What you need to know: Express Lanes Q&A

WASHINGTON – The new 95 Express Lanes are set to open soon.

Sprawl and Crawl reporter Ari Ashe answers commuters’ questions about the toll lanes ahead of the opening.

Questions

Answers

Where do the Express Lanes run?

The Express Lanes will run 29 miles, from Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to just north of Edsall Road in the Fairfax County portion of Alexandria.

What happens to the HOV lanes?

The HOV lanes will no longer exist in the 29-mile stretch, but will change into toll lanes on which HOV vehicles can still drive for free. Those without HOV3+ can also now ride the lanes at all times, every day, but must pay a toll to do so. However, between Edsall Road and the 14th Street Bridge-D.C. line, the standard HOV lanes and HOV restrictions will remain.

When will the 95 Express Lanes open?

The toll lanes will open to the general public on Monday, Dec. 29.

I’m a carpooler or slugger, what do I need to do now?

In order to continue receiving the free trip that you’re used to, you’ll need to purchase an E-ZPass Flex. Drivers can purchase an E-ZPass Flex at select DMVs, Wegmans, Giant and AAA Mid-Atlantic stores or online. Once you receive the Flex, mount it to your front windshield with the Velcro strips and switch the transponder into “HOV ON” mode when you have HOV 3+ to ride the Express Lanes for free.

Will my Maryland-issued E-ZPass work?

Yes; all E-ZPass transponders work, regardless of which state issued them.

If you know you’re going to frequently carpool, you’ll want to trade in your traditional E-ZPass for an EZ-Pass Flex. If you are not going to carpool, then your traditional E-ZPass will work fine to pay the necessary toll on the 95 Express Lanes.

What is the difference between the E-ZPass and the E-ZPass
Flex?

The only difference is that the Flex has an HOV ON switch and the regular E-ZPass does not. Otherwise, the two devices are identical.

Will the E-ZPass Flex be read on the Dulles Toll Road, Greenway, Intercounty Connector, or at bridges?

Yes; the HOV ON switch only sends a signal that earns you a free trip on the 495 and 95 Express Lanes. Otherwise, it works like a normal E-ZPass. Even if you forgot to switch the HOV ON switch into the OFF position, other toll roads and booths would just read the E-ZPass like a normal transponder.

I live in Maryland. How can I get an E-ZPass Flex?

Both Virginia and Maryland E-ZPass offer the Flex transponder. Just call the Maryland E-ZPass center and tell the customer service representative that you want to exchange your E-ZPass for an E-ZPass Flex. Once you get the Flex in the mail, you’ll be required to send back your other transponder.

I drive alone to work. Can I use the Express Lanes during rush hours?

Yes, but there is an important asterisk — The Express Lanes end near Edsall Road in Alexandria.

From Edsall Road to the 14th Street Bridge, the standard HOV lanes remain with the same rules as today. Arlington sued VDOT in 2009 to stop the Express Lanes from continuing to the D.C. border.

During the AM rush hour, you can pay a toll to Edsall Road. Then, you must exit at Turkeycock Run to the main lanes. If not, you risk getting a $50 ticket for an HOV violation on I-395 in Arlington. During the PM rush hour, you cannot get into the HOV lanes until the Express Lanes begin near Edsall Road.

Outside of the rush hours, anyone can remain on the Express Lanes when they turn into HOV lanes between Edsall Road and Washington D.C. border.

Will HOV 3+ cars be able to ride for free on the 95 Express Lanes midday and on weekends?

Yes. Anyone with HOV3+ with an E-ZPass Flex turned to HOV ON mode will get a free trip at any time on any day. Anyone without HOV3+ must pay a toll at all times, every day. The 95 Express Lane rules will not change based on the time of day, or day of the week.

What will happen to the HOV/95 Express Lanes between rush hours and on weekends, when the lanes used to be open to all?

Between Edsall Road and the D.C. border, the rules you are used to today will remain. The “open to all” rules will still apply during off-peak hours. However, between Edsall Road and Garrisonville Road, vehicles without three or more people will have to pay a toll to remain on the 95 Express Lanes.

I ride a motorcycle. Do I need to pay a toll?

No; you do not. Under the agreement between VDOT and Transurban from 2005, mass transit vehicles, commuter buses, school buses, motorcycles are not charged a toll.

What about hybrid vehicles with special Virginia plates?

Yes; hybrid cars with special plates will have to pay a toll unless it is HOV3+. The deal between VDOT and Transurban from 2005 does not exempt such vehicles from paying a toll. However, in the HOV lanes between Edsall Road and the 14th Street Bridge, the rules will continue to allow hybrid cars with Special plates to use the lanes at all hours.

When will Transurban post what the possible toll rates are going to be?

Toll rates will vary based on real-time conditions and can fluctuate every 15 minutes. Transurban sets the toll based on how many vehicles are currently on the 95 Express Lanes, the average speed of those vehicles and the general conditions on I-95. Transurban wants to provide a 55-65 mph trip for the entire 29 miles at all hours, even during rush hours. In order to do that, Transurban wants to control the overall number of vehicles in the 95 Express Lanes.

Transurban expects the tolls to be between 20 to 80 cents per mile. During rush hours, the toll will probably range between 50 and 80 cents per mile.

During overnight hours and weekends, the rate will probably be 20 to 50 cents per mile.

For example, if you drive between the Occoquan and Edsall Road, then expect to pay between $6 to $8 during rush hours and $2 to $5 in the overnight and on weekends.

I’m going to drive the entire 29 miles from Stafford to Alexandria. Can I Lock in one toll at Garrisonville Road?

No, you will have to pay two tolls. Transurban will charge one toll from Garrisonville Road to the Fairfax County Parkway, then another to Edsall Road.

Transurban expects most of the traffic on I-95 to be between the Fairfax County Parkway and Edsall Road, and says traffic conditions could change in Fairfax County while a driver travels between Stafford and Prince William County.

Therefore, a commuter can only lock in a rate until Fairfax County Parkway, then must decide whether to pay a second toll to Edsall Road, or avoid the toll and exit into the main lanes.

Will the 95 Express Lanes be reversible?

Yes, the 95 Express Lanes will be reversible just like the HOV lanes today. This is different from the 495 Express Lanes, which are not reversible. The 95 Express Lanes will reverse on a very similar schedule to the current HOV Lanes.

How will Virginia State Police enforce the E-ZPass Flex on I-95 to catch cheaters?

When the E-ZPass Flex interacts with the overhead toll gantries, it sends a signal to the computers inside the police cruisers to denote the trip is an HOV3+ trip. A special light can also illuminate to notify the officer that an HOV3+ trip is in progress. Then, as on I-66 or I-395, the officer will check to see how many passengers are in the vehicle.

Remember — during morning and afternoon rush hours, HOV restrictions are in place on I-395 from Edsall Road to the Washington D.C. border. If you’re caught cheating on either the 95 Express Lanes or the 395 HOV Lanes, the ticket is $125. A second violation is $250; a third, $500; a fourth, $1,000.

What should holiday or vacation travelers coming through our area with three or more people do?

If the traveler is simply passing through the region and does not live or travel through Virginia and Maryland on a regular basis, then it would make more sense to use a standard E-ZPass. You will have to pay a toll, but it’s easier than signing up for an E-ZPass Flex that carries an inactivity fee.

If you don’t own an E-ZPass and your state doesn’t offer one, then you do not want to use the lanes because you’ll get a bill in the mail with $12.50 in administrative fees per trip. The E-ZPass Flex is designed for people who regularly travel the corridor with HOV3+.

Will there be any toll from the Springfield Interchange to the end of the 95 Express Lanes?

Yes. From the Springfield Interchange to just north of Edsall Road is about two miles. During the a.m. or p.m. rush hours, expect to pay about $1 to $1.65. During off-peak hours, expect to pay 40 cents to $1. Remember, Edsall Road to the 14th Street Bridge are restricted to HOV3+ users during a.m. and p.m. rush.

Will there still be free lanes when the Express Lanes open?

Yes. The Express Lanes will only replace the current HOV lanes from Garrisonville Road to Edsall Road. Nothing changes on the free general purpose lanes during the 29 mile stretch.

What will be the pricing for carpoolers who enter and exit the Express Lanes/HOV Lanes from Old Keene Mill Road after picking up sluggers? Will there be a cheaper toll because they are using the toll road for such a short distance?

For slugging, you won’t pay a toll. However, you need to get an E-ZPass Flex, mount it to your front windshield and put it into HOV ON mode to have a free trip for all your sluggers. For non-HOV3+ users, you will have to pay a toll even though it is a short distance. But you probably won’t pay much.

The 495 Express Lanes tolls were $14 during when a road collapse closed a significant stretch of the George Washington Parkway. Could this happen on the 95 Express Lanes?

Yes. Although generally during rush hours tolls on the 495 Express Lanes range from 60 to 80 cents per mile, tolls can go higher. During the parkway closure, the tolls increased to about $1 per mile because, operator Transurban says, so many drivers wanted to use the toll lanes as a workaround. It is possible that tolls could be higher than normal when future incidents wreck the commute in Northern Virginia. Transurban wants to keep traffic moving at 55 to 65 mph in the toll lanes regardless of shutdowns or gridlock.

Will I be able to get off at my normal exit from the 95 Express Lanes?

It depends. Like the 495 Express Lanes, the 95 Express Lanes will have limited exits and some locations will not have exit ramps. For example, certain exits in Quantico, Dumfries and Triangle do not have corresponding 95 Express Lanes exits. If you plan to use the 95 Express Lanes, you should go to the Transurban website, find your exit now, and plan ahead before your first trip.

Would the tolls be suspended if there is a major accident or weather incident that forces all the main lanes to be shut down completely?

Here is the answer from Transurban: A few times the main lanes have been diverted into the 495 Express Lanes due to total blockage of main line. It was extremely slow during the George Washington Parkway incident, but traffic was still moving. “If a total blockage occurs due to a severe weather scenario, it’s even more likely that tolls would be suspended. I would say it’s unlikely tolls would be suspended, but VDOT still makes the call.”

When the Lexus Lanes open up, will there be a toll between D.C. and Edsall Road Southbound in the afternoon? Will it be possible to exit the HOV Lanes in the Edsall Road area and thus avoid the toll lane altogether?

No. There will not be a toll between D.C. and Edsall Road southbound in the afternoon. The same HOV rules will apply as now because this stretch is not a toll road. Those using the HOV lanes southbound will be able to exit before Edsall Road to avoid paying a toll.

When the lanes open this weekend, the current HOV rules apply during the same hours and the only thing opening is the additional stretch to Garrisonville, correct? Those of us without HOV 3+ will still need to wait to utilize the lanes either when the HOT lines go live on Dec. 29 or during non-HOV hours, correct?

Yes, clean fuel plates can ride for free until Dec. 29. But starting at approximately 2 am on Dec. 29, clean fuel plates will no longer get a free ride in the toll lanes unless they are HOV3+ with an E-ZPass Flex. But the stretch between Edsall Road and the DC border will remain HOV Lanes beyond Dec. 29. Thus clean fuel vehicles with special plates can ride this stretch for free, even during rush hours.

Once the new 95 Express Lanes take effect, will I be able to continue pulling my trailer? If so, will there be any additional cost associated with doing so?

No, you cannot pull trailers on the 95 Express Lanes. The toll lanes are restricted to two-axle hauls. On Maryland’s Intercounty Connector, three-axle vehicles can use the road, but are charged a higher toll. On the 95 Express Lanes, the toll is the same for all non-HOV users. If you have more than two axles, or have a trailer, you cannot use the Express Lanes and a Virginia State Police trooper can pull you over and issue a ticket.

Have questions about the new 95 Express Lanes? Submit your questions to Sprawl and Crawl reporter Ari Ashe: aashe@wtop.com.

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