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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beltway Express Lanes could open as early as Nov. 17

The Gallows Road overpass a couple of months ago.
The new “Express Lanes” on the beltway could open as early as Nov. 17, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced Oct. 31. Drivers on the Express Lanes are charged a toll for a faster driving experience.

The 14-mile stretch of the beltway with the Express Lanes runs through Annandale from the Springfield interchange to just beyond the Dulles Toll Road. The amount of the tolls will be adjusted remotely, depending on traffic conditions, with the goal of preventing slowdowns.

Tolls are expected to range from 20 cents a mile during the least-busy times to $1.25 during rush hour—with an average trip estimated to cost $5 to $6. The toll amounts will be posted on signs, so drivers will know the cost before entering the Express Lanes. There will always be a toll, no matter the time of day or night.

There will be no toll booths, so drivers who want to use the Express Lanes will have to purchase an E-ZPass and attach it to their windshield. Cars with three or more occupants can use the Express Lanes without paying the toll. Carpoolers should purchase an E-ZPass-Flex, which allows drivers to indicate whether they have a high-occupancy vehicle. Visit the VDOT E-ZPass website to find out where to purchase an E-ZPass and how to set up an online account to track your toll payments.

“The 495 Express Lanes will be easy to use, but this is the first road of its kind in the region,” said Tim Steinhilber, general manager of the beltway Express Lanes project for Transurban, the company that developed and will maintain the project and will recoup its investment by collecting tolls. “Drivers need to educate themselves on how to use the lanes and make sure they are equipped with an E-ZPass so they can take advantage of a faster, more predictable trip,” he said.

There are limited places where you can access and exit the Express Lanes, so drivers should plan their trip in advance. For details, see the online map.

For example, when entering the beltway from Gallows Road, you can enter the Express Lanes if heading north, but not if you’re going south. If you heading south on the Express Lanes, you can get off onto Gallows, but if you’re northbound on the Express Lanes, you won’t be able to get off on Gallows.

Little River Turnpike will not have access to the Express Lanes at all. Braddock Road will have access to the Express Lanes only if you’re traveling north, and you’ll be able to exit the Express Lanes onto Braddock only if you’re heading south.

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