Many commuters will get their first experience with the 495 Express Lanes during this week’s rush hours. It’s best to study up first. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Now that the 495 Express Lanes have opened on the west side of the Capital Beltway in Virginia, the lane operators have opened up some new Web pages to address drivers’ concerns and questions.

Travel conditions

One of the new pages displays a map with various forms of real-time information about Beltway conditions. This is the link to that page:

It has three elements:

  • A green, yellow, red color code to indicate the speed of traffic on segments of the Beltway between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road.
  • Traffic camera views. (I’ve had trouble getting them to work. When I click on them, they say, “Loading” for a long time. But when they do come on, the view is the sharpest I’ve seen for any traffic camera.)
  • “i” buttons, which travelers can click on to get a view of what the toll sign says at that moment. But remember that this is a dynamic tolling system that varies to reflect the level of congestion in the express lanes. If you’re looking at the toll information from your home or office, it could be different by the time you drive up to the sign and have to decide whether to use the toll lanes or the free regular lanes.

Customer Care

What a concept: A highway with “customers.” It’s not like they give out hand towels at the end of your ride, but it’s encouraging that someone is thinking of a highway as a transportation service rather than some asphalt that gets plunked down and striped.

From the 495 Express Lanes home page, look for the tab on the right that says “Express Lanes Customer Care.” This is where to look if you get in the lanes by mistake, or got in them without an E-ZPass.

Go here to pay the toll and a $1.50 fee within five days of your mistake. (I say “mistake” because the express lane rules are that you need an E-ZPass to use them.) If you get online and make the payment within five days of the mistake, you won’t get a bill in the mail. If you do get a bill in the mail, the $1.50 fee will have been raised to $12.50.

 Use this link if you need to contact the operators about an issue you had with the lanes:

This is the way to resolve your problems. But I’ve seen the reports that some drivers accidentally got into the lanes and were backing up to get out of them.

Everybody makes mistakes out of confusion. A driver who backs up on the Beltway is risking lives to save a $1.50 fee plus the toll to the next exit. A driver who engages in that sort of life-threatening behavior should have his license confiscated and his car impounded. Such a person has no business on our roads.

 If you make a mistake and miss the E-ZPass EXPRESS signs that lead to the new lanes, you won’t have to drive 14 miles to the end of them to get off. Just go a couple of miles, get off at the next interchange, using the left-side exit, and find the signs that will direct you back on the Beltway’s regular lanes

 I’ve been recommending that drivers study up a little before checking out the new lanes, since there’s nothing else like them in the D.C. region.

Here are some links to previous stories and blog postings.