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New I-495 HOT Lanes Opening Later This Fall

Transurban shows off high-tech command center

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Transurban's command center allows them to monitor congestion and dynamically control toll rates.
Martin Di Caro
Transurban's command center allows them to monitor congestion and dynamically control toll rates.

After being mired in construction for the last five years, the 495 Express Lanes between the Dulles Toll Road and the Interstate 395/95 interchange will soon be open for motorists. On Wednesday, the highway's operators opened their command center in Alexandria, Va.

The center will operate around the clock, with staffers monitoring traffic volume in order to compute toll rates. The new roadway — connecting the Dulles Toll Road to the I-395/I-95/Springfield interchange 14 miles to the south — will charge drivers dynamic tolls, meaning the price will change depending on traffic volume. The more traffic, the higher the toll.

"Three times per mile we will have detector stations that will give our control center here information regarding what is the volume of traffic and what is the speed of traffic," says Rob Kerns, the operations manager for Transurban.

The private sector company, based out of Melbourne, Australia, invested $1.5 billion in a public-private partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia. The state put up $400 million for the road and Transurban footed the rest in exchange for toll revenues for the next 75 years.

Transurban is required to keep traffic moving at least 45 miles per hour, so if traffic slows down, higher tolls will deter drivers from taking the Express Lane. The average toll during busy times will be $3 to $6, buses, motorcycles and carpoolers operating for free. The exact pricing structure has not yet been determined, as the company is waiting to see how commuters respond to the prices.

"The tolls are set minute to minute based on what's actually happening out there," says said Jennifer Aument, a project spokeswoman. "We won't know until the road opens how drivers are reacting to different toll prices."

The lanes are set to open at an unspecified date before the end of the year, so the company is urging drivers to sign up for an E-ZPass now. Carpoolers are being asked to jump on the bandwagon as well — an E-ZPass flex is required to skip the tolls, and it does carry a $1 per month fee.

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