The Virginia Department of Transportation likes High Occupancy Toll or HOT (Express Lanes) so much, that plans are underway to add them to I-64 in the Norfolk area later this year.
But there will be a key difference between I-64 HOT lanes in Tidewater, and the tolls that Northern Virginia commuters are subjected to on I-495, I-95, I-395, and soon to include I-66 west of the Capital Beltway.
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne stated that VDOT will be operating the I-64 HOT lanes in Norfolk, not a private concessionaire:
This is VDOT operating this facility, not a for-profit entity. The emphasis is not to get them to pay fines. The emphasis is to get more effective use of roadways. So I’m very comfortable in saying that you’re not going to see excessive fees coming out of this operation,” [Secretary Layne] said.
ABC channel 13 in Richmond stated that, “Secretary Layne said drivers should not be worried about excessive fines or fees that some have experienced with using tunnels.”
In other words, Northern Virginians are less deserving and should worry about excessive fines or fees, because Northern Virginia HOT lanes are operated by for-profit entities and not VDOT.
It is interesting that Layne is quick to point out the consumer protections against toll gouging for the Hampton Roads area, yet he selected to NOT provide those same protections for Northern Virginia taxpayers. Like the other Northern Virginia HOT schemes, I-66 will be an unregulated monopoly by a private concessionaire with a 50 year contract. (The other Northern Virginia HOT lanes have up to 76 year contracts).
The concessionaire can charge whatever they want, with no limits. They also pay NO real estate tax on their leased land, while raking in the income derived from it. The experience in Northern Virginia has included the toll operator charging thousands of dollars in fees when E-ZPass tolls were not properly processed or collected promptly enough for the private concessionaire.
If Secretary Layne is so “comfortable in saying you’re not going to see excessive fees on I-64,” why are Northern Virginia commuters not deserving of the same protection?
Why shouldn’t Northern Virginia also have an “emphasis to get more effective use of roadway?”
Remember, this is the same Secretary Layne who informed Virginia in early 2015 that we could save about a Billion dollars by keeping I-66 public instead of using a private concessionaire, then recommending a private concessionaire later that year after the howls of Big Pavement.
Some other key differences for I-64 include the use of HOV-3 instead of Northern Virginia’s HOV-3 to get a free ride. Hybrid cars in Tidewater will be exempt from the toll, regardless of how many people are inside. Hybrid cars on HOT lanes in Northern Virginia “public private partnerships” will pay in full.
So I-64 will receive HOT lanes with full government control, operation, and consumer protections, while VDOT gives away the keys to the roads in Northern Virginia to private concessionaires with little to no consumer protections.