A look inside: Beltway express lanes will change your commute

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – It’s a project that could significantly change the way you commute, but there are plenty of questions about how the express lanes being built on the Virginia side of the Capital Beltway will function.

The first thing to remember is that the lanes are now officially dubbed “express lanes” and not “HOT lanes” as they were called before.

Secondly, a new website offers answers to many questions about the express lanes.

One question WTOP gets asked frequently is how the people in charge of the lanes will know that drivers have the required number of people — 3 or more — to use the lanes for free, and that they are not HOV cheaters.

In addition to needing an E-ZPass that can switch to carpool mode, there will also be a police force solely dedicated to visually inspecting cars to make sure vehicles have the required number of people in the car. Overhead sensors will alert police positioned ahead that carpool cars are approaching.

Drivers can use the lanes for free if they have three or more people in their car. Any less than that, drivers have to pay a toll. The more the lanes are used, the higher the tolls. The idea is that some commuters will be priced out of the lanes and traffic will be able to continue moving.

Drivers are promised a speedy commute of at least 45 miles per hour. There are no toll booths, and the road will be an entirely electronic system.

The estimated opening date for the Beltway express lanes between Springfield and just north of the Dulles Toll Road now stands at December 2012, according to 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 by 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.)

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