McAuliffe: I-66 tolls are working, Virginia's 'bizarre' tie-breaking rules
by Amanda Iacone
WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe defended the rollout of rush-hour tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway, saying spends are up 20 mph on the heavily-traveled commuter road and more commuters are carpooling.
"For thousands of commuters it’s worked better. Their average speed is now up and for the single drivers who couldn’t go on it before, they now have a choice," McAuliffe said during an appearance Friday on WTOP's "Ask the Governor."
He said the tolls should not be capped and that the HOV restrictions should not be shortened, as some state lawmakers have called for. The longer hours clear the road of single drivers ahead of peak drive times, giving HOV commuters and toll payers a congestion-free route, he said.
Drivers have alternate options if they choose not to pay the tolls, McAuliffe said.
"It’s working. It’s working better than we thought it would," he said.
Since the tolls kicked in on Dec. 4, the average price round-trip paid by solo drivers has been less than $14, which is cheaper than the $17 round trip that officials predicted when the idea was first approved by lawmakers nearly two years ago, McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said the narrow stretch of highway through Falls Church and Arlington was a parking lot and unlocking it was necessary to build planned express lanes along I-66 from the Beltway to Prince William County.
"This has become probably the most congested road in the United States," he said. "Doing nothing was not an option," he said.
He described the congestion in Northern Virginia as a "transportation crisis" and for years nothing was done to address it.
"We’re now taking action to get things done," he said.
'Bizarre' election rules
McAuliffe said that no matter who wins two disputed House races in Newport News and Stafford County that voters sent a clear message on election night. They want more progressive, inclusive policies and leaders focused on growing job opportunities, not conservative restrictions on social issues.
"I think you clearly heard from the voters they want to continue this great progress that we have made in Virginia."
McAuliffe said that he believes a federal judge should order a fresh election in the 28th District, where 147 voters cast ballots in the wrong district. The governor said those voters' constitutional rights were violated because they were not able to vote for the person who represents them.
He said that the Democratic candidate in Newport News was considering legal options to challenge a decision that gave her opponent, incumbent David Yancey one more vote to tie the race. A name will be drawn from a hat to determine the winner.
"These are the rules that have been established in Virginia, as bizarre and weird as it is."
4 years in Richmond
McAuliffe, who steps down as governor next month, reflected on his four years in the Executive Mansion.
"I'll go down as the most progressive governor in Virginia," he said.
He worked with a Republican-led legislature to make huge investments in education and to push to diversify the state's defense-heavy economy and on transportation changes.
And he restored the rights of more felons than any previous governor, which he listed among his proudest achievements.
His darkest day was Charlottesville.
"What has happened in this country? They used to wear hoods to do this, now they’re just screaming at people," he said of the white nationalists, who descended on the town to protest city plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Violence erupted on the streets as the demonstrators clashed with counter protesters.
"Just before I walked out (to speak at a news conference) I had been told that two of my troopers … had been killed in a crash," he said. "I had to go out, I knew what I had to do, but that was really tough."
He would return to Richmond that same night and spoke with the troopers' families. "That was clearly the hardest day."
The road ahead
McAuliffe said he expects to have a busy year ahead pushing for nonpartisan redistricting and to work on veterans issues. He is expecting to have a busy speaking schedule and has already received 100 invitations, he said.
As to his future in politics, the former DNC chair wouldn't say whether he is considering another run for public office, specifically for president. He is bared by term limits from seeking a second term as governor and steps down on Jan. 13.
"I’m going to be very active, very visible next year traveling all over the county. We’ll just see where the future takes us," he said.
He quickly pivoted from his presidential aspirations to a beer that he helped to develop, a stout produced by three Richmond-based breweries.