FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — It’s now been more than three weeks since new I-66 express lanes outside the Beltway fully opened both directions, and as we head into the heavy Christmas travel period there is lingering concern about a lack of signs making it clear to drivers how to use them.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member Pat Herrity (R – Springfield) told 7News his office has received complaints about a lack of signage indicating how to go from the toll lanes to the free lanes, what the price is to go the full distance on the toll lanes, and where one segment of the toll lanes ends and another begins.
“Overall I think it’s a great project, and I was happy to play a role, and I think it just needs some tweaking,” said Herrity, who added that similar concerns were initially raised when express lanes opened on I-95 eight years ago. “I know that we got signage fixed on 95, I think we can get signage fixed on 66.”
READ MORE: New I-66 toll lanes between Beltway and Rt. 28 are now open; HOV-3+ coming in Dec.
7News asked Nancy Smith, corporate affairs director for I-66 Express Mobility Partners – which VDOT chose to oversee the building and running of the new toll lanes – to talk about the concerns some drivers have.
She says each day crews are working on adding more signage to the express lanes, including debuting more electronic message signs.
“Those will help us control traffic conditions as well as give messages to motorists,” Smith said.
Smith explained that the express lanes on I-66 are divided into three segments eastbound and four westbound, and drivers are charged for each segment they travel on:
Although there are not many signs making it obvious how to do it, Smith says drivers always have an opportunity to go from the toll lanes to the free lanes before paying for a new segment. For example, an eastbound driver wanting to use the Gainesville to Fairfax County Parkway segment, and then get off before the next segment, needs to exit at the parkway and take a bridge and a long stretch of road before signs point them back to the free lanes on 66 East.
When a different eastbound segment ends at Chain Bridge Road, drivers have to turn right at a light and then stay right on to a ramp to get in the free lanes.
One criticism of the signs for the new I-66 express lanes is that most only give the price of one segment at a time. However, drivers can use the mobile-friendly website in order to get an estimate of the current cost of driving more than one segment. Smith warns the price on the website will just be an estimate that is subject to changing conditions. She says fast changing conditions are why the signs on the road itself only show one segment price at a time, and not the price for going a further distance.
“Travel conditions on I-66 can vary greatly from one mile to the next, and certainly over that distance, within a very short period, over 23 miles, the traffic conditions can vary greatly,” she said.
Smith adds that similar to when toll lanes opened on 95, 395, and the Beltway, drivers will eventually become comfortable with how to get around on the new I-66 lanes.
“My friends at VDOT would agree that it typically takes a couple weeks for people to figure out new traffic patterns, and this is no different,” she explained.