HOT Lanes on the Capital Beltway Only Five Years Away

This is a great day for Virginia. The Kaine administration has finalized all the agreements needed to start construction in the spring on the $1.4 billion HOT-lanes project on the Washington Beltway. The public-private partnership will add two lanes in each direction along the 14-mile stretch of the Capital Beltway, increasing capacity from 8 lanes to 12, upgrade 12 interchanges, and invest $250 in upgrading bridges, overpasses and signs. Construction is scheduled for completion by 2013.

Virginia will partner with two companies, Fluor and Transurban, under an 80-year agreement in which the partners will collect tolls from motorists using the HOT lanes. Toll prices will vary according to traffic volume, set to levels that will ensure the free flow of traffic. Rush hour fares could reach $5 to $6, reports Tim Craig with the Washington Post.

The lanes will be free for carpools of three or more people and make bus service practicable. Buses don’t serve the Beltway currently because traffic jams make scheduling impossible. If bus ridership on the Beltway reaches the same levels as on Interstates 95/395 (see “Interstate 95: Kissing Good-Bye to the Solo Commuter?”) the project could do even more to relieve traffic congestion than implied by the 50-percent increase in the number of lanes.

The federal government will contribute $209 million towards the project, and the state another $200 million. The Commonwealth of Virginia will continue to own the Beltway, while Fluor-Transurban functions as a private contractor. “It is a very, very complicated project and a very, very complicated financial transaction,” said Secretary of Transporation Pierce Homer. “There are now hard financial commitments. This is a construction and a financing contract.”

Bacon’s Bottom Line: This project represents one of the signature achievements of the Kaine administration. Although the idea originated in the Warner era, it took enormous work to hammer out the details. The Beltway HOT lanes will provide the first major expansion of Interstate capacity in Northern Virginia in many, many years. More importantly, the project acknowledges that the Commonwealth cannot address the increasing number of cars on the road through open-ended increases in highway capacity. The deal uses congestion pricing to allocate scarce highway capacity while also encouraging people to carpool, ride in vans or take the bus.

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17 responses to “HOT Lanes on the Capital Beltway Only Five Years Away”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Only five years away and fifteen years too late. The darn thing could have been paid for by now.

    For a view of where this is headed see today’s WAPO article on Tokyo.

    ‘With about 35 million people, greater Tokyo is by far the world’s most populous metro area, with nearly twice the people of greater New York. ……

    Tokyo itself has no real center. It’s a jumble of densely populated districts that are themselves big cities, hubs for the frenetic inbound rush and exhausted homeward retreat of millions upon millions of subway and train commuters. “


  2. Michael Ryan Avatar
    Michael Ryan

    I was amused by the VDOT press release, where they intend to “Ensure that HOV, transit, and commuter buses travel for free. Toll collection and enforcement will be in accordance with state laws including privacy requirements and EZ Pass requirements. Today, toll enforcement is by camera and police monitoring. Initial HOV enforcement technology will also be police monitoring of the lanes.”

    So, if I understand this correctly you can only be charged a toll via your EZ-pass. If you don’t have an EZ-pass on your vehicle you’d damn well better have >=2 passengers so you qualify for HOV, or you will be fined. (Or, do they mean that all vehicles in these lanes must have an EZ-pass?)

    So, they really feel their automated passenger detection technology is so good it will hold up in court? That it can detect the munchkins in the back seat sitting down low? The babies in their carriers? I’m assuming that children do count as passengers?

    In addition to this, I will be amazed to see if they can hold the price to $1.4B. Rebuilding the Springfield interchange, alone, cost something like two-thirds of a billion dollars. Sure, it only extends from I-95/395 to Old Dominion Rd., but these projects never seem to cost what’s estimated.

    Can someone tell me, is traffic in that section really so bad that you’d pay $5-6 to go faster through there? $5 to get from the Dulles Toll Road to Springfield? Would you only pay that if you were running late to get to an important appointment, or would you be willing to pay it twice daily, for say, 240 working days a year ($2400/yr)?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “Would you only pay that if you were running late to get to an important appointment, or would you be willing to pay it twice daily, for say, 240 working days a year ($2400/yr)?”

    Depends on how much time it saves and what you think your time is worth. If time is worth $20 an hour it would have to save you 15 minutes from Dulles Toll Road to Springfield. That would be pretty sporty.

    TAMU suggests congestion costs each commuter around $1089 per year. $2400 bucks to save $1089 doesn’t sound like much of a bargain. And since the stretch in question is only a small part of the congestion that costs $1089, the real picture is far more expensive than that.


  4. Anonymous Avatar

    This is my hometurf

    Let me vouch for the traffic argument for those not familiar with the area use Google maps

    In the AM commute (most people exit at I-66 or Tysons)

    First I highly doubt most people would use the entire stretch so propably $3

    Traffic is crawling (less than 10 MPH) from Braddock road to past the I-66 merge

    Traffic going South from American Legion bridge to Tysons in the morning I haven’t done too frequently to comment. From anecdotal evidence of Coworkers the commute seems bearable

    HOT lane would save about 15-20 minutes

    In the PM commute a small percentage would propably use the entire stretch but more likely people fall into two groups

    Group 1 Maryland workers returning to Virginia

    Group 2 Tysons workers leaving
    which would use lanes in both directions

    Traffic is bad Southbound (less than 25 MPH) from the American Legion Bridge all the way to 236 in Annandale VA

    Traffic is bad Northbound (less than 25 MPH from just before Tysons into Maryland) A key issue for the Northbound people is going to be the UGLY merge at the American Legion Bridge because Maryland will not have HOT lanes on there side.

    HOT lane would save 15-30 minutes


    Overall, the enginnering on this will be very complex. The I-66 and Route 50 mega interchange will be especially challenging.

    I am estactic that there will be more pavement. All projections forecast substantial additional people commuting in these corridors


  5. I looked at the web sites and articles for both Fluor and Transurban. While Fluor has built plenty of roads (and nuclear power plants, etc) they have never run a congestion toll. Enter Transurban. According to their web site they have never built or operated a congestion toll in North America. The Capital Beltway / I-95 is their one example.

    Adding 3 more interchanges in Tyson’s is an interesting thought. As people have pointed out over and over – there is no additional capacity on roads in Tyson’s. Where will these interchanges send their traffic?

    And, “It is a very, very complicated project and a very, very complicated financial transaction,”. Oh good. State government rubes getting into overly complicated projects and overly complicated financial transactions. Can anybody say “Big Dig”.

    So, what should have been done once the state government admitted that transportation was beyond its competence level (which is really what’s being admitted here despite the absurd talk of bond ratings)? They should have turned all of the tax money associated with transportation and all of the authority for trasnportation over to the local governments. When you are too stupid to do something you should be able to do yourself entering into a “very, very complex” project with a “very, very complex” financial arrangement is idiotic.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    this is a very bold initiative not without some major risks.. including on time and on budget and the successfully resolution of how to support carpooling and how to help out of state travelers.

    I’be shocked if it comes off without a hitch.

    And a lot of folks deserve credit starting with Congress and DOT/FHWA who inserted language in the LAST SAFETEA legislation to ALLOW toll lanes on interstates (with restrictions).

    Also credit the VA GA who put together the law that allowed PPTA projects in Va.

    And finally credit VDOT, yes I’m saying something NICE about VDOT.

    this is a win-win-win for NoVa who will be getting FOUR (4) additional lanes on the beltway and I-95 as well as massive rehabilitation and congestion/bottleneck reducing infrastructure.

    It will not cost that school teacher in Appomattox a penny. It will not compete with nor divert transportation money away from TW/HR or any other region in Va.

    AND trucks and out of state folks will pay THEIR FAIR SHARE, and a portion of which will be used to further improve mobility in the NoVa area.

    7 years for a project of this scope is breathtaking in Virginia where we still have unbuilt projects that have been on the 6yr plan for more than a decade.

    one side comment:

    As I drove down I-64 the other day stuck behind a bunch of folks going 65mpg in the left lane.. I wondered why VDOT wants to add a new 460 corridor vice adding 2 toll lanes in each direction of I-64.

    I personally would have gladly paid $10 or more dollars to get out from behind those left lane blockers.

    It does not make sense to me (not that I know a whole lot) to do a brand new road… vice adding/expanding/improving the existing corridor.

    Perhaps a successful NoVa project will spur more thought about other congested roads in Va including I-64.

  7. As far as I can tell, the entire Beltway expansion will be in Fairfax County. So, tell me again, why is this being run by the Rubes from Richmond? Shouldn’t there have been a referendum on this matter from the people who will now be paying all transportation taxes and paying tolls as well? If we want to sit in traffic instead of paying $6 tolls – why should the Rubes from Richmond over ride us?

    As for the myth that it will just be the HOT lanes that get tolls – please….

    1. The project will over-run on costs and schedule.

    2. Managing this project is far beyond the competence of VDOT or the Virginia State legislature.

    3. When Fluor – Transurban come back for more money the state legislature will say, “this extra money shouldn’t come from the rest of Virginia – let NoVA pay”. Of course, the fact that they were were taken for a ride by their own incompetence will never enter into the matter. And how will the extra money (needed for the over-runs) be generated? By making all the lanes toll lanes.

    4. The money raised by the tolls (and paid to the state vs. kept by Fluor – Transurban) will not be dedicated to improved transportation in NoVA. There is no lockbox despite the campaign promises of Kaine. The money will wasted in ill conceived ideas like protecting treelines with “everybody pays” tax rebates. This is just another case of institutional theft. Did the Dulles Toll Rd tolls end after the road was paid for? No, in fact they were doubled to pay for “metro”. Completely in contradiction to the promises made by the con artist politicians.

    5. Maybe Rt 64 (or soemwhere in RoVA) will do the same. Spare me. Please read the following:

    What’s right for the Beltway is wrong for Rt 81.

    Northern Virginia should join Washington, DC and become part of Maryland. West Virginia had the good sense to “walk away” from the fools in Richmond – we should do the same.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    What is going to happen when those four additonal beltway lanes try to unload against the American Legion Bridge?

  9. Anon 12:07 –

    It will be an epic disaster just like the Wilson Bridge is today. Then we’ll have to pay more “tolls” to fix this Richmongd inspired fiasco. The intellectual level of the Virginia state legislature and governor is too low to let them make importatnt decisions.

    Northern Virginia should keep all its transprotation related taxes, make all its own transportation decisions and manage all its transportation related projects.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    The HOT lanes on the Beltway will end essentially at the Dulles Toll Road. They will not proceed north towards the Georgetown Pike, the GW Parkway or the American Legion Bridge. An extension will occur only if and when Maryland builds connecting HOT lanes. Both VDOT and Fairfax County will tell you this.

    Having said that, a more general comment. We all need to keep in mind that the main purpose of the HOT lanes, just like Dulles Rail, is to spur more development in Fairfax County. Few people in government truly care about moving people and goods more efficiently. They care about pleasing their masters — the development crowd. Most truly believe that keeping the campaign contributions coming outweighs making a positive difference in the quality of life.

    Groveton — the development crowd also runs Maryland and D.C. Just endure this place as long as you can for economic purposes and then leave for someplace that is still governed with some idea of the public interest.

    I used to think that I’d retire in Virgina, but that thought has been readily discarded. Virginia’s elected officials of both Parties will say and do anything to get elected, but once in office, worship at the altar of the development crowd, with blood sacrifices of the public interest.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Stuck behind a bunch of folks going what, the speed limit? Ten miles OVER the speed limit?

    Sometimes Larry is right: “stuck” can be a result of unrealistic expectations, or bad choices.


  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    LLB’s are the BANE of my existence.

    I’d pay good money to get around them.

    It’s not the speed.

    It’s the bunching up.

    I seriously don’t like being behind some idiot who wont’ move over.. another idiot on my bumper .. and the idiot trying to pass all 3 of us on the right.

    There’s a defensive driving concept called “Cooperative Driving”.

    Most people have no clue what it means … much less practice it.

  13. QCKendall Avatar


    You hit the nail on the head; a historic achievement not only for Virginia, but the future of our nation’s transportation system.

    The credit due to the Governor and his team cannot be overstated..Secretary Homer, Deputy Secretary Reese and the entire VDOT worked tirelessly and effectively to make this project a reality.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    the reason I called this bold is because this is not a “gimmie”.

    Kay Bailey Hutchison had a provision inserted in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill to force a moratorium for all toll roads in Texas in response to significant opposition .. once the average person in Texas realized that Toll roads were actually being built instead of talked about.

    They’ll build the HOT lanes in NoVa for sure but there are many rocks in those rapids… to deal with.

    If they have a good answer for how to deal with SLUGs and other informal carpools.., they’ve yet to share it… and if they fumble this ball.. there will be a very public uproar.. and folks already opposed to the concept to start with will become instant allies with the sluggers and other types of shared vehicles.

    But they’re pretty much using the last relatively easily available right-of-way for new lanes…and this is NoVa’s last shot at getting a handle on congestion and the prospect of worsening congestion as the area grows.

    If the NoVa HOT lanes succeed – even on a modest basis, they could become the model..set a standard for other urban and urbanizing areas.

    if it fails.. it could well cause a pause and reexamination of what to do next.. if not tolls/HOT lanes – although I don’t think .. change the direction.. just slow it down.

  15. I find it interesting that those who support “congestion tolls” (aka taxes) in Northrn Virginia don’t live in Northern Virginia.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    actually supports TOLLs in general including.. for myself.

    EZ-Pass always “on-board” and happy to pay quid-pro-quo for “service” and always have the option of rejecting that service if I feel like it is a rip-off.

    Congestion Tolls for NoVa will benefit NoVa three ways:

    1. – NoVa is going to get 1.5 BILLION dollars of new infrastructure and rehabilitated older infrastructure.

    2. – NoVa is going to get 4 new lanes on I-495/I-95 that even on a worse case basis such as the providers going belly up and VDOT taking over.,, you get those lanes and if the tolls don’t “work” you got lanes that you never would have got. Worse things could happen.

    3. – People who do not live in NoVa and clog your road so they can commute to their NoVa jobs AND out-of-state folks will be paying their fare share and providing funds for more upgrades

    I support HOT lanes all the way down I-95 to Massaponax per the plan for the same reason.

    Folks that commute long distances from home to work are intensive and consumptive users of capacity and don’t come close t paying what it actually costs to provide and maintain adequate infrastructure for their commute.

    Raising gas taxes on everyone in the state, as well as making everyone pay a 1/2% sales tax for transportation of which a substantial portion has been and would be diverted to urban area projects such as the Springfield Interchange is not only not equitable but it won’t put in place a market-place mechanism to match demand to cost which is what must happen unless we want the two last lanes of 495/95 to be instantly absorbed by more solo driving.

    that’s the reality.

    If you build more lanes and don’t toll them.. they will be gobbled up almost overnight by more solo driving.

    This is NoVa’s opportunity to get a handle on their own destiny in some respects and as I said… I support tolling and congestion tolling along the length of I-95 wherever we have home to job commuting occurring. I’d support it west to Loudoun County and Winchester also.

    29 south .. ditto.

    anyone we have basically an unbounded demand for roads for daily solo commuting at rush hour is a dead end… there is not future in it. It will only get worse and worse.

    We need to change our culture about where we live and how we get to work.

    We all keep our cars. We all go to Grandmas at Christmas and the beach on holiday… but what we do everyday…home to work.. we need to rethink… because we physically, fiscally, and air quality-wise do not have the resources to provide adequate capacity without tolling because only then does the person taking the trip – truly pay for what it costs to provide the infrastructure for that trip.

    of course that is my own biased view for what it is worth or not per others thoughts and opinions although..I would assert that if one takes a look at the current literature generated by the folks involved in making decisions about transportation including the Washington areas own MWCOG TPB.. I’m in their tent… and vice versa.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry’s biased view is no doubt politically correct, at present.

    Come back in 20 years and explain to me how this “cured” congestion.

    Remember when Metro was supposed to relieve congestion?

    Hot lanes are utterly the wrong answer. A few people will pay a lot, the money will be diverted elsewhere, congestion and pollution will remain.


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