Express Lanes near $30 in Fairfax County

The price of Express Lanes in Fairfax County is rising. (Photo, ABC7)

Earlier this year, a funny thing started happening on the way to work for a group commuters in the DC region.

They began noticing higher prices in the 495 Express Lanes, going from $18 to $24, and all the way up to $29 and $30.

“The first time I saw 30 I was like, 'you've gotta be kidding,'" says Tami Martin from Alexandria.

All the commuters drive to work in Bethesda: Martin, Sarah Riedl from Mt. Vernon, and Terrell Lawyer from Wilder. All say riding in the Express Lanes, or Hot lanes, can sometimes save them more than an hour on a one-way commute.

But the recent spike in tolls is leading to some changes.

"I just got to the point where it really didn't make sense," says Lawyer, who is ditching the Express Lanes.

But Martin is on the fence.

“If it continues to regularly be at $30 I’m going to have to cut it," she says. "I can't support $500 to $600 a month on transportation."

Pricing in the 495 Hot Lanes is based on traffic in the regular lanes. When traffic is light, so are the tolls. But during the morning and evening rush hours, when 495 can be bumper to bumper, the cost of the Hot Lanes goes up.

“We have to keep traffic moving. we want to keep traffic moving for our customers," says Mike McGurk a spokesman for Transurban, the private company that operates the Express Lanes. "We want people going 60 miles an hour, that's what they expect. So those tolls are going to increase to help manage the amount of cars that are on the lanes."

He says prices are rising because traffic is getting heavier and he says fewer people are taking Metro. Despite the increases, McGurk says use of the 495 Express Lanes has jumped 20 percent in the past year, "So while folks are paying higher tolls they're actually saving more time too."

Riedl is sticking with the Hot Lanes so she can get home to her family faster.

“I'm still paying the money because as precious as money is money is my time is even more scarce," she says.

Sometimes traffic can get slow or backed-up in the Hot Lanes, like during the heavy rain storm last Friday morning. Transurban says if you had a trip where you didn't feel like you were moving at the speed you expected you should contact them to discuss the charge.

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