Members of the Board of County Supervisors recently had the opportunity to see the progress of the 95 Express Lanes project from the newly constructed Joplin Road flyover. The project is 88 percent complete; and Prince William commuters should experience easier rush hour commutes when the project opens to the public in early 2015.
The 95 Express Lanes provide free, limited-access carpool lanes for drivers with three or more passengers, just like the current traditional High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes along I-95. However, with the Express Lanes, drivers with less than three people in the car may use the lanes by paying a toll. The toll fluctuates based on traffic volume. If there’s heavy traffic on I-95, people pay more. Lighter traffic results in lesser tolls.
Currently, there are two traditional HOV lanes on I-95. Once the project is complete, the traditional lanes will be converted to Express Lanes. It will also include an extension of the lanes to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. There will also be a third lane beginning north of the Prince William Parkway and extending to Edsall Road. These additional lanes should help ease traffic woes and provide capacity for toll-paying commuters in addition to high occupancy travelers.
Prince William Board of County Supervisor’s Chairman, Corey A. Stewart, believes the Express Lanes will be a great benefit for county commuters. “It’s a huge project for the Prince William community. We have so much congestion on I-95, especially in the afternoon at the exits in the southern part of the county. This project is going to make a major improvement to the commute on the 95 corridor.”
The $925 million project is a partnership between the Commonwealth and Fluor-Transurban under the Virginia Public-Private Partnership Act. Fluor-Transurban will operate the 29-mile stretch of Express Lanes when the project is complete. Federal grants, in part, were also used to help pay for the project. Profits from tolls will be split among the investors, the state and Fluor-Transurban, after maintenance and operating costs are paid.
Jamie C. Breme, the community-public affairs manager for Fluor, said the project was built using the principles of public-private partnership legislation that Prince William County and the Commonwealth developed to build transportation projects across the county.
Stewart said the deal saves taxpayers’ money. “Prince William County actually pioneered the concept of public-private partnerships that reduces the impact to taxpayers and allows us to get these projects done under budget and on time.”
Prince William Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan is hopeful for the improved quality of life that the new road promises. “I hope this helps the traffic because we desperately need to reduce congestion along 95. One thing I’m happy about is that they will be adding sound walls through the Town of Dumfries. Residents have wanted that for years and years, and they finally have been given some reprieve from the traffic noise.”
Whether you are a 3-plus passenger vehicle or paying a toll, all users of the Express Lanes must have an “EZPass” or “EZPass Flex” transponder in their car. The transponder will note where people entered the Express lanes. As they travel on the road, it will signal how far they have traveled and charge the EZPass accordingly.
For those with 3-plus passengers, the EZPass Flex allows the user to switch to “HOV” mode and use the lanes for free. Those paying the toll will be charged accordingly.
Kevin J. Ginnerty, director of project delivery for Transurban, noted that people won’t be able “to game the system” and clog up the road. That’s because the transponders will send signals along the route and police will be monitoring the signals and the drivers.
“The Virginia State Police will be working with us and there’ll be enforcement throughout the corridor,” Ginnerty said. “Police will have equipment in their car and will know when you pass under a tolling station whether you’ve claimed you’re on HOV. If you claim HOV, but they don’t see three people in the vehicle, they’ll pull you over, just like they do now on the HOV system.”
Ginnerty said the fines for cheating will be “proscriptive” and in line with the fines currently being charged for cheating in the current HOV lanes.
For more information about the Express Lanes project, visit www.95expresslanes.com.