The 1.9 (b) billion dollar Express Lanes project on the Capital Beltway in Virginia was opened at 2:45 a.m. Saturday. Operators wanted very little traffic on the roadway to allow motorists to acclimate themselves to the new toll option.
For most of the 64-mile Capital Beltway, the circular roadway offers four lanes of traffic in each direction. But now, in Virginia, for about a fifth of the overall Beltway, there are six lanes of traffic in each direction.
The extra lanes were paid for privately, and, for solo drivers, this will be a toll road. The tolls will be collected electronically using the EZ Pass system. Carpoolers (with 3 people) can ride free if they have the "flex" EZ Pass.
If you accidentally get on the Express Lanes without an EZ Pass, don't panic.
"Please don't turn around or try to cross those white barriers," advised Pierce Coffee, a spokeswoman for Transurban, the operator of the Express Lanes. "You can visit 495expresslanes.com, click 'missed a toll', and you can pay that toll and a small fee on the website. So, please make sure, once you're in, you just take it to the next exit."
The fee for self-reporting use of the toll road is only $1.50 in addition to the toll. There are much steeper fees if the roadway's operator has to send you a bill based on your license plate.
Tolls for solo drivers will vary, depending on traffic. It was cheap on opening day, but, during regular rush hours, solo motorists could pay three to six dollars for a one-way trip down the 14-mile stretch of Express Lanes. By varying the tolls, the operator of the roadway believes speed on the Express Lanes will almost never fall below 45 miles an hour, and may well run at 55 miles an hour, even during heavy rush hours.
Most Virginia motorists we spoke with said they would pay the fee if traffic is bad on the regular Beltway lanes. One man told us he would pay up to six dollars, "because my leisure time is very important to me."
And that, in part, is why Virginia approved the 1.9 (b) billion dollar Express Lanes project: tolls for those who want the guaranteed quick ride, and maybe a little less traffic on the remaining Beltway.
There were a couple of morning accidents involving the new Express Lanes in Virginia.
But the company that's operating the toll lanes says both accidents began on the regular part of the Beltway, and simply spilled over into the Express Lanes.