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The cost of a speedy Beltway commute means tolls or carpooling

Monday - 8/13/2012, 3:04pm  ET

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''For the first time, drivers will be able to put an economic value on carpooling.'' (WTOP File)

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

DALE CITY, Va. - Drivers may soon have to ask themselves if they are willing to pay a toll or join a carpool to get to work faster.

As the new Express Lane projects come online in Northern Virginia, many will simply decide to pay a toll to keep moving through rush hour traffic at 45 or 55 miles per hour. But could the option to simply pay a toll discourage carpooling altogether?

"No, in fact I think it is going to end up encouraging people," Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton tells WTOP. "People [are carpooling] to save time. Now they are going to save time and money."

For the first time, drivers will be able to put an economic value on carpooling, Connaughton says.

"You can look and say, those two people saved me $5 or $10," he says.

For drivers who aren't carpooling, there's no limit on how high tolls can reach. The more the lanes are used, the higher the tolls. The idea being, some will choose not to pay and traffic will continue moving.

The Beltway project, between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road, will be the first to open later this year.

"Very few people [will] go the entire 14 miles," says Tim Steinhilber, general manager of the Beltway project.

"In our traffic models, we show people go about 3 1/2 miles on the Beltway. That 3 1/2 miles, we are using an average of $5 or $6 [for the toll]. That's what we're expecting to see."

Work is just beginning on the I-95 Express Lanes project. It is expected to open in 2014.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)