The Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation has decided that the I-95 Toll Express Lanes should be extended because of the daily traffic jams that occur where they currently end. The plan is to push the merge further south.
Virginia has applied for two federal grants totaling $1.5 Billion, which would include extending the toll lanes to US 17 in Stafford.
Since the Express Lanes are operated by Melbourne, Australia based TransUrban Group, why are US Federal Government grants needed to extend them? After all, the promise of Express Lanes is that the new lanes are paid by tolls!
In reality, the toll money goes to the private operator. Much of the infrastructure gets bought and paid for by the taxpayers, whether through federal grants, TIFIA loans, block grants from the Federal Highway Administration, or state taxes. For much of the existing I-95 Express Lanes, the existing reversible HOV lanes were originally built by the taxpapers. This infrastructure was handed over to TransUrban when the lanes were converted to E-ZPass lanes. And when too many carpoolers use the lanes, the Comprehensive Agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia requires that state taxpayers pay Transurban even more. To ensure that there will be plenty of congestion to captivate toll payers for decades to come, the Comprehensive Agreement also prevents VDOT from improving the free I-95, US Highway 1, or the Occoquan Bridge for the next 70 years.
All of this means that a grant funded extension would be one more taxpayer giveaway to concessionaire Transurban, who gets the taxpayers’ federal infrastructure AND the recurring toll revenue from the drivers who use that infrastructure.