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Traffic is picking up on the 495 Express Lanes in northern Virginia, according to records released by the private sector operators of the new toll lanes on the Capital Beltway.
The company that built the Express Lanes, Transurban, was struggling to convince motorists to pay a toll for a congestion-free ride, so they opened their new road, which lies right next to the non-tolled lanes, to all traffic last weekend so drivers could try it free.
Normally it's E-ZPass only to take the Express Lanes, and Transurban's most recent quarterly report says 46 percent of Beltway travelers don't have E-ZPass. That would include Keyshawn Blunt, gassing up in Tysons Corner just off the Beltway, who says that is the main reason he hasn't tried the road.
"I don't want to go through the hassle of obtaining an E-ZPass, but I also would like the convenience if there was a time I did need to use it in an emergency," he says. "I could just hop on and not worry."
If Transurban's figures are accurate, nearly half its potential customers currently don't use their new road, but commuter Tom Eaton says he has his own reasons for not using the Express Lanes more often.
"It all ends up at the same congested point at the end if you are headed from Virginia to Maryland, so you end up at the same stopping point," says Eaton.
He's talking about the brutal bottleneck on the approach to the American Legion Bridge, which happens north of the Express Lanes' end point.
Still, average daily traffic on the toll lanes is up 13 percent this quarter to 2,100 trips, and toll revenue is up by nearly 50 percent.