People in Virginia are paying a $35 toll to drive into Washington DC — and it reveals problems with the American highway system

Business Insider
Henry Grabar

There's a 2004 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David picks up a prostitute so he can use the HOV lane to get to a Dodgers game. The episode later became important when its footage of the game confirmed the alibi of a man facing the death penalty on a murder charge. But it remained funny because of the implication that driving in the HOV lane for 30 minutes could ever be worth so much.

And then came this week in the D.C. suburbs, when Virginia's infamous Interstate 66 offered solo drivers access to a highway that has been, at rush hour, reserved for carpools, clean-fuel vehicles, or airport travelers.

Starting Monday, if you want to drive peak-direction on I-66 inside the Beltway, you have two choices: Find a passenger or pay a toll that has soared as high as $40 this week.

It is a peek at the future of driving (and more), in which dynamic pricing will offer access to scarce resources. And it made people very, very angry.

This particular case is, on the one hand, an interesting insight into consumer psychology, as NBC reporter Adam Tuss observed: ""You now have an option to use a road during rush hour that you didn't have last week. Simple as that,"" he wrote on Twitter. (Except for drivers of hybrid and electric cars, who now must pay or take on a passenger.)

Certainly, some motorists had their plans upended because the Virginia Department of Transportation had projected that the tolls would average $5 to $6. Instead, a.m. tolls for the 10 miles of expressway surged to $34.50 on Monday and $40 on Tuesday before dropping to $23 on Wednesday and $20 on Thursday as solo drivers made other arrangements.

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