Using Dulles E-ZPass Lanes Not So Easy

By Dr. Gridlock
Sunday, November 26, 2006

I wouldn't trade my E-ZPass for a solid string of green lights between Chantilly and Annapolis. But the electronic toll passes are still relatively new, and state transportation agencies continue to work through the best design for toll plazas.

Dr. Gridlock:

When approaching the main toll plaza on the Dulles Toll Road, which lane or lanes should be used for E-ZPass?

There seems to be some conflict between the signage and the lane markings. While the road is still just four lanes wide, the sign indicates that the two left lanes are E-ZPass only.

When you get up close to the toll plaza, however, the four lanes expand into almost 10, and the lane markings indicate that what was the far left lane on approach splits into two lanes and goes through the E-ZPass tollbooths.

On the far left lane, there is a solid white line on the right side of the lane and a dashed line on the left, which seems to indicate that only the far left lane can use the two E-ZPass tollbooths.

What I find every day is that people who were in the left-center lane approaching the plaza move to the left, crossing the solid line divide marker, and take the E-ZPass lane on the right.

I queue up in the far left lane and try to go straight through the E-ZPass lane in front of that lane (the one on the right), versus moving into the far left E-ZPass lane.

I do this because I usually want to take the next exit on the right for the Beltway and don't want to fight my way across another lane of traffic to get there. Invariably, I end up with someone coming across the solid white line, either forcing me to divert to the left-most toll plaza, or if I stay put, causing a near collision.

Noah Spivak


The two express toll lanes are wildly popular. Most vehicles use them, even though the electronic toll passes are accepted at all tollbooths. Drivers with passes don't want to get behind drivers paying cash. It slows them down and defeats the main purpose of the pass.

Spivak accurately describes what happens as drivers approach the plaza. On a recent trip, I was in the left-center lane, leaving the far left lane clear for faster traffic. Thinking I was headed straight for an express lane, I was surprised when I saw the solid white line and realized I had to cut left to enter the express lanes.

Hari K. Sripathi, the Virginia Department of Transportation's regional traffic engineer, saw the same thing when we drove the route recently, and he says he can fix it.

He's going to have those lane lines repainted so that both of the left lanes will be guided to the express tolls, as VDOT intended. Sripathi thinks that work will be done by the end of December.

The safety theory behind placing the express lanes on the left side of a toll plaza -- even though some of us need to move right quickly for our highway exit -- is to keep the faster traffic flowing to the left, just as it is in the regular travel lanes.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I having been riding Metro for years and would like to have a short underground walkway between the Farragut North and West stops. That would ease congestion and make travel faster because we would not have to go to Metro Center to change lines.

It is only a few feet between the stops, so why not have it done? It could just be a walkway -- that is all. What are the chances of that happening anytime soon?

Eric Scheinkopf


It's one of those great ideas whose time hasn't quite come. Building underground walkways between the Farraguts and also between Metro Center and Gallery Place would accomplish several things:

Riders could get to their destinations faster, because they could cut between lines on foot, rather than having to ride trains to transfer points. Scheinkopf's idea would create a shortcut between the Red Line and the Orange and Blue lines.

Also, congestion at the Metro Center and Gallery Place transfer stations would ease, because fewer riders would need to wait at those hubs while changing lines.

Compared with an idea like building another train tunnel through downtown Washington, the walkway proposal is a tremendously cost-effective congestion buster. But the walkways still wouldn't be cheap. A few years ago, Metro estimated the cost at $75 million for each of them.

The transit authority has no plans to build them anytime soon, said spokesman Steven Taubenkibel .

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in the Extras and Sunday in the Metro section. You can send e-mails, or you can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your name, home community and phone numbers.

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