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A new travel option may be available to local commuters looking to beat the traffic in a matter of weeks.

The new 495 Express Lanes could open as soon as Nov. 17, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced Wednesday. The projected opening date is slightly ahead of the original project schedule.

The privately operated Express Lanes add two new lanes in each direction along a 14-mile stretch of the Capital Beltway, between the Dulles Toll Road and the Springfield interchange. They are free for buses, car pools and van pools with at least three passengers, and motorcycles. Other drivers will pay a variable priced toll.

Toll prices depend on the distance the driver is traveling and how many other people are using the Express Lanes. The prices will go up as the number of cars on the road increases, to ensure that traffic on the Express Lanes remains free-flowing. The rate is locked in when a driver enters the lanes and would not go up during the course of a trip.

With the opening just weeks away, VDOT and Express Lanes operator Transurban are continuing to urge drivers to get familiar with the new road system before it opens.

“Drivers must take steps now to prepare to use the new lanes,” said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. “This facility will have a regional impact on all travelers. We need drivers to be prepared for the changes in traffic patterns and new rules of the road.”

The Express Lanes offer three new beltway entrance and exit points, but drivers also cannot access the lanes from all current beltway exits. There is also no right shoulder on the Express Lanes, so drivers are instructed to pull over to the left in case of car trouble or an emergency.

In addition, all drivers must have an E-ZPass to use the new lanes, as it only offers electronic tolling. Those wishing to car pool on the Express Lanes will need to obtain an E-ZPass Flex, which has a switch to put the device in carpool mode so that drivers won’t be charged a toll.

Those wishing to learn more about the new Express Lanes can visit 495expresslanes.com for maps, E-ZPass information, safety tips and more.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com