The price to drive into the nation’s capitol peaked around $35 on Monday morning, as dynamic tolling was introduced on a major thoroughfare into Washington, D.C. Drivers taking Interstate 66 saw toll rates as high as $34.50 on their morning commute.
“Current toll price on I-66 from the Beltway to D.C. is $34.50 according to the toll calculator,” tweeted Ellen Bryan, a weather reporter with WUSA9.
— WUSA9 Traffic (@Wusa9traffic) December 4, 2017
The Washington Examiner‘s Paul Beddard noted that the toll into D.C. at 7:43 a.m. was $22.25.
— Paul Bedard (@SecretsBedard) December 4, 2017
Rush-hour tolling began at 5:30 a.m. with prices around $3.50, local radio station WTOP reported. In less than an hour, tolls had reached $10, peaking around $34.50. On the Virginia express lane tolls website, users can calculate historic estimates for previous times.
“It’s going to take some time for us to kind of get everything smoothed out and see what those toll prices are going to be consistently,” Jenni McCord, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, told WTOP.
The radio station reported that traffic moved smoothly and the number of drivers on I-66 declined compared to typical Monday morning volume. “There were no delays inside the Beltway — that’s the point of congestion pricing — to keep the carpools and paying solo drivers moving. As demand goes up, the price does too,” WTOP’s traffic reporter Dave Dildine explained.
While these prices may seem absurd, they suggest a working market, with an increase in demand leading to a corresponding increase in price. As drivers get used to the system, they may decide to take alternate routes, travel at different times, or choose other methods of transportation.
I-66 is a major thoroughfare into D.C. from northern Virginia, however, and there are few alternate routes promising high speed limits and a direct way into the city. As some parts of northern Virginia get rid of car lanes to make room for pedestrians and bikes (who use the roads less frequently), some drivers might complain that the area is using social engineering to encourage people to walk, take (ever more expensive and less reliable) public transit, or bike to work (often with a change of clothes and perhaps even a necessary shower at the office).
As the Washington, D.C. area continues to draw more and more people, congestion is only likely to get worse. As drivers realize the toll system, however, rates are likely to decline, making a $34.50 one-way commute less frequent.
Tolls going the opposite direction — away from D.C. for afternoon rush-hour — will open at 3 p.m. and run until 7 p.m. Commuters should expect similar prices then, and perhaps settle in for a long day in D.C. and a commute back home after 7. Bars in the nation’s capitol will likely be packed as workers wait for a more opportune time to get home.