The high-occupancy toll lanes system on Interstate 395 is months away, but drivers are already noticing some changes in the corridor, including new E-ZPass readers going up.
Over the weekend, crews began to install toll technology for the HOT lanes operation — an extension of the 95 Express Lanes. But officials say drivers don’t have to worry about getting charged for trips until the system goes live in late October.
“Despite the presence of the new technology, drivers are reminded that the E-ZPass requirement and tolling will not go into effect on the I-395 corridor until the 395 Express Lanes open in the fall,” said Michael McGurk, a spokesman for Transurban, the company that will operate the toll lanes.
Construction is well underway along the eight-mile stretch of I-395, where today’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are being converted into toll lanes. The $480-million project will deliver the next major milestone in Virginia’s vision to build a network of more than 90 miles of HOT lanes in Northern Virginia by 2022.
About 55 miles of express lanes have opened on Interstates 495, 95 and 66 within the past seven years. Earlier this year, Virginia announced an agreement with Transurban to extend the 495 Express Lanes to the American Legion Bridge, a project that will add nearly three miles to Virginia’s system of HOT lanes. Transurban is also expanding the I-95 toll lanes to Fredericksburg, adding another 10 miles.
Also under construction are 22 miles of express lanes on Interstate 66, from the Capital Beltway out to Gainesville. That project will be completed in 2022.
The project covers the Northern Virginia portion of I-395, which includes four northbound and four southbound general-purpose lanes, as well as two reversible HOV lanes in the middle. The two reversible HOV lanes are being converted to three reversible HOT lanes without significantly affecting the overall width of the road, according to officials.
Currently, the HOV lanes operate in the northbound direction in the morning and southbound in the afternoon and evening. HOV restrictions are in effect during the peak commute hours. But the lanes will change to a 24-hour toll system when the project is completed, officials say.
As part of the project, Virginia is making improvements to the parking and drop-off area at the Pentagon, reconstructing the Pentagon south parking area to create new bus lanes, and space for commuters. This portion of the project to be complete in May, will improve traffic flow and safety, state transportation officials said.
In coming months, drivers can expect work crews to continue to build the barriers that separate the express lanes from the general purpose lanes and the installation of more tolling equipment, light poles and overhead signs. This work will require some overnight and weekend closures of the HOV lanes, officials said.
After the HOT lanes open, work will continue to widen a portion of southbound 395, from Duke Street to Edsall Road. The plan is to add a fourth lane in the 2.7-mile stretch, officials said.
The project also includes enhancements at the Eads Street interchange near the Pentagon to improve traffic flow.
Crews have begun installing E-ZPass readers, cameras, and HOV enforcement beacons on the first two of eight gantries in the southernmost part of the I-395 corridor, just north of Edsall Road.
“We will continue installing the technology on the remaining sets of the gantries over the spring and summer,” McGurk said. The work will take place on weekends when the HOV lanes are closed to traffic.
After the technology is installed, there will be a period to configure and test the technology, McGurk said.