WASHINGTON — Virginia drivers on Interstate 66 in Falls Church and Arlington are seeing lights, cameras and a highway department ready for action. Tolling is scheduled to begin in early December, but not before rigorous testing.
The “transformation” of I-66 inside the Beltway is more of an alteration than a transformation; the highway itself will look nearly identical when tolling begins late this year. The most noticeable change has already taken place — the erection of eight new gantries suspended above I-66.
“The tolling equipment is mounted on overhead gantries above the travel lanes similar to the 95/495 Express Lanes and includes a flat white E-ZPass transponder reader, a camera that is calibrated to photograph license plates and a light that will flash when a vehicle has their E-ZPass set in HOV mode,” said Amanda Baxter of the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Unlike the privately operated 95 and 495 Express Lanes facility, VDOT will be responsible for tolling on I-66 inside the Beltway. Testing will begin next month, Baxter said, with tolling scheduled to begin on Monday, Dec. 4.
“Nearly all the testing will be unnoticeable to the public. Drivers will likely see flashing lights from the equipment on the gantries and a sample message displayed on the dynamic message signs,” she said.
As more equipment is added to the highway structures over the next several weeks, Baxter said, crews might activate the camera flash at times, but testing of the entire system as a whole isn’t scheduled to begin until mid-August.
“That light is used to indicate when an … E-ZPass is designated as HOV and that will be used for enforcement purposes. A law enforcement officer at each gantry will be able to see that light go off where he or she sits and then be able to look into the car and confirm that it is an HOV-2 vehicle,” Baxter says.
Drivers in Arlington and Falls Church have also noticed white-colored signs on the approach roads near I-66. Because tolls will be dynamic — fluctuating based on traffic volumes and speed — these signs will display current prices for solo drivers.
The electronic readouts on these signs will occasionally show text over the coming months as testing begins, Baxter said.
Tolls will be in effect for the east lanes during morning rush hour and west lanes during afternoon rush hour. All drivers will need to have an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex to use the lanes during these times. Drivers with one or more passengers will not be tolled as long as they have a properly mounted E-ZPass Flex. More information can be found here.