Virginians, your commute is about to change.

New rules are coming to Interstate 66 inside the Beltway on Dec. 4, when the Virginia Department of Transportation’s High-Occupancy Toll — or HOT — Express Lanes go live. They cover a nine-mile stretch between I-495 and Lee Highway near the Route 110 and Roosevelt Bridge split in Rosslyn, as part of VDOT’s effort to manage traffic during rush hour.

The major difference from the highway’s existing structure? People driving alone can use it — if they’re willing to pay. Up to this point, single-occupancy vehicles haven’t been allowed to enter during peak periods, as its lanes have been restricted to carpools.

But there’s a bit more to it. Here are the details: how to prepare, what to expect and how the new system will work.


Who can use them?

  • Solo drivers will now be permitted to pay to use the I-66 lanes during rush hour for the first time since they opened in 1982, according to VDOT. Carpoolers, buses and motorcyclists can use them for free.

The hours

  • The Express Lanes will be in effect Monday through Friday, from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound, and from 3 to 7 p.m. westbound. This is an extension of its current HOV restrictions, which are 6:30 to 9 a.m. toward the District and 4 to 6:30 p.m. away from the city. The lanes will be free for everyone outside of these periods during the week and on weekends.

What you need

  • With a few exceptions, every vehicle needs an E-ZPass to enter the Express Lanes during rush hour. Every solo driver is required to have a standard E-ZPass to pay an electronic toll. Cars with two or more people need what’s called E-ZPass Flex in a “High Occupancy Vehicle mode,” which allows them to access the Express Lanes without being charged.
  • The passes are available at AAA locations in the Mid-Atlantic, some Giant and Wegmans stores, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles centers, and online. Here’s more from VDOT.

What if you don’t have one?

  • Cars that enter the Express Lanes without the required passes will be photographed, and the drivers will have to pay the toll and an additional fee.

For other modes of transit

  • Buses will ride for free with an E-ZPass.
  • Motorcycles will ride for free, and won’t need an E-ZPass.
  • Trucks won’t be permitted to use the Express Lanes regardless of time or day — a rule that exists now.
  • Hybrids, vehicles with Clean Special Fuel license plates and travelers to and from Dulles International Airport will have to follow the same rules as other cars; the exemptions that currently allow them to ride on the restricted lanes will no longer apply.

What constitutes carpooling?

  • For now, cars with two or more people can use the Express Lanes inside the Beltway. When the I-66 Express Lanes outside the Beltway open in mid-2022, it will change to cars with at least three people, like the HOV rules on the I-95 and I-495 Express Lanes.

The cost — and what you’re paying for

  • Electronic signs overhead will display toll prices and estimates before drivers enter the lanes, and roadway sensors will help determine prices depending on traffic (in other words, more traffic means higher prices, less traffic means lower prices). What those numbers will be, though, will become clearer once they open. VDOT Tolling Division Administrator David Caudill told WTOPthat older estimates of a $17 average for a round trip aren’t necessarily accurate, but he declined to make a prediction because it will depend on the traffic. VDOT could not be immediately reached for comment, but we will update this post when we hear back.
  • Drivers’ trips will be tracked by electronic gantries, so the final charge will reflect the distances they traveled.
  • Toll money will first be used to cover the cost of operating the lanes. Then, revenue from tolls will be reinvested in other transportation improvement projects in the I-66 corridor, like new transit routes and park-and-ride lots, according to VDOT.

Other things to expect

  • You’ll have access to the Express Lanes at all entrances and exits on I-66.
  • You won’t find any toll plazas, and you won’t be able to pay cash, as E-ZPass is the only method for payment.
  • The existing speed limit of 55 miles per hour will remain in place.
  • Other routes could see more congestion, should drivers choose not to pay to take I-66. That could include other large and small arteries, including the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Route 50, Route 29, and Wilson and Clarendon boulevards. We’ve reached out to Arlington County police and the Park Police to see if they will have extra patrols as the new rules go into effect.

Resources

  • VDOT has created a website with information about the I-66 HOT project. Here’s more.
  • A free mobile app gives current toll price estimates and past data to help drivers plan their commutes, according to VDOT.

These changes come as construction on toll lanes outside of the Beltway begins. That public-private partnership project, stretching 22.5 miles from the Beltway to University Boulevard in Prince William County, will include two tolled Express Lanes added to each direction. The lanes will serve cars with three or more people, which won’t be charged, or all other drivers who may pay a toll or use the other lanes.

By   –  Digital Producer, Washington Business Journal

Source: I-66 toll lanes inside the Beltway start soon. Here’s everything you need to know. – Washington Business Journal

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