Virginia HOT lanes
|This article is outdated. (November 2012)|
Virginia HOT lanes refers to two separate projects. The first project, completed in November 2012, has added high occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes to the Capital Beltway (I-495) in Fairfax County, Virginia. The second project, which is under construction, involves converting the existing reversible high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on I-95 and I-395 to High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes from Stafford, Virginia, to near Alexandria, Virginia.
495 Express Lanes
The 495 Express Lanes, also known as the E-ZPass Express Lanes, are a 14-mile segment of I-495 extending from the Springfield Interchange to a point north of the Dulles Toll Road. The project began when Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) signed an agreement with Fluor Corporation and Transurban in April 2005 to create HOT lanes between Springfield and Georgetown Pike. A contract was finalized on December 20, 2007, and construction began in the summer of 2008.
During construction, the existing eight-lane (four lanes per carriageway) Beltway was widened to a 12-lane facility consisting of four general-purpose lanes per side and two high-occupancy/toll express lanes per side located to the left of the general-purpose lanes. Construction required replacement of more than 50 overpasses and bridges and the reconstruction of ten interchanges. The project also added direct connections between the Capital Beltway and the I-95/I-395 HOV lanes. The project cost $1.4 billion and was controversial due to concerns over its cost-effectiveness and the environmental effects (such as surface runoff and use of park land) of widening the Capital Beltway.
The lanes opened on November 17, 2012. Buses, motorcycles, and vehicles with three or more people are able to use the express lanes for free; other vehicles must pay a toll. The toll rates change dynamically according to traffic conditions, which in turn regulates demand for the lanes and keep them operating at high speeds. Tolls are collected solely via electronic means using E-ZPass transponders. No cash toll booths are offered. All vehicles using the Express Lanes, including those traveling free under the HOV provision, must have a transponder; in order to travel free, vehicles need an E-ZPass Flex switchable transponder so the driver can indicate whether the vehicle qualifies for free passage. There are 11 entry/exit points to the lanes.
The speed limit on the lanes was increased from 55 mph to 65 mph on June 24, 2013, after a VDOT study was conducted and concluded that an increase would not pose a safety risk. Transportation officials said they always expected the speed limit to be increased, but they needed to open the lanes with a 55 mph speed limit to observe how the lanes operated and assess whether the limit could be increased.
95 Express Lanes project
The 95 Express Lanes project is a separate public-private partnership to construct and operate HOT lanes on a 29-mile portion of the existing reversible HOV-3 facility on I-95 and I-395. The reversible lanes are to be extended from the existing southern terminus near Virginia Route 234 to Garrisonville Road (Route 610) in Stafford County. A third reversible lane will be added from the Prince William Parkway to the project's northern terminus between Duke Street and Edsall Road, just south of the Alexandria city limits; to the north of this point, the reversible facility will continue to operate as it did prior to the high-occupancy/toll project.
The original proposal was for the lanes to extend the entire length of the then-existing HOV facility, reaching the District of Columbia. The plan faced opposition from Arlington County, which houses a 4.5 mile stretch of I-395; the county filed a lawsuit demanding an environmental review of the proposal and contended that the lanes would create congestion on streets traveling to and from I-395. In February 2011, VDOT said the lawsuit created a "detrimental" delay to the project, with Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton saying, "We can no longer wait to deliver congestion relief and new travel choices." VDOT announced a modified plan that ends the HOT lanes at Edsall Road in Fairfax County, avoiding the City of Alexandria and Arlington County. Under the revised plan, the third lane will end at Edsall Road and revert to HOV format; drivers paying the HOT tolls with fewer than three people in a vehicle would not be entitled to use the reversible lanes all the way into Washington. Construction of the I-95 Express Lanes began in August 2012 and is scheduled to be complete sometime in 2015.
Since the original portion of the HOV facility opened in the 1970s, an informal car pool system called "slugging" has evolved around the reversible lanes. Drivers of cars with only one or two passengers stop at designated points and pick up strangers in order to meet the HOV-3 requirement. Members of the slugging community contended that if the HOT lanes were extended all the way to Washington, passenger utilization of the reversible lanes might decline if drivers chose to pay HOT tolls instead of picking up passengers from slug lines. The impact on the slug lines was not addressed by VDOT or its private sector vendors in the original proposal.
- I-495 Construction progress
- Craig, Tim (2007-12-21). "Deals Clinched on HOT Lanes". The Washington Post. p. B01. Retrieved December 21, 2007.
- "I-495 HOT Lanes". Virginia Megaprojects. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
- "HOT Lanes: Will people be willing to pay for them?". WTOP-FM. Retrieved 2010-03-01.
- "Express Lanes". Transurban (USA) Operations Inc. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
- "Frequently Asked Questions". I-495 HOT Lanes. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
- Speed Limit Increases On 495 Express Lanes In Northern Va. On June 24
- Beltway Express Lanes speed limit raised to 65 mph
- "I-95 HOV/HOT Lanes". Virginia Megaprojects. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
- "Virginia Advances New I-95 HOV/HOT Lanes Project and New Ramp To Seminary Road at Mark Center" (Press release). Virginia Dept. of Transportation. February 3, 2010. Retrieved 2011-02-03.
- New HOT lane plan for Virginia's I-95 corridor
- "95 Express Lanes Construction". Transurban (USA) Operations Inc. Retrieved 2013-05-16.