Many candidates in Virginia's General election next week are using VDOT's I-66 plan, which would change I-66 inside the beltway from HOV-2 to HOT-3 lanes, improve transit and enhance the bicycle and pedestrian system. Some examples from Dr. Gridlock are below:
- Oct. 19 posting by Loudoun County Republican Jeanine Martin on the Bull Elephant blog: “Governor McAuliffe and the Democrats propose transforming one HOV-2 lane along I-66 into a $17 toll lane. And the tolls won’t be used for road improvements; commuters would pay for bike paths and subsidizing mass transit. People in Loudoun would be paying for bike paths in Arlington and their Metro.”
- From the campaign Web site of House Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun): “The revenue from this tolling plan isn’t slated to improve I-66 or relieve the massive traffic congestion that Northern Virginia struggles with. Governor McAuliffe’s proposed tolls are going to ‘multimodal transportation’ projects — that means Metro subsidies and bike paths among other things.” The message includes links to Bike Arlington to illustrate “the kind of effort Arlington County goes to to force people onto ‘car diets’ and spend taxpayer money to promote biking!”
- Manassas Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R), candidate for state Senate in the 29th District, has a 30-second ad in which he says: “The Richmond politicians are at it again. They want us to pay $17 just to drive on I-66 inside the Beltway … Elect me, and we’ll put a stop sign on any new toll on a road that you already paid for.”
- House Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) said this in an Oct. 1 statement issued by GOP leaders in the General Assembly: “Asking commuters from Prince William, Manassas, Fairfax and Loudoun to pay such an outrageous amount for the privilege of sitting in the same unmoving lanes of traffic so Arlington can have nice new bike paths is unconscionable. Drivers who use both I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road could be stuck with $9,000 per year in fees. Governor McAuliffe’s plan is a nonstarter.”
But, and this is going to shock you, many of the things these politicians are saying are wrong.
Martin claims that the tolls won't be used for road improvements and that is mostly true, what is not true is that it would pay for bike lanes and subsidizing mass transit. In the report, toll revenue (about $12 million) would be used to offset operating costs for the HOT lanes ($1-$2 million), but the report only says that the revenue may be used to fund operation costs of transit and bike/ped programs IF there is sufficient revenue and even that is "dependent upon jurisdiction-level constraints on modal application", all of which is likely. But, it's all a bit of a shell game, and even if tolling can pay for the capital and operating costs of the tolling, it's not expected to be sufficient to cover the transit operations as well, let alone the bike/ped, TDM and ICM.
Approximately $29 million in capital expenditures are required to implement tolling and it has been assumed that toll revenue will, at a minimum, completely offset the cost of operating the tolling system. Approximately $5 million in capital expenditures are necessary to implement the transit program included in the package, with an ongoing $23 million per year operating cost. Later in this section, priorities are offered for bicycle/pedestrian, TDM, and ICM improvements. The full complement of these improvements, included in all packages, is estimated to cost as follows: bicycle and pedestrian, $42 million capital; TDM, $5 million per year operating cost; and ICM, $6 million capital, $1 million per year operating cost....A conservative estimate of $24 million in annual revenue was calculated, determined solely by multiplying the tolls assumed in the model to maintain the LOS C/D level of traffic on I-66 by the number of non-HOV 3+ vehicles forecast to use the facility.
But the toll revenue would be about half as much, the study concluded, if tolling were only done during peak periods - as is now being proposed.
It's also not entirely true there won't be any road improvements since there will be dynamic merge/junction control, traveler information improvements and a future widening study. Also, this plan dates back to 2012, which means it's not really Governor McAuliffe's.
When LaRock says that money from the tolling isn't slated to relieve traffic congestion he's wrong and ignores the other goals of the project. By paying for tolling, transit, TDM, ICM and bike/ped projects, the complete multi-modal package is expected to reduce congestion as a percentage of VMT (thought total congestion will go up, as there will be more users) when compared to the baseline. In other words, more people will deal with congestion, but each person will have fewer congested miles.
But despite what Miller says, the tolls will not pay for nice new bike paths in Arlington. Most off those paths are already in the plans, and they will likely be paid for by the same sources they were going to be paid for otherwise. But there will not be a straight payment from toll revenue to Arlington bike paths. People will be tolled and revenue gained (theoretically) and then bike paths will be built. But one does not do the other. In fact, in alternatives without tolling, the same bike/ped projects are still recommended.
In addition, right now no one pays these tolls because no one can. If you want to drive on I-66 inside the beltway in an SOV, you can forget about it. Under the VDOT plan, you'd have the OPTION of paying the toll, or as Dr. Gridlock writes if you don't want to pay them, "You could just keep doing what you’re doing." If you're already "sitting in the same unmoving lanes," you won't have to pay because you must already be an HOV user.
I've probably covered this before, since it's three years old, but just to rehash it, many of the bicycle and pedestrian enhancements in the report come from existing plans in the area and others come from stakeholder inputs or identified needs. The report includes 60 bike/ped projects which include trail improvements to the Mt.Vernon, Custis, Four Mile Run, W&OD, Route 110, Washington Blvd and Arlington Blvd Trails; connector trails; bike facilities added to the Route 27 bridge over Route 110 and the Meade Bridge; bikeshare expansion and parking additions along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor and in Falls Church; Rosslyn Circle improvements, including a tunnel; bike lanes; and bike parking at Metro Stations. The list is too long to go into, so if curious, you should check it out starting on page 3-76 of the report.
They assigned a benefit for each of these projects and those that rated the highest were (and some others just of interest):
- Widen the Mount Vernon shared-use trail between the Roosevelt Island Bridge over the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Four Mile Run Trail
- Construct a trail to link the sidewalk along the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge directly to the Mount Vernon Trail
- Renovate Custis trail sections with asphalt cracking and washout, and, where feasible, widen the Custis Trail to 12 feet.
- Construct a 10-foot wide sidepath from City of Fairfax to existing Arlington Boulevard trail in Arlington (may include some use of existing frontage roads)
- Improve the Arlington Boulevard trail from Taft Street to Fort Myer Drive and from Pershing to Queen.
- Construct sidepath on west side of Arlington Boulevard from Washington Boulevard to North Fairfax Drive
- Rehabilitate Arlington Boulevard Trail from Glebe Road to Park Drive
- Construct a short segment of Mount Vernon trail between North Randolph Street and the Fairfax line, following an existing sanitary sewer easement near Pimmit Run. Extend the Mount Vernon Trail from its current terminus at Theodore Roosevelt Island using existing trails, bicycle lanes, and proposed bicycle lanes in Arlington.
- Build bicycle/pedestrian crossing of Beltway from George C. Marshall Drive to Tysons Executive Court
The highest priority projects were Capital Bikeshare expansion and bike parking in the R-B Corridor and near select Metro Stations.