Wreck tests 95 Express Lanes during first rush

WASHINGTON – Despite a morning wreck that triggered major delays along Interstate 95, the new express lanes in Virginia passed its first full-scale rush hour test since opening to drivers last month.

Listeners and WTOP Traffic reported no problems as drivers entered and exited the toll lanes that begin in Stafford County and stretch all the way into Alexandria – a sharp contrast to when the 495 Express Lanes opened two years ago and confused drivers tried to back out of the lanes, causing accidents along the Beltway.

“It was smooth sailing this morning, so day one after the holidays, but definitely a great start,” said Transurban spokeswoman Pierce Coffee said WTOP’s Ask the Traffic Experts Monday.

And drivers appeared to embrace the new toll lane option. Toll rates rose to $11.30, to drive the entire 29-mile stretch, shortly after 7 a.m. as drivers sought refuge from a 14-mile backup along northbound 95, according to operator Transurban.

A multiple-car wreck closed all but one of the I-95 main lanes in Newington near the Fairfax County Parkway beginning about 6 a.m. The accident was cleared and all lanes were reopened by 7:30 a.m. but delays persisted from Dumfries to Newington for several hours. However, there were no delays in the express lanes.

The delays could have been much worse under the old HOV restrictions. The ability for solo drivers to join carpools in the lanes helped ease the backups, says WTOP Traffic morning reporter Jack Taylor.

However it’s still too soon to know just how many drivers made their Monday morning commute along the express lanes, says Coffee.

Transurban provided drivers a free, two-week trial run of the lanes before tolls were imposed beginning Dec. 29 while most of the Washington area was still on holiday vacation.

That test run and last week’s soft opening likely helped to alleviate problems encountered following the 495 Express Lanes launch in November of 2012, says Transurban’s Mike McGurk.

The better defined entry ramps likely also helped drivers decide whether to take the lanes, compared to the 495 Express Lanes, McGurk says.

But drivers who accidentally take the toll lanes can get the tolls waived, once.

“Keep going. Continue your trip. Don’t stop or slow down. And if you get that invoice in the mail, just give us a call. If it’s your first time, we’ll going to care of all those fees for you,” McGurk says.

WTOP Traffic reporter Dave Dildine paid about $8 to take the lanes on his way to work in D.C. Monday morning.

“Once I got into the express lanes, it was a smooth trip,” Dildine said. “The lanes worked out in my case.”

Here is a video of his trip:

Solo drivers need an EZ-Pass to pay the varying tolls and carpoolers need an EZ-Pass Flex to avoid paying any tolls. The lanes remain reversible to accommodate rush hour traffic.

Toll prices will vary on the lanes to control the volume of traffic and ensure drivers can maintain highway speeds. Transurban estimates that an average trip could range between 20 and 80 cents per mile.

The highest tolls so far came on Monday, Dec. 29 when the estimated peak cost for the drive southbound from Duke Street to Garrisonville Road surged to $20.05.

The average toll to use the 495 Express Lanes was less than $3 last quarter.

Virginia contributed to the $940 million project but Transurban paid for the build of the bulk of construction, which improved the former HOV lanes and extended the lanes 9 miles into Stafford County.

— Edward Shipley (@ems74) January 5, 2015

 

WTOP’s Dave Dildine contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on Facebook.

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