How toll money paid to the I-395 Express Lanes gets used elsewhere

Lots of the drivers who pay to use the I-395 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia live fairly far away, and about a quarter of their toll money gets used closer to home.

The toll lane operator Transurban has recently made its third annual payment of $15 million to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s Commuter Choice program as part of a multi-decade public-private partnership agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia.

During fiscal 2021, the 95/395 Express Lanes took in $63 million in total toll revenue. The $15 million contribution represents about 24% of that money.

The money will mostly support projects being undertaken by different agencies along the I-395/I-95 Express Lanes corridor, from Stafford County all the way up to Prince William and Fairfax counties and the City of Alexandria.

“Getting some of those people out of cars and getting them onto a bus on the Express Lanes, you’re helping make that ride a bit smoother in the regular lanes right next to the Express Lanes as well,” Transurban’s Mike McGurk said.

As far south as Fredericksburg, money will go toward projects that create new and more frequent bus routes, expand park-and-ride lots and make it easier for people to carpool up and down the corridor.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission decides how the money gets spent operating the Commuter Choice programs for Transurban’s 395 Express Lanes, as well as for Virginia Department of Transportation’s I-66 Inside the Beltway Express Lanes.

Funding recipients include, for example, DASH, FRED Transit and OmniRide, along with the Fairfax County bus service and new park-and-ride options in Prince William and Spotsylvania counties.

Some people characterize the Express Lanes as “Lexus Lanes,” saying they serve only people with higher incomes, but McGurk said they’re used by people from all income ranges; Hondas and Toyotas are the most popular vehicles.

Commuter Choice programs have awarded more than $92 million to 53 projects in Northern Virginia since 2017, according to a news release.

The projects have included 28 new and expanded bus routes; the purchase of 40 buses; nine transit improvements, such as park-and-ride expansions and bus stop upgrades; five commuter incentive programs and three expansions of the bikeshare network.

What’s next for the Commonwealth of Virginia/Transurban partnership: The 2.5-mile extension of the 495 Express Lanes north to the George Washington Parkway is set to begin construction in the first half of 2022.

The project will include $5.2 million to purchase an initial fleet of buses and $2.2 million annually to keep the new bus line going between Tysons, Virginia, and Bethesda, Maryland.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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