Virginia HOT lanes
Virginia HO/T lanes refers to two separate projects in the U.S. state of Virginia. The first project, completed in November 2012, has added high-occupancy/toll (HO/T) lanes to the Capital Beltway (I-495) in Fairfax County. The second project, opened to the public in December 2014, involved converting and extending the existing reversible high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on I-95 and I-395 to HO/T lanes from Stafford to near Alexandria.
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 HO/T 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 parkland) 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. State Police positioned at toll plazas are notified electronically if a vehicle is using the EZ-Pass Flex in HOV mode. If the officer suspects the vehicle does not meet the occupancy requirement, they will stop the vehicle and verify. First time HOV violators in Virginia face a minimum $1500 fine.
The speed limit on the lanes was increased from 55 mph to 65 mph on June 24, 2013, after a VDOT study concluded 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 to assess whether the limit could be increased.
95 Express Lanes
The 95 Express Lanes project is a separate public-private partnership to construct and operate HO/T lanes on a 29-mile portion of the existing reversible HOV-3 facility on I-95 and I-395. The project included construction of a nine-mile (14 km) extension of the reversible lanes from their previous southern terminus near Virginia Route 234 to Garrisonville Road (Route 610) in Stafford County. The project also added a third reversible lane within the carriageway's existing footprint from the Prince William Parkway (Virginia State Route 294) to the project's northern terminus between Duke Street (Virginia State Route 236) and Edsall Road, just south of the City of Alexandria limits; to the north of this point, the reversible facility continues to operate as it did prior to the high-occupancy/toll project. The 95 Express Lanes began HO/T operations on December 29, 2014. The project had opened two weeks earlier and operated under the older HOV rules until tolling began.
Road improvements included:
- Making improvements to the existing two HOV lanes for 6 miles (9.7 km) from Route 234 to the Prince William Parkway.
- Widening the existing reversible carriageway from two lanes to three lanes for 14 miles (23 km) from the Prince William Parkway to approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the Springfield Interchange in the vicinity of Edsall Road.
- Adding new or improved access points in the areas of Garrisonville Road, Joplin Road, Prince William Parkway, Fairfax County Parkway (Virginia State Route 286), Franconia-Springfield Parkway (Virginia State Route 289), I-495, and in the vicinity of Edsall Road.
- VDOT advanced plans to construct a new ramp at I-395 and Seminary Road for the Mark Center, concurrent with (but separate from) the HO/T lanes project. As of January 2015, the ramp is under construction.
- VDOT also expanded park-and-ride lots and funded other local transit improvements to maximize the benefit of the new HO/T lanes network.
- VDOT advanced studies to support the ultimate extension of HO/T lanes on I-95 south of Route 610 into Spotsylvania County.
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 contending 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 HO/T lanes at Edsall Road in Fairfax County, avoiding the City of Alexandria and Arlington County. As a result, the three-lane portion of the reversible carriageway, and the HO/T rules, end just north of Edsall Road. North of that point, the reversible lanes operate under the pre-existing rules imposing an HOV-3 restriction during peak hours, allowing all traffic at other times, and not requiring an E-ZPass. Drivers paying the HO/T lane tolls with fewer than three people in a vehicle are not permitted to to use the reversible lanes all the way into Washington during the morning rush hour and must instead exit the reversible lanes at a new ramp north of Edsall Road constructed as part of the HO/T project; similarly, during the afternoon rush hour toll-payers with fewer than three people in a vehicle may not enter the reversible lanes north of that same location.
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 HO/T lanes were extended all the way to Washington, passenger utilization of the reversible lanes might decline if drivers chose to pay HO/T 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.
- Craig, Tim (2007-12-21). "Deals Clinched on HOT Lanes". The Washington Post. p. B01. Retrieved December 21, 2007.
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- "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". Virginiadot.org. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
- "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
- "What are Sluglines". Sluglines.