Beltway HOT lanes tests of E-ZPass system, signs, sensors set for this week

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If I’m driving in a regular lane beside the Capital Beltway high-occupancy toll lanes, will the HOT lanes pick up my E-ZPass? There’s no barrier around the detectors, as there is at a row of tollbooths. What do I do if I get charged when I haven’t used the HOT lanes?

(Courtesy of Transurban) - This image is from an animated demonstration of how the Capital Beltway HOT lanes will work. All drivers who want to use the lanes must have an E-ZPass transponder.

— John Chastain, Annandale

The managers of the 495 Express Lanes plan to begin road tests this week that are designed in part to make sure nothing like that happens. A variety of vehicles will be driving on the fresh pavement in the new lanes beneath the electronic toll gantries between Gallows Road and Route 123.

For several weeks, the testers will be trying to duplicate conditions that the planners expect to see when the lanes open and the whole thing goes live toward the end of the year.

Many of the new electronic message signs on the Beltway and on the roads approaching it will be activated as part of the test. Those message signs will eventually display the toll prices that will guide drivers’ decisions about whether they want to use the express lanes or the regular lanes.

The test vehicles will be carrying E-ZPass transponders, and the radio frequency identification system will be used to measure the electronic communication between vehicles, gantries and the Express Lanes Operations Center.

Other parts of the system also will be tested, including the traffic sensors that will monitor congestion and help adjust the toll rate and cameras that will alert the operations center to incidents that could slow traffic.

For now, the main thing to worry about is that all this activity will slow traffic and confuse some drivers.

Whenever a road project is nearing completion and drivers can see the fresh pavement, they write to me and ask why it isn’t open already. That’s bound to be on the minds of many commuters this week as they see not only the paved lanes, but also the test vehicles and the illuminated signs.

The schedule calls for the express lanes system to open up all at once, as HOT lanes. There won’t be any partial openings in areas where the pavement is complete. And there’s no plan for a free test-drive period, such as we had when Maryland’s Intercounty Connector first opened.

Paving plans

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am hoping you can help me find a schedule for the resurfacing underway on Bradley Boulevard west of I-495. I’ve looked at the Montgomery County Department of Transportation schedule as well as the State of Maryland DOT schedule, and neither lists the project.

I’m interested because it is my bike commute route. Riding during the milling phase is not really a problem. I don’t want to ride during the actual paving because I’d like to avoid having tar on my bike (or me).

— Paul Tibbits Jr., Potomac

Both county and state transportation departments have many paving projects underway. If you see one on a numbered roadway in Maryland, like Bradley Boulevard, which is MD 191, it’s almost certainly a State Highway Administration job.

David Buck, a spokesman for SHA, said that crews recently began work on Bradley Boulevard as part of an area-wide resurfacing contract included in the budget for fiscal 2013, which began in July.

Since these area-wide contracts for short-term jobs start in early summer, they’re not part of the what SHA calls the “Road Ready” list of projects that it makes public in early spring, but they will be part of an update, Buck said.

The Bradley Boulevard job covers nearly two miles between River Road and the Beltway. The paving part will be done overnight — so it should not affect bicycle commutes — and is scheduled to be complete by the end of August.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

 
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