If you plan on driving the newly extended I-66 Express Lanes next month, make sure there are at least two other people in the car to avoid paying a toll.
The entire length of the I-66 toll lanes will shift from HOV2 to HOV3 in early December, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) recently announced.
Starting Dec. 5, only those with traveling with three or more people will be able to use the lanes for free. This is a change from the previous standard of two or more passengers.
Single riders or those traveling with just two passengers will have to pay a toll, with the price varying based on traffic volumes (known as “dynamic tolling”).
The change will apply to the entire 32-mile length of the I-66 Express Lanes, including the existing 9-mile section inside the Beltway (I-495) from Dunn Loring to Route 29 in Rosslyn. A new Beltway ramp to I-66 just opened this week.
That portion of I-66 operates as HOV on weekdays during peak hours and in peak directions. Otherwise, the express lanes are free and have no occupancy requirement.
VDOT also notes that, in order to use the lanes during rush hour, drivers need an E-ZPass transponder.
The state transportation agency said in a press release that the new requirements are “consistent with HOV requirements on the other express lanes in Northern Virginia.”
In a statement to FFXnow, a VDOT spokesperson said consistency and federal environmental standards were the biggest reasons for the change:
This change supports the National Capital Region’s Transportation Planning Board’s policy to change HOV-2 to HOV-3 throughout the region in order to move more people with fewer vehicles and comply with the federal Clean Air Act Amendment. This change is also consistent with the other express lanes in Northern Virginia on I-95, I-395, and I-495, and is aligned with Virginia’s policy that HOV-3 be the requirement for toll-free travel on all privately-operated express lanes in Virginia. This rule applies to I-66 Express Lanes Outside the Beltway, which are operated by I-66 Express Mobility Partners under a public-private partnership with the Commonwealth.
The switch from HOV2 to HOV3 was first approved in 2016 by Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board.
The portion of the express lanes inside the Beltway opened five years ago, accompanied by a good amount of griping about the high toll prices.
The 22-mile section outside of the Beltway is almost fully operational after about six years of work. A 9-mile stretch from Route 28 in Centreville to Route 29 in Gainesville opened in early September, and the westbound lanes from I-495 in Dunn Loring to Route 28 became operational yesterday.
The eastbound lanes could open as early as tomorrow, a few weeks ahead of schedule, VDOT says. Work in the corridor will continue through mid-2023 on other elements of the Transform 66 project, including new interchanges and a parallel shared-use path.
A version of this story appeared earlier on FFXnow’s sister site, ARLnow.
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