I-66 ramp closing

In two weeks, the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to close the left-lane ramp on eastbound Interstate 66 that high-occupancy vehicles take to reach the Capital Beltway’s inner loop, heading north. Crews will start converting it into a ramp for the 495 Express Lanes, scheduled to open by the end of the year.

There’s still the ramp on the right side from I-66 East, which now brings traffic in on the right side of the inner loop. But the ramp closing on the left side will take some getting used to, and the change could affect all drivers in this congested area.

During the morning rush, there’s a lot of traffic bound for Tysons Corner and beyond that switches from I-66 East to the inner loop. During the conversion, HOV drivers on the left side will need to get over to the right lane to take the remaining exit.

Even when the ramp is reopened, there will be issues. The left lane on I-66 is HOV2, meaning that during the morning rush a driver with one passenger qualifies to use it. The express lanes will be free for HOV3 vehicles (those carrying at least three people). Others can use it, but they’ll be charged the express lanes toll. All those vehicles will need to have either a regular E-ZPass or, for those claiming the carpool exemption from the toll, the new E-ZPass Flex.

I-95 HOV lanes

Another change is coming to HOV land. The ramp from the Interstate 95 southbound HOV lanes to the regular lanes south of the Fairfax County Parkway is scheduled to close permanently the week of Oct. 1 to make room for construction of the 95 Express Lanes, the other high-occupancy toll lanes project.

Once the ramp closes, HOV drivers should move to the regular lanes by using the left exit ramp marked “Route 286 Fairfax County Parkway/Newington/Ft. Belvoir.” If they miss that, the next chance to leave the southbound HOV lanes will be Exit 161 for Route 1 or Exit 160 for Gordon Boulevard (Route 123) in Woodbridge, VDOT said.

D.C. resumes breath tests

D.C. police are again using breath tests of people suspected of drunk driving. This follows a lengthy remake of the program that began after a consultant found that some machines were giving incorrect readings.

The overhauling of the breath testing program was accompanied by a toughening of the District’s drunken driving penalties. People convicted of driving under the influence are subject to fines of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail. A person with a .20 blood alcohol level faces a mandatory jail term of at least 10 days, a doubling of the old penalty.

Metrobus changes

Some changes in Metrobus routes and schedules take effect Sept. 30.The transit authority says the revisions are part of a program to improve on-time performance, make the schedules more reliable and reduce crowding.

Some highlights: The 16F and 16Y routes on Columbia Pike become limited-stop MetroExtra services. The limited-stop MetroExtra buses also will be used on the 28X route along Leesburg Pike. Schedules will be adjusted on the MetroExtra J4 College Park-Bethesda route, the Y5, Y7, Y8, and Y9 routes on Georgia Avenue in Maryland and on REX, the Richmond Highway Express line in Virginia.

SmarTrip addition

Metro has introduced a new feature for SmarTrip card users. Called Auto Reload, it lets riders add value to their cards automatically when the balance drops below a certain level. Drivers who use E-ZPass accounts to pay tolls will be familiar with this process.

To use the SmarTrip feature, a rider must register the card and have an online account. Then the rider can link the SmarTrip to a credit or debit card and set up the automatic maintenance of a balance.

The system also can work for a rider who regularly adds one of the bus or rail passes to a Smar­Trip card. The account holder can set up Auto Reload to trigger a certain number of days before the old pass expires.

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