I-495 express lanes in final stages of contruction

Construction has been going on for five years on the HOT lanes on I-495.

At a press conference Wednesday officials gave out new details about tolls and other issues surrounding the soon-to-open I-495 Express Lanes in Virginia.

Officials with project overseer Transurban say the toll will average one to two dollars to use the entire 14-mile stretch of Express lanes when it's not rush hour, but the price is expected to average between three and six dollars during rush hour.

But officials say federal rules require them to keep traffic in the toll lanes moving at 45 mph, so there is no limit to how high the tolls could potentially go to maintain that speed.

The Express lanes, which have been under construction for about five years, will run from where I-395/I-95 hit the Beltway to just before the Beltway crosses the American Legion Bridge into Maryland.

The lanes are called High-Occupancy Toll, or HOT lanes. Drivers who choose to use them will have to pay a toll, while the other lanes will remain free.

The idea is to give drivers an option to get out of bad traffic if they're willing to pay for it. There are two toll lanes in each direction.

Officials with Transurban wouldn't give even an approximate date for when the lanes will open Wednesday, only saying construction is almost finished and the lanes are expected to open "in late fall."

They urged drivers who plan to use the lanes to get an EZ-Pass as soon as possible.

Technically drivers can use the lanes without an EZ-Pass, but a camera will snap their license plate and they will either have to send in the money or pay online. An extra $1.50 will be charged.

Carpoolers with three people in their vehicle can ride for free, but only if they have a device called an EZ-Pass flex, which has a switch that can be flipped when three people are in the car so there will be no charges.

Transurban officials say law enforcement will be able to tell which drivers are claiming to have three people in their car, and they will ticket those who lie.

For drivers who are paying the toll, signs will display the price as they get on the toll lanes at one of a number of entry points.

The signs will show the price to go to up to three locations. Officials say one of the three locations shown will always be for the furthest exit, which will cost the most to ride to.

The longer you stay in the lanes, the higher the price, while very short trips between exits will not cost nearly as much.

Officials say once you get on the toll lanes, the price that was displayed when you got on will be locked in, and will not suddenly jump while you are already on the lanes.