Another section of Virginia’s interstate express lanes system is set to open over the weekend.
The eight miles of HOV lanes on Interstate 395—from Alexandria to the Washington line—will close Friday night for the last time as HOV lanes and reopen Sunday night as electronically tolled lanes.
The change is expected to impact 100,000 drivers.
Crews will work on converting the lanes over the weekend before opening them with tolling in place, Mike McGurk, a customer experience manager for the Australian-based toll lane operator Transurban, said Wednesday.
While the new I–395 express lanes will work like those on Interstate 95 and Interstate 495, McGurk said drivers will face some adjustments, with “the biggest change” likely to be experienced by Monday morning commuters.
He highlighted the Eads Street exit as one area where drivers will see a new layout. He described it as a split-ramp design, with drivers headed to the Pentagon needing to stay left while Pentagon City drivers go to the right.
Otherwise, express lane veterans will recognize the overhead signs and dynamic tolls, which cover sections and adjust according to traffic. The I–395 lanes will have three reversible lanes. To use them, drivers need an E–ZPass transponder. Buses, motorcycles and vehicles with at least three occupants can use the lanes for free.
McGurk said Transurban’s estimate is that a trip on the I–395 express lanes will cost $8, ranging between a few dollars and $20 during peak times. But it depends on usage, which likely will take time to develop.
The toll lanes will save drivers a half-hour on their commute, he said.
McGurk compared the I–395 estimates to the current average toll price on I–95 of $9. He noted that the I–95 toll can balloon into the $30s.
He also said drivers will not see toll prices covering the entire trip between Stafford and the D.C. line in either direction. Those prices can be seen online.
Few drivers travel the entire length of the express lanes, McGurk said. Most drivers travel 10 to 12 miles on the lanes.
Slugs will get a perk for using the express lanes. McGurk said drivers who drop off slugs at the Eads Street exit will be able to use the final express lanes stretch to D.C.
The new lanes represent yet another segment added to the express lanes system. The first stretch of electronically tolled lanes opened in 2012 on I–495. The I–95 express lanes opened in 2014, replacing a stretch of HOV lanes commuters had used for decades. Congestion problems soon emerged at the North Stafford merge area, resulting in a pair of southward extensions.
The first addition was about two miles.
The second extension, still in progress, will add about 10 miles of two reversible lanes in the median of I–95, reaching U.S. 17. New access points will be added at Quantico and Old Courthouse Road. Work on the $565 million project is expected to finish in fall 2022.