Virginia's 495 Express Lanes attracting much less traffic than needed

Link to article here.

The primary thing to look at with these privately-run toll express lanes is the difference between the forecasted traffic and the actual traffic. Though Toll Road News is cheerleading for the success of these toll lanes, the expected traffic is off by 64% and revenue is 85% less than expected. Scroll down to the end where it tells you all the fines and fees you rack up if you can't figure out how to pay these electronic tolls without an electronic Toll Tag account. These tolls are a threat to your freedom to travel, and can bankrupt you if they mail the bills to the wrong address (which happens frequently with TxDOT).

VA495 Express Lanes report good start after 6 weeks - doing 24k weekdays
Toll Road News
January 11, 2013

Operators of the 495 Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway in the Washington DC area - a Transurban/Fluor subsidiary - report  traffic has been building steadily since they opened November 17 and that they are getting "great feedback" from customers via twitter, emails, and calls to the customer service center.

They cite motorists saying the new toll express lanes are saving them up to 20 minutes on their Beltway commutes, that they are "a game changer" and "the best money I've ever spent."

On startup they had some motorist confusion and minor incidents at the entry northbound from the Springfield Interchange.

Since this was fixed with improved lane markings and signs the facility has operated smoothly. The operator has full video coverage and an operator 24/7 and 'Express Assist' patrol vehicles which remove any trash or debris and help motorists in trouble.

In the first 6 weeks 85 broken down vehicles were given help.

 Special ramps to and from points near the Tysons commercial district provide special convenience for many visitors to the area. Opening of the express lanes has seen somewhat improved traffic conditions in the tax-supported general purpose lanes.

This part of the Beltway is now 12 lanes total with each direction of traffic having four untolled lanes and two tolled lanes (carpools of 3 or more persons free.) It was previously 2x4 lanes. 

Two new bus routes are taking advantage of free trips in the toll managed lanes - one is an investor owned service Omniride Tysons Express, the other is run by Fairfax County and begins January 14.


After the first six weeks of operations they are doing about 24,000 trips workdays with a toll/no-toll(HOV3) split of about 93/7. Average toll/trip was $1.07.(Trip lengths vary greatly because there are nine entry/exit points.)

They were collecting about $130k/week or a rate of about $7m/year after about 6 weeks of operations (from Nov 17 2012.)

Traffic increased nearly 60% and revenue nearly doubled from the first to the sixth week, indicating their dynamic pricing model kicked average toll rates upward.

Toll rates for traveling the whole 8-segment, 12 miles, 21km $1.53b facility have varied between the minimum $1.65 (14c/mile) and a high of $3.70 (31c/mile.)  Average tolls have been $1.07 - they include many trips of less than the full length of the facility.

The report titled "495 Express Lanes Usage Update – January 2013" says that the dynamic tolling system, variable messaging signs and operations center have worked well under traffic. The toll system was designed by Raytheon and drew on algorithms in use of the MN/I-394ELs in Minneapolis. Toll rates are reset for each segment depending on traffic volumes and speeds in that segment of the Express Lanes, higher toll rates being used to discourage traffic as volumes increase and speeds slow to discourage overload and fulfill a promise of 45mph minimum speeds.


Traffic demand has ramped up over the first six weeks of operations with the percentage of new users each day trending positively."

Versus forecast

The concessionaire operators are a long way from the traffic and revenue forecast around the time they committed to invest over $1.5 billion in the project.

A February 2007 investment grade traffic and revenue study by Stantec (then acquiring Vollmer) forecast average weekday trips of 66,132 for the first year of operations (assumed then to be 2012) and $46.1m in revenue (Table 1, p5), that in 2004$s.

Traffic now is 36% of the rate forecast for the whole year and revenue is 15% of the rate.
After 4 years Vollmer/Stantec forecast traffic would be 117k weekdays and revenue $79m. 

Recall: that Stantec forecast was produced before the great financial crisis and housing bubble burst so it was made, like others, on the basis of much higher economic growth, employment, and incomes than those we have had. No new forecasts have been made public. 

Transponder use/non-use

A spokesman told us they've seen a proportion (no numbers released) of motorists using the lanes without the required transponder - both carpoolers eligible for free rides and others are required to have a transponder to travel the express lanes.  Many of these do use a 'missed toll' fallback of calling 495 customer service 1-855-495-97777 or going on the facility's website at

They have to pay a $1.50 missed toll charge in addition to the toll itself. 

If they don't do that within five days they get an 'unpaid toll' invoice for the toll and a $12.50 fee. Leaving that unpaid 30 days ups the fee to $25. If it gets to court fines ranging between $50 and $1,000 can be levied.

A survey of motorists on the Beltway corridor shows 46% don't have E-ZPass accounts.