July 24, 2013
Driving to downtown Charlottesville could one day take a toll on your wallet, as some local planners will soon begin developing a model to see if road tolls are a feasible option to decrease traffic congestion.
"Our goal was really to look at how are we going to alleviate that congestion during the peak hours," said Marie Scheetz, a transportation planner for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
At a meeting of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization on Wednesday, staff with the TJPDC discussed the possibility of incorporating a park-and-ride system and tolls into the long-range transportation plan.
While staff say they don't have enough time to do research and incorporate a model into the long-range plan now, it's something they will continue to explore for a possible addition during a future update.
Kristin Szakos, a Charlottesville city councilor and a member of the MPO, said she likes the idea of cutting down traffic and air pollution, but not at the cost of a toll.
"We live in an area of a rather integrated economy where we have the city and the surrounding county and the surrounding area," she said. "And to cut one piece of that off and to say you have to pay to come here would not work because people would just go somewhere else."
The plan would be to build park-and-ride lots around the city limits, where drivers could park for free, then take free transit into Charlottesville. If drivers wanted to enter the city themselves, they'd have to pay a toll.
"That was just one of the things to help persuade people to use park and ride versus driving into downtown and creating more congestion," Scheetz said.
It's too early in the process to determine where the theoretical tolls would be placed or how much they would cost. But planners say drivers might expect them at some major arteries into Charlottesville, like Interstate 64, the Route 250 Bypass or Route 29.
"We want to encourage people to come downtown," Szakos said. "Of course, we want to encourage people to come down without their cars, so there might be ways to make incentives for that. But I think to punish people who don't is not something I would support."
Tolls are nowhere in the near future for Charlottesville or the surrounding area. The TJPDC needs to work with VDOT to develop a new model that includes having the option of tolls as part of the greater plan.
However, whatever planners decide will then lie in the hands of elected officials.
"With the politics behind it, it's hard to say whether it would ever be implemented or not," Scheetz said.