- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Drivers with two or more passengers will be able to travel 29 miles of free express lanes on Interstate 95 between Stafford and Fairfax counties by the end of next year as a result of a nearly $1 billion project between the Virginia Department of Transportation and two private companies.

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Tuesday morning that VDOT and 95 Express Lanes LLC — a joint venture of Transurban Driveand Fluor Enterprises Inc. — will begin construction on a $925 million project to relieve traffic congestion in Northern Virginia by adding more High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to I-95 this month. He expects construction to be completed by the end of 2014.

Other drivers will have the option of paying a fee to use the roads. The toll price will vary depending on distance traveled and traffic conditions, but a typical rush-hour trip is expected to cost between $5 and $6.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, said the agreement announced Tuesday showed the state was taking “bold action to move more people with fewer cars by giving them more transportation choices that will save time and money, and improve the environment.”

VDOT will own and oversee all aspects of the express lanes, and Transurban and Fluor will construct and operate them under a 76-year agreement.

Transurban-Fluor submitted a proposal to improve the I-95 corridor under the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act in 2004. The next year, an independent review panel recommended Transurban-Fluor’s proposal.

According to Mr. McDonnell, the nearly $1 billion, multiyear project will support 8,000 jobs and stimulate what analysts contracted by VDOT say could be $2 billion in economic activity.

VDOT will contribute $71 million of public funds to the project, and 95 Express will fund $854 million. VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said Transurban-Fluor applied for a $300 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, which they expect to receive in November.

To ease congestion, nine miles of HOV lanes will be added between Dumfries and Garrisonville Road in Stafford County, 14 miles of HOV lanes will be expanded from two lanes to three lanes between Prince William Parkway and the vicinity of Edsall Road on Interstate 395, and the six-mile stretch of two HOV lanes between Route 234 and Prince William Parkway will be resurfaced.

In addition,eight new access points will be added to the HOV network.

The 95 express lanes also connect to the Beltway express lanes between the Springfield interchange and the Dulles Toll Road that open later this year, according to Michael Kulper, president of Transurban North America. Transurban-Fluor operates those lanes as well.

Regulations of who can use the lanes for free follow the same rules as the 495 express lanes, VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said. Vehicles with three or more passengers will be exempt from the toll. Even hybrid drivers need two passengers to qualify for free access.

Motorcyclists, buses and vanpools will be exempt as well.

Paying tolls with cash will not be an option. All drivers must use an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex, which allows drivers to switch to “HOV” mode so that they are not charged for their trip.

Transurban-Fluor will set the toll value, and the revenue will go back into the company to pay for the maintenance of the HOV lanes, Ms. Rollison said.

Other aspects of the project include a safety and enforcement program that will increase Virginia State Police presence and enable emergency responders to monitor live video feeds from cameras on the toll lanes. This will allow them to spot and respond to accidents faster, Ms. Rollison said.

“Anything to slow the road can be cleared faster so that traffic can move better,” she said.

Project funding will also go toward creating 3,300 new park-and-ride parking spaces in various lots.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the scheduled completion date for the HOV lanes

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