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Here is Virginia’s plan to grow its network of express lanes in 2023

More than 80 miles of express lanes have been built in Northern Virginia in the last decade and more are coming in 2023 and beyond

Motorists use the regular and express lanes of I-66 near Manassas. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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Northern Virginia added 22.5 miles of express lanes in 2022, ending the year with a network of more than 80 miles of dynamic tolling that in the past decade has changed traffic patterns on interstates 66, 95, 395 and 495. State transportation officials say more are coming.

After the fall debut of the 66 Express Lanes outside the Beltway, Virginia is poised to open another 10 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes in 2023 and another 2.5 miles in 2025, while the state is expected to determine whether it’s feasible to build an additional 11 miles to complete its portion of the Capital Beltway.

“We’re building a transportation network that includes opportunities for all modes of travel and tries to give people choices,” said Susan Shaw, megaprojects director at the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Though traffic congestion continues to trouble Northern Virginia, Shaw said the growing toll road system is delivering positive results, including gains in carpooling, benefits to transit users and revenue that helps to pay for other road infrastructure.

Toll operator Transurban, which operates express lanes on 495, 395 and 95, said it has seen growth of 105 percent in carpooling and bus trips on its system since 2012, when the 495 Express Lanes debuted. And, it said, the system moves more than 50,000 additional people, on average, each day between Springfield and Tysons compared with before the 495 Express Lanes were opened.

“Can you take a congestion-free ride on these corridors? Yes, you can, and you couldn’t do that before,” Shaw said. “Does it mean that the general-purpose lanes are congestion-free? They’re not, and they’re not ever going to be. But nor would any system we would have built.”

Here’s what’s in line for the state’s toll-lane system:

10 miles of express lanes to Fredericksburg in 2023

Toll operator Transurban and VDOT say the 10-mile extension of the I-95 express lanes to Fredericksburg is on track for opening before the end of 2023, more than a year behind schedule. The $640 million project was caught up in a contractual dispute over soil conditions last year, but it has since been resolved and work is advancing, project officials said.

Recent milestones include replacement of a bridge over American Legion Road in Stafford County. Crews in early December finished erecting the structural steel on the project and are pouring concrete for bridge decks throughout the project.

Work zones will continue over the next months along the project area, from Route 610 in the Garrisonville area to Route 17 near Fredericksburg. That work will include shoulder closures as well as lane closures during nonpeak hours.

“Motorists are going to see a lot of work. … They’re going to see a lot of the tolling equipment starting to get erected, a lot of final paving and a lot of final bridge construction,” said Robert Ridgell, megaprojects engineer at VDOT.

Virginia 95 Express Lanes to Fredericksburg to open in late 2023

Work intensifies on Beltway widening to American Legion Bridge

Construction is about to get more real on the 2.5 miles of the Capital Beltway near the American Legion Bridge, where crews are widening the road to bring the 495 Express Lanes closer to Maryland.

The $660 million project, from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the George Washington Memorial Parkway, will add two express lanes in each direction in late 2025. The 495 Express Lanes now stretch 14 miles from Springfield to McLean and connect to the 395, 95 and 66 express lanes.

The northern extension project will include a parallel trail along the Beltway and new bus service across the bridge into Montgomery County. The lanes will also connect to the planned express lanes on Maryland’s side of the Beltway and I-270.

Construction began in March. The contractor has been removing hundreds of trees in the McLean area to make way for ramps, prompting protests by neighbors who say their removal is unnecessary. VDOT officials said they are working with residents to reduce the effects.

Lane closure kicks off major work on Beltway widening in Virginia

A new trail along the 66 Express Lanes

The 22.5 miles of the 66 Express Lanes outside the Beltway fully opened in late November, bringing the largest change to the Washington region’s road infrastructure in years. Along with the toll lanes, the state changed the corridor’s HOV requirements from two occupants in a vehicle to three, a major shift for carpoolers.

Crews have continued to work on rebuilding sound walls and completing slope work, while finishing 11 miles of bike trail along the route from Dunn Loring to Centreville.

Shaw said the trail work is focused on completing key connections at Gallows Road. Some segments of the trail could open in early spring, but the goal is to have the trail completed in time for Bike-to-Work Day on May 19.

Traffic shift on I-66: 3 people required to use HOV lanes

A study for bidirectional express lanes on I-95

VDOT is studying whether to allow bidirectional travel on a section of the 95 Express Lanes. The lanes are reversible, which means the travel direction changes depending on the day and time. On weekdays, traffic is northbound during the morning commute and southbound in the afternoon.

Shaw said the state is considering having bidirectional travel on a 12-mile section, between the Franconia-Springfield Parkway and Dale City, an area that suffers from severe congestion in both directions even during the nonpeak hours.

She said the study will explore “innovative ways we can look to address and provide additional capacity in that area.” But many questions remain, she said, adding that it is too early to know whether the space would allow for traffic in both direction. Currently, two lanes operating in the same direction maintain a 55 mph limit.

“It’s going to be very important that we look at the transition areas and make sure that we’re not creating worse congestion in those areas,” she said. “It’s really at the very, very early stages just to see, what are the means, what is the demand, what innovative ways can we think about how to provide this additional capacity?”

Options to link toll lanes to the Wilson Bridge

On the other end of the 495 Express Lanes, VDOT is expected to wrap up a study looking at extending the lanes another 11 miles to the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, a link that would complete the final leg of a tolling system on Virginia’s portion of the Capital Beltway.

Virginia explores extending 495 Express Lanes another 11 miles to Wilson Bridge

After meetings in 2022, VDOT officials said they are midway to completing the study and will unveil options in mid-2023. Shaw said officials are looking at adding one or two lanes in each direction and expect that even with the addition of four total lanes, the project would be within the existing right of way.

“It’s not a big widening or something where we’re going to be taking houses,” Shaw said. “But it still is a complicated area, just to figure out how to meet the travel demand in the corridor.”