Hybrid owners with special plates will lose the right to use HOV-2 lanes on I-66 inside the Beltway durin rush hour.
The owners of the 18,000 cars with special "clean fuel" license plates are unhappy with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans to build toll lanes on I-66.
During rush hour, only HOV-2 carpoolers are allowed to use I-66 inside the Beltway, unless the car has the exemption printed on its license plate. According to VDOT, there are 18,638 active clean fuel plates. The state stopped issuing the plates in 2011, but the drivers have been allowed to continue to use the HOV lanes during rush hour as single-occupant vehicles.
But under plans to begin tolling I-66 inside the Beltway in 2017, the clean fuel exemption will be lifted, angering motorists who purchased hybrids.
“They were incentivized by the Commonwealth of Virginia to buy hybrids and one of those incentives was that they could use 66 inside the Beltway,” said Matt Letourneau, a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and opponent of the tolling plans.
“Thousands of people have built their lives, their commutes, where they work, where they live, around the ability to use 66. The Commonwealth's plan moving forward is to charge all those people tolls just the same as anyone else, so it's basic issue of fairness,” he said.
Plates being phased out
But regardless of whether the tolls are built, the hybrid exemption is being phased out, according to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne.
When Virginia started allowing hybrids to use the HOV lanes, it had to sign an agreement with Federal Highway Administration. The agreement said single-occupant hybrids would be barred from using I-66 if congestion worsened, or “degraded” as traffic engineers would say.
“We had to sign a binding agreement, and if any of those lanes are degraded by federal standards, then Virginia must take steps to limit and discontinue hybrid use in the HOV lanes,” said Layne during an appearance on ‘The Politics Hour’ on WAMU 88.5.
“Parts of 66 are degraded near the Beltway where it goes inside,” he said.
Letourneau contends HOV violators are to blame for the increased congestion, not hybrid drivers.
“I believe the traffic volumes would be significantly reduced if there weren't so many violators. A huge percentage of people using 66 every day are violators. So how about the state police and VDOT start enforcing the rules that already exist before they put these burdensome tolls on commuters,” he said.
VDOT estimates more than a third of eastbound traffic during mornings and close to 50 percent of westbound traffic in the afternoons is single-occupant vehicles. Not all are HOV violators, however. Some are exempted hybrid vehicles or emergency responders.
The effort to stop VDOT's plans is moving to the state legislature. Republican Delegate Jim LeMunyon of Fairfax County will propose a bill next year to ban tolls on I-66.