOV enforcement on 253 tolling days.  Thus, on average, only 2.77 HOV-violation summonses were issued for every 8 hours of tolling.

According to VDOT, I-66 averages more than 33,000 vehicle trips/day during the eight daily tolling hours with 42.3% of those trips (14,000 vehicle trips/day) using an E-ZPass Flex in the HOV mode.  Considering the high toll prices, especially from 7:30-9:00 am, it seems likely that far more than three solo motorists/day are cheating the tolls.  Even 99% HOV-compliance among the E-ZPass Flex users would yield 140 toll-cheating trips/day.  A WTOP report publishedyesterday suggests at least 400 toll-cheating trips/day.

HOV enforcement on I-66 is difficult and endangers both the trooper and the traveling public.  The trooper must visually observe the number of vehicle occupants and then pursue the suspected violator and initiate a traffic stop in dense freeway traffic.  Presently, the paved shoulders are often inadequate, especially eastbound.  At least 41% of the time, the chased and stopped suspect vehicle actually has two or more occupants, so no summons is warranted.

I-66 users deserve effective HOV enforcement, and similar problems may exist with all express toll lanes in Virginia.  In the short-term, VSP and VDOT should be required to routinely collect and report meaningful data on HOV enforcement.  I further recommend conducting a full, fair, and open study to determine whether automated vehicle occupancy detection and/or HOV-enforcement is feasible or whether exempting HOVs from tolling should be discontinued because effective HOV enforcement is impractical.

Thank you for holding this public hearing and for considering my comments.