WAMU: The last section of the I-95 Express Lanes opens this week in Northern Virginia

WAMU, JORDAN PASCALE

The last planned extension of the I-95 Express Lanes is set to open late Thursday night, and with the opening, Virginia will have the longest reversible toll lane in the nation at more than 45 miles long.

The 10-mile extension, which officials are calling FredEx, runs from Aquia Harbor to Fredericksburg and is opening more than a year later than planned because of contractual disputes over soil issues. The $670 million project, a public-private partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Australian company Transurban, broke ground in 2019.

The new section will open going southbound starting at 10 p.m. Thursday. Like the rest of the I-95 Express Lanes, the FredEx lanes are reversible and thus will be open to northbound traffic Friday morning. Drivers who take the lanes in either direction will have to commit to the entire 10-mile span, however, because entrance and exit ramps to the new extension, including at Courthouse Road/Route 630 and to Marine Corps Base Quantico, are not yet open. They’re slated to be completed late this year.

Nonetheless, local officials are excited the project is finally opening.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), Sen. Tim Kaine (D), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D), and Stafford County board chair Pamela Yeung (D) helped cut the ribbon at an event Wednesday. All said they have sat in mind-numbing traffic on I-95.

“We have a very simple rule in my life, in my family, in my office,” Spanberger said. “If the Express Lanes are headed the direction you want to go, always take them. You will never regret it.”

Officials say it will help ease congestion in one of the worst traffic corridors in the nation. They also say it could save drivers who use the lanes up to 35 minutes on a trip from D.C. to Fredericksburg.

“Our robust economy is getting another boost today as the 95 Express Lanes provide faster, more reliable transportation along one of the Commonwealth’s busiest stretches of highway,” Youngkin said at the press conference. “We have a moment today to celebrate. And while I’m sure that so many of us at some point have questioned with frustration whether traffic would ever be moving again, I think we can all collectively say very proudly that Virginia is on the move.”

The Express Lanes are optional and carry a variable toll. Vehicles with three or more people, buses, vanpools, and motorcycles can use the lanes for free, as long as they have an E-ZPass Flex in HOV mode. Vehicles with less than three passengers pay a toll based on the amount of traffic in the regular lanes; the more traffic, the higher the toll. The goal is to set the price at a level to keep the Express Lanes running at no less than 55 mph.

The goal is for the lanes to encourage ridesharing and transit that reduce the number of cars on the road. Transurban, the private operator of the road, says more than 2.7 million transit trips have been taken on their roads since 2019, reducing greenhouse gases by 4,000 tons.

The lanes have not been universally accepted though, with some drivers calling them “Lexus Lanes” for their sometimes high costs. But Kaine says every driver paying for the Express Lanes helps people in the regular lanes.

“I’ve seen a progressive improvement in travel in the region because of the investments that have already been made,” Kaine said at the ribbon cutting. “And this will continue to help it. I can’t imagine where we would be if we didn’t have them for 495, 395, 95, and now this, to Fredericksburg.”

Some of the toll proceeds go toward funding transit such as buses and vanpools, as well as other commuter options in the corridor. More than $60 million has been contributed to the Commuter Choice Program via the 395 Express Lanes toll revenue so far and $15 million is going to commuter buses out of Stafford and Fredericksburg that use the lanes.

Virginia has built nearly 100 miles of Express Lanes across I-95, I-66, I-395, and I-495. An extension of the lanes on I-495 from near Tysons to the Potomac River is under construction with an opening date set for late this year or early next year. Another section on I-495 from the I-395 interchange to across the Wilson Bridge into Maryland is under study.

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