Nov. 17 will be a great day for anyone regularly using the Beltway — one of the county's main streets. Transurban, Fluor and the Virginia Department of Transportation recently announced that the 495 Express Lanes are going to be open Nov. 17.
I have been a strong advocate of the 495 Express Lanes project and HOT lanes even before there was a project, because they provide transportation choices, leverage the ingenuity of the private sector and provide additional capacity.
Providing Transportation Choices
The 495 Express Lanes provide commuters with choices including for the first time in this corridor both carpool (HOV-3) and mass transit:
ź You can now choose to take a bus and get a quicker trip to work in lanes guaranteed to run at 55 mph. Currently no bus routes use the ever congested 495.
ź You now can choose to join a carpool or slug (HOV-3) using the Express Lanes and get a quicker trip (55 mph) to work without a toll (you need an EZ Pass — Flex).
ź If you are late for a job interview or to relieve a baby sitter or are a plumber that bills by the hour you can now choose to make a financial decision to pay the toll to drive at 55 mph. Prices will vary based on congestion to keep enough people off to keep the speed of 55 mph.
ź If you prefer, you can also choose to continue to ride in the free lanes. However these lanes will be significantly less congested because of the capacity that will now be in the new Express Lanes.
Leveraging Private Sector Ingenuity
When the initial plans for 495 were first announced, the planned project was for two barrier separated HOV lanes. The proposed project’s cost was $3.6 billion dollars and took 1,800 homes, significant parkland and part of the Capital One parking garage. There was not, and likely still would not be funding for the project.
Private sector ingenuity and creativity reduced the cost of the project by more than half to $1.6 billion, including the reconstruction of all of the overpasses. They created a funding mechanism (the tolls) to pay for the project and then completed the project in record time and ahead of schedule.
In addition to adding two high capacity lanes in each direction with mass transit and HOV capabilities, the project also added several different entrances directly into Tysons. These ramps will put Express Lane riders, including busses and carpoolers, right into Tysons at Jones Branch Drive and Westpark Drive providing relief to some of the congestion to the 495 interchanges at Route 7 and 123.
In order to make sure you are prepared when they open, I am hosting a community meeting on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in the West Springfield Community Room to provide residents an overview of the Express Lanes and answer their questions. There will also be information on the new bus routes that will operate on the Express Lanes.
In tight fiscal times, public-private partnerships, like the Express Lanes project, are an important way we can add capacity. Without this partnership there would be no end in sight for I-495 congestion. I have been working with local elected officials, VDOT and the Secretary of Transportation to make them a reality in the I-66 corridor where we need significant congestion relief. I also believe there is the opportunity to connect these into Maryland and up the HOV corridor on I-270, expanding a network of semi dedicated lanes where carpools and mass transit provide a time advantage commute to attract riders and reduce congestion.
Pat Herrity is the supervisor for the Springfield District and formerly chaired the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Choices Committee