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Could Drivers Entering Downtown D.C. Be Forced To Pay A Toll? It's On Paper

A map of the proposed congestion zone in downtown D.C.
A map of the proposed congestion zone in downtown D.C.

There's no shortage of traffic in downtown D.C. during the week, and planners are floating a means to better control it: A congestion charge.

The idea is included in a a draft version of the moveDC report, a longterm multimodal transportation plan being put together by the D.C. Department of Transportation. Along with a bevy of initiatives targeting pedestrians, cyclists and public transit, the report addresses the thousands of cars that course through the city on a daily basis.

Among other road-centric suggestions, the report proposes the creation of a "downtown congestion pricing cordon around the Central Employment Area," an area that drivers would have to pay to enter at certain times of the day. The proposed area would stretch from Foggy Bottom to Union Station and Independence Avenue to Massachusetts Avenue. Here's the full explanation, including a hint as to how much it would cost:

A cordon area in the District could be implemented for weekday trips into the Central Employment Area at a rate approximately equivalent to a round-trip peak period Metrorail fare. Revenues from the zone should be dedicated to operations and maintenance of the managed facility (or area) and toward projects that expand the person-moving capacity of the transportation system, including those providing greater access to the priced areas or corridors.

If the idea sounds familiar, it should — London implemented such a congestion charge in 2003. Drivers pay close to $17 to enter the city's downtown core between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed the idea in 2008, but it never came to fruition.

In 2007, Mayor Adrian Fenty briefly floated the idea, sparking a debate as to whether drivers entering downtown D.C. should have to pay for it, with revenue going to improve city roadways. It never went much further than that, but D.C. has taken a related tack to parking management, implementing parking zones where meter prices change depending on demand.

Last year the Metropolitan Council of Governments published a study on congestion pricing — which includes initiatives like the Beltway Express lanes in Virginia — and found that despite some concerns for a downtown congestion zone, 50 percent of participants in a focus group were amenable to the idea, with 34 percent opposed.

Building such a zone would likely draw some concern from neighboring states, considering that most drivers in the city during the week are from Maryland or Virginia. According to DDOT, "Two-thirds of traffic on the city’s streets during morning and evening peak periods is from neighboring states."

If the idea comes to pass, it's still a ways off: The report, which can be read here, is still in draft form. Public comments are being accepted until July 6.


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