The I-95 Express lanes, in the middle of the interstate’s regular lanes, stretch 29 miles from Stafford County to just inside the Capital Beltway, as seen here near Duke Street in Alexandria. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

Drivers on Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway in Virginia will see new lane markings at some express lanes entrances. Meanwhile, traffic in the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes continues to grow, according to the latest report from the operating company.

The new pavement markings are purple, like the “E-ZPass Express” signs that drivers see overhead as they approach the express lanes entrances. The markings are within the lanes that merge into the express lanes. So if you are driving over them, you know that you will be proceeding directly into the toll lanes.

Michael McGurk, spokesman for Transurban, the company that operates the lanes, said this is an experimental program done in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation and approved by the Federal Highway Administration. “While purple lane striping is used at some toll plazas today to indicate the lanes where a transponder is required, the use of supplemental striping to enhance entry points to an all-electronic toll road like the express lanes is new for the United States,” he said. After six months, the partners will evaluate whether the new striping is contributing to safety.

What they’re trying to avoid is a scenario where an inattentive driver drifts toward the toll lanes entrance in the middle of the highway, wakes up to that fact, then hits the brakes or jerks the steering wheel to the right to get back in the regular lanes.

You won’t see the striping at all the express lanes entrances. McGurk said seven locations were selected as the best candidates for evaluation. These are the entry points where drivers will see the purple striping:
95 Express Lanes. Northbound at the entrances near Dumfries Road, Cardinal Drive and Franconia-Springfield Parkway; southbound at the entrance between Lorton Road and Route 123, and the one north of Edsall Road.
495 Express Lanes. Northbound at the entrance near the I-95/395/495 interchange, and also on Beltway between the southbound 495 Express Lanes exit and 95 Express Lanes entrance.

HOT lanes use
Every three months, Transurban publishes a report on lane usage. The latest one, covering April, May and June, shows some of the different characteristics between the two sets of HOT lanes.

Trip length. Drivers tend to take longer trips in the 95 Express Lanes. The average trip during the quarter was 12.5 miles in the I-95 lanes and 5.6 miles in the Beltway lanes. The I-95 lanes are about 29 miles long and the Beltway lanes are about 14 miles long. I-95 is the main line for many commuters. They may be taking a trip between home in Prince William County and a job at the Pentagon or in Crystal City. Drivers tend to use the Beltway as a connecting route on a longer trip. They may be going from Centreville via I-66 with a brief trip north on the Beltway to a job on Tysons Corner.

Tolls. The average toll on I-95 was $5.48, while on the Beltway, it was $3.92. Remember, that’s an average. The tolls vary with the length of the trip and the level of traffic in the express lanes. A driver who entered the 95 Express Lanes at 8:30 a.m. Monday and did the full northbound trip to just inside the Beltway would have paid $10.30. A driver who entered the 495 Express Lanes at 8:30 a.m. and did the full trip to just north of Tysons Corner would have paid $12.15.

Average daily trips. More vehicles are using the 95 Express Lanes than the 495 Express Lanes. Drivers took an average of 45,000 daily trips in the I-95 HOT lanes, compared with an average of 42,000 in the Beltway HOT lanes. For the Beltway lanes, that’s about 19 percent higher than the same period in 2014. The I-95 lanes didn’t open till December 2014.

Carpooling. The carpooling culture on I-95 is as robust as any place in the nation, and vehicles that meet the HOV3 carpool requirements travel free when the driver uses an E-ZPass Flex. In the Beltway HOT lanes, about 13 percent of the traffic is HOV3 or otherwise exempt from tolls (emergency vehicles or motorcycles, for example). In the 95 Express Lanes, it’s 32 percent of all traffic.

Toll revenue. The total toll revenue for the three months in the 95 Express Lanes was $15 million. For the 495 Express Lanes, it was $13 million, about 58 percent higher than for the same period in 2014.