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Private Sector Could Help Relieve Virginia's Congestion Woes

Construction on I-66 could begin in 2017 once a private partner is secured.
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Construction on I-66 could begin in 2017 once a private partner is secured.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's plan to widen I-66 from the Beltway to Haymarket by building two toll lanes in each direction is raising questions about how the state is tackling traffic congestion.

The McAuliffe administration is not interested in tolling existing lanes on interstate highways. It is sticking to the strategy used on the 495 and 95 Express Lanes: build new lanes and charge commuters to use them, unless they are carpooling. That's the plan for I-66, one of the worst commuting corridors in the region.

"There is not one answer to how we are going to solve our traffic problems, particularly on long corridors," says Rob Puentes, a transportation policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

But Puentes says Virginia's method of hiring the private sector to finance and build the tolls roads can be part of the answer. "The capital and the resources to construct the facilities have to be found somewhere," he says.

Puentes says the new highway network should help the region exploit the untapped potential of bus rapid transit to move large numbers of commuters. He says there are more than 150 such bus systems around the world, few of them in the United States. Express buses are part of Virginia's plan for 66.

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