The I-495 Express Lanes are in the final phase of construction and should be operational by late fall 2012, officials said during a news briefing Wednesday morning.
The lanes, which have been undergoing testing for the last couple of months, will bring faster, easier and pricier trips to commuters, but they’ll also bring major traffic changes.
“This is the biggest single traffic change for this region since the opening of I-66 30 years ago,” said Jennifer Aument, vice president of Transurban-Fluor, the company building the lanes. “So all drivers, whether they plan to use the Express Lanes or not, need to be alert and be prepared.”
Aument urged travelers to purchase their E-ZPass Flex transponders and learn as much as they can about the lane operations before they open. New EZ-Pass customers can get a week of toll-free travel when the lanes open if they create an account during October.
All travelers who wish to use the express lanes when they open will need an E-ZPass or an E-ZPass Flex. Flex users will be able to switch to HOV mode and avoid paying a toll if they have three or more people in the car.
Drivers should expect to pay somewhere between $3 to $6 for a roundtrip on the Express lanes in rush hour, and $1 to $2 during less congested periods.
Aument said tolls on the road aren’t established ahead of time – instead, they’re adjusted in real time depending on congestion levels.
Aument equated the opening of the Express Lanes to the “first day of school,” and said commuters need to visit the I-495 Express Lanes website before they open to orient themselves and map their routes.
The 14-mile stretch of high-tech toll lanes will run from the Mixing Bowl interchange in Springfield to just North of the Dulles Toll Road.
Officials held the briefing at the Express Lanes operations center in Alexandria, which will be manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when the lanes open. There, operators will handle enforcement and emergency response.
Virginia State Troopers will patrol the lanes to enforce the tolling, with beefed up police presence during rush hours.