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Virginia Lawmaker Forces Toll Rate Transparency
Virginia Department of Transportation agrees to let drivers know in advance whether taking the toll lane saves time.

Jeremy McPike
Motorists who pay extra to take an "express" toll lane on a highway can sometimes find themselves not saving any time at all. A Virginia state senator fed up with his hour-long commutes decided to do something about it earlier this month by introducing a bill that would force transparency regarding the time savings, if any, before taking a Northern Virginia toll road.

"The operator of a toll facility located in Planning District 8 that uses dynamic pricing shall notify motorists using smart roadway technologies of the toll price and estimated travel time for each posted destination," Senate Bill Number 1536 stated.

At a state Senate Transportation Committee hearing earlier this month, Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Woodbridge) described the frustration of paying anywhere from $15 to $30 to sit and wait in heavy traffic.

"The problem is for the consumer you're making a decision before you take an entrance or an exit, you don't know what you're getting," McPike explained. "These toll facilities are set up to supposedly maintain 55 miles per hour, however, it's a variable toll price... in reality, people see the price going up and assume the main lines are backed up. They have nothing to compare that to for making an informed choice."

There is currently no guarantee that the tolled route will actually save time over using the general purpose lanes. The prospect that McPike's bill might actually make its way into law spooked the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

"Just before this committee [hearing] I received a letter from [Transportation] Secretary [Aubrey] Layne," McPike said. "He's going to be directing staff to work through this issue using existing signage... but if it's not addressed, then next year this bill will be back."

Layne said he would do whatever he can to add the information, as long as it does not trigger a "compensation event" with Transurban and Cintra, the foreign companies that run the toll roads on I-95, I-495 and I-66. A compensation event refers to the non-compete contract clauses that forbid the state from doing anything that would improve traffic flow for drivers in the general purpose lanes without paying "compensation" to Cintra or Transurban.

A copy of HB 1536, which McPike withdrew, is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Senate Bill Number 1536 (Virginia General Assembly, 2/1/2017)

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