Drivers now have a new way to travel Interstate 495 in Virginia, but the new option appears to be leading to a small spike in accidents as drivers get used to the new traffic pattern.
The new 495 Express Lanes opened to traffic in the early morning hours Saturday, and by the start of Monday evening rush hour there had already been six accidents related to the lanes, according to Virginia State Police.
The lanes allow drivers to either pay a variable price toll to use the lanes, or vehicles carrying three or more passengers can use an E-ZPass Flex to travel the lanes for free. So far, the lowest toll has been 25 cents and the highest has been $1.90.
All of the crashes were around the starting point of the northbound Express Lanes, between the Springfield interchange and Braddock Road.
“We’ve definitely seen some driver confusion,” said Pierce Coffee, marketing director for Express Lanes operator Transurban.
Despite the fact that there are signs posted a few miles back, it seems that drivers are realizing at the last minute that they are about to enter the Express Lanes, and then swerving into traffic, according to Coffee.
Transurban is closely monitoring the situation and working with police to resolve the issue, Coffee said. They are updating electronic message boards and adding reflective material to the white posts that separate the regular lanes from the Express Lanes.
In addition, Coffee said Transurban is trying to educate drivers that it is not the end of the world if you enter the Express Lanes by accident, even if you don’t have an E-ZPass yet. There is a way on 495expresslanes.com to pay a missed toll, or you will receive a bill in the mail.
Aside from the traffic mishaps, the first few days of Express Lanes have gone smoothly, Coffee said. Traffic has been relatively light, possibly due to the holiday week, she said.
“We definitely expect to see a ramp-up period,” Coffee said.
On the other hand, she noted, there were also eager drivers who were out on the lanes on opening day, and people posting today on social media about how much it shortened their commutes.
“You’re also certainly seeing people who are using it and enjoying the ride,” she said.