Two months later: How are people using the Beltway Express Lanes?

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Nearly two months after the Beltway Express Lanes opened, drivers have mixed experiences.

“I love them. It has cut my commute from Burke to Falls Church in half. Now it only takes me about 25 minutes to get to work,” says Sari Lerner, who teaches at a Falls Church elementary school.

“I’ve only taken one trip on them to get familiar with them,” says Gabe Goldberg of Falls Church.

So far, most people seem to side with Goldberg.

During the first six week of operation, an average of 23,308 workday users have driven on the lanes, according to Transurban data released on Friday.

“Demand at this point in the ramp up phase is lower than anticipated as local traffic patterns and user preferences adjust,” says Transurban spokeswoman Pierce Coffee. “While the initial numbers are below expectations we believe that it will take a minimum of six months of operations to establish any reliable trends. We are pleased with the effectiveness of the tolling system as well as the positive feedback we have heard from customers.”

Goldberg says he wants to use the Express Lanes, but only if they will save him time.

“The problem is that I cannot tell what the toll lanes will do for me until I’ve already committed,” says Goldberg. “VDOT and Transurban need to show people with all the signs approaching the toll lanes what they’ll get on them. Either how long it will take on the main Beltway or how much time you’ll save by taking the toll lanes.”

Goldberg points to other locations along I-66 and I-95 in both Virginia and Maryland that offer drivers how long it’ll take to get to various landmarks.

If that information were available, Goldberg says he would definitely use the lanes more.

“For me, they’re worth it. A lot less stress and peace of mind,” says Lerner.

“Sitting in a car for an hour after a long day of work is not what you want to be doing. ”

As far as accidents, those numbers have gone down.

Virginia State Police says between Dec. 1, and Jan. 5, there were seven crashes on the Beltway Express Lanes.

Those seven crashes are out of 170 total in the region during that same period.

“The northbound entrance below Braddock Road (Springfield entrance) has been the Achilles Heel since the opening in November, but has also seen major improvement,” Sgt. Kerry Allander of Virginia State Police tells WTOP.

“Through signage, additional lane markings, physical barrier modifications and media campaigns, driver behavior has been much more desirable. Future modifications are currently being considered and we are hoping by spring these will be put in place.”

“Many travelers have adjusted to the new travel patterns and have become more aware of the Express Lanes entry points since opening,” says Coffee, who encourages drivers to go online to learn about the lanes before using them.

Lerner was one of those who did just that, waiting more than a week before she took her first trip.

“I made sure to do my research about where I’d be getting on, where I’d be getting off. I also pay attention to the signs. I feel they are very clearly marked,” says Lerner.

“If I can spend a little bit of money and avoid gridlock on the Beltway, I would definitely use the Express Lanes. I would look at that as causing less wear and tear on my car, and on my psyche,” says Goldberg.

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