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Author Topic: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes  (Read 298729 times)

mtantillo

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Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« 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. 

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.

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. 

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. 

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). 

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. 

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!

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. 

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. 


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1995hoo

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2012, 10:13:51 AM »

Very good post.

I'm not a fan of the I-95 project for a number of reasons, the main one being that the center HOV carriageway is currently open to all traffic during the non-HOV hours (except while the road is being reversed) and the majority of that traffic will now be pushed into the general-purpose lanes, which in turn is likely to push traffic there onto the limited parallel routes like US-1.

There's one very significant difference between the I-95 and Beltway projects that has not gotten a lot of mention, although Mike touches on it: The I-95 lanes have places where you can move back into the mainline. The Beltway lanes do not. That means that on the Beltway lanes, when you enter the lanes you lock in the toll rate to your destination. For example, the sign at Route 7 in Tysons Corner may list tolls of $3.00 to I-66, $6.00 to Braddock Road, and $8.00 to Springfield (this means Gallows Road would be around $4.00 since it's between I-66 and Braddock). If you're going to Springfield, your toll is $8.00. It won't go up while you're in the lanes.

That's not going to be the case on I-95. The information on the project website says that the tolls will be for "segments" of the lanes and that the toll for the "next segment" will be posted in advance so you can decide whether to stay in the lanes or exit into the general-purpose lanes. So suppose you're driving south from DC late at night as a solo driver (since I assume the HOV lanes north of the Turkeycock ramps will still be open to all traffic during non-HOV hours). As you pass Duke Street, you see a sign giving you toll info. It will list tolls for the Beltway, Route 644, and the exit to the general-purpose lanes just beyond Route 644. If you want to go to the Franconia–Springfield Parkway, that's on the next "segment" and you won't know what that rate is until you've already entered the lanes and paid the toll (though practically speaking the added toll would likely be minimal due to the short distance). The second tolled "segment" includes the Franconia–Springfield Parkway (VA-289) and then ends at the slip ramp marked "Lorton" just south of the Newington interchange. The third "segment" would then be much longer, including the US-1, VA-123, and VA-294 (Prince William Parkway) exits, with the segment ending at the flyover ramp just north of Potomac Mills Mall. (This all assuming they don't add additional entry and exit points. I know there is to be a new Express Lanes exit at Newington connecting to Alban Road and Boudinot Drive, but that's different from a flyover or slip ramp to the general-purpose lanes).

The Beltway system sounds a lot easier to understand because, let's be realistic, the average person who might use these lanes won't bother to educate himself on these kinds of issues. The amount of uninformed emotional bullshit rants I see regarding the Beltway project both amuses and disgusts me. But I think some of the rants have a bit more legitimacy as to I-95 and I wonder how the project will make it crystal clear to drivers that when the sign gives the toll to, say, Newington, it means that if you want to continue past Newington you will pay a separate toll at a rate to be announced when you reach Newington. I don't think it's unreasonable at all for people to demand that this information be made as unambiguous as possible. What concerns me about it is that people will have seen how the Beltway system works and they'll assume I-95 will work the same way. I suppose that's not necessarily a reasonable assumption, but it's reasonable to assume people will make that assumption (I hope that made sense).



BTW, I've seen the slugging community objecting to the HO/T project on the ground that they feel that they were lied to when they were told HOV will ride free. They feel that the institution of a monthly fee for the E-ZPass Flex is a violation of the promise that HOV will ride free and they think they shouldn't have to get transponders. I don't entirely buy the argument and the reason is a practical one: The vast majority of Northern Virginia drivers who would benefit from having an E-ZPass device for roads other than the new HO/T lanes already have an E-ZPass. (I know one guy who should but doesn't, but he's a special case—a bit of a kook because he feels getting an E-ZPass means that he's tacitly approving of the Dulles Metrorail project. Whatever.) Anyway, VDOT's announced that the E-ZPass Flex will be free PROVIDED you use it SOLELY in "HOV mode" and SOLELY in the new HO/T lanes on I-95 and the Beltway (you also have to use it at least once a month—if you fail to use it, or if you use it anywhere other than the HO/T lanes, or if you drive in the HO/T lanes with the device in "non-HOV mode," you pay the fee for that month). It seems to me that a driver who does not now have any use for an E-ZPass is unlikely to see his travel habits change so radically that he'll suddenly benefit from having one, such that if he continues his normal routine—say, a slug driver who picks up two people in Prince William County and drives to the Pentagon—he will pay neither a toll nor the E-ZPass fee.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2012, 10:18:49 AM by 1995hoo »
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cpzilliacus

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2012, 07:13:46 PM »

WTOP Radio: Beltway Express Lanes given a test

Quote
The Express Lanes being built on the Virginia side of the Capital Beltway aren't officially open yet, but that doesn't mean cars aren't driving on them.

Quote
A number of test vehicles started cruising the brand new lanes this week. The test is all about the electronics of the road.
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NJRoadfan

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #3 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.
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cpzilliacus

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2012, 08:31:42 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.

The Virginia E-ZPass site has an image of the E-ZPass Flex transponder here.

This article has an image of a "regular" MdTA E-ZPass transponder.

Peter Samuel of TOLLROADSnews wrote about the Mark IV transponders in use in South Carolina in 2007 here.  If North Carolina becomes a member of the E-ZPass IAG (which is supposed to happen soon), then South Carolina might just want to follow along for the convenience of persons using the Palmetto Pass.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2012, 10:59:12 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!
 
  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.
« Last Edit: July 16, 2016, 09:37:22 AM by 74/171FAN »
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1995hoo

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2012, 10:24:34 AM »

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.

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:

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mtantillo

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2012, 05:42:22 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!
 
  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.

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. 
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1995hoo

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2012, 06:07:29 PM »

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.
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
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"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

cpzilliacus

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2012, 10:08:59 AM »

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. 

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.

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.

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

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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).

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.

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. 

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.

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!

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)).

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.

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.

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. 

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.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2012, 12:24:36 PM by cpzilliacus »
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1995hoo

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM »

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.

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

I think it's fair to expect some of that will depend on the toll rate. I remember I used the I-95 HO/T lanes in Miami on a weekend last year precisely because the toll was so low (25¢ to go the length of the lanes). There was so much less traffic in there that 25¢ would have been more than worth it for the reduced traffic even if I hadn't had the roadgeeking reason for using those lanes. I anticipate the same would apply on the Beltway. No doubt some people would oppose paying even a low toll if the general-purpose lanes are flowing freely. Fine by me!!! I look at what I pay to cross the bridges in New York and I shrug at the idea of paying $1.00 on a Saturday to use the Express Lanes if I'm going far enough to use them.

I think the operators are going to have some work to do to figure out the point at which the weekend or late-night rate is low enough to encourage people to use the lanes but high enough to allow them to make money.

The other consideration is that there are a couple of Express Lane exits that don't exist from the general-purpose lanes; the one that most readily comes to my mind in terms of presenting some totally new access is the new US-29 northbound exit/southbound entrance. I could definitely see myself using that on a weekend if I were going to play golf at Jefferson District Park (two lights east of the Beltway)—presently I exit at US-50 and then go through Fairview Park, and that's easy enough, but if the toll rate were low enough I'd consider just using the Express Lanes. I think VDOT and Fluor/Transurban expect people to use the Express Lanes for exactly that purpose, and I think they further expect that some people on the Inner Loop might exit at Gallows Road and then re-enter into the Express Lanes via the new ramp now under construction, as I've noted that there is an overhead "E-ZPass Express" VMS on the Inner Loop exit ramp at Gallows. Why put that on an exit ramp unless you expect people to pop over into the Express Lanes?

There are some other new exits in Tysons as well, but I don't view them as presenting quite the same degree of "new access." Someone going to the mall might want to use the Westpark Bridge exit, but at the same time, the mall is pretty easy to access from Virginia. Coming from Maryland, paying the toll to take the Westpark Bridge might be a considerable advantage because if you exit the Outer Loop onto southbound 123, you can't access the left turn lane due to a barrier curb—you have to go to International Drive to access the mall or else loop around to the right via Tysons Boulevard and Westpark Drive. If you take the Express Lanes, you go directly to the bridge and to the parking garage outside where Woodies used to be. As for the other exit to Jones Branch Drive, I don't have a great sense of what that road serves other than that it's in the corporate park area, so I have no idea if it would have any value to the average driver on weekends.

Hmmm.....you know, the point about access to the mall prompts me to think of the interesting question of whether the Express Lanes would be useful for Christmas shoppers given what a mess Tysons can be at that time of year. Back in the late 1990s I worked in McLean but lived near Fairfax City and my commute home was 123 to the Beltway to 236. But at Christmastime it could take 45 minutes to go from Lewinsville Road to the Beltway, so I started getting on the Toll Road west, paying the (then) 25¢ to exit at Spring Hill, then getting back on the other way and paying another 25¢, then getting on the Beltway. I haven't been to Tysons at Christmas in a couple of years but I'm sure it's only gotten worse. It'll be interesting to see how that sort of thing affects the Express Lanes' operation (and, by extension, the toll rates).


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).

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.

It's not super-specific, but a diagram of that plan is available at the following address: http://www.vahotlanes.com/documents/D38683PH_13.pdf    The source for that info, as well as similar maps of the rest of the project, may be found here (link shortened to a single word so that it's not stacked right under the other one). I found the map of "Fairfax County Parkway Area" (Newington) to be interesting because there is to be a new Express Lanes exit/entrance there, connecting to Alban Road/Boudinot Drive. Boudinot in turn connects directly to both directions of the Parkway.

What concerns me about the proposed Turkeycock ramp is that it poses a potential weaving problem as traffic exiting the Express Lanes and continuing on I-395 has to move left just as traffic coming up the general-purpose lanes and exiting onto Duke Street towards Landmark Mall and Alexandria proper has to move right. Weaving movements in a lane of traffic always gum things up, and a prime example of that is right across on the other side of I-395 where the cloverleaf loop-around ramps use the right thru lane as their weave area. I-395 always slows down through there. For me that's one major reason why I try to use the express lanes when they're open to all traffic going south. As to the new ramp, I rather doubt there's enough room to build a barrier-separated C/D lane there due to the limited right-of-way coupled with some very expensive townhouses (Landmark Mews—those are really expensive townhouses) just to the southeast of the right-of-way. (If you look at the bottom of the map you see the words "City of Alexandria." The word "City" is superimposed on the building where my wife lived before we got married, so I am very familiar with that little area.)


Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?


(edited to fix busted quote)
« Last Edit: August 17, 2012, 11:31:12 AM by 1995hoo »
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cpzilliacus

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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #11 on: August 17, 2012, 11:58:35 AM »

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.

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

I think it's fair to expect some of that will depend on the toll rate. I remember I used the I-95 HO/T lanes in Miami on a weekend last year precisely because the toll was so low (25¢ to go the length of the lanes). There was so much less traffic in there that 25¢ would have been more than worth it for the reduced traffic even if I hadn't had the roadgeeking reason for using those lanes. I anticipate the same would apply on the Beltway. No doubt some people would oppose paying even a low toll if the general-purpose lanes are flowing freely. Fine by me!!! I look at what I pay to cross the bridges in New York and I shrug at the idea of paying $1.00 on a Saturday to use the Express Lanes if I'm going far enough to use them.

It should be relatively simple to come up  with a  price that is low enough to attract traffic while being high enough to keep traffic at free-flow speed (probably level-of-service D).  Might take some time to get it stable, but I don't think it is especially hard.

I think the operators are going to have some work to do to figure out the point at which the weekend or late-night rate is low enough to encourage people to use the lanes but high enough to allow them to make money.

They will not earn huge sums of money then, but pricing them low enough to entice a few motorists in is better than them being entirely empty.

The other consideration is that there are a couple of Express Lane exits that don't exist from the general-purpose lanes; the one that most readily comes to my mind in terms of presenting some totally new access is the new US-29 northbound exit/southbound entrance. I could definitely see myself using that on a weekend if I were going to play golf at Jefferson District Park (two lights east of the Beltway)—presently I exit at US-50 and then go through Fairview Park, and that's easy enough, but if the toll rate were low enough I'd consider just using the Express Lanes. I think VDOT and Fluor/Transurban expect people to use the Express Lanes for exactly that purpose, and I think they further expect that some people on the Inner Loop might exit at Gallows Road and then re-enter into the Express Lanes via the new ramp now under construction, as I've noted that there is an overhead "E-ZPass Express" VMS on the Inner Loop exit ramp at Gallows. Why put that on an exit ramp unless you expect people to pop over into the Express Lanes?

There was never an exit at U.S. 29 (Lee Highway) before because it crossed too close to U.S. 50 and the I-66 interchanges.

This exit may also attract some traffic to the new Defense Department offices (that oversee TRICARE) in the old Melpar complex on U.S. 50, since there is a "back" entrance via Fairview Park North.

There are some other new exits in Tysons as well, but I don't view them as presenting quite the same degree of "new access." Someone going to the mall might want to use the Westpark Bridge exit, but at the same time, the mall is pretty easy to access from Virginia. Coming from Maryland, paying the toll to take the Westpark Bridge might be a considerable advantage because if you exit the Outer Loop onto southbound 123, you can't access the left turn lane due to a barrier curb—you have to go to International Drive to access the mall or else loop around to the right via Tysons Boulevard and Westpark Drive. If you take the Express Lanes, you go directly to the bridge and to the parking garage outside where Woodies used to be. As for the other exit to Jones Branch Drive, I don't have a great sense of what that road serves other than that it's in the corporate park area, so I have no idea if it would have any value to the average driver on weekends.

Those ramps were not in the original proposal from the prospective (at the time) concessionaire group, but were added in part at the insistence of VDOT staff, who understood that without those ramps, the traffic on the Beltway mainline would get much, much worse.  Nobody gives VDOT any credit for this (and at least one of the engineers, a personal friend of mine, was rewarded for his efforts by getting laid-off in the huge cutback of staff that took place when Virginia's motor fuel tax revenue crashed in about 2008).

Hmmm.....you know, the point about access to the mall prompts me to think of the interesting question of whether the Express Lanes would be useful for Christmas shoppers given what a mess Tysons can be at that time of year. Back in the late 1990s I worked in McLean but lived near Fairfax City and my commute home was 123 to the Beltway to 236. But at Christmastime it could take 45 minutes to go from Lewinsville Road to the Beltway, so I started getting on the Toll Road west, paying the (then) 25¢ to exit at Spring Hill, then getting back on the other way and paying another 25¢, then getting on the Beltway. I haven't been to Tysons at Christmas in a couple of years but I'm sure it's only gotten worse. It'll be interesting to see how that sort of thing affects the Express Lanes' operation (and, by extension, the toll rates).

That's going to be very interesting to observe.

[Will continue in separate message]
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #12 on: August 17, 2012, 12:16:35 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).

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.

It's not super-specific, but a diagram of that plan is available at the following address: http://www.vahotlanes.com/documents/D38683PH_13.pdf    The source for that info, as well as similar maps of the rest of the project, may be found here (link shortened to a single word so that it's not stacked right under the other one). I found the map of "Fairfax County Parkway Area" (Newington) to be interesting because there is to be a new Express Lanes exit/entrance there, connecting to Alban Road/Boudinot Drive. Boudinot in turn connects directly to both directions of the Parkway.

There is also a new ramp coming out of the Fort Belvoir North Area that will provide access to the reversible roadway.  I think it is under construction now.

What concerns me about the proposed Turkeycock ramp is that it poses a potential weaving problem as traffic exiting the Express Lanes and continuing on I-395 has to move left just as traffic coming up the general-purpose lanes and exiting onto Duke Street towards Landmark Mall and Alexandria proper has to move right. Weaving movements in a lane of traffic always gum things up, and a prime example of that is right across on the other side of I-395 where the cloverleaf loop-around ramps use the right thru lane as their weave area. I-395 always slows down through there. For me that's one major reason why I try to use the express lanes when they're open to all traffic going south. As to the new ramp, I rather doubt there's enough room to build a barrier-separated C/D lane there due to the limited right-of-way coupled with some very expensive townhouses (Landmark Mews—those are really expensive townhouses) just to the southeast of the right-of-way. (If you look at the bottom of the map you see the words "City of Alexandria." The word "City" is superimposed on the building where my wife lived before we got married, so I am very familiar with that little area.)

I know exactly what you are talking about.  If I lived in those townhomes, I would be very angry about that ramp, even though it has long been needed. In a perfect world (without Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1967) that ramp could go exit from the HOV lanes and then go over the northbound I-395 conventional lanes and then around, cloverleaf-style, to I-395 northbound.  But thanks in large part to 4(f) as well as the Clean Water Act (since such a ramp would probably have some impact on Turkeycock Run, part of the Waters of the United States, meaning that a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would also be needed), it is better for a highway to impact a community like Landmark Mews than it is to impact a little-used stream valley park.

I know a lot about Sections 404 and 4(f) from Maryland's InterCounty Connector wars (from the 1970's to about 2006), when anti-ICC activists met (I am convinced) in secret (rather like meeting ex-parte with a judge) with staff from USEPA Region III and the Army Corps, Baltimore Engineering District, to develop strategies for stopping the project with those (and other) federal laws and statutes.


Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?

(edited to fix busted quote)

It was discussed years ago when the reversible lanes were extended south from Springfield (just south of Va. 644) to Lorton and then to Dumfries in the 1990's. 

In my opinion,  VDOT has well-developed and safe procedures to be followed when reversing the lanes which have worked out well.  It used to be VDOT peopple that reversed the lanes, now days I think the maintenance contractor that has the contract for the adjacent sections of I-95 and I-395 does it.

Even if the reversible lanes were to be extended all the way to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, I think they can be managed, and managed well.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #13 on: August 17, 2012, 01:32:50 PM »

The other consideration is that there are a couple of Express Lane exits that don't exist from the general-purpose lanes; the one that most readily comes to my mind in terms of presenting some totally new access is the new US-29 northbound exit/southbound entrance. I could definitely see myself using that on a weekend if I were going to play golf at Jefferson District Park (two lights east of the Beltway)—presently I exit at US-50 and then go through Fairview Park, and that's easy enough, but if the toll rate were low enough I'd consider just using the Express Lanes. I think VDOT and Fluor/Transurban expect people to use the Express Lanes for exactly that purpose, and I think they further expect that some people on the Inner Loop might exit at Gallows Road and then re-enter into the Express Lanes via the new ramp now under construction, as I've noted that there is an overhead "E-ZPass Express" VMS on the Inner Loop exit ramp at Gallows. Why put that on an exit ramp unless you expect people to pop over into the Express Lanes?

There was never an exit at U.S. 29 (Lee Highway) before because it crossed too close to U.S. 50 and the I-66 interchanges.

This exit may also attract some traffic to the new Defense Department offices (that oversee TRICARE) in the old Melpar complex on U.S. 50, since there is a "back" entrance via Fairview Park North.

Yes, I know, hence my point about it being a completely new exit that has the potential to change traffic patterns in a way that's hard to anticipate concretely until the system is actually operational. Depending on your destination, that new Express Lanes exit could be a huge timesaver compared to using Gallows Road, in particular. Gallows often backs up in front of the McDonald's across from Luther Jackson where there's a lane drop. The maneuver I suggested where you exit at Gallows and then hop into the Express Lanes seems highly plausible because I see many people making a similar move in reverse on I-395 at Seminary—I've seen people using the HOV in the afternoon exit at Seminary and then hop back into the mainline to exit at Duke.



Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?

(edited to fix busted quote)

It was discussed years ago when the reversible lanes were extended south from Springfield (just south of Va. 644) to Lorton and then to Dumfries in the 1990's. 

In my opinion,  VDOT has well-developed and safe procedures to be followed when reversing the lanes which have worked out well.  It used to be VDOT peopple that reversed the lanes, now days I think the maintenance contractor that has the contract for the adjacent sections of I-95 and I-395 does it.

Even if the reversible lanes were to be extended all the way to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, I think they can be managed, and managed well.

Yeah, no disagreement with any of your comments about how they've developed procedures that work very well. My comment was simply a practical one that I think is still a legitimate comment—at what point do you start to encounter difficulty due to the ever-increased length of the reversible roadway? I'm sure that probably happens at some point, but I have no idea of what that point might be. As a purely hypothetical example, surely if there were to be talk of adding HO/T or other managed lanes all the way down to Richmond at some point it would become more reasonable to do something like what Maryland is doing northeast of Baltimore with two separate managed carriageways. I don't necessarily mean making them ETLs like Maryland is, mind you—just that beyond a certain distance it seems like the lanes would be more effectively, uh, managed if the need to reverse them weren't present.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #14 on: August 17, 2012, 03:12:21 PM »

The proposed Massaponax terminal for the reversible roadway is logical, because any directional split south of there wouldn't typically occur at times that are oriented toward D.C. area weekday peak commuting hours.

The VA I-95 general purpose roadways should be a minimum of 4 lanes each way between I-295 and I-495.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2012, 03:14:30 PM by Beltway »
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #15 on: August 29, 2012, 04:58:40 PM »

Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?

(edited to fix busted quote)

It was discussed years ago when the reversible lanes were extended south from Springfield (just south of Va. 644) to Lorton and then to Dumfries in the 1990's. 

In my opinion,  VDOT has well-developed and safe procedures to be followed when reversing the lanes which have worked out well.  It used to be VDOT peopple that reversed the lanes, now days I think the maintenance contractor that has the contract for the adjacent sections of I-95 and I-395 does it.

Even if the reversible lanes were to be extended all the way to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, I think they can be managed, and managed well.

Yeah, no disagreement with any of your comments about how they've developed procedures that work very well. My comment was simply a practical one that I think is still a legitimate comment—at what point do you start to encounter difficulty due to the ever-increased length of the reversible roadway? I'm sure that probably happens at some point, but I have no idea of what that point might be. As a purely hypothetical example, surely if there were to be talk of adding HO/T or other managed lanes all the way down to Richmond at some point it would become more reasonable to do something like what Maryland is doing northeast of Baltimore with two separate managed carriageways. I don't necessarily mean making them ETLs like Maryland is, mind you—just that beyond a certain distance it seems like the lanes would be more effectively, uh, managed if the need to reverse them weren't present.

I think they should definitely have a truck go through to ensure that the lanes are clear before opening them up in the opposite direction.  You just cannot take a risk that an electronic device will fail when you have potential head-on crashes that could happen.  Remember what happened in Pittsburgh...

I think they can improve the reversing procedure though, and I bet the private operators of the lanes will have strong financial incentives to do so, as any times the lanes sit idle means lost potential toll revenue.  For example....the lanes are operating southbound.  You start closing them at the Pentagon.  The truck drives south from the Pentagon to Shirlington, and observes that the lanes are clear.  Why not open the northbound entrance from Shirlington at that time, rather than wait until every southbound entrance is closed and the entire roadway is clear before opening any northbound entrances?  In otherwords, during reversing times, you could have traffic operating in two different directions at the same time....so long as the traffic is going from the middle towards the ends, there is no need to worry about oncoming traffic.  The truck would simply shut the southbound gates, ensure that the roadway is clear, and then open the northbound gates, then continue south, and so on and so forth. 

In some cases, I could see them having the lanes operating in both directions on different segments.  For example, I think it was in 2009, July 4th fell on a Saturday.  This was a "getaway" day for a long weekend, with a lot of DC area residents heading south on I-95.  VDOT had the HOV lanes opened northbound, presumably to accomodate the surge of traffic into DC for the fireworks.  This created a massive traffic jam going south on I-95.  This would be a perfect time to allow the lanes to be open from the Beltway to points south in the southbound direction (to accomodate the getaway traffic), and the lanes to be open from Turkeycock to DC in the northbound direction (to accomodate fireworks traffc).  Then, not only do you serve everyone's needs early in the day, but later in the day, there's an awful lot less miles of lane that need to be reversed to accomodate those leaving the fireworks (since the lanes south of the Beltway are already pointed outbound). 
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #16 on: August 29, 2012, 05:16:50 PM »

The proposed Massaponax terminal for the reversible roadway is logical, because any directional split south of there wouldn't typically occur at times that are oriented toward D.C. area weekday peak commuting hours.

Though I have [recently] seen single-family homes for sale in Caroline County, Va. that were clearly being marketed to residents of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  Not sure that this justifies a barrier-separated roadway south to (and beyond) Thornburg - but just putting that out there.

The VA I-95 general purpose roadways should be a minimum of 4 lanes each way between I-295 and I-495.

If VDOT can figure out how to pay for an additional lane on each side, it makes all the sense in the  world to me.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2012, 05:25:59 PM »

Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?

(edited to fix busted quote)

It was discussed years ago when the reversible lanes were extended south from Springfield (just south of Va. 644) to Lorton and then to Dumfries in the 1990's. 

In my opinion,  VDOT has well-developed and safe procedures to be followed when reversing the lanes which have worked out well.  It used to be VDOT peopple that reversed the lanes, now days I think the maintenance contractor that has the contract for the adjacent sections of I-95 and I-395 does it.

Even if the reversible lanes were to be extended all the way to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, I think they can be managed, and managed well.

Yeah, no disagreement with any of your comments about how they've developed procedures that work very well. My comment was simply a practical one that I think is still a legitimate comment—at what point do you start to encounter difficulty due to the ever-increased length of the reversible roadway? I'm sure that probably happens at some point, but I have no idea of what that point might be. As a purely hypothetical example, surely if there were to be talk of adding HO/T or other managed lanes all the way down to Richmond at some point it would become more reasonable to do something like what Maryland is doing northeast of Baltimore with two separate managed carriageways. I don't necessarily mean making them ETLs like Maryland is, mind you—just that beyond a certain distance it seems like the lanes would be more effectively, uh, managed if the need to reverse them weren't present.

I think they should definitely have a truck go through to ensure that the lanes are clear before opening them up in the opposite direction.  You just cannot take a risk that an electronic device will fail when you have potential head-on crashes that could happen.  Remember what happened in Pittsburgh...

I have only a vague memory of that, but from your words above, it sounds bad.  Please describe in a little more detail.  Is that the wreck that happened in 1985, killing 6 people (mentioned here)?

I think they can improve the reversing procedure though, and I bet the private operators of the lanes will have strong financial incentives to do so, as any times the lanes sit idle means lost potential toll revenue.  For example....the lanes are operating southbound.  You start closing them at the Pentagon.  The truck drives south from the Pentagon to Shirlington, and observes that the lanes are clear.  Why not open the northbound entrance from Shirlington at that time, rather than wait until every southbound entrance is closed and the entire roadway is clear before opening any northbound entrances?  In otherwords, during reversing times, you could have traffic operating in two different directions at the same time....so long as the traffic is going from the middle towards the ends, there is no need to worry about oncoming traffic.  The truck would simply shut the southbound gates, ensure that the roadway is clear, and then open the northbound gates, then continue south, and so on and so forth.

But remember that the lanes north of Turkeycock Run will continue to be the (un-tolled) HOV-3 roadway, thanks in large part to Arlington County's opposition, so the operator of the priced lanes on  I-95 will presumably have to cooperate closely with whatever contractor that VDOT has in charge of the reversing procedure on I-395.

In some cases, I could see them having the lanes operating in both directions on different segments.  For example, I think it was in 2009, July 4th fell on a Saturday.  This was a "getaway" day for a long weekend, with a lot of DC area residents heading south on I-95.  VDOT had the HOV lanes opened northbound, presumably to accomodate the surge of traffic into DC for the fireworks.  This created a massive traffic jam going south on I-95.  This would be a perfect time to allow the lanes to be open from the Beltway to points south in the southbound direction (to accomodate the getaway traffic), and the lanes to be open from Turkeycock to DC in the northbound direction (to accomodate fireworks traffc).  Then, not only do you serve everyone's needs early in the day, but later in the day, there's an awful lot less miles of lane that need to be reversed to accomodate those leaving the fireworks (since the lanes south of the Beltway are already pointed outbound). 

I have a vague memory of the lanes running in one direction from Newington to points south, and the opposite direction from Va. 644 (Franconia Road) to points in Arlington County and D.C.  But such a configuration is highly unusual, and I don't think VDOT likes to do that - for reasons of safety.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #18 on: August 29, 2012, 05:28:10 PM »

The proposed Massaponax terminal for the reversible roadway is logical, because any directional split south of there wouldn't typically occur at times that are oriented toward D.C. area weekday peak commuting hours.

Though I have [recently] seen single-family homes for sale in Caroline County, Va. that were clearly being marketed to residents of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  Not sure that this justifies a barrier-separated roadway south to (and beyond) Thornburg - but just putting that out there.

Not very many people would make a 70+ mile commute, not to where it would significantly impact a 6-lane Interstate.  Plus, that is only about 35 miles from Richmond, which is a more reasonable commuting distance.

I would need to see a peak commuting hours traffic engineering analysis of I-95 south of Massaponax, before I could decide.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #19 on: August 29, 2012, 05:48:26 PM »

The VA I-95 general purpose roadways should be a minimum of 4 lanes each way between I-295 and I-495.

If VDOT can figure out how to pay for an additional lane on each side, it makes all the sense in the  world to me.

Maybe the proposed mainline tolls (not the HO/T tolls, the other toll proposal) could someday help with that. The toll revenue has to be dedicated solely to I-95.

If the tolls don't come to pass and they had to choose between a fourth lane for I-95 versus a third lane for I-81, I'd vote for I-81 every time if I had a say in the matter, even though I use I-95 more.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #20 on: September 05, 2012, 09:17:35 AM »

TOLLROADSnews: Capital Beltway toll lanes concessionaire offers 2-weeks toll-free for early sign-up, sets $12.50 penalties for no tag

Quote
495 Express Lanes is offering drivers who open a new E-ZPass transponder account this month (September) two weeks of toll-free travel on the 12 mile toll expressway in the middle of the Capital Beltway when it opens. There's still no official date for the opening but they are shooting for November-December.

Quote
According to surveys, the 495 Lanes people say, about half the people driving the Beltway already have E-ZPass accounts - for use you imagine on the nearby Dulles Toll Road and Dulles Greenway on the toll bridges and tunnels of the Baltimore area, Montgomery County's Inter County Connector or toll facilities further afield.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #21 on: September 05, 2012, 09:27:56 AM »

The VA I-95 general purpose roadways should be a minimum of 4 lanes each way between I-295 and I-495.

If VDOT can figure out how to pay for an additional lane on each side, it makes all the sense in the  world to me.

Maybe the proposed mainline tolls (not the HO/T tolls, the other toll proposal) could someday help with that. The toll revenue has to be dedicated solely to I-95.

The Virginia elected and appointed officials that are on-record in favor of tolls on I-95 in the Commonwealth should state clearly that this is one of the things that the toll dollars will be spent on (after maintenance, which must come first).

If the tolls don't come to pass and they had to choose between a fourth lane for I-95 versus a third lane for I-81, I'd vote for I-81 every time if I had a say in the matter, even though I use I-95 more.

I-81 across Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania cries out for tolling (of all traffic, not just trucks) - all the way from Bristol, Va. to someplace in Pennsylvania (Hazleton, or Scranton perhaps?).  The problem (at least in Pennsylvania) is how to prevent hourly transit workers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (represented by some of the more militant unions in the nation) from asserting that they have a "right" to their "fair share" of the toll revenues.  This is one of the reasons that Pennsylvania's proposal to toll its segment of I-80 was rejected by the federal government.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #22 on: September 05, 2012, 10:54:27 AM »

I-81 across Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania cries out for tolling (of all traffic, not just trucks) - all the way from Bristol, Va. to someplace in Pennsylvania (Hazleton, or Scranton perhaps?).

The collective voice of motorists cry against such tolling...
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #23 on: September 05, 2012, 11:09:19 AM »

The VA I-95 general purpose roadways should be a minimum of 4 lanes each way between I-295 and I-495.

If VDOT can figure out how to pay for an additional lane on each side, it makes all the sense in the  world to me.

Maybe the proposed mainline tolls (not the HO/T tolls, the other toll proposal) could someday help with that. The toll revenue has to be dedicated solely to I-95.

The Virginia elected and appointed officials that are on-record in favor of tolls on I-95 in the Commonwealth should state clearly that this is one of the things that the toll dollars will be spent on (after maintenance, which must come first).

....

I think they need to do more than that. I'm not necessarily against tolling I-95 (or I-81). Nobody likes to pay more, of course, but I understand the potential benefit of doing it. The problem is that the politicians have done an utterly inadequate job of explaining it. Most people out there hear "toll" and they understandably object that we have a gas tax to pay for these things; they also less-understandably envision the backed-up toll plazas of the Northeast from the pre–E-ZPass days. The politicians haven't even tried to explain why an increase in the gas tax wouldn't solve the problem and why tolling I-95 would in theory provide a more stable and direct form of funding for that road. Heck, a former colleague of mine who ran for state senate last year (he lost) wasn't familiar with all the reasoning behind the toll proposal until I gave him an eight-page briefing paper about it.

When I've explained to people I know that a gas tax increase would be subject to the same apportionment formula we have now, such that some part of it would have to go to, say, Big Stone Gap or Wise, and that only a very small percentage would be available for I-95, they begin to understand better. I don't know why VDOT and the politicians seem to have this aversion to giving the public a thorough explanation. Of course I also understand how the average person out there will ignore the information and will just squawk various emotional uninformed rants, same as we see now as to the HO/T projects. But if the full explanation is out there, it's their own fault if they fail to learn about it.
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Re: Northern Virginia HOT Lanes
« Reply #24 on: September 05, 2012, 11:58:07 AM »

I-81 across Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania cries out for tolling (of all traffic, not just trucks) - all the way from Bristol, Va. to someplace in Pennsylvania (Hazleton, or Scranton perhaps?).

The collective voice of motorists cry against such tolling...

But I think the truck-only tolling that was studied in Virginia's part of the I-81 corridor ultimately failed (in part) because it was perceived as unfair to the trucking industry, even though  Virginia is one of the few states that imposes a higher Diesel fuel tax on heavier trucks, which must pay an additional 3.5¢ per gallon.

In a perfect world, trucks operating on toll roads and toll crossings would be able to log the miles on such facilities as "free" of motor fuel tax if they operate interstate and are required to file an IFTA tax return.
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