For several years, Tysons Corner has been ground zero for the construction disruptions of the high-occupancy toll lanes project. By next holiday season, the shopping and office center will be the project’s target market.
Drivers caught in traffic during their 2011 holiday excursions might spend some of their idling moments looking around to see how the new transportation pattern could benefit them a year from now.
Advocates for the market-driven concepts embodied in the HOT lanes project say this zone of intensive activity in Tysons illustrates the way of the future in U.S. transportation: Figure out where travelers demand to go and find a financially feasible way of supplying them with options. Keep that basic market strategy of supply and demand in mind when evaluating the plan.
The HOT lanes project gives Tysons three interchanges with the Capital Beltway. That’s a greater concentration than anywhere else along the project’s 14 miles between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road. The design reflects the public and private planners’ desire to serve a lot of traffic while keeping everyone moving safely.
From south to north, the HOT lanes interchanges will be at Route 7 (Leesburg Pike), Westpark Drive and Jones Branch Road.
Commuters have seen considerable work on this project at the Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) interchange. A major phase was completed just before the holiday season began, when the Beltway’s inner loop was shifted, through lanes were restored on Route 123 below the Beltway and an inner loop ramp reopened.
All that concentrated activity might create the impression that Route 123 will have a HOT lanes interchange, but that’s not the case. Drivers who flow into the major tributaries of Tysons Boulevard and International Drive can still use Route 123 to join the Beltway. But project managers with Transurban, the company that will operate the new lanes, believe some of them will be drawn off to the new HOT lanes access points at Westpark Drive and Jones Branch Road.
That would open up a market for the toll lanes while reducing congestion from the interior roads to the Beltway/Route 123 interchange.
These are the characteristics of the HOT lanes access points.
Route 7: This modification to an existing interchange is the southernmost access point at which carpoolers or toll payers in the new HOT lanes will connect with Tysons Corner. Drivers coming out of Tysons on Route 7 will be able to travel south in the HOT lanes but will not be able to travel north in them. Drivers traveling toward Tysons in the northbound HOT lanes will be able to exit onto Route 7, but drivers in the southbound HOT lanes will not be able to exit onto Route 7.
The HOT lanes ramps will connect with Route 7 via a traffic signal. Connections between the Beltway’s regular travel lanes and Route 7 remain.
Westpark Drive: This is a new access point for the Beltway in the middle of Tysons, near Route 123. The connection will be between the Beltway and the rebuilt Westpark bridge above Route 123. Drivers coming from Tysons Corner can travel north or south in the HOT lanes by using Westpark Drive. Drivers heading north or south in the HOT lanes can enter Tysons via Westpark Drive. Because this access point is in the middle, its users probably will include shoppers and office workers from both north and south of Route 123 in Tysons Corner.
Drivers will encounter traffic signals at the Westpark bridge and at the merge ramps leading to and from the HOT lanes on the Beltway. (HOT traffic in the through lanes on the Beltway is not controlled by these signals. Only the traffic on the ramps leading to the through lanes will stop and go with the signals.)
Jones Branch Road: This farthest-north access point in Tysons also will be entirely new. Drivers leaving Tysons on Jones Branch Road will be able to travel north or south in the HOT lanes. Drivers will be able to exit onto Jones Branch from the northbound or southbound HOT lanes. This access point is likely to serve traffic for shopping and offices north of Route 123, where drivers now rely on International Drive and Tysons Boulevard to connect with the Beltway via Route 123.
As with Westpark Drive, drivers using the new connection will encounter traffic signals. They will be at Jones Branch Drive and at the point where drivers enter the merge lanes leading to HOT lanes.
Just north of the Jones Branch Road access point into Tysons is the most northerly of all the HOT lanes project’s interchanges, providing new links between the Dulles Toll Road (Route 267) and the Beltway. Commuters who travel east on the toll road have endured as much as drivers anywhere along the project corridor during the construction phase.
The second lane on the ramp from the eastbound toll road to the inner loop was restored last week, ahead of schedule.
When all the work is done next year, the HOT connections will function like this: Drivers heading east on Route 267 will be able to connect with the southbound HOT lanes. They will come up very quickly on the Jones Branch Road access point into Tysons. Drivers heading west on Route 267 will not be able to connect with the HOT lanes. Drivers heading north or south on the HOT lanes will be able to connect with westbound Route 267.
The HOT lanes project is different from anything the D.C. region has seen and will take a lot of explaining before drivers use them. Among other things, drivers will need to understand how the toll transponders work, how the tolling system works and — just out of curiosity — how any cheaters will be caught.
We’ll address such concerns on future Commuter pages in 2012. If you have questions you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.