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Virginia’s 95 Express Lanes Present a Glimpse into the Future

By: 
Bill Cramer

National legislators got a first-hand look at the future of highway transportation last Wednesday when the Commonwealth of Virginia cut the ribbon on the 29-mile 95 Express Lanes project.

The lanes follow a 29-mile route along I-95 and I-395 between Garrisonville Road in Stafford County and the Edsall Road area just north of the Beltway. At the Beltway, there’s a link to the 495 Express Lanes, which will create a HOT lanes network of about 40 miles between the southern suburbs and the Tysons Corner area.

Speaking at the historic opening included Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Timothy Kaine, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

How to Build a Highway
The project is a great example of how to get highway capacity built and ease local gridlock, even when traditional funding mechanisms aren’t available. And because the road serves the Washington metropolitan area, it will stand as a dynamic success story for any Member of Congress traveling this corridor, one of the busiest on the east coast.

The Washington Post’s own Dr. Gridlock, reporter Robert Thompson, ticked off the features that are familiar to anyone involved with the drive for managed lanes:

  • The system relies on all-electronic tolling, reflecting the new, technology-driven reality of modern toll roads.
  • Tolls are optional, with a general purpose road running alongside the toll lanes.
  • Carpools ride free, as long as they carry a specialized transponder to signal their status.
  • Dynamic pricing, ranging from 20 to 80¢ per mile, reflects the priority the Virginia Department of Transportation, Transurban, and HNTB placed on clearing a famously congested corridor.

Passing the ‘Cathedral Test’
U.S. Senator Timothy Kaine said the project pointed to the role of public-private partnerships in easing a crushing surface transportation deficit. Foxx said the road passed the “cathedral test,” noting that the project spanned the terms of four different governors from planning to opening.

Like a medieval cathedral that may have taken more than 100 years to build, the political leaders who launched the project realized they would be out of office by the time it was complete, the Secretary said. “But they knew that if they didn’t put that first corner stone in place, the cathedral wouldn’t get done.”

The project also earned praise from Lon Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic. Drivers are often concerned that “the rich will roll and the poor will poke” on HOT lanes, he said. But on the 95 Express Lanes, “what we have seen is that everyone is benefiting.”

A Success Story for the Entire Country
In an era of tight budgets and partisan (as opposed to traffic) gridlock, it’s no news to IBTTA members that tolling is often one solid performing funding option to fund highway construction, maintenance, or expansion.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, and a positive experience in the minds of dozens or hundreds of key decision-makers is worth several thousand more. The 95 Express Lanes were built to serve the region’s long-suffering commuters, but they’ll tell a story that benefits the entire country.

Visit IBTTA’s SmartMove page for more success stories on tolling, user financing, and highway infrastructure.