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LaHood trusts Virginia on Express Lanes

Tuesday - 9/18/2012, 5:23am  ET

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he trusts Virginia's transportation leaders are making the right move with the soon-to-open Beltway Express Lanes.

Two new Express Lanes, formerly known as High Occupancy Toll Lanes, have been added to the existing Capital Beltway between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road. The lanes are scheduled to open by the end of the year.

"We've approved the tolling for Virginia because they are adding capacity. They are not just tolling a road that has been paid for by federal dollars. We don't agree with that," LaHood tells WTOP.

States are looking for creative ways to finance infrastructure projects right now, LaHood says. Public-private partnerships and tolling are ways to do it. The Beltway Express lanes take advantage of both of those concepts.

"Our best partners are governors and state departments of transportation, and we have to have confidence that what they are doing and recommending have the ability to be successful," says LaHood.

Carpools with three or more people can use the lanes, which promise a minimum speed of around 55 mph, for free.

Cars with fewer than three people can use the lanes, but those vehicles will have to pay a variable toll that will rise and fall depending on how much traffic is in the lanes. Project leaders are expecting an average of $5 or $6 for a one-way rush-hour toll on the lanes.

Carpools will need to use the new E-ZPass Flex transponder on the lanes. It has a switch that allows drivers to toggle between High Occupancy Vehicle mode of three or more people to non-HOV mode of fewer than three people.

Virginia State Police anticipate some riders might leave the switch in HOV-mode permanently and try to ride in the lanes for free. They are dedicating a force of state troopers to constantly monitor the lanes and spot HOV cheaters. Technology will alert police when a car has the flex transponder switched to carpool mode.

The current cost estimate of the Express Lanes project is $1.9 billion. It is being largely financed by private money.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)