Toll gantry installation set to begin on I-66

Traffic flows along Interstate 66 beneath a series of overpasses near Ballston in Arlington County in this Monday, August 2016 file photo. The first of eight toll gantries will be installed early Wednesday morning between exits 71 and 72 in Ballston. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON — The installation of the first toll gantry along Interstate 66 will stop traffic in both directions briefly early Wednesday morning.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will raise the first of eight toll gantries for the new tolling system between exits 71 and 72 near Ballston. Interstate traffic will be stopped in both directions for up to 15 minutes at a time sometime between midnight and 4 a.m.

This gantry will stretch across the entire highway, but others that will be installed at a later date will cover just the eastbound or westbound lanes to avoid crossing over the Metro tracks.

Tolls between the Beltway and Rosslyn are scheduled to begin later this year, sometime after testing begins this summer.

VDOT Special Projects Development Manager Amanda Baxter said that for now, drivers should try to familiarize themselves with the new rules that will govern the use of the road during the rush hour.

The tolls will only apply from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 to 7 p.m. westbound. Two or more people plus an E-ZPass Flex transponder will be required in order to use the lanes for free for the next five years. Eventually the HOV restrictions will tighten to three or more people per car in order to match up with rules for the 95 and 495 express lanes and planned I-66 express lanes that will be built west of the Beltway.

Like the tolls on the 95 and 495 express lanes, the rush hour tolls on I-66 east of the Beltway will increase as more cars enter the lanes to discourage other drivers from entering in an effort to keep traffic moving.

In coming weeks and months, Baxter said VDOT hopes to do more to explain the intricacies of the lanes. She also wants to make sure commuters understand what alternatives are available like buses or Metro and to increase the availability of E-ZPass Flex transponders that are required for a free ride in toll lanes.

“People really need to think about how they can get a hold of a transponder if they plan to use the corridor during rush hour,” Baxter said.

Virginia’s E-ZPass programs offer the transponders online or through select stores.

The toll system will eliminate exemptions to the current HOV rules that today allow certain drivers of older hybrid cars and anyone heading to Dulles International Airport to use the road when the HOV rules apply.

In related work, VDOT plans to award a contract soon to construct a third eastbound lane between the Dulles Connector Road and Ballston. That construction would be completed by 2020, with the goal of easing the regular backup there.

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