FALLS CHURCH, Va. – A change the Virginia Department of Transportation hopes to make in the spring will give Capital Beltway drivers a better idea of whether it’s worth their time and money to take the 495 Express Lanes.
VDOT plans to post signs indicating how long the commute is from one point to another, similar the signs drivers now see along Interstate 66 in Virginia and I- 95 in Maryland.
VDOT currently can’t post travel travel times that separate how long the delays are for the main lines versus the toll lanes.
“Our travel times are derived from Inrix Traffic data. Currently, Inrix cannot separate the travel times between (main) lanes and Express Lanes, as only pylons separate the lanes,” says Hari K. Sripathi, VDOT regional operations director.
“Therefore, travel times we get are an average or a combination of the two which is a skewed result.”
Posting the combined travel times wouldn’t make sense because it wouldn’t provide actionable information to drivers, VDOT says.
However, VDOT and Inrix Traffic are working together to solve the problem.
“In the next few months, when we receive accurate data from Inrix, we will try to post the travel times for the (main) lanes. The location of the signs are not optimal, but we will do our best,” says Sripathi.
Some drivers say they’re hesitant to use the new Express Lanes, which charge tolls based how much congestion there is.
Gabe Goldberg of Falls Church is a driver who says having the additional information would help him decide whether to hop in the Express Lanes.
“The problem is that I cannot tell what the toll lanes will do for me until I’ve already committed,” Goldberg says.
“I have seen signs on I-66 and I-95 that’ll say to some landmark, ’16 miles, 23 minutes.’ If I had cues like that, I would be able to tell the Beltway is congested and I need to pay the toll, or the Beltway is moving rapidly and I don’t.”
“So far, I haven’t felt like taking a risk of driving on the toll lanes when the Beltway was moving at highway speed. But if they put up more information, that would change things,” says Goldberg.
The number of people using the 495 Express Lanes is lower than the operator Transurban projected.
Since opening two months ago, Transurban reports an average of 18,594 vehicles use the lanes every day. During the first six weeks, the average jumped to 23,308 Monday through Friday.