495 Express Lanes usage increases

McLEAN, Va. (AP/ABC7) - Drivers are starting to venture out on the Capital Beltway's new toll lanes in Virginia more frequently.

The operators of the 495 Express Lanes reported Friday that traffic volume increased 57 percent from the opening week to the week before Christmas. That's an increase from about 15,000 average daily trips to nearly 24,000.

Revenue generated from the lanes increased 99 percent, as heavier traffic resulted in higher tolls.

The $2 billion Express Lanes opened in November on a 14-mile stretch of the Beltway in northern Virginia. Drivers pay a toll that varies depending on the length of the trip and traffic volume.

Drivers in carpools of three or more can use the lanes for free. But only 7 percent of the traffic on the toll lanes comes from carpoolers or other vehicles exempt from tolls, like buses.

Despite the increase, the road's operator, Transurban, acknowledged Friday that the volume remains below what was projected in planning stages. Transurban said it will take about six months, though, to establish any reliable trends on usage.

Mike McGurk a spokesperson for Transurban tells ABC7 they're still in the ramp-up period.

"Within that ramp-up period we're a little lower in our projections, but we're trending positive," McGurk says. "We're seeing more and more people out there."

"I'm sure they'd love to have the volumes a lot higher than what they are," says traffic analyst Alan Pisarski. "These kinds of projects are backed by what they call patient money."

Pisarski says says that as congestion grows so will traffic in the HOT lanes, but it will take time.