WASHINGTON — Tolls in the Interstate 95 Express Lanes are expected to be highest between noon and 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday as the Memorial Day getaway kicks off, the company operating the lanes said.
Leaving well before or after that period will likely give drivers a better chance at seeing less traffic or lower tolls in the lanes, which are free with three or more people in the car and an E-ZPass Flex.
Without an E-ZPass Flex, even cars that meet all other requirements for a free ride are charged the toll in the lanes.
Mike McGurk, a spokesman for Transurban, said the exact toll is hard to predict since it rises as more cars go into the toll lanes.
“It’s hard to tell because when you look at the [usual rush hour] tolls on the 495 Express Lanes, and that’s where we’ve seen a lot of the growth recently, that’s really concentrated among a very short period during our p.m. rush hour,” he said. “What we’ve seen in the past for Memorial Day travel is there’s not really that certain one-hour concentrated spike. It’s typically spread out over a period of time.”
Last Friday, for example, a southbound trip on the I-495 Express Lanes cost about $17.95 at 5:38 p.m., while continuing that trip the entire length of the I-95 Express Lanes cost about $30.25.
Drivers who do not have an E-ZPass Flex, but who do plan to drive with others this weekend can get one of the transponders with a switch for regular or HOV mode at a number of local supermarkets, DMV locations or service centers across Northern Virginia. Drivers who want one for the future can request one online.
Avoiding an extra southbound toll
At the southern end of the lanes near Garrisonville Road, southbound traffic often backs up for miles at the merge where the toll lanes end. Drivers in the toll lanes should pay attention for a sign near Quantico identifying the length of the delay, since there is an opportunity there to exit to the regular lanes and avoid the significant additional toll in that area during backups.
By next Memorial Day weekend, there is expected to be at least slight improvement in that area after the first part of a 2.2 mile southward extension of the toll lanes opens past Garrisonville Road early next year.
Transurban expects afternoon traffic to start picking up earlier than usual beginning Thursday, so the express lanes reversal will switch to summer hours for the next few months.
Northbound entrance ramps will close around 10 a.m. rather than 11 a.m., so that the lanes can point southbound by noon.
For the holiday weekend, the lanes will operate normally on Saturday — southbound until about 2 p.m. and northbound starting around 4 p.m.
On Sunday and Monday, the lanes will point northbound all day. On Sunday morning though, the lanes will be closed from about 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. as a large group of Rolling Thunder riders enter at Opitz Boulevard near Potomac Mills to ride up to the Pentagon for Sunday’s noon demonstration ride.