Back-to-school traffic means crazy high dynamic toll prices on I-66 E from VA to DC

Interstate 66 is one of the main routes connecting Washington, DC to the Northern Virginia suburbs. For the final 10 miles of the commute in to the city, starting at the Beltway, 66 East is is only accessible to carpoolers, or people who pay a toll that changes with traffic volume.

Back in the day, you could just drive all the way in to DC on 66 E, but several years ago, Virginia switched it to all carpool (HOV) lanes during morning rush hour. The rationale was 66 E was ridiculously congested, and the Metro orange line covers the same route. The Metro tracks are actually in the median of 66 until you get within a few miles of DC. So Virginia wanted to get those people off 66 and on to Metro.


Then, a few years ago, Virginia decided to re-open 66 E to non-carpoolers during rush hour, as long as they paid the toll. These are called HOT (High Occupancy or Toll) lanes. Many highways in Virginia have HOT-3 express lanes where you need 3 or more people to avoid the toll, but during rush hour, 66 E from the Beltway to DC is entirely HOT-2 lanes, no regular lanes at all.

I-66 meets the Beltway just north of Tyson’s Corner, VA where I work. I pass the signs showing the current toll on my morning commute. Sometimes the toll is an oh-so-reasonable $15-20 or so, but other times, it’s not.

Most of the schools around here start back up the day after Labor Day, which has made my morning commute a little more lengthy, and my evening commute actually a bit shorter. Not by enough to cancel out the extra morning time, but whatever.

The Washington Post loves to post updates about the I-66 toll going above $40. Thanks to the extra morning traffic, the rush hour tolls have been over $45 all week. So they’ve got an article about it from Wednesday, and the same basic thing on Tuesday.


I took this picture this morning at about 9:15 am, on the tail end of what you’d think is normal rush hour traffic. Yes I was straggling on my way out the door this morning. I’d rather stay at home with my wife and drink coffee and pet cats than arrive at my office early. Plenty of people come in even later. Don’t judge me.

The Virginia Dept of Transportation, whenever they’re asked for comment about the tolls, spouts some platitudes about providing commuters with choices.


Locals have taken to calling any of these HOT lanes Lexus Lanes. But for the stretch of 66 E from the Beltway to DC, I prefer to call them Lobbyist Lanes, because that’s who’s probably paying the toll. Or the poor souls who can’t/won’t take Metro or carpool.

Virginia, in addition to putting people in jail for speeding, also looooves tolls.

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