A summer getaway along Interstate 95 in Virginia could include extra backups the next few years now that construction is ramping up on a 10-mile extension of the HOV or toll 95 Express Lanes.
Virginia and Transurban, the private builder and operator of the toll lanes, held a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday at the Stafford Regional Airport for the 95 Express Lanes Fredericksburg extension, a project they believe could significantly alleviate some regular backups from Garrisonville Road to the Rappahannock River.
Until the $565 million project is finished in about three years though, hundreds of workers on the project mean drivers will need to slow down and pay extra attention to the road.
“Travelers need to be aware on I-95, that with the 395 Express Lanes project and the Fredericksburg extension project, they are seeing construction activity all the way from the Potomac River to the Rappahannock River,” said Transurban North America President Jennifer Aument.
Initial work has already been underway for a few months to lay the groundwork to extend the reversible toll lanes 10 miles south to near Route 17, where they will connect to a new through and local lanes setup under construction over the Rappahannock River to Route 3.
Transurban is also adding Express Lanes access at Russell and Old Courthouse roads, and is widening the 1.5-mile single-lane stretch at the current southern end of the lanes.
The widening work also requires the complete reconstruction of bridges over I-95 at American Legion and Truslow roads.
Construction continues on a series of other projects along I-95, too.
“All of us who travel 95 know that summer means brutal traffic backups on I-95, and, thanks to this project, relief is now on the way,” Aument said.
Drivers who use the lanes are charged a toll that rises and falls based on the amount of traffic and other pieces of a tolling algorithm. Drivers ride free with an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV mode and at least two other people in the car.
“Commuters will need an E-ZPass or an E-ZPass Flex to be able to access this part of the network, and the toll pricing is very similar to what they experience today on the existing 95 and 495 Express Lanes,” Aument said.
The signage showing the current toll rate for the farthest destination that the toll is locked in for will be similar to what is currently up in and around the Express Lanes.
“Customers can expect to pay rates that are very similar to what they see on a per-mile basis down in the southernmost part of the 95 Express Lanes,” Aument said.
The afternoon toll per mile in Stafford and Prince William counties is frequently around 50 cents.
Transurban said most of its toll payers do not use the lanes frequently.
“Right now, on the 95 Express Lanes, our average toll price is about $8. It ranges — certainly in the summertime on a Thursday night, you’re going to see that toll price higher — but what consumers are getting for the tolls they pay is some serious time savings,” Aument said.
The Express Lanes will still be pointed northbound weekday mornings and southbound weekday afternoons when the extension opens.
Transurban hopes to have the project finished by the end of 2022, Aument said.
At the northern end, the 395 HOV lanes are due to open as tolled Express Lanes in late October that will follow the same rules and reversal schedule, with carpools allowed to ride free with an E-ZPass Flex in HOV mode.
Virginia leaders hope the extensions do more to encourage carpooling and slugging.
“We know when the 395 Express Lanes open this fall, and then the Fredericksburg Extension opening in 2022, that we will see some changing customer behavior in the 95 corridor,” Aument said.
There could be similar changes in the I-66 corridor at the same time, with two HOV or toll lanes scheduled to open in each direction between the Capital Beltway and Gainesville at the end of 2022. (The I-66 lanes are being built and operated by a different private group than Transurban.)
Maryland is considering adding its own toll lanes on the Beltway and I-270. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan offered a small concession Wednesday to some of the opponents of those widening plans by shifting plans for privately built and operated toll lanes on I-270 ahead of any toll lanes from a rebuilt Legion Bridge past I-95.
The Virginia Department of Transportation still plans to have Transurban extend the 495 Express Lanes to the American Legion Bridge, VDOT said in a statement to WTOP after the Maryland vote to delay any Legion Bridge improvements.
“Recognizing we could not control decisions made in Maryland, Project NEXT is being developed as an independent project that will improve safety, increase travel reliability and reduce congestion by providing improved connections at the Dulles Toll Road and the Beltway, and increased capacity on the Beltway,” the statement said.
The department promised continued coordination with Maryland, since the toll lanes are still expected to eventually link up.