It’s a good thing we have lots of smart people in the Washington area, because you have to be pretty good at mind-numbing details to navigate the toll and HOV features of our highways. Let’s see — there’s the Dulles Toll Road, which is free if you’re actually going to the airport but pricey if you’re not. Then there’s the Greenway to Loudoun, which is expensive for everybody and, like Dulles, makes no allowance for HOV, a/k/a car-pooling or ride-sharing. Maryland’s Intercounty Connector is all-toll from I-270 to I-95 and often is virtually devoid of cars.
Oh, and then there are the 495 Express Lanes on the western side of the Virginia beltway. They’re free if you have the right number of people and the right EZPass transponder. I-66 is HOV-2 inside the Beltway in certain directions at certain times, while outside the Beltway one lane each way is HOV-3, also at certain times but not others. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
All of which brings us to I-95 south, which for years has had HOV-only reversible lanes from Springfield down to Stafford or thereabouts. Soon — sometime this month, we’re told — these HOV lanes will become the 95 Express Lanes. They’ll extend farther south and they’ll also be costly unless you have three warm bodies in your car and the right kind of EZPass transponder.
If this sounds similar to the 495 Express Lanes, that’s because it is basically the same thing, only straightened out instead of curving around like a noodle. Everyone involved from Gov. McAuliffe on down has been telling us how great this is going to be. Now the Virginia State Police are adding a couple of cautionary notes that boil down to this — pay attention and plan ahead.
â€œIf you routinely travel Interstate 95 between Stafford County and Fairfax County, then you really need to be prepared for the upcoming changes,â€ said Major Len Terry, Virginia State Police Deputy Director of the Bureau of Field Operations. â€œThis stretch of I-95 is going to look much different from what you are used to, so take advantage of the maps and detailed information provided at www.95ExpressLanes.com. Familiarize yourself with the HOV conversion and decide in advance if you want or will be able to use the Express Lanes, thus preventing yourself from being stuck in traffic or causing a serious crash.â€
- The 95 Express Lanes is a toll road. Vehicles with only one or two people have to pay a toll with E-ZPass to use the 95 Express Lanes.
- Only passenger vehicles with three or more people and an E-ZPass Flex can use the 95 Express Lanes for free.
- The 95 Express Lanesâ€™ toll changes based on real-time traffic conditions. Transurban estimates a typical trip of 10 to 12 miles during rush hour will cost between $6 and $8.
- Vanpools with E-ZPass Flex, motorcycles and buses travel the 95 Express Lanes for free.
- HOV Lanes Convert to Express Lanes. The traditional HOV lanes between the north and southbound lanes of I-95 from Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to just north of Edsall Road in Fairfax County will fully convert to 95 Express Lanes and will require an E-ZPass to use the restricted lanes. HOV-3 needs an E-ZPass Flex. The new 95 Express Lanes are 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- I-395 Remains Traditional HOV. The 95 Express Lanes end north of Edsall Road in Fairfax County. Standard HOV rules apply on Interstate 395 in Northern Virginia. Vehicles that do not meet the HOV requirement when the HOV rules are in effect will have to exit from the 95 Express Lanes and reenter the regular I-395 lanes after Edsall Road to continue into Arlington and Washington, D.C. Only those vehicles with three or more persons, motorcycles and vehicles with clean-fuel plates will be permitted to continue on to the I-395 HOV lanes.
- Express Lanes Require E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex. An E-ZPass is required to travel on the 95 Express Lanes. If you already have an E-ZPass, it will work on the 95 Express Lanes with the toll fee being automatically deducted from your account â€“ just like it does at the Metro-Richmond toll plazas.
- If you are a carpooler and meet the HOV-3 requirements, then you will need an E-ZPass Flex so you wonâ€™t be charged a toll while using the 95 Express Lanes. The E-ZPass Flex works just like a regular E-ZPass on all other Virginia toll roads.
Got all that? Like many things around here, it becomes routine pretty quickly but is baffling to anyone confronting it for the first time.
Which brings us to Terry’s final word of advice: Donâ€™t stop or back up.
“Drivers are advised to never stop or back up in an attempt to avoid the 95 Express Lanes and to get back into the general purpose lanes. If you accidentally find yourself in the 95 Express Lanes or are unable to safely merge into the general purpose lanes, then just keep going in the Express Lanes. Take the first exit and then go to www.95ExpressLanes.com and pay the toll online, or call 1-855-495-9777. Backing up or stopping puts you at risk of causing a crash and being seriously injured or killed,” Terry said in a news release.
Extra Virginia State Police troopers will be on patrol during the opening days of the 95 Express Lanes to help keep traffic moving safely and efficiently in both the Express Lanes and general purpose lanes of I-95. Troopers have the authorization to warn or summons those in violation of the state law mandating the HOV-3 requirement in the 95 Express Lanes.
The 95 Express Lanes are the product of a public-private partnership between VDOT, Virginia Department of Public Rail and Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and Transurban, with Fluor-Lane 95, LLC leading construction. The 95 Express Lanes expand and replace the existing, traditional HOV lanes along I-95: