Converting HOV lanes into toll lanes on I-395 discussed

Arlington —  A large crowd came out for the first of three public meetings on a traffic reconfiguration for the middle lanes of I-395.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is taking public comment on a plan to transform two High Occupancy Vehicle lanes that move with heavy traffic each day between Washington DC and Northern Virginia. The new plan would add a third lane to the middle of the interstate and make those lanes open to any car willing to pay a toll along the 8 mile stretch through Fairfax County, Alexandria and Arlington.

Cars loaded with 3 or more passengers would still be able to use the lanes without having to pay a toll.

“We're trying to make the best use of our infrastructure by turning them into dynamic tolls,” said Amanda Baxter, a special projects manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

VDOT has seen the current lanes dedicated for carpoolers make a big difference. According to the environmental assessment on the project, an average morning will see cars in the high occupancy lanes keep an average speed of more than 50 miles an hour. On the four lanes dedicated to normal traffic the average speed during the worst times of rush hour can dip to 20 miles per hour.

Baxter believes adding another lane will only encourage drivers to make more use of what will be converted to toll lanes.

“You are providing incentives for carpoolers,” said Baxter. “They will not have to pay the toll if they meet the occupancy requirements.’

Critics of the project object to the state not coming up with any other alternatives when designing the change. They believe this plan could also jeopardize VDOT solutions to congestion relief that were being discussed in the county like adding another expressway.

“It doesn’t seem to have any decisive benefit over an existing portfolio of projects they had already planned,” said other Audrey Clement, an opponent of the plan. “It's not the slam dunk they are portraying it to be.”

During a presentation on the project Monday Baxter said that VDOT projections may save drivers less than 10 minutes on the road but other improvements could help relieve clog spots.

The project would bring a big improvement to the Eads Street interchange which will help easily separate Metro station traffic from drivers on their way to Washington DC.

Several people out at Monday’s meeting are happy to see that VDOT has listened to public criticism of plans announced in the Spring and added sound walls as part of the expansion project.

The next public meeting for feedback on the project is set for Wednesday October 26 at Hammond Middle School on Seminary Road in Alexandria. A final meeting will be held at Bren Mar Park Elementary School on Baryl Road in Alexandria. Both are set to begin at 6:30 p.m.

Construction on the project is set to begin next year.