DALLAS – Virginia broke ground Wednesday on its latest transportation public-private partnership, the conversion of eight miles of high-occupancy vehicle lanes to tolled express lanes on Interstate 395.

Commuters on an eight-mile stretch I-395 in northern Virginia will be able to avoid traffic jams when new P3 tolled express lanes open in 2020.
Commuters on an eight-mile stretch I-395 in northern Virginia will be able to avoid traffic jams when new P3 tolled express lanes open in 2020.
Virginia DOT

Cars with three or more passengers and a special electronic toll transponder will be able travel free in the high-occupancy toll lanes. Other vehicles would pay a variable toll based on the number of vehicles using the lanes.

The new toll lanes on the northern Virginia highway will be able to save motorists using the congested road more than 10 minutes each way, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“This traffic has been a headache for years,” said McAuliffe. “Anyone who travels on I-395 and I-95 today can attest that this is one of the most congested corridors in the country. We had to think big, bold and differently.”

The partnership with Transurban allowed the project to move ahead years before the state could have afforded it, he said.

“We have a responsibility, and part of that responsibility is allowing you to get in and out of work on a timely basis, so you can go see your kids play a ball game, or you can get home to see your loved ones, or just to go home and sit around and have a beer,” McAuliffe said.

The two reversible HOV lanes on I-395 will be converted to tolls and a third reversible tolled lane will be added. The tolled lanes on I-395 will connect with the I-95 high-occupancy lanes and extend to near the Pentagon.

The work will also include the rehabilitation of five bridges over I-395 and new sound walls to protect nearby residents.

The conversion, which will be accomplished in two stages, is estimated to cost a total of $459 million. Construction costs are projected to be $342 million of that amount.

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s partners in the project are Transurban, which also financed and operates express tolls lanes on I-495 and I-95 in northern Virginia, and Lane Construction Corp., which will design and build the lanes.

The private financing will include a $300 million allocation from the Transportation Department’s private activity bonds that are dedicated to highway projects. The Commonwealth Transportation Board in March approved a $45 million loan for project development, design and construction, which is to go to the private partners from the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

The private partners will contribute at least $15 million per year from the toll revenues to local transportation projects under the agreement with the state. The annual payment will go up each year.

The annual payment could help fund park-and-ride lots in the area and improvements to Virginia Railway Express’s commuter rail system in northern Virginia, said Nick Donohue, Virginia’s deputy secretary of transportation.

“This is not a silver bullet for the transit needs in the Commonwealth, but it will make some real improvements in the corridor,” he said.

The I-395 toll lane project is the largest transportation public-private partnership in any state so far in 2017, according to Aubrey Layne, Virginia transportation secretary.

“Three years ago, no one thought we would be here,” Layne said.

The state signed a framework agreement with Transurban for the I-395 project in late 2015 and in February 2017 approved the private partnership’s plans to finance, design, build, and maintain the express lanes.

“This acceptance is the latest step in our ongoing effort to move more people and provide more travel choices in one of the most congested corridors of the country,” McAuliffe said.

When the I-395 lanes are completed, there will be some 70 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes on northern Virginia highways, including 14 miles on I-495, 30 miles on I-95, and 15 miles on I-66 inside the Washington Beltway. Another 25 miles of toll lanes are expected to open in 2022 on I-66 outside the Beltway.

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