Tolls on the Capital Beltway in N Virginia- Transurban begins publicity for 495 Express Lanes

January 9, 2012

Publicity has started for the new toll lanes on the I-495 Capital Beltway due to open late in the year. To be known as 495 Express Lanes they consist of a self-contained 2x2 lane tollroad within a freeway. Apart from the ends, access and egress will be via the Express Lanes own ramps, allowing it to operate without interference to or from the unpriced 4-lane roadways on either side. There are eleven entry/exit points.

The new website developed by Transurban describes how the new Express Lanes will work and allows people to sign up for a transponder and for regular emails on operations and other news.

The toll lanes are a near-$2 billon project in which some 14 miles, 23km of the busiest segment of the Washington DC area Capital Beltway (VA/I-495) was rebuilt from 8-lanes to 12 lanes with major work on interchanges to provide Express Lanes connections. The project goes back to 2002 when the large construction company Fluor won a procurement with the proposal to do toll-financed lanes as an alternative to an earlier unfinanceable scheme for more unpriced lanes.

The Fluor alternative required almost no property 'take' versus 350 homes, and promised a revenue stream from tolls to fund the project.

In 2004 Transurban the Australian toll company joined Fluor in partnership and has a 90% share in the 75 year toll concession designed to provide a return on the investment.

Fluor has done the design and construction with Lane Construction, while Transurban has put up most of the money, and will do operations.

Federal Signal is building a back office for Transurban.

Transponders including the switchable E-ZPass Flex will be issued by both the VDOT E-ZPass customer service center and Maryland.

Capacity in terms of roadspace is increased 50% (8 to 12 lanes)  but because toll managed lanes operate more efficiently actual capacity of this stretch of the Beltway should be increased 60% to 70%. In addition those for whom the value of a quick trip is high will have the option of buying it.

Most expensive so far

At around $1.95b this is the most expensive toll lanes project in the US so far.

Rounded the funding involved about $350m of investor equity mostly Australian money, $410m of grant money from VDOT not requiring repayment, $590m private activity bonds, $590m of TIFIA bonds, all requiring repayment.  VDOT has have the right to 30% of gross revenue beyond specified numbers to provide the possibility of a return on its spending.

 If non-paying high occupancy vehicles take more than a specified proportion of available capacity the concessionaire is entitled to compensation for lost tolls. (see end.)

VDOT has ownership of the physical assets and there are no restrictions on adding free lanes. Any extra toll lanes are Transurban's first right to build. The concessionaire is responsible for all maintenance and operations for the full life of the project.

Rebuild of 14 miles of Interstate

The construction work done under traffic only had lane closures outside peak hours, much of the work being done in the small hours of the night. More than 50 bridges were replaced with 12 interchanges or access points extensively rebuilt or built anew.

The Express Lanes interchanges range between simple and partial connections to surface arterials via signals and tight turns, up to multiple higher speed ramps at the three expressway standard interchanges with I-95 (Springfield Interchange), I-66 and VA267/Dulles Toll Road.

The segment of the Beltway covered carries around 200k vehicles/day and links I-95 and the Beltway from Alexandria and Maryland via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge with Dulles Toll Road, Dulles Access Road and Tysons Corner - northern Virginia's major center for offices and hotels.

Dynamic pricing

Dynamic pricing will be used on the 495 Express Lanes to help manage traffic volumes to the available capacity and ensure free flow is normally maintained through peak hours.  

Toll rates, they say, while depending on traffic demand, will probably range between 20c and $1.25/mile in some sections. The average toll for average trips likely to less than the full length of the road is expected to average $5.00 to $6.00 in rush hours.

The toll system, from Raytheon, has nine toll points covering both directions of traffic, allowing all trips to be monitored and tolled - when eligible for tolling.

New switchable E-ZPass transponders brandnamed E-ZPass Flex that 'declare' the occupancy of the vehicle are being pioneered on the 495 Express Lanes - the first supplied under last year's new technology procurement of the E-ZPass Group.

All vehicles using the 495 Lanes will be required to enroll and obtain a transponder - either a regular E-ZPass, or if they expect to sometimes carry the three or more persons to gain a toll-free (HOV) ride they'll need the new E-ZPass Flex.

E-ZPass Flex transponders should be available from the summer, manufacturer Kapsch willing.

Transponder required

Transurban says those who travel the Lanes without a transponder can expect a letter in the mail asking for payment of a toll plus a so far unspecified administrative fee. The letter will explain the rules and how to get a transponder.

Enforcement is explained:

"Virginia State Police will enforce the lanes with the help of technology.

"If you don't have an E-ZPassŪ, roadside equipment will capture an image of your license plate and we will send you an invoice in the mail requesting payment of your toll and an administrative fee.

"If you are carpooling, equipment on the side of the road will alert state police that you have identified yourself as HOV-3 through your E-ZPassŪ FlexSM.  State police will then do a visual check to make sure you indeed have three people in the car."

Under the terms of the concession contract the concessionaire can charge fees that cover costs of recovering the toll.

During their development phase the toll lanes were known as HOT Lanes. But to conform with a new signage ruling of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) they are being called the 495 Express Lanes. They use the new standard of a white banner sign using black capitals EXPRESS with the brand  white on purple toll logo purple.

Toll rates will be displayed on changeable message signs of yellow $x.xx on black.

Compensation for HOVs

VDOT contracts to pay the concessionaire 70% of the toll for the number of HOVs exceeding a threshold of 24% of the total flow of all vehicles per direction for the first 30 minutes during any day, and any additional 15 minute periods during which average traffic for a toll section per direction exceeds a rate of 3,200 vehicles per hour based on two lanes.

VDOT's obligation to pay such 'shadow tolls for HOVs starts after one year and goes for 40 years. It also ceases if a pre-tax internal rate of return on project funds of 12.98% based on the nominal net cash flow is reached for the year. Violators are not counted.

They think it most unlikely HOVs will hit these levels. The Beltway has no HOV lanes and unlike radial routes to the center no HOV tradition.


This is the first toll lanes project in the Washington DC area. It joins toll lanes projects open:

-  Los Angeles area's Orange Co CA (91 Express Lanes),

- San Diego CA (I-15 Express Lanes),

- Minneapolis MN (I-394 Express Lanes and I-35W Express Lanes),

- Seattle area WA's (SR167 HOT Lanes),

- Miami FL area (95 Express,

- Houston TX (Katy I-10 Managed Lanes),

- Salt Lake City UT I-15 Express Lanes

- Denver CO I-25

- San Francisco Bay Area's (I-680 Express Lane)

- Atlanta GA area's (I-85 Express Lanes)

In the Washington/Baltimore metro area a second toll express lanes project on I-95 north of the Baltimore Harbor tunnels is well into construction. Also under construction are:

- five Houston HOV to HOT lanes conversions on radial freeways

- Dallas TX's LBJ Freeway TX/I-635, North Tarrant Express I-820/I-35W/SH183, I-30 Managed Lanes, I-35E Managed Lanes

- Ft Lauderdale MIami area I-595

- Bay area CA Silicon Valley  Express Lanes SR237, Santa Clara Valley US101 Express Lanes, SR85 Express Lanes, Alameda Co I-580 Express Lanes

- Los Angeles area I-10, I-110, I-5, I-405 Express Lanes

Another set of toll express lanes projects are in study or planning, and may or may not go to construction. Many of the projects (but not the original 91 Express Lanes in California or the Capital Beltway project) have received some grants under the Express Lanes Demonstration Program of USDOT.

NOTE: please email us - - on any omissions or errors in the list above which is our best first shot - editor.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-01-09 REVISIONS 2012-01-10 12:00

Further Reading

Leave a comment:

Upcoming Events