Transurban Adds Innovative Travel Choices with I-395 Express Lanes
Smart and Smooth Congestion Solutions: Transurban and Virginia DOT Partner to Bring Travel Relief to Washington DC Area
The recently completed Interstate 395 Express Lanes project in Virginia has traffic flowing more smoothly and reliably, coming and going to Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon.
“Transurban’s goal was to add smart capacity that brings new travel choices, whether that is a single-occupant customer, a carpooler or bus rider, across one of the busiest corridors in the DC region,” says Karl Rohrer, Vice President of Delivery for Transurban, the concessionaire, in Tysons, Virginia.
Transurban Tackles Congestion
Wanting to add capacity and options for drivers in Northern Virginia, in the early 2000s, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) partnered with Transurban, a private developer and toll road operator in the United States and Australia to consider less-traditional highway expansion solutions.
VDOT owns the roadway. Transurban designs, builds, operates, and maintains the roads for a period of time the concession is in place, usually for several decades. Then the road reverts back to the state. Transurban collects the tolls and pays for operations and maintenance with those funds. Additionally, as part of the 395 Express Lanes project, the company is providing the state $15 million annually over the life of the multi-decade concession for transit and multimodal improvements in the corridor.
“The state DOT partners with us, and we work hand in hand through every phase: design, construction, delivery, and operation – all with a day-to-day commitment to remain engaged with the communities we are impacting and serving, ” Rohrer says. “This approach has worked quite well on our projects.”
Transurban not only worked closely with VDOT, but also with officials from the Pentagon, Arlington County, the city of Alexandria, Washington, D.C., and other stakeholders. The project ends on the 14th Street Bridge, owned by the District of Columbia.
“It was a collective effort for an outcome that benefits the whole region,” Rohrer says. “We’re proud of our ability to roll up our sleeves and partner with the visionary leaders of Virginia to find solutions that can truly transform travel on a daily basis.”
The number of Virginia express lanes added through the public-private partnership with Transurban has grown. The concessionaire brought some of the first dynamically priced express lanes in the nation to Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway. Those express lanes opened in 2012. On Interstate 95, Transurban widened the reversible HOV lanes. Those express lanes opened in 2014. Lane Construction Corp, of Cheshire, Connecticut, was part of a joint venture that built these two projects. More recently, Transurban has focused on Interstate 395.
“With customers saving over an hour on their commutes across the 495 and 95 Express, the 395 Express Lanes was a logical extension of the network, completing a critical link to the DC border,” Rohrer says.
I-395 Express Lanes Construction
AECOM, headquartered in Los Angeles, served as the design partner and Lane the contractor on the $475 million 395 Express Lanes project.
Lane began work in August 2017 to extend from the 95 express lanes 8 miles north near Edsall Road to the 14th Street Bridge. Those lanes opened in November 2019, on time and on budget. Crews changed two reversible HOV lanes into three free-flowing reversible lanes, with traffic moving north on weekday mornings and south in the evenings. Gates prevent traffic from entering in the wrong direction.
Tolls are collected through an E-ZPass or EP-ZPass Flex and use real-time dynamic pricing. Buses, motorcyclists and car- and vanpools can travel on the toll lanes for free if there are three or more people in the car. Transurban monitors traffic flow with cameras and microwave vehicle detectors to measure density and volume.
The original 12-foot-wide HOV lanes had two 12-foot shoulders and a 40-year-old guardrail, separating the general from the HOV lanes. The road was concrete with several asphalt overlays applied during a number of years.
During construction, Lane created three 11-foot-wide express lanes, one 10-foot shoulder, and on the other side a 2-foot to 4-foot shoulder, depending on the location. Crews strengthened the original shoulders, so they could handle traffic loads.
Two lanes of traffic remained open during daytime hours. Most of the work took place on nights and weekends.
The drainage elements and communication and intelligent traffic system ducts were placed on one side and completed first. Then traffic was switched to that side and work progressed on the opposite side of the road.
Lane repaired joints, where there was cracking at the surface. Some of it required digging down about a foot and repairing the crack, while others required a deeper excavation and full-depth rebuild with a sub-base and asphalt. Throughout, crews milled and applied a 4-inch overlay.
The scope on the recent 395 express lanes also included expanding the northbound exit ramp near Eads Street to two ramps, one left heading to the Pentagon and the other right to Crystal City in Arlington County, which Amazon selected for a second headquarters.
“It was vital, with minimum disruption, to increase capacity at this interchange that is serving tens of thousands of employees at the Pentagon and will be crucial to the influx of businesses in Crystal City,” Rohrer says. “We were able to come up with a concept to make the interchange reversible to better manage the volume of traffic.” Traffic on the ramp flows north in the morning and south in the afternoon.
Additionally, crews are installing sound walls and adding a fourth regular lane to I-395 south between Duke Street and Edsall Road to tackle a well-known local chokepoint. Transurban is managing the general lane contract and delivery for VDOT.
Transurban also improved parking at the Pentagon and built a new bus circulation roadway. The signals are timed, so buses flow from a new right-hand lane on the exit ramp to the new roadway.
“We’re excited the lanes are now open and performing as expected by providing a faster, more reliable trip,” Rohrer reports. “Customers and stakeholders have provided great feedback, and we look forward to advancing new projects that can deliver similar benefits.”
The Fred Ex Project Starts Up
Crews broke ground in summer 2019 on a $565 million I-95 express lanes project, called the Fredericksburg Extension (Fred Ex). The 10-mile-long project is scheduled for completion in fall 2022. The new lanes will connect with the 395 express lanes, creating a corridor of express lanes that run nearly 50 miles from Fredericksburg to the District of Columbia. Again, this segment also will feature dynamic tolling.
Transurban hired Branch-Flatiron Joint Venture for the Fred Ex project. The partners are Branch Civil of Roanoke, Virginia, and Flatiron of Broomfield, Colorado.
“The project requires clearing and grading the wooded median of I-95, where the two new reversible express lanes will be built,” says Kelly Hannon, Spokesperson for VDOT. “While the population of the Fredericksburg region may be smaller than Northern Virginia, I-95 is the main transportation artery for north-south travel, and drivers can experience congestion on weekdays and weekends as commercial traffic, commuters and residents all seek to share the road.”
When complete, the project is expected to increase I-95 peak capacity by 66 percent and along this segment and improve access to Marine Corps Base Quantico.
“It will provide people with greater reliability on the I-95 corridor and seeks to encourage ridesharing” Hannon says.