The operators of Virginia’s I-495 Express Lanes unveiled the highway’s incident command center on Wednesday where traffic monitors will watch the flow of vehicles on a widescreen monitor displaying a dozen camera angles. The new lanes are expected to open by the end of fall.
The center will operate 24/7 with staffers monitoring traffic volume in order to compute toll rates. The new roadway – connecting the Dulles Toll Road to the I-395/I-95/Springfield interchange 14 miles to the south – will charge drivers dynamic tolls, meaning the price will change depending on traffic volume. The more traffic, the higher the toll.
The express lanes’ private sector operator, Transurban, is required to keep traffic moving at least 45 m.p.h., so if traffic slows due to heavy volume tolls, will be significantly increased to deter further drivers. Transurban invested $1.5 billion into the lanes as part of a public-private partnership with Virginia, and will receive toll revenues for the next 75 years.
“Three times per mile we will have detector stations that will give our control center here information regarding what is the volume of traffic and what is the speed of traffic,” said Transurban operations manager Rob Kerns. “Our dynamic pricing is scheduled to update every fifteen minutes.”
Transurban has not released precise toll rates because of the dynamic nature of the pricing system. Moreover, once the highway opens, staffers will need some time to determine what rates work best.
“The tolls are set minute to minute based on what's actually happening out there. We won't know until the road opens how drivers are reacting to different toll prices,” said Jennifer Aument, a project spokeswoman.
The average toll will be between $3 and $6 during busy periods, said Aument, who said the Express Lanes are designed for use a couple times a week when drivers need a dependable ride. The new lanes will run parallel to 495’s regular travel lanes that are often clogged bumper-to-bumper.
Aument is encouraging drivers to familiarize themselves with the coming changes to the Beltway at 495ExpressLanes.com and to sign up for an E-ZPass as soon as possible. Only E-ZPass will be accepted in the new lanes, with HOV-3, buses, and motorcycles riding free. However, carpoolers will still need to obtain an E-ZPass Flex transponder.