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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gov. McDonnell: Beltway Express Lanes will relieve gridlock

The beltway as seen from the Gallows Road overpass in Annandale.

The opening of the Express Lanes on the beltway, Saturday, Nov. 17, at 2 a.m., ushers in a new era of transportation in the Annandale area.

For the first time, beltway drivers will have to decide whether it’s worth paying a toll to drive on the inner Express Lanes, which are supposed to be faster and less congested than the regular lanes.

The Express Lanes “will undo some of the gridlock up here,” Gov.Robert McDonnell said at an opening ceremony Nov. 13. “That is good news for traffic-weary Northern Virginia.” The ribbon-cutting at the Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Tysons Corner drew scores of state legislators, state and federal officials, county leaders, state police troopers, construction workers, and officials from the private companies that worked on the project.

Gov. McDonnell
You can probably expect some confusion for a while, as drivers adjust to the new system. The 14-mile stretch of Express Lanes has “dynamic pricing,” with the toll amount rising as traffic increases—up to $1.25 a mile for the busiest times.

Drivers using the Express Lanes will need to get an E-ZPass (50 cents a month) that automatically charges drivers’ online accounts. Drivers who often transport three or more people should probably get an E-ZPass Flex ($1 a month) with a switch to indicate they have a high-occupancy vehicle, which means they can use the Express Lanes for free. You’ll need to deposit $35 in your toll account to get either type of pass.

McDonnell told the audience the $2.8 billion project wouldn’t have been possible without public private collaboration and the innovative arrangement proposed by the Transurban and Fluor companies. The Transurban-Fluor partnership contributed $1.5 billion in exchange for an agreement allowing them to keep the toll revenue for 75 years.

“It’s a real win win,” added Rep. Gerry Connolly about the partnership, who said, “it took lots of collaboration to create a new model for funding infrastructure.”

“We’re looking at this as a model for leveraging scarce resources for big public projects in the future,” the governor said. Transurban-Fluor has already started working on a similar public-private partnership for high-occupancy toll lanes on I-95.

“You see pavement. I see jobs,” McDonnell told the audience, citing the $3.5 billion the beltway project pumped into Virginia’s economy. More than 200 Virginia-based subcontractors worked on the project, he said. Transurban CEO Scott Charlton said the project created  20,000 jobs.

“You don’t have to use the HOT lanes, but they are there if you need them,” Connolly said. “It is creating choices for commuters,” although “it will never solve congestion.”

The Express Lanes will encourage carpooling, predicted Victor Mendez, head of the Federal Highway Administration. “Whether you use the HOT lanes or not, you’ll spend less time stuck in traffic.” He noted the project received $589 million in federal loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.

Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, lauded Transurban-Fluor’s “Orange Cones, No Phones” campaign for changing drivers’ habits by discouraging distracted driving in construction zones.

The project includes more than 58 new bridges and ramps, but “it’s more than concrete and asphalt,” Connaughton said. It’s “truly a high-tech wonder,” with cables, sensors, and cameras built into the system to monitor traffic volume, set toll amounts, advise drivers of the current rates, and take videos to enforce the carpool restrictions.

According to Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee District), by easing congestion, the Express Lanes will result in fewer people cutting through neighborhoods to avoid the beltway. And he said the $33 million worth of new sound walls “triples the amount of noise protection” for nearby communities.

McKay said the county is adding new bus routes to Tysons Corner that will take advantage of the Express Lanes. A new Fairfax County Connector route from Burke will start in January, and routes form Lorton and Springfield will start next spring.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony.


  1. Interesting he says so, but then we as taxpayers up here in NOVA have to fund public projects that cost hundreds of millions in other parts of the state including the former I-95 bypass of Richmond, the Coalfields Expressway (a big subsidy to coal companies essentially), the Charlottesville Bypass, and Route 460 improvements.

    Hmmmm... odd how that works, those all appear to be in GOP districts of the state.

  2. I understand this to be a 99yr lease with the constructors of the express lanes, a foreign company. They receive the proceeds. So tell me how this is a win? The driver pays the toll; the revenue leaves the country, so that the Fairfax County tax payer can use that revenue to buy more junk that is made in China. I love the way our elected officials make it out that they saved the taxpayer, no they sold us out!

    The only thing that is going express is US dollars to other lands and that foreign construction company got the deal from the sucker Americans. And by the way has anyone noticed the crappy job they did on the concrete of the sound barrier walls. Not one panel is consistent with another…….what a deal!

  3. When the govt goes bankrupt - and it will at this rate if it does not slash spending - I hope we ALL get to ride in these lanes like we did on the original beltway the govt was supposed to provide for us with the high taxes we already pay.

  4. Doubt it will help the gridlock, but we will see.

    I understand that if the toll revenue is too low, the contract calls for VA taxpayers to make up the difference.

    Such a deal.

  5. I do not plan to pay tolls. As a casual driver on the beltway, I will stay off the express lanes. At least the construction mess is over.

  6. Isnt it wonderful how both Democrats and Republicans jump up to take credit for this engineering wonder. Yes, the toll money will be leaving the country and going to Transurban private company for 75 years for 14 miles. What company wouldn't jump at that investment? I guess Virginia companies won't. What happens now to the 200 Virginia subcontractors who built this. They are now out of a job until we can beg Transurban to finance another pavement wonder.

    Why don't Virginia companies and VDOT engineers do these things? State and local officials demand that automobiles take priority over all other modes of transportation in Northern Virginia. It's really up to citizens to demand other priorities. Our state and local government agencies operate from the top down by complaints. It is only when they see that enough residents/citizens want something different that they begin to think differently and take action.

  7. I questioned the project in the beginning. Then I heard from one of the engineers that most of the bridges they replaced were not in good shape anyway.I have the luxury of not having to use the Beltway most of the time and since they added the monthly surcharge to have an EZpass I won't be getting one.
    Money to China?? Transurban is an Aussy company and has offices here. I can't imagine they used to many materials from China unless this person was referring to the Federal money for the project.

  8. I am still confused. I read on wtop that there are hov lanes and express lanes. Yesterday, drivers who got onto the ramp to go onto the express lanes then started to back up because they didn't want to pay $12.50 fine for not having a transponder.

  9. You need to have EZ-Pass to use the express lanes even if you are carpooling. With the EZ-Pass Flex, you can indicate you have three or more passengers and you won't be charged a pool.

    There are no separate HOV lanes, but carpoolers can use the Express Lanes without paying a toll. If you got on the Express Lanes without having an EZ-Pass, you can pay your toll online within five days to avoid paying a fee.