Bipartisan Policy Center

Transportation Nation

New Highway Along Beltway is Road Less Traveled

Thursday, October 24, 2013


The 495 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia—14 miles of EZ Pass-only toll lanes where HOV-3 vehicles ride free—are still struggling to attract drivers nearly one year after opening. Traffic volume on the new highway is below expectations, according to information reported to the Australian Securities Exchange.

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Transportation Nation

Dynamic Tolling Coming To Virginia Express Lanes

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

I-495 in Virginia (photo by Dougtone via flickr)

(Martin Di Caro -- Washington, DC, WAMU) You pay for electricity, your phone and Internet.  You pay for most, if not all, of the services you use every day.  Should highways be different?  Virginia says the future answer will be no -- and drivers should be ready to pay a premium for a faster ride on congested highway corridors.

Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials are banking on drivers' willingness to pay an electronic EZ Pass toll for a faster commute on the I-495 express lanes that are set to open late this year.  Tolls on the new section of the beltway will rise as traffic volume in the express lanes increases. Dynamic tolling, as this practice is called, is relatively new in the United States.

"The day of free highways is behind us," said Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and a former assistant transportation secretary under George W. Bush.  Frankel said governments need the revenue that tolls would provide, and charging a premium to use express lanes serves another purpose: turning highways into a commodity.

"When you think about highway space as a product, it's limited," said Frankel. "Supply is constrained. And the only way to control how that supply is going to be allocated is by pricing it."

Dynamic tolling is relatively uncommon in the U.S. compared to Europe and Australia.  In the U.S. it's been a success on State Route 91 in southern California, where critics said the so-called Lexus Lanes would only be used by rich people, Frankel said.

"In fact, the experience in California is quite the opposite.  The lanes are most frequently used by people with limited time," said Frankel, who said getting motorists used to paying tolls is hard because of the idea that highways should be free.

Commuter Bevin Bresnahan, who was gassing up in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, typifies that attitude.  "I think everything should be free," she laughed. "We pay enough in gas, we pay enough in taxes."

The company that will operate the tolls on the I-495 express lanes says the typical toll during rush hour will be between $5-6 dollars one way, the average trip length is expected to be about four to six miles, and motorists are expected to use the new lanes a couple of times a week.

Listen to a report on this issue here.


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It's A Free Blog

Opinion: Now is the Best Time for a Third Party to Rise

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A centrist third party could prosper in today’s political environment and end the stalemate in Washington. There is a large body of moderate Republicans, disaffected Democrats and dissatisfied independents looking for the kind of political home that this party could provide.

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Transportation Nation

Report: Not All Transportation Projects Create Jobs Equally

Friday, January 21, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) .  The Bipartisan Policy Center has a new report out by Berkeley Professor Martin Wachs and the former McCain-Palin 2008 policy guru, Douglas Holtz-Eakin.   "Transportation infrastructure investments are not all equally effective at creating jobs or economic growth," the report argues. "  In language that's admittedly wonky, the report takes on what's been a pretty sacred tenet of every transportation spending bill that's come from the federal government -- that all transpo spending is going to create jobs, no matter how state officials want to spend it (a ring road, a lane widening, a bike lane, whatever.)

The report's an interesting table-setting for discussions around the new transportation authorization bill, which are already happening at the highest levels in Washington, we hear.  Also interesting, that Holtz-Eakin, an earnest thinker who's tied himself to pretty conservative, partisan causes (most notably in the health care debate), is now hitching his star to a bi-partisan group.

Keep an eye on Transportation Nation for more developments on the bill.

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