Taking its toll

i66trafficWe have high occupancy lanes on the highway, I-66, that reward those drivers inside the beltway who plan ahead and take one or more extra riders and car pool; this sensible traffic policy cuts down on highway congestion, moves cars along otherwise frozen in space and time, and contains pollution.

What’s interesting, as a matter of social engineering, is that there remain so relatively few car poolers and yet the high occupancy lanes still move faster than the congested traffic lanes.

Some might rightly think that, if requiring two riders for a high occupancy lane eases traffic flow, then why not increase the requirement to three riders? But, the plans for this innovation won’t occur until at least 2020.

Instead, we have a short-sighted controversial proposal on the table, scheduled for 2017, allowing well-heeled solo drivers to buy a faster ride, to use one high occupancy lane during peak periods of traffic — if they pay for the privilege.

The policy is a shame and a disgrace.

It’s one thing to modify personal behavior with a salutary public policy such as carpooling; it’s quite another, however, to “license” the violation of that sound policy for a fee.

The authorities have devised innovative ways to get the most toll money out of this questionable “license.” VDOT estimates the maximum toll based on what they call “dynamic tolling.” Other jurisdictions called it “congestion pricing.” When the traffic in the congested lanes slows to 45 miles an hour, the price of access for the solo driver to join the high occupancy lane rises.

As a result, we are excluding those who can’t afford to pay as much as $17 a day from Loudoun County, and consigning them to often glacial traffic speeds to and from work, because they can’t afford to pay.

Presently, if you are car-pooling, you don’t have to pay the premium that the solo elite will pay. On the other hand, we are encouraging congestion in the high occupancy lanes and pollution for the price they’ll pay. We have to ask how elastic is the speed that cars can travel in the high occupancy lanes when flooded by the solo elite cadre? Equally important is whether the Commonwealth will change the present policy – and make car-poolers pay rather than let them ride free?

We are coming out of the silly political season, and the public debate has been to advantage one partisan candidate over another, without framing the debate carefully, making it mostly about the cost of the toll and how the funds from the toll will be spent – and where elsewhere than Loudoun County the funds will be spent.

Those electioneering questions missed the point by a mile. Now that the election is over, perhaps we can talk about what’s really wrong with this proposal – that the fee itself undermines a superior traffic policy while burdening those who can’t afford to pay

One thought on “Taking its toll

  1. Pariahdog

    I feel that this post missed the mark. I-66 can’t handle peak traffic, period. Watch the traffic report every morning. Turn on the google maps traffic feature. I-66 is red, congested. Because I-66 is congested, solo drivers are barred from I-66 during rush hour. The point of the new toll proposal is to allow previously illegal solo drivers an option to use the highway during peak hours. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the proposal. Opposition leverages VA GOP talking points that are based on lies by omission.

    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/11/2/9659566/virginia-i66-toll-election

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