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Northern Virginia HOT Lanes

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74/171FAN:

--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---
Weekends, going north: like described above, the Rappahannock is the big bottleneck.  The lanes don't begin until beyond there.  But it will bring that point where the road opens up a little bit further south, so it might help a little north of Fredericksburg.  Hopefully enough traffic will actually use the lanes to pull enough traffic out of the mainline lanes to give some congestion relief.  But don't count on it!
 

--- End quote ---
  In my experiences going to DC for Nationals games the traffic always lets up northbound when the HOV lanes begin so moving the start of the HOV/HOT lanes south should most definitely provide some relief farther south.

1995hoo:

--- Quote from: NJRoadfan on August 15, 2012, 07:51:56 PM ---Anyone have a picture of the E-ZPass Flex transponders. Curious if they are based on the newer/smaller Mark IV transponders currently in use for SC's Palmetto Pass or if its the older design all the E-ZPass agencies are required to use.

--- End quote ---

The 495 Express Lanes site has images of both the standard E-ZPass and the Flex. The Flex is smaller and wider:





The Virginia E-ZPass site shows a smaller standard transponder on their main page in the ad for "E-ZPass on the Go," where you buy a transponder at a retail store and activate it later (similar to how Florida sells the SunPass at Publix grocery stores). I've never seen one that looks like this:

mtantillo:

--- Quote from: 74/171FAN on August 15, 2012, 10:59:12 PM ---
--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---
Weekends, going north: like described above, the Rappahannock is the big bottleneck.  The lanes don't begin until beyond there.  But it will bring that point where the road opens up a little bit further south, so it might help a little north of Fredericksburg.  Hopefully enough traffic will actually use the lanes to pull enough traffic out of the mainline lanes to give some congestion relief.  But don't count on it!
 

--- End quote ---
  In my experiences going to DC for Nationals games the traffic always lets up northbound when the HOV lanes so moving the start of the HOV/HOT lanes south should most definitely provide some relief farther south.

--- End quote ---

Currently, anyone who wants to use those lanes can.  Under the HOT lane scenario, the number of people peeling off into the HOT lanes will be artificially constrained by tolls, so there might be less traffic exiting and more in the mainline lanes. 

1995hoo:
I was driving on I-395 this afternoon and I found myself pondering how the tolling might work and I ultimately concluded that for someone who lives where I do (Kingstowne) there may be a fair reason to consider paying the tolls from time to time because of how access from here to I-95 works. It's a bit of a pain—to get to the general-purpose lanes I either go up to the Beltway, then move across to take the flyover ramp to I-95 South, or else I go across Franconia Road and then through the red lights (they are always red!!!!) in Springfield near Robert E. Lee High School because the Franconia Road flyover lanes do not allow access to the Interstate, or I go south to Newington or Lorton.

For the HOV lanes, in contrast, if they're going in the direction I want, I can just make three right turns out of my neighborhood and soon I'm on the Franconia–Springfield Parkway and I hop into the lanes there.

For travel to and from the south (Woodbridge, Richmond, etc.), I can see myself paying the toll fairly regularly to use the Express Lanes between the Lorton slip ramp (really located closer to Newington, but the southbound exit sign says Lorton because that's the next exit) and the Franconia–Springfield Parkway, or the reverse maneuver. The distance is minimal and the time savings compared to going up to the Beltway, fighting across three lanes to exit at Van Dorn, then driving back the other way (or doing all this in reverse), makes the toll worth it unless the traffic in the general-purpose lanes is so extraordinarily bad that the toll is sky-high—but in that case you'd hear it on the radio and go a different way.

Similarly, the distance between the Turkeycock ramps and the Beltway is so minimal, and traffic on I-395 there usually flows freely enough, that it's fair to expect the toll between those two points to be quite low. I can certainly see how during the non-HOV hours (for the portion north of Turkeycock)—say, coming back from a game in DC—the toll might be so minimal to make it not worth exiting at Turkeycock and then exiting onto the Beltway.

........Which is all a very long way of using personal circumstances to say that I think the dynamic of Express Lane usage on I-95 might prove to be very different from the way it works on the Beltway precisely because of the "segment-based" tolling system I mentioned earlier. I would not be surprised if you see people paying the toll on the section further south in the morning but then bailing back into the mainline further north as the toll for the northern segments increases. It might make for a very interesting sort of traffic flow based on where people move back and forth and I think it's very likely that your average toll-payer would not normally be willing to pay the toll to use the entire length of the HO/T facility. It's going to take time for people to figure out how best to make the system work for them and it's going to be a serious mental adjustment to think of the reversible carriageway in terms of "segments."

The Franconia–Springfield Parkway is a special situation because it doesn't have direct access from the general-purpose lanes and you have to twist around through Springfield if you use Exit 169. As I suggest above, that exit is one that seems prime for paying the toll, especially because the new Beltway-to-HOV connections will for the first time allow somewhat direct all-highway access between the Parkway and the Beltway. I don't doubt that during the next two years when there is no toll to use those ramps some people will get addicted to that route. It ought to be a GREAT shortcut. I know a fellow who has Redskins season tickets who comes up the Franconia–Springfield Parkway and then uses Frontier Drive to Franconia Road to the ramp to I-95 North, or else heads east to Van Dorn and up to the Beltway. His trip to the games suddenly gets a whole lot easier when that ramp opens (though the trip home won't change). Get addicted to that over two years and the idea of paying 50¢ or a dollar to avoid all the red lights in Springfield becomes very palatable.

cpzilliacus:

--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---So we're getting really close to the opening of the I-495 HOT Lanes, and we just broke ground on the I-95 HOT Lanes.  Here are some of my thoughts about how useful these will actually be...

I-495:

I think these will work relatively well for people staying in Virginia.  Some extra capacity was badly needed between Springfield and Tysons Corner.  I think a significant benefit will come just to those who use the Tysons Corner interchanges.  Today, it can take 15+ minutes just to drive the length of the entrance/exit ramps during peak times, and having "artificially" uncongested interchanges (due to tolls/occupancy requirements) on the HOT lanes will be a huge benefit to those who choose to use the lanes.  I see some minor operational issues at the south end, just because you have so many lanes converging and diverging there, and during rush hours for the first couple years, toll payers will have to exit into the regular lanes to get to I-95 south, as the I-95 reversible lanes will be HOV-3 only.  I see some bigger problems at the northern end, northbound, during PM peak hours.  According to Dr. Gridlock in the Washington Post, the operators of the lanes don't expect much traffic to use them north of Tysons Corner.  I don't believe that.  There are plenty of people who will gladly pay to use the lanes between Tysons and the north end to avoid the interchange delays that I mentioned above.  To them, its a sweet deal, because the toll will be relatively cheap since they will only be in the lanes for a short time before they end.  I predict there will be some congestion in the HOT lanes approaching the merge point.  But like the I-95 HOV merge in Dumfries, the higher density of traffic in the regular lanes vs. the artificially constrained traffic in the HOT lanes (or starved traffic in the HOV lanes in the case of I-95, since there are no entrances south of Springfield) means the line to reach the merge point will be longer in the regular lanes than in the HOT lanes.  In otherwords, there will still be a jam leading to the American Legion Bridge, but HOT users will skip ahead in the line. 

--- End quote ---

Agree with what you wrote above.  However, the Inner Loop (northbound) merge from the HOT lanes to the regular lanes will take place well before the  Va. 193 (Georgetown Pike), and what has long been bad in terms of congestion will (in my opinion) only get worse, and likely much  worse.

The blame for this state of affairs lies on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, in particular with the Montgomery County Council, which has (for decades) clung to the notion that its Metro lines to D.C., combined with an unhealthy obsession with transit and misguided densification of neighborhoods without political clout, will solve transportation problems. 

Those policies haven't worked (even though those policies have mostly been followed since 1970) and they won't work now.

Similarly, the ideas that have been floated in the news media, such as reviving the failed WMATA bus service between Montgomery County and Tysons Corner (cancelled in 2003 by order of then-Maryland Secretary of Transportation Bob Flanagan because all of its operating subsidies were from the Maryland Department of Transportation, none from any jurisdiction in Virginia and it was losing more money per passenger than any other transit bus route in the state) and re-striping the Capital Beltway to add an extra (narrow) lane are not going to work (and I suspect that FHWA and Maryland SHA are not about to permit re-striping anyway for safety reasons).

What is needed is to extend the HOT lanes north from their current terminus, across the Potomac River, past the Md. 190 (River Road) interchange to the I-270Y (I-270 Spur) Exit 38 partial interchange. 

The holiest of holy documents in Montgomery County, the master plans, actually were amended way back in 2003 to add HOV lanes from the Virginia end of the American Legion Bridge to I-270Y, but the county's over-involved civic activist industry routinely lobbies the County Council to oppose any and all highway improvements (that's why it took over 50 years to get Md. 200 built). At least some of the civic activists have claimed that the unbuilt and unfunded Purple Line light rail should be extended west from its planned terminus in Bethesda to Tysons Corner, but it would have to run through some very wealthy (and very much opposed to everything) neighborhoods in Montgomery County and Fairfax County, so that's an alternative offered with the intention of making sure that nothing gets done.


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---I think that, in general, the lanes will be underutilized on weekends.  There is just not much traffic on that portion of the Beltway on weekends, you just have local traffic which will use the regular lanes for free.  Long distance traffic will be on the east side of the Beltway.

--- End quote ---

I respectfully disagree.  I think there will be plenty of demand on weekends, especially in the afternoons.


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---I-95:

A little bit of benefit for rush hour commuters (especially afternoon commuters), little to no benefit for weekend drivers.  Let me start by saying that there is a huge elephant in the room that has not really been addressed...that is that weekend traffic on I-95 is very different from weekday commute traffic, and although everyone will acknowledge that weekends on I-95 are awful, no one has yet to come out and admit that this project will do little to change that.  So lets start with weekdays.  Here we have traffic that is very directional (north in the AM, south in the PM), and is focused from the southern suburbs into DC via I-395.  The reversible lane facility serves this traffic well. 

--- End quote ---

I think you have nailed it pretty well above with regards to I-95.  My only gripe is that the HOT lanes should be extended much further south, to beyond Va. 3 (Exit 130) in the City of Fredericksburg and probably beyond U.S. 1/U.S. 17 (Exit 126) in Spotsylvania County.


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---In the afternoon, you'll have HOV-3 traffic from Pentagon/DC joined by some single occupant /HOV-2 vehicles from the mainline of I-395.  You'll take on a bunch of traffic from the I-495 HOT lanes coming from Tysons.  You'll have an extra lane as far as Prince William Parkway...which is something more than you have now.  As you pass each interchange, enough commuters will exit the mainline and HOT lanes, such that the merge point at Garrisonville Road won't be too bad, at least not as bad as the merge point is in Dumfries today.  Think about it, many of those HOT lane users going to Stafford County will not have to enter the regular lanes, whereas they do now.  But the key thing is that as you head south, people get off to go to their homes, leaving more room in the regular lanes/less traffic in the HOT lanes to get to the new merge point. 

--- End quote ---

Though as I suggested yesterday to Beltway, don't forget the massive number of people working in new (to the area) jobs at Fort Belvoir and Marine Corps Base Quantico thanks to BRAC.  They will load even more trips onto I-95 (and most of them are not using transit).

A merge point at Va. 610 (Garrisonville Road) Exit 143 is clearly better than the current one at Va. 234 (Dumfries Road) Exit 152, but I still assert that this is not far enough, and the congestion for traffic continuing further south will continue to be brutal in the afternoons.


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---Northbound, in the morning, I think the lanes will work okay up to but not including the end of the HOT lanes at Edsal Road.  You're going to have more lanes feeding a chokepoint.  The mainline lanes of I-395 will be very congested approaching this merge point.  HOT lane users will get to the front of the line, but will still ultimately have to merge.   We can only hope that enough of the tollpayers are going to Tysons and not up I-395, that is what will keep the merge from becomming awful.  Perhaps the lane operators could make the toll for the segment between the Beltway and Edsal Road very high, thereby encouraging Tysons commuters but discouraging DC commuters from using the lanes, or at the least, getting DC commuters out of the lanes a little earlier than at the very very end.  Also, the operators should play up the fact that anyone with HOV-2 has another option...rather than merge onto I-395, they could continue paying tolls and use the I-495 lanes, and then take I-66 inbound to Arlington and DC (would really only work well for the west side of DC and Arlington, would be too out of the way for Capitol Hill).
--- End quote ---

Agreed.  I have not seen the plans for adding a new ramp from the reversible HOV roadway to the conventional lanes of I-395 at Turkeycock Run (just north of Edsall Road (Va. 648) Exit 2, but things are normally very congested there now in the three non-HOV lanes from Va. 648 to Duke Street (Va. 236) Exit 3.


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---Weekends, going south: Not going to do a darn bit of good.  Remember that on weekdays, as you travel south, people get off at the interchanges, freeing up space in the mainline lanes and reducing the volume in the HOT lanes.  Weekends, not so much.  On weekends, a much greater percentage of traffic is in it for the long haul to Richmond and beyond, for everyone who takes a local exit, there's a local person going to the beach who gets on in their place.  So all you are doing is moving the merge south about 8 miles.  But since HOT lanes are artifically starved of traffic because of the tolls, HOT lane drivers will simply move to the front of the line, and regular lane drivers will sit in worse traffic than they do today.  In order to have a big impact, these HOT lanes would need to be extended down to Fredericksburg.  That is where the real weekend bottleneck is, at the Rappahannock.  There you have I-95 traffic and people bypassing DC via US 17 merging, and then a  lot of local traffic exiting at Route 3 and Massaponax, so the bridge is the chokepoint.  If you extended the HOT lanes there, you'd increase the capacity of the bottleneck.  Absent that, the bottleneck is still there. 

--- End quote ---

Agreed and  disagreed.  Hopefully the  operators of the concession will understand that lower tolls on the weekends will mean more vehicles and thus more revenue.


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---Weekends, going north: like described above, the Rappahannock is the big bottleneck.  The lanes don't begin until beyond there.  But it will bring that point where the road opens up a little bit further south, so it might help a little north of Fredericksburg.  Hopefully enough traffic will actually use the lanes to pull enough traffic out of the mainline lanes to give some congestion relief.  But don't count on it!
--- End quote ---

Another issue that has not been directly discussed here is the huge amount of commercial vehicle traffic that exits I-95 northbound to head north on  U.S. 17 (Warrenton Road) Exit 133.  Many trucks use the combination of U.S. 17/I-66/I-81 as a de-facto Western Bypass of the Capital Beltway.  The truck volume exiting is sometimes so heavy that it disrupts northbound I-95 traffic!  I've also seen it cause problems on  the flipside, with southbound truck traffic from U.S. 17 entering southbound I-95.

At least there is a small nugget of justice in this, since that heavy truck traffic goes by Warrenton, which is where the oppose-all-highways-at-all-costs Piedmont Environmental Council has its headquarters (and apparently the PEC membership has complained about the truck traffic, and managed to get truck restrictions imposed on U.S. 15 between Gainesville and the bridge at Point-of-Rocks, Maryland; and on U.S. 17 between I-66 and U.S. 50 at Paris during the administration of Gov. Jim Gilmore (R)).


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---Some more points to consider with I-95's heavy weekend and holiday traffic....  If you're a commuter, on Friday afternoons you'll be competing with all of those vacationers for space in those HOT lanes.  I'd expect that the price will be very very high on Fridays.  If I'm taking my once-yearly trip to Virginia Beach, I won't mind paying a $50 toll to escape the frustration of the regular lanes as much as the commuters that won't be able to afford that on a regular basis.  In otherwords, the vacationers will price-out the locals, since the vacationers only have to do it once.  The other thought, which should be obvious....on some days, especially on summer weekends and around Thanksgiving...the traffic is bad in both directions.  One direction will be helped by HOT lanes, but the other will be just as bad off as today with no help from additional lanes.  I hope they at least keep the schedule similar to the way it is now, as right now the lanes are optimized for northern Virginians taking weekend trips out of the area on Friday/Saturday morning and coming back Saturday evening/Sunday, as well as leaving before a long holiday weekend and coming home at the end.  Otherwise the lanes would be benefitting those from Richmond and North Carolina more than the locals.
--- End quote ---

Which is why the proposal from the early 1990's to upgrade the U.S. 301/Va. 207 corridor from Ruther Glen/Carmel Church in the south to Bowie in the north to a freeway made so much sense.


--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---In the meantime, prepare to suffer a lot during construction.  As it is now, the lanes will be closed during weekday
overnights for roadwork including Friday night.  So when the lanes open on Saturday morning, VDOT will have them pointed north (since the portion from Edsal Road to DC will be open north during the closures further south), meaning those escaping town on Saturday will not have the benefit of the lanes.  I would easily forsee some complete weekend closures, which can really make a big mess of traffic. 

--- End quote ---

As I also discussed with Beltway, that is when I will bail to U.S. 301 all the way from Maryland south to past Hanover Court House to I-295. 

If headed to Virginia Beach (and presumably the Outer Banks), south on U.S. 301 to Port Royal, Va. to U.S. 17 south to Newport News is a winning way to avoid I-95 misery.

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