By: Ragina C Ali, Mid-Atlantic AAA
WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday, November 15, 2019) –– Even “Sunday drivers” will get a chance to “express themselves” in the new Express Lanes on Interstate 395 running all the way from the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia, to just below the Pentagon near the 14th Street Bridge, to the District line, and in reverse. It all started on Sunday, November 17. It will know no day of rest. The debut of the I-395 Express Lanes on the first day of the week will give congestion-weary commuters more choices and options, plus more reliable travel times on one of the most congested traffic corridors in the Washington metro area.
For the first time ever, solo drivers can traverse the 395 Express Lanes, but for a fee. Formerly, they were HOV lanes, reserved for high-occupancy vehicles only, including carpools, vanpools, sluggers, buses and motorcycles. “Toll prices will be based on a real-time dynamic pricing system.” In layman’s terms, that means the tolls will fluctuate and the tolling rates will oscillate depending on the time of day and travel volumes.
Here is the rationale. “Toll prices are set to manage traffic and have just the right amount of vehicles in the lane to provide a reliable, shorter travel time.” The 395 Express Lanes, which stretch 8 miles in each direction, will alleviate congestion for some commuters, and that is saying a lot for a region that suffers from the third-worst congestion in the nation. As the Express Lanes on Interstate 95 and Interstate 495, which “run around the clock,” in Northern Virginia have proven, Express Lanes not only “increase roadway capacity,” they also “help manage congestion on the highways.” Unlike the Express Lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway, the 395 Express Lanes were built in addition to the existing general-purpose lanes on the highway.
“The long-awaited debut of the 395 Express Lanes, which wind 8 miles, represents an ongoing generational sea-change in how the motoring public navigates the busiest freeway segments in Northern Virginia,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Do the math and count the miles. Nearly 60 miles of freeway segments in the region have been converted to Express Lanes to date. ‘The 495 Express Lanes run 14 miles from Springfield to McLean and the 95 Express Lanes run 31 miles from Stafford to Fairfax.’ Together, the ‘495 and 95 Express Lanes stretch more than 40 miles.’ Daily trips are also surging during the morning commute and evening commute along the Express Lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway which covers nine miles between I-495 and Route 29 in Rosslyn.”
On Sunday, the existing HOV-lanes on I-395 will be converted to Express Lanes. That means the 395 Express Lanes will be open to anyone with an E-ZPass® or E-ZPass® Flex? In fact, that is de rigueur, whether you are a solo driver or a “slugger.” Carpoolers with three or more people in the vehicle will traverse the Express Lanes toll-free. However, they will have to set their E-ZPass® Flex transponders to HOV ON.
“The 395 Express Lanes will free up the current exit ramp congestion by offering drivers heading northbound in the morning two exit ramps to the Pentagon and Pentagon City, instead of the one ramp provided today,” personnel with Transurban and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) explain. “Afternoon drivers heading southbound will be able to hop onto the 395 Express Lanes using the same ramps as the morning.” All drivers will need an E-ZPass® to use the Express Lanes on 495, 95 and starting Sunday on the repurposed 395 Express Lanes. E-ZPass transponders may be purchased at an E-ZPass® Service Center or at AAA Mid-Atlantic locations. Transurban and the Virginia Department of Transportation provide the following safety reminders for drivers as the 395 HOV lanes convert to Express Lanes this weekend.
- The I-395 HOV corridor from near the Springfield interchange to the DC line. will completely close Friday night at about 8 p.m.
- Rolling closures along both the northbound and southbound regular lanes will be in effect at locations along the corridor throughout the weekend so crews can remove HOV signage or unveil Express Lanes signage – some arterial roads which connect to the 395 Express Lanes may have rolling closures as well, such as Seminary Road and Shirlington Circle.
- Traffic signals at the Eads Street interchange will begin flashing red Thursday, November 14 in preparation for activation on Sunday night when the Lanes open.
- On Sunday night, drivers should not attempt to enter the northbound 395 Express Lanes until gates are up, and no police or other vehicles are blocking access to the entry ramp.
Unlike the HOV lanes, the dynamic pricing-based Express Lanes will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Here are a couple of more tips to keep in mind once the I-395 Express Lanes are up and running:
- Keep an eye out for the overhead pricing signs for the most current costs that you’ll need to cover with your E-ZPass® or E-ZPass Flex®. “Sluggers go free to DC on the 395 Express Lanes” is trending.
- The signs will update about every 10 minutes to keep the Lanes free-flowing for fast travels.
- Drivers who accidentally get on the 395 Express Lanes shouldn’t worry. They should safely continue until they reach their destination, then give the Express Lanes customer service team a call, who will work with drivers that get on the Lanes by mistake.
Earlier this week Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced: “a bi-state, bipartisan accord to create a new, unified Capital Beltway, replace the aging American Legion Bridge, and relieve congestion at one of the country’s worst traffic chokepoints.” The accord will “add two new Express Lanes in each direction for approximately three miles between the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia to the vicinity of River Road in Maryland.” The 495 Express Lanes debuted in late 2012, adding two lanes of additional capacity in each direction from the Springfield Interchange to just north of the Dulles Toll Road. It was formerly known as the HOT Lanes project.
The Virginia E-ZPass® is available at the AAA branch location in Downtown Washington, D.C. and at all AAA Car Care Insurance and Travel Centers and AAA retail locations in Virginia. However, only AAA offices in Washington, D.C. and in Northern Virginia sell the Virginia E-ZPass® Flex? transponders. Click here for your closest AAA store. Here is the upshot: “what were once the 395 HOV lanes will be converted into part of the 395 Express Lanes. Drivers traveling north from Eads Street or the regular lanes near Pentagon City to the 395 Express Lanes will now need an E-ZPass® or E-ZPass Flex® to cover the new toll.” Go “sluggers” go.
The Virginia E-ZPass® is available at the AAA branch location in Downtown Washington, D.C. and at all AAA Car Care Centers and AAA branch locations in Virginia. However, only AAA offices in Washington, D.C. and in Northern Virginia sell the Virginia E-ZPass® Flex? transponders. Click here for your closest AAA store. Here is the upshot: “what were once the 395 HOV lanes will be converted into part of the 395 Express Lanes. Drivers traveling north from Eads Street or the regular lanes near Pentagon City to the 395 Express Lanes will now need an E-ZPass® or E-ZPass Flex® to cover the new toll.” Go “sluggers” go.