The 495 Express Lanes on Virginia’s side of the Beltway offer those a choice of avoiding congestion for a price, which normally ranges between $8 to $18 depending on traffic and time.  For those commuting on Tuesday December 6 this went to new levels.

The Tysons Express Lanes signs. Photo by Melissa Grinnell.

495’s toll lanes stretch from north of the Dulles Toll Road and run to Springfield.  The cost of the lanes heading south peaked on December 6th at $31.30.  For drivers going from Tysons, which houses many of Northern Virginia’s office buildings, to Springfield the cost peaked at $29.55. 

Where the lanes end on the south side in Springfield drivers can pick up the 95 Express Lanes, which run south about 25 miles to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.  The cost of the 95 Express Lane peaked yesterday at $33.80.  For drivers running the full route that entered into the lanes at 5:45 pm the cost was $64.35 for the one way commute from northern Virginia to the last toll road exit in Stafford.

A screenshot of Tuesday night’s toll prices. Image from Transurban.

Disgruntled commuters should understand this is not a form of price gouging.  When the express lanes back up, prices rise in order to limit traffic entering the lanes.  When the lanes exceed the normal pricing that we’ve been accustomed too often this is an indication that there was an incident in the express lanes.  Last night was one of these cases, as a car crash blocked the left lane of the express lanes, driving up the cost to the higher rates.

For those commuters that find themselves in a situation like last night where the express lanes failed to live up to expectations, there is a way to get reimbursed.  Transurbran, which operates the lanes, evaluates refunds on a case by case basis and can be reached through their website.  On the website they point out “Toll-paying customers will not choose to pay to use express lanes if they cannot consistently depend on a faster more reliable trip.”

The express lanes continue to offer an alternative for commuters that want to avoid sitting in congestion, but when commuters see the prices jump above the norms they are used to they should be aware of what potentially lies on the road ahead.

Mike Grinnell has worked in the design and construction industry since 1998, and relocated to DC in 2001.  He has a BS in Building Construction from Auburn University and studied Economic Development in grad school at Virginia Tech.  Mike served two terms on the Potomac Yard Design Advisory Committee before moving to West Springfield with his wife and two daughters.