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New Ride On I-95 In Northern Virginia Will Be Pricey

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Transurban hopes the wide open toll lanes will attract drivers fed up with traffic on the crowded stretch of I-95.
Martin Di Caro/WAMU
Transurban hopes the wide open toll lanes will attract drivers fed up with traffic on the crowded stretch of I-95.

Commuting in the I-95 corridor in Northern Virginia is about to change, possibly for the better, but the faster ride will not be cheap unless you are in an HOV-3 carpool.

The typical toll on the 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of EZ Pass-only toll lanes between Garrisonville Road in Stafford County and Edsall Road in Fairfax County, is expected to cost between $6 and $8, according to the construction conglomerate hired by Virginia to pave the asphalt and erect the toll gantries, Fluor-Transurban. And that is for using only a portion of the road, as the typical trip length is expected to run about 10 miles. HOV-3 carpoolers ride free 24/7.

What you will pay will vary depending on where you enter and exit the Express Lanes. The southern stretch where traffic volume is lighter could cost about 20 cents per mile. The northern stretch, heading into the Springfield interchange where traffic volume is heavy on a normal workday, could run about 80 cents per mile.

Fluor-Transurban does not expect the average commuter to use the Express Lanes every day. The tolls will be priced dynamically; the higher the volume in the new lanes, the higher the toll charged in order to keep traffic moving at the speed limit.

The 95 Express Lanes are expected to open before the end of the year. Transurban will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony next Wednesday at which time an opening date may be announced.

In a media-only tour of Virginia’s new toll highway on Thursday, construction crews were seen wrapping up work along miles and miles of empty lanes that were flanked by the old lanes I-95, bogged down in a bumper-to-bumper crawl at midday. Every few miles a sign reminded motorists to sign up for EZ Pass.

“We want folks to continue to get the EZ Pass, or EZ Pass Flex if you are a carpooler. We are about to pass under a huge banner right here that reminds people of the need for EZ Pass,” said Michael McGurk, a Transurban spokesman, during the tour on the first segment of the Express Lanes, 8.3 miles of reversible lanes from Garrisonville Road (southern terminus) to Dumfries Road.

A recent Fluor-Transurban survey determined only 32 percent of current I-95 carpoolers have obtained the necessary EZ Pass Flex transponder that will be necessary to enjoy free rides in the Express Lanes.

The survey also found many motorists are unfamiliar with the coming changes, potentially leading to driver confusion and the same reluctance to try the new lanes that is partly responsible for the relatively light use of Fluor-Transurban’s other Northern Virginia project: the 495 Express Lanes along the Beltway. The 495 Express Lanes lost $51 million last year, the first full year of operation.

Some commuters will not approve of the new rules of the road.

While carpoolers will not have to structure their trips around the current operating windows (6 to 9 a.m. northbound, for example) individual drivers who currently start their northbound commutes after 9 a.m. when the HOV lanes open to all traffic will need an EZ Pass to pay a toll once the Express Lanes open.

As far as Fluor-Transurban in concerned, the new rules of the road allow motorists to pay a toll any time of the day for a faster ride, an improvement over the current situation.

“You don’t have to time your travel around that restriction anymore, but it is worth knowing the rules are 24/7,” McGurk said.

The current lane reversal schedule will not change under the Express Lanes operation. The HOV lanes will be open northbound until 11 a.m, closed to all traffic between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and then open southbound for the rest of the day. Approximately 200,000 vehicles use the I-95 corridor in Northern Virginia each day, including thousands of carpool vehicles.

The 95 Express Lanes are the result of a public-private partnership between Virginia and Transurban.

Under the agreement, Virginia gets an expanded highway for contributing less than 10 percent of the project's estimated $925 million cost. Transurban will receive the toll revenue for 75 years as a return on its investment. If profits exceed a certain threshold, the state may share in toll revenues.

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