CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne on Wednesday discussed a plan to ease congestion in Hampton Roads — but it comes with a cost to some.
In October, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to allow VDOT to convert eight miles of HOV lanes on I-64 into toll lanes.
The conversion to high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes or express lanes will impact the stretch of I-64 from the I-264 interchange up to Interstate 564. Solo drivers will be able to use the lanes for the first time during peak hours, but they will have to pay a variable toll.
Operating hours will be from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. for the westbound lanes and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. for the eastbound lanes, Monday through Friday only.
Here’s how it will work: Let’s say you are leaving Naval Station Norfolk during afternoon rush hour. Heavy traffic is going towards Virginia Beach. You will go under the new toll gantry to get on the reversible HOV lanes on 64. They will now be known as express lanes or HOT lanes. If you are driving alone during rush hour, you will get tolled. If there are two or more in the car, there will be no toll at all. That is for afternoon rush hour, and it will be the same in the morning going towards Naval Station Norfolk.
When the new tolling begins in December, you will have a new transponder called the E-Z Pass Flex. If you are alone in a vehicle, you have to flip it off and you are going to be tolled. If you have someone in the car with you, you turn the transponder on. You’ll hear a short sound to let you know it’s on.
The new program was rolled out Wednesday in Chesapeake by Layne.
“We will have police monitoring like we do now. They will have information [detection equipment] in their car that will let them know what mode you are in, just like they use now,” Layne says.
People came to ask questions at the public meeting in Chesapeake.
“Additional tolls are a big deal,” said businessman Tony Frye. “This area is already being hampered… It separates the region.”
The thing about this toll — it is not a toll for everyone, like at the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels. This toll is only for those driving alone during rush hour using the reversible lanes.
10 On Your Side took several questions to Layne from the WAVY Facebook page.
One of the questions was will motorcycles be tolled? Layne answered, “No they will not. Motorcycles will be allowed to use it for free because they don’t take up a lot of space and they don’t tear up our roads.”
Another question: What about people who don’t carpool? Layne answered, “There is a cost for not carpooling. We don’t have unlimited resources, and we are saying ‘OK, you don’t want to raise taxes, we got to use the road, you don’t want to put more people in the car to be efficient.’ That is fine, but now you have to pay a toll.”
Another viewer slammed the current policy of tolls, saying the whole thing has been a failure from the start. The viewer asked instead of a toll, why not just open open it up to all traffic heading to the base in the morning and coming home in the afternoon?
Layne’s answer: “So here is what we will do… We will jam up all the lanes. If that happens, it is called ‘induced demand.’”
Another angry viewer asked, “Didn’t our taxes already pay for these roads? Is this now double taxation?”
Layne was quick to the draw the line on that one.
“That is a myth. Everyone says their taxes paid for all these roads. That is untrue. Most of the tunnels and many of the roads were paid for by tolling people. They forget they were taken off.”
That is true. There used to be a toll on Interstate 264 when it was referred to as Route 44, but those tolls were taken off once the roadway had been paid for. The Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel is the only tunnel never to have had a toll. The HRBT had a toll until it was taken off.
Are they going to refund the extra fees for owners of clean special fuel plates? Layne answers, “Fuel plates will no longer be exempt… We have cars today using gasoline that are more fuel efficient than those cars.”
Layne says toll gantry construction will begin end of this month with the gantry in place by summer. The system will be tested during the fall, and tolling will likely begin in December.
VDOT estimates the express lanes will decrease traffic in the parallel untolled lanes of I-64 by 17 percent. Officials have said the HOV lanes are underused.
The conversion is expected to be complete in Fall 2017.