The conversion of Interstate 395’s two high-occupancy lanes to three express lanes will be complete this weekend with tolls taking effect Sunday evening.
To prepare for the launch, the I-395 HOV lanes will be closed Friday night through most of the weekend so that crews can unveil signage and ensure the three express lanes will be ready when they reopen on Nov. 17.
Operated by Transurban, which also runs the I-95 Express Lanes, the I-395 Express Lanes will be open to vehicles with at least two passengers for free, while any other drivers who want to use the lanes must pay a toll that fluctuates depending on traffic levels.
All drivers are required to have an E-Z Pass to use the express lanes or an E-Z Pass Flex that is switched to HOV mode in order to use the lanes without paying a toll when there are at least three people in the car.
“This is really a continuation of our approach on the 95 Express Lanes,” Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk said.
The I-395 Express Lanes essentially extend the I-95 Express Lanes eight miles north from the Turkeycock Run interchange near Edsall Road in Alexandria to the 14th Street Bridge going into Washington, D.C.
As they approach 395, 95 Express Lane users will see overhead signs with the 395 toll prices so they can decide whether they want to continue onto the new express lanes.
In contrast with the existing 395 HOV lanes, where high-occupancy vehicle rules applied only during rush hour, the express lanes will have HOV and toll requirements throughout the whole day.
Transurban estimates that the 395 Express Lanes will have an average toll of $8, but prices could run anywhere from a few dollars to more than $20 during peak traffic hours based on the volume and speed of traffic as measured by sensors placed along the road.
Toll prices will change as frequently as every 10 minutes.
While the 395 Express Lanes largely follow the same footprint as the HOV lanes, a redesigned interchange at South Eads Street in Arlington might cause some complications as drivers adjust to new traffic patterns.
Where northbound drivers currently exit I-395 all on the same ramp, a newly built ramp will split traffic with drivers headed to the Pentagon going to the left and drivers looking to go to Pentagon City taking a right onto the existing ramp.
VDOT and Transurban hope that having a designated exit ramp for the Pentagon and the newly installed traffic lights at the interchange will alleviate some of the congestion on Eads Street, according to McGurk.
In an acknowledgment of its popularity as a slugging drop-off point, carpool drivers who exit the 395 Express Lanes to drop off passengers on Eads Street will be allowed to return to the lanes on the Eads Street ramp and travel the rest of the way for free, even if they no longer meet the HOV requirement.
In addition, all of the ramps that currently lead to 395 HOV lanes will feed into the express lanes, including the northbound ramps near South Eads Street, and as a result, drivers will be required to have an E-Z Pass or E-Z Pass Flex to use those ramps to get to the express lanes.
All of the ramps onto the 395 Express Lanes will be open to any drivers looking to use the lanes, except for the south-facing Seminary Road HOV ramp in Alexandria, which will remain open only to vehicles with at least three riders.
Prospective carpoolers who do not already have an E-Z Pass Flex can contact the 395 Express Lanes team at 855-495-9777 or email@example.com before Dec. 1 to register their license plate number and get seven days of toll-free travel on the express lanes.
The offered grace period is intended to give drivers time to acquire an E-Z Pass Flex online, by calling 877-762-7824, or by visiting an E-Z Pass customer service center or retailer, which can be located by visiting ezpassva.com.
Drivers who take the 395 Express Lanes by mistake should also contact the Express Lanes customer service team, who will work with them to address any toll charges.
According to McGurk, Transurban’s top concern as the company prepares for the express lanes to open is ensuring that everyone stays safe.
“We want customers to have a great experience,” McGurk said.
The new express lanes have been in the works since November 2015 when the Commonwealth of Virginia signed an agreement with Transurban enlisting the company to operate the lanes in the same fashion as its existing partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation on the I-95 Express Lanes.
The project cost an estimated $480 million, according to VDOT.
Under its agreement with VDOT, Transurban will devote $15 million of the toll revenues it receives annually from the express lanes to a commuter choice program that funds transit improvements in the I-95 and I-395 corridors.
The Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board voted on Oct. 17 to approve 10 transit and multimodal projects funded by Transurban’s first toll revenue subsidy from the 395 Express Lanes.
Expected to cost $18.9 million in total, the projects were chosen through a competitive grant application process managed by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and expected to move an additional 700 people through the corridor every day while saving close to 89,000 hours in travel delays each year.
The projects include three new bus routes, five enhancements to existing bus services, and two transit demand management outreach efforts.
Three of the projects are in service already with about half of them scheduled to be complete by the end of the year, NVTC marketing and outreach manager Jae Watkins says.
“Investing in transportation choices is key to unlocking congestion in this vital economic corridor,” Transurban North America president Jennifer Aument said. “The 395 Express Lanes will not only provide a faster, safer, more reliable trip for our customers but also provide a dedicated source of transit funding to enhance connectivity across the 95 and 395 corridor for generations to come.”