Will Congestion Pricing and Larger Tolls Raise Funds and Ease Traffic?

March 7, 2018

In an effort to ease traffic and find new funding for road repairs and maintenance, cities and local municipalities around the country are adding new tolls and congestion pricing to high-density roadways. In theory, it sounds like a viable plan.

Last December, Virginia's Department of Transportation put in place a new 'dynamic' toll pricing system that keeps track of speed, traffic volume, and time of day in the new High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes that run along I-66 heading into Washington, D.C. Depending on that data, drivers are charged a toll that can range from about $5 to a reported $47.50. Drivers are charged at peak rush hour times (5:30-9:30 a.m. in the morning and 3-7 p.m. in the evening) in the peak direction of travel. Worse, the system recalculates the traffic data every six minutes and 'refreshes' the toll charge accordingly. Signs along the way display the current rate.

VDOT put the system in place in part to encourage commuters to use public transportation or carpool. Drivers with two or more people in their vehicle with an E-Z Pass transponder can use the HOT lanes for free but solo drivers are tolled. Initial predictions of tolls were around $7-9 but last Monday morning, estimated toll rate for a solo driver reached $46.75, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The added expense is especially tough on people who need to drive I-66 to get to Dulles Airport.

So, in a show of good old American ingenuity, Virginia commuters have easily figured out how to game HOT system that has added $40 or more on a 10-mile stretch of toll road from Northern Virginia to downtown D.C.

Instead of paying the on-demand toll, drivers are using the Pull-Over-And-Wait technique.

Virginia law states that drivers cannot stop on the highway except in case of an emergency, accident, or mechanical breakdown, but there are not enough Virginia troopers to enforce the law, so drivers pullover to the shoulder or onto medians to wait for the peak-time toll to end, or for traffic to ease up so the automatic toll calculator shows a better price.

Never underestimate the American driver.