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Congestion pricing in D.C.: Would it work?

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It almost took in New York and there’s something similar along Northern Virginia arteries

Photo via Shutterstock/Sergio TB

Earlier this year, New York City came awfully close to becoming the first municipality in the nation to enact congestion pricing—that is, charging most motorists a fee for driving in and out of the city’s main commercial districts.

In the end, New York leaders opted for surcharges for driving through certain areas in for-hire vehicles such as Ubers and conventional taxis. But the debate over New York’s congestion pricing proposal brought the issue national attention at a time when traffic in major U.S. cities, including Washington, appears to worsen by the rush hour.

So might congestion pricing work in D.C.? Virginia officials already use something similar for Interstate 66 feeding into the District, charging motorists driving solo more in tolls at particularly congested moments.

But what about a general fee for driving—rather than, say, taking the Metro, biking, carpooling, or walking—into and around Washington’s busier areas at busier times of the working day?

The idea behind congestion pricing is simple: To reduce vehicular traffic in congested areas by making it a cost-benefit analysis rather than a routine for drivers. Go in and about only if you absolutely need to—otherwise, yes, take public transit, bike, or walk.

Congestion pricing as even a concept, much less a concrete proposal, has never caught on in Washington proper (as at least the idea has in Boston, for instance). But rearranging access to certain areas to raise money for infrastructure and transportation improvements does not seem that far-fetched. Or does it?