Rt. 66: Highway for the Working Man or Playway for the Rich?

A New Kind of Road

There’s a new kind of road that did not exist when I was young. It’s a road you have to pay to drive on—only the amount you pay goes up and down based on how many people are driving it. The more people, the higher the price. This keeps the number of cars down, so that traffic can keep moving at a quick clip.

Normal people can’t afford to use them on a daily basis, but they are great for emergencies. To pay those high fees on a regular basis, one has to be rich.

Is this bad? Not at all. If people want to fork over money to go faster, more power to them, but let’s face it: these roads are not for the majority of us. What is more, they are not just highways or parkways, but they are not turnpikes, per se.

They’re playways.

The Glories of Rt. 66

I have lived here in Northern Virginia for over twenty-five years, and not a year has gone by that I have not paused to express gratitude for 66 and how nice it is to have such a straight trek into Washington DC.

I was grateful even though, at rush hour, the place had a tendency to turn into a parking lot. Yeah, it was a slow drive getting back, but it was so valuable to have this access. True, it did turn into a HOV 2 road after a certain time every day, but this did not stop it from being busy.

It was so busy that requests were made to expand it.

Enter the Toll

A few years ago, the news came that in order to expand 66, a toll would be added. Considering how slow the road was already, this was quite a concern, but then it turned out that the new technology allowed for tolls to be billed through EZPASS, so no stopping to pay toll was needed.

The toll is only charged during rush hour, not a time I normally travel the road. So it took quite a bit of time before I actually traveled the road during the toll period. The current set up allows for free travel if one qualifies for the HOV number. This means that I could travel the road for free because I had my children with me.

In for a Shock

By chance, twice in the last month, I had an opportunity to do just that – drive back from DC with my kids during the afternoon traffic.

What I saw shocked me.

First, the price for those who had to pay was around $11.25 one time and $7.35 the other. This means that if I were to commute at this price, it would cost me between 73.50 and 112.50 a week. $112.50 a week is over $5000.

Five thousand dollars—just for commenting to and from work. But that was not the shocking part. The shocking part was:

The road was nearly empty.

Forgotten Purpose

Remember the purpose above of this toll? The purpose was supposed to be to widen 66. If so, why set the toll price so that the road becomes a playway, with only the richest of DC commuters able to drive the road?

That road could easily have fit ten times as many cars.

Why not just charge a straight $2.

Every card who wants to drive 66 pays the same flat fee. 6 cars would make more for the state than even the $11.25—and many, many more people could use the road to go to and from work.

 Lower the Toll

A major lifeline road like 66 should not be a playway so the rich can zip to work and back without having to rub bumpers with the hoi polloi.

The toll should be set low enough that the road is busy. This will benefit the most number of people—both in terms of drivers using the road and money coming into the till.

Give 66 back to the working men and women!

Lower the toll!