WASHINGTON -- While Virginia's new electronically tolled I-495 Express lanes opened for business on Saturday after years of construction, they're going through their first big test this week: weekday rush hour on the Capital Beltway. And some drivers have been befuddled by the new lanes work and causing accidents in the process.
The new limited-access lanes, a public-private partnership between Virginia and Fluor Transurban, offer drivers and carpools with an EZ-PASS electronic toll transponder to bypass traffic in the Beltway's regular lanes for 14 miles between a point near the Springfield Interchange and a point north of the Dulles Toll Road/VA-267.
Fluor Transurban is guaranteeing a minimum speed on the HOT lanes of 45 miles an hour. That means the toll price will vary according to demand to maintain the steady flow of traffic. The companies estimate that the average ride will cost between $3 and $6 (tolls will be in effect at all hours of the day, not just during rush hour). But there’s no ceiling to what the system may charge drivers to achieve that goal, if it turns out everyone heading to Tysons Corner is willing to pay a ton of money to get there.
The whole concept has been touted by the state and its private partners as a novel solution to pay for infrastructure, to incentivize carpooling, and to cut down on congestion on the Beltway even for cars traveling in the old-timey lanes.
The lanes are confusing some drivers and there have already been a handful of accidents involving the I-495 Express lanes reported since Saturday. WTOP reports that while the entrance to the new tolled Express lanes are well marked, the regular non-tolled through lanes are not:
One area of confusion is near the Braddock Road exit, where the lanes start.
Four crashes occurred Saturday after the lanes opened. In those crashes, police said drivers suddenly swerved or made a sudden lane change to avoid the toll lanes.
The WTOP Traffic Center over the weekend received reports that some drivers entered the Express Lanes by mistake and then backed up to try to get back on the non-toll lanes.
Learn more about how the lanes work here.