Ari Ashe, wtop.com
SPRINGFIELD, Va. - Drivers will get a chance to use the Beltway Express Lanes for free this April 6 and April 7, a move the lanes' operating company hopes will allow drivers to become more familiar with the new byways.
"You won't need an E-ZPass for just this weekend, and if you do have an E-ZPass, you won't be charged," says Pierce Coffee, spokesman for Transurban, which operates the lanes.
"We'll let you get that test drive when you're not running late to work or going to a meeting. Try the 495 Express Lanes, figure out, for example, if the Westpark Drive is best for you or Jones Branch Drive in Tysons is helpful."
Coffee says the free trip on this Saturday and Sunday is unrelated to January numbers, which showed ridership below expectations, losing $11.3 million in the first six weeks of operation.
Rather, he says this promotion was planned since the beginning.
Transurban, a private company that entered into a public-private partnership to build and operate the 495 Express Lanes, is expected to release Express Lane ridership numbers for the first quarter of 2013 within the next two weeks. The company is involved in the I-95 Express Lanes, which are currently being constructed.
"The 495 Express Lanes are a new option in the area. And just like any new product, we making sure that drivers know it's out there and you can use the Express Lanes," Coffee says.
Several drivers between Springfield and Tysons seem willing to try the Express Lanes, but few told WTOP that it would make a permanent impact.
"I am not going to start using the lanes on a regular basis unless traffic continues to get worse, and even then I would have to gut check over the price," says Eric Smith of Alexandria.
"I would probably use it next weekend if I am in town, but would it change my everyday usage? Probably not unless I knew it would save me time," Smith says.
Tamarie Addarich says she doesn't drive the Capital Beltway every day because she lives in Woodbridge, but does like to go Tysons Corner to shop.
"I will try it definitely. Then I will know how to use them, which lanes to take, especially in a traffic emergency," she says.
Amit Ranga also doesn't drive on the Express Lanes, even though he lives in Annandale. He says his commute does not often involve the Beltway.
"Despite that, we'll give it a try. It's nice weather, so maybe we'll take a trip to Tysons," he says. "Will it change my daily life? Probably not."
However, Gary Hinson of Springfield loves the Express Lanes. He says he uses the lanes every day and the route cuts down on his commute and relieves a lot of stress.
"I think it's a great idea to do that (the free weekend) so that other people can understand just how much easier life is when you use the Express Lanes. Although, I am a little worried because I don't want to the Express Lanes to get crowded. I enjoy that they're pretty wide open and it's a pretty consistent, stress-free trip," Hinson says.
Coffee says drivers that use the Express Lanes love them, so she hopes the free test will produce higher ridership and revenue for Transurban in the future.
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