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Monday, November 19, 2012

Beltway Express Lanes open

 The view north from Gallows Road.
As the top picture shows (taken from the Gallows Road overpass at about 8:30 a.m. Nov. 19), the beltway was flowing smoothly at that particular point in time, and very few cars were on the Express Lanes on the left. This morning was the first rush hour since the toll roads opened early Saturday morning. 

The Washington Post reported later that there was a four-car collision at around 6 a.m. near the Braddock Road entrance to the beltway and that there were six accidents, all at that location, since the Express Lanes opened. 
Tim Steinhilber, Transurban’s general manager for the 495 Express Lanes Project, acknowledged the problem, stating, “We are currently looking to make enhancements where there has been driver confusion in the Springfield interchange area at the southern end of the Express Lanes.”
The merge areas will be extended and drivers will be alerted sooner about the entrance to the Express Lanes at the Springfield interchange. In addition, new pavement markings saying “E-ZPass Only” will be added approximately one mile and again one half mile before Express Lanes entrances.

Virginia State Police are urging drivers not to back up they get on the Express Lanes by mistake. If that happens, the best thing to do is continue until the next exit and pay the toll online.
With the beltway uncrowded, you’d expect the tolls to be at the lowest rate. Drivers heading toward the beltway from central Annandale this morning would have seen from the sign posted next to Woodburn Elementary School (below) that the toll was 35 cents to I-66, 65 cents to Westpark Drive (a new exit point in Tysons Corner after Route 7), and $1.10 to “I-495-N,” which apparently means the end of the Express Lanes after the Dulles Toll Road.

The sign alerting drivers to beltway toll amounts.
When the beltway traffic is heavy, like it probably will be later this week as people head out of town for Thanksgiving (and many people will be confused about the new system), the tolls will likely rise to the maximum amount, which would be $1.25 a mile. Traveling the entire 14-mile length of the Express Lanes would then cost as much as $17.50. Transurban has the option of raising the tolls at any time during its 75-year contract.

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