- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

NORFOLK (AP) — The Virginia Department of Transportation is studying whether the threat of tolls could persuade some Hampton Roads residents to stay off the roads during the busiest times.

Known as “value pricing” or “congestion pricing,” the system would adjust the amount of a toll depending on the number of cars and trucks on the road. If roads were not congested at all, no tolls would apply.

“Value pricing says that if you commute during the high-volume time, you would pay a higher toll than someone who went through at, say, noon,” said Dennis W. Heur, the agency’s Hampton Roads district administrator.

The local study would build on data developed by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.

The commission’s traffic engineers have found that Hampton Roads drivers make 3.5 million to 4 million trips each day, about a quarter of them during rush hours. About 10 percent of all morning rush-hour vehicles are occupied by people on nonessential trips, such as shopping or personal errands, and that number increases to almost 30 percent in the afternoon, the engineers said.

Delaying drivers by as little as 15 minutes or persuading them to choose a non-interstate route could significantly lower interstate congestion levels and would be cheaper than new construction, said Dwight L. Farmer, deputy executive director of the commission.

The study is not connected to a planning commission study that outlined how tolls could help finance other road projects.

“Congestion pricing is not about collecting money,” Mr. Farmer said. “If some of these people commuting could shift the time they are on the interstate, we could do away with severe congestion, even at the Downtown Tunnel.”

Placing tolls on Virginia’s interstates would require approval from the Federal Highway Administration, the state transportation agency and the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Other talk of tolls has drawn the ire of local residents.

The planning commission suggested a similar scheme to reduce congestion in the Downtown Tunnel in 2003, but outraged commuters protested and discussions fizzled.

Although parts of California use congestion pricing, it remains a pilot program for much of the country, said Tom Jennings, a transportation-management engineer for the Federal Highway Administration.

“It’s really kind of experimental,” said Mr. Jennings, who has not seen the proposal. “We are trying to do some sample studies to see what applications could be made of this.”

In Northern Virginia, a variation of value pricing known as high-occupancy toll lanes is in the works that would impose tolls on solo drivers who want to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

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