Toll lanes, congestion pricing coming to Capitol Beltway

| 6/13/2008

The state of Virginia, a private investment group and the federal government have worked out an agreement to add lane capacity and congestion pricing to the Capitol Beltway system in the Washington, DC, area.

The expansion of Interstate 495 by two lanes on each side of the Beltway has already begun and is scheduled for completion in 2012. Highway users encountering congestion may choose to pay a toll to travel in faster moving lanes. This is known as congestion pricing. The toll amount varies depending on time of day and amount of congestion.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters issued a statement Thursday, June 12, to say the project will save time for drivers who would otherwise be stuck in traffic, but some highway user groups including truckers are questioning the logic.

“One of the problems is that in the design, they haven’t figured out a way to merge the paying and non-paying traffic on and off the Beltway on the way into DC,” Melissa Theriault, associate director of government affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told Land Line.

Theriault, who works in DC on behalf of truckers, said it is not clear at this point if the new lanes will be open to truckers or what the rates might be for trucks.

Financing for the project is being arranged through a public-private partnership. The U.S. DOT is issuing $589 million in private activity bonds as well as a $589 million loan to private investors Transurban of Australia and Fluor of Irving, TX, to do the work and manage the toll lanes.

Toll revenue will pay off the bonds as well as the loan through the DOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, Peters stated in a press release.

The rest of the funding for the $1.9 billion project will come from the state of Virginia, Theriault said.

Transurban-Fluor will manage the toll lanes, known as high-occupancy toll lanes or HOT lanes, for 75 years.

Motorists who have three or more people in their vehicles may access the HOT lanes for free. Motorcycles, buses and emergency vehicles will also have free access. Tolls will be collected through the electronic E-ZPass system.

Theriault said the plan is for the toll operator to have technology in place to track down people who use the toll lanes without paying. That could include cameras, she said.

– By David Tanner, staff writer