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Mason researcher says new I-66 tolls will help traffic flow

December 12, 2017

Elise Miller-Hooks

Higher-than-expected prices made for a rough start for commuters using the congestion-based tolls on the heavily traveled I-66 corridor between Washington, D.C, and the Northern Virginia suburbs.

But George Mason University’s Elise Miller-Hooks, an expert in transportation system engineering, remains confident the Virginia Department of Transportation and Transurban, the Australian-based partner company that operates Virginia express lanes, will make necessary adjustments.

“I would guess that most people in the region were surprised to hear of charges as high as $30 or $40,” said Miller-Hooks, the Bill and Eleanor Hazel Chair in Infrastructure Engineering in George Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering. “I do not believe those creating or implementing the congestion-based tolling algorithms anticipated prices to go as high as they did, especially given that there were not extenuating circumstances, such as a closure of a major alternative route.”

The toll rates, which are configured by proprietary algorithms based on traffic volume, have become the source of much consternation as commuters quickly shared their displeasure about tolls for the 10-mile or so eastbound drive during morning rush hour and westbound in the afternoon.

VDOT officials have contended the state’s goal is to move more people—not cars—through the busy corridor.

“The goal is to benefit all drivers by allowing those who are willing to pay to take an alternative set of lanes or roadway, thus freeing up capacity for those who are not willing or cannot pay for roadway use,” Miller-Hooks said.

Critics, however, contend the high costs will send traffic spilling over to other nearby state highways.

“I think in short order, Transurban will work out the kinks in their pricing algorithms for I-66” she said. “As long as our region is healthy and vibrant, I believe we will continue to struggle with our traffic woes no matter how wide we make our highways or whether or not we toll them.”

Elise Miller-Hooks can be reached at 703-993-1685 or miller@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact John Hollis at 703-993-8781 or jhollis2@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.