Drivers Encounter Slower Travel in “Express Lanes”

WASHINGTON — When drivers in Northern Virginia decide to use the I-95 Express Lanes, most are willing to pay a toll in exchange for a smooth trip and free-flowing traffic. But some of these drivers have encountered the opposite — bumper-to-bumper traffic that some say is much worse than in the regular lanes.

With the warmer weather in recent weeks, the volume of traffic on I-95 has been steadily increasing. Friday afternoons are the busiest travel period on the interstate. To the dismay of late-week drivers in the Express Lanes, a long delay has formed over the past several Friday afternoons in Quantico. The backup leads to the southern end of the Express Lanes, where an elevated ramp deposits traffic into the main lanes of I-95 before the highway’s interchange at Route 610.

Last Friday, this queue was over seven miles long by midafternoon, beginning near Dumfries, Virginia. Some who drove the lanes said they waited for more than an hour in an exit-less stretch through the Quantico Marine Base just for an opportunity to escape. Most agreed that the drivers in the main lanes were making better time.

One driver put it this way: “I feel ripped off.” Liz commutes from Fredericksburg to Reston using the Express Lanes on I-95 and I-495 every day. She was quick to express her frustration as she inched through the recurring Friday afternoon traffic jam several weeks ago.

“I’m paying the highest price right now, probably, because of the amount of volume … and I’m going a fraction of the pace of the mainline. I bowl in a bowling league and I thought I’d be home by seven o’clock, but now I probably won’t be home until eight at the earliest.”

Mike McGurk, with TransUrban, the developer and operator of the 95 Express Lanes, says he is aware of the delay: “It’s the Friday getaway traffic that’s compounding it.” – WTOP Sprawl and Crawl

Read the full story on WTOP.com


Is this the future of I-66 as well?  What does the new I-95 Express Lanes experience tell us about what I-66 might be like approaching the Beltway?  Unlike I-95, the proposed I-66 transformation will remove a free lane at peak hours, which is now open with a green arrow.

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7 Responses to Drivers Encounter Slower Travel in “Express Lanes”

  1. Mark S. says:

    I-95 and I-66 are very different. I-95 is a major east coast interstate. I-66 is a 75 mile corridor.

    By 2040 Stafford County will almost have the same population as all the Northern Virginia counties west of Prince William and Loudon Counties combined.

    http://www.coopercenter.org/demographics/interactive-map/citycounty/13517

    The population estimates west of Haymarket will remain low due to terrain, parkland, and conservation easements.

    http://statchatva.org/2014/03/27/turning-population-projections-into-development-projections/

    I-66 transformation will modify the restricted HOV-2 lane during peak hours. The green arrow lane will be converted into a General Purpose Lane. Keeping I-66 inside the beltway restricted is the best thing that can happen to -66 near the Beltway.

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    • Bryan says:

      Mark, the actual I-66 Transformation proposal going forward into the Environmental Review hearings next month is quite different from what you suggest. The restricted HOV-2 lane is not being modified, it will be replaced entirely. Two new managed lanes will be built, expanding the foot print of the roadway. The Green Arrow shoulder/breakdown lane will no longer be open for traffic at anytime. So there will be 3 free lanes available, compared with the current 4 at rush hour. I encourage you to review the complete information available to date (VDOT has slowly been trickling information out) and attend the public meetings currently underway, and the Memorial Day week formal environmental hearings to learn more.

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      • Mark S. says:

        Bryan,

        By modified, I meant replaced by two managed lanes with HOV3(free) and tolls. Other than tolls, the main difference is changing from HOV2 to HOV3. The managed lanes will provide an reliable HOV3 trip. The current HOV2 is not reliable during peak periods. The current configuration with green arrow is very dangerous . A shoulder/breakdown lane should never be open to traffic in the first place. Plus, the new design includes auxiliary lanes between exits and entrances.

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      • Bryan says:

        It would be very interesting to see actual accident data for the dangerous green arrow lane versus a similar section without the green arrow lane during the same time of day.

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      • Mark S. says:

        Bryan,

        See page 2-18 of the linked document…the crash data is much higher between VA123 and the Beltway.

        http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/resources/northernvirginia/i-66_tier_1_draft_eis.pdf#page=60

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      • Bryan says:

        Mark, this data is for the entire freeway, not for the green arrow lane or even limited to the times of green arrow operation. The higher accident rate in this area is attributed in the report due to closely spaced exits and weaving. Also the green arrow lane starts at exit 57, not at exit 60 where the higher freeway accident rate was observed.

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      • Mark S. says:

        I was incorrect. According to the research below there is no statistically significant effect on crash frequency during peak hours for the Shoulder Lane.

        http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop10023/chap4.htm

        “Based on a safety analysis using negative binomial regression models and crash data from 2002 to 2004, researchers concluded that there was no evidence that the HOV/SL managed-lane strategy had a statistically significant effect on crash frequency during peak hours. As the authors of the study commented, “A typical factor, high AADT volume, and a natural causal factor, light conditions, especially combined with motorists’ aggressive lane change behaviors in merging and diverging areas, are presumably major factors influencing crashes in the study area,” and not the effect of the SL operations directly.”

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