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Express Lanes: A quick way to go broke?

Wednesday - 4/25/2012, 12:39pm  ET

beltway_traffic
The Beltway Express Lanes, which will cost around $5 or $6, are supposed to alleviate traffic congestions for a fee. (WTOP/File)

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Drivers are expected to have access to the Beltway Express Lanes between Springfield and Dulles Toll Road by the end of the year.

When the project opens, they'll have to decide whether time saved is worth the cost.

The concept behind the Express Lanes -- formerly as known as the High Occupancy Toll Lanes or HOT Lanes -- is for drivers to pay a toll for a fast, predictable trip. But is $5 or $6 worth that predictable trip on the Beltway at a minimum speed of 45 mph?

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 that some will choose not to pay and traffic will continue moving.

"Very few people (will) go the entire 14 miles," says Tim Steinhilber, general manager for the 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."

Those numbers depend on the volume of traffic on a given day.

The estimated opening date for the Beltway Express Lanes now stands at December 2012, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Two new lanes are being added in each direction.

The current cost estimate is $1.9 billion. The project is being funded with both public and private money. Australian-based Transurban-Fluor is the private party investing in the project.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)