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The shock and awe that was Monday’s opening of E-ZPass Express Lanes on I-66 inside the Beltway

The highest toll to travel the nine-mile portion of Interstate 66, from the Captial Beltway to Washington. D.C. jumped as high as $34.50 on Monday morning.

The peak toll was reached at 8:36 a.m. The low for the morning: $4.50 at 5:36 a.m.

Monday was the first day that drivers on I-66 had to contend with new tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway. Drivers must now have an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex to use the highway between 5:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., and 3 to 7 p.m. every weekday.

Single drivers must pay while vehicles with two or more occupants can ride free with an E-ZPass Flex. But all vehicles must have an E-ZPass to ride.

It’s a change from the old rules that mandated, up until last week, drivers traveling on I-66 inside the Beltway during peak rush hour travel times must have two or more occupants in the car — no E-ZPass required.

During Monday afternoon’s commute, it was clear drivers who that may have once taken I-66 instead opted to stay off the highway and use arterial roads like U.S. Route 50.

It seems commuters rolled well with the changes on Monday morning. 

“No significant crashes or traffic problems to report with this morning’s rush hour. State police thanks all the motorists who put the extra effort into planning ahead and being prepared for the I-66 changes,” wrote Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller in an email to Potomac Local.

The Virginia Department of Transportation released the following stats on first-day E-ZPass Express Lane “Inside the Beltway” travel: 

Following the first morning rush hour for drivers using the new 66 Express Lanes inside the Beltway, the Virginia Department of Transportation provides the following statistics:
About 86% of users traveled with E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex. The remaining 14% were likely traveling without a transponder (this figure also include motorcycles, which do not need a transponder to use the lanes).

High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV-2+)
About 37% of vehicles traveled as carpools and rode for free (using E-Z Pass Flex set to HOV-this also includes buses) over the four-hour period.

Average Speeds and Travel Times
Average speeds on this segment of I-66 were 57 miles per hour, compared with an average of 37 mph at last year this time.
Average travel times were 10-12 minutes for the I-66 corridor during the morning rush hour, compared with a range of 15 to 25 minutes during a typical Monday morning period.

Arterial Routes
Signals and engineering staff monitored parallel arterial routes such as George Washington Parkway, Routes 7, 29, 50, 123 and 193. On average, traffic volumes, speeds, and travel times remained similar when compared with figures from last year at this time.

This marks the first new opening of an E-ZPass Express Lane opening in three years, since the opening of the I-95 Express Lanes from Route 610 in Stafford to Alexandria in December 2014. Virginia’s toll lane network continues to expand as work is underway to add E-ZPass Express Lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway, from Gainesville to Dunn Loring, and to convert old HOV lanes to toll lanes from Alexandria to the Pentagon.

I-66 outside the Beltway remains the nation’s only HOV-2 highway, meaning drivers may use the HOV lane with just 2 occupants of the vehicle. Today’s changes inside the Beltway make the new road the toll-only highway facility in the nation, during rush hour.

From VDOT: 

“The I-66 Inside the Beltway Express Lanes-the nation’s first peak-period, all-lanes-dynamically-tolled roadway-are designed to offer new travel choices that move more people on I-66 with greater speed and reliability. Toll prices will change based on real-time traffic volumes in order to manage demand for the lanes and keep traffic moving.”

The old exemptions for those using I-66 to access the Dulles Toll Road, or using a Clean Special Fuel license plate reserved for hybrid cars, also went out the window on Monday. 

“Exemptions for Dulles International Airport users and Clean Special Fuel License Plate vehicles (hybrids) are no longer in effect. The lanes remain open to all users during off-peak periods, including weekends.”

If you ride a motorcycle, you can still use I-66 any time for free, and you don’t need an E-ZPass.

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