The 495 Express Lanes is one of the most technologically advanced roadways in the United States. In April 2013, the project was awarded a “Best Innovative Product” award from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) as part of the 2013 Best of ITS Awards. The project, delivered through a unique public-private partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and Transurban, was recognized for its extensive use of intelligent transportation systems technologies.
Here’s a snapshot of the innovative technology that helped the Express Lanes win the “Best Innovative Product” award and that keeps the Express Lanes running, ensuring you have a smooth, predictable trip:
Dynamic Tolling Pricing System
The project represents the first time a dynamic tolling pricing and traffic management system as complex as the Express Lanes was implemented. The Express Lanes Operations Center uses on-road technology to adjust toll prices based on real-time traffic volumes to manage demand and keep the lanes free-flowing at all times.
The project uses all-electronic tolling and requires the use of the E-ZPass® FlexSM – the first switchable transponder in the E-ZPass® network. It provides travelers with the flexibility to travel as toll-paying customers or HOV-3+ customers who get a free trip on the lanes. Other drivers can access the lanes by paying a toll via E-ZPass.
On-road closed-circuit cameras and automatic incident-detection cameras quickly detect incidents and alert operators at the Operations Center to dispatch dedicated incident-response crews. Cameras in the corridor ensure full surveillance and monitoring of the lanes in order to quickly take care of incidents.
High-Tech Operations Center
The Express Lanes Operations Center combines the technology, infrastructure and personnel necessary to operate the Express Lanes 24/7/365. Data from the on-road technology communicates with the data center and traffic control room inside the Operations Center to manage traffic and monitor the roadway. The Traffic Control Room features a dedicated 20 x 9 foot video wall with state-of-the-art LED monitors that display live feeds from the cameras monitoring the roadway.
What does all this technology mean for drivers?
New Express Bus Routes
Omniride's Tysons Express began using the Express Lanes in November for its route from Woodbridge to Tysons Corner. In February 2013, the operator revised its schedule because the bus was saving an average of 20 minutes getting from Woodbridge to Tysons via the Express Lanes. Fairfax County Connector launched its express bus service to Tysons from Burke in January 2013, and added additional routes from Lorton and Springfield in March 2013.
A December 2012 and January 2013 survey of 1,760 frequent Capital Beltway drivers in the Greater Washington, D.C. area found that 82 percent of Express Lanes users estimated a real time savings on their trips. Actual Express Lanes recorded trip times have found that trips that formerly took upwards of an hour sitting in Beltway traffic are now shorter and more reliable.
A New Travel Option
That same survey found that 75 percent of travelers who have tried the Express Lanes said they are likely to use them again. Further, nearly 7 in 10 Express Lanes users would recommend the Express Lanes to their friends, family and colleagues.