While most commuters said they don’t check, the poll did provide a sign of hope: Among those who say they have used the express lanes,
51 percent say they do check for travel information before starting their trips.
Overall, though, the poll reflects what commuters have told me for years: They know their route, so they just get in the car and go. If they run into congestion, they turn on the radio and listen for a traffic report, hoping to be included.
Among all commuters who do check for information, the radio is the most frequent source, according to the poll. Forty percent say they’ll check that. The next most frequent source is TV, with 30 percent. Twelve percent say they check a media Web site.
●You don’t necessarily need to make the instant cost-benefit analysis for the express lanes to be worthwhile. Sometimes the route itself provides the benefit. On my Thursday trip, to an annual transportation information session called “Keep Tysons Moving,” I chose the express lanes because they provide a new access point into the north side of Tysons. I made that decision before leaving home and would have paid much more than 35 cents for the simple, time-saving route.
●If you can’t make a daily decision on the express lanes, test them a few times. See if, on average, they save time versus the regular lanes. If they do save time, then use them whenever your schedule is less flexible.
If you can invest five minutes to prepare for a Beltway trip, no single source beats the HOT lanes Web site, at www.495expresslanes.com. It shows the current toll rates for many — but not all — trips. It also has the best webcams in the region, showing the regular lanes as well as the express lanes with exceptional clarity.
●Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing and the INRIX traffic app all provide easy-to-view traffic information, though only MapQuest would show me a route into Tysons using the express lanes exit. For traffic information, though, I prefer looking at the TrafficLand Web site, at www.trafficland.com, because it shows both the colored lines that indicate traffic speeds and the traffic camera views.
The colored lines are good for seeing an entire route at a glance. The camera views may miss knots of traffic, but they let me judge for myself how bad the congestion is — when I remember to look before leaving.