Should we be worried here in Charlotte after tolls on new express lanes in Washington, D.C., hit $40 on the second day of operation during Tuesday morning’s rush?
That’s what commuters on the new Interstate 66 express lanes paid from the Capital Beltway in northern Virginia to downtown D.C., The Washington Post reported Tuesday night.
Despite complaints from some drivers that the tolls were exorbitant, Virginia transportation officials said the lanes are working exactly as planned, according to the Post.
Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne acknowledged the tolls were higher than many expected but that the new system is fair and working as intended, the Post reported.
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The state’s goal, he said, is to move more people, not more vehicles, and variable tolls are the tool to change commuter behavior, the Post reported.
“No one has to pay a toll,” Layne said.
On the I-77 toll lanes being built from N.C. 150 in Mooresville to the Brookshire Freeway north of uptown Charlotte, tolls will likewise vary depending on how congested the toll lanes become each day.
Work on the 26-mile project began in November 2015. The state hasn’t pinned down when work will finish, saying only on its I-77 Express Lanes website that “late 2018” is when the lanes will open to traffic.
I-77 toll lane prices have yet to be established, but the N.C. Department of Transportation insists they will be affordable to drivers of all incomes. The DOT addresses the toll-pricing question in a Q&A on its I-77 Express Lanes website, asking: “Since there’s no limit on toll prices, won’t express lanes gouge commuters?”
“No,” the DOT replies to its question. “… if the toll is too high, people won’t use it. However, if tolls are too low, too many drivers will enter the express lanes, causing congestion, which reduces the average speed.”
I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of Spain-based Cintra, is designing and building the lanes in a public-private partnership with the state. The contractor also will manage the toll lanes.
“The operator’s goal is to keep tolls reasonable, which will increase the number of paying customers, and encourage better traffic conditions in both the express and general purpose lanes,” the DOT says.