As many of us hit the road for August vacations, whether it’s a week at the beach, or a long weekend in the mountains, one of the toughest questions to answer is what time to leave town, to try and avoid spending half your vacation stuck in traffic.
Personally, I like to get up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, skip my normal morning run, and get out before I have too much company on the road.
Unfortunately, when we plan our daily commutes to and from the office, we don’t always have the flexibility to decide to leave at the optimal traffic time. That’s one of the things I’ve certainly heard a lot about since VDOT added congestion-based tolling to the HOV lanes of I-66 inside the beltway and expanded the HOV hours.
It’s also why I supported legislation introduced last session by my colleague, David Bulova, to restore the HOV hours inside the beltway to what they were before we added the tolls. Unfortunately, that bill died.
The good news, though, is we beat back an effort by House Republicans, led by Delegate Tim Hugo, to double the already extended tolling hours on I-66. When I saw their budget language didn’t make it in to the final two year spending plan (thanks to budget conferees like Senator Richard Saslaw, my Senate counterpart representing Falls Church), I thought that was that.
Well, the other thing about late July and August in this region is we often have slow news days for the local TV and radio reporters. That’s the only reason I can think of that this issue got back into the local news cycle a few weeks ago.
You may have seen or heard recent television news reports, and most recently a question to the Governor on WTOP’s Ask The Governor, about whether there are still plans to implement tolling on I-66 during reverse commuting off-peak hours at some future date.
When I saw these reports hitting the airwaves again, I reached out to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, a Ralph Northam appointee. I shared with her our community’s concerns about the persistence of these rumors. The expansion of the HOV hours and shockingly high level the Congestion Based Pricing “option” often hits have had the unfortunate effect of limiting transportation options for many of my constituents. Doubling the hours and charging people who made a strategic decision to live and work so that they could go against the rush hour traffic is simply unacceptable, and I let her know it.
Secretary Valentine responded promptly to my letter with a phone call. We discussed my concerns on your behalf.
She was very clear that doubling tolling hours on I-66 inside the beltway by adding tolls to already existing capacity is not on Governor Northam’s agenda nor is it something that VDOT intends to move forward with.
I look forward to working with Secretary Valentine and the Northam administration to find practical, effective transportation solutions that do not create a two-tiered transportation network in Northern Virginia - with fast lanes only for those who can afford to pay $15 -$40 a day.
To get the most accurate information and news about I-66 projects and tolling measures, outside.transform66.org remains a great source. You can sign up for their e-news or visit their social media accounts (@VDOT and facebook.com/VirginiaDOT).
If you have issues or concerns about this or any other state-related issue, you can always contact my office. Hearing from constituents helps me better represent you and ensures that I know what you value the most. I can be reached at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov and (571) 327-0053.