I-495 HOT lanes: No accidents Tuesday, but close calls
Updated: November 20, 2012 - 09:45 pm
There were no accidents reported Tuesday, but there were plenty of close calls.
The new I-495 Express Lanes lanes are supposed to alleviate traffic tie-ups, but despite the highly-publicized changes and road signs filled with warnings, drivers are still caught off-guard.
VDOT added new lane markings about a mile before the new express lanes. In the next few days they’ll add even more.
It wasn't completely a smooth ride for the first real test of the system Monday morning. The lanes require an E-ZPass and run from Springfield to McLean, but some drivers were still confused.
If you’re anywhere near the HOT lanes, all the signs make them hard to miss, which can be good.
“As long as they follow the signs it shouldn’t be too difficult,” says one driver.
It could also be bad, depending on who you ask.
“The signs are really big with a lot of information on them,” says another driver.
Susan Gaffney isn’t surprised by the crashes or confusion that have come since opening day.
“It was hard when you’re driving to process and figure out what you’re supposed to do,” says Gaffney.
Dave Sherman sees the information, but not the problem.
“People need to read the sign. They’ve been posted for months,” he says.
Six crashes were reported from Saturday to Monday morning when the HOT lanes opened. Most were at the entrance to the northbound Express Lane at Braddock Road, Exit 54.
Chezaray Tiano with the Virginia State Police has seen several cases of drivers accidentally entering the lanes and then either backing up onto the highway to try and get out, make an abrupt lane change, or even drive over the so-called plastic bollards to get out.
“It’s at that point when they generally become involved in a crash or cause others to become involved in a crash,” says Tiano.
Police and planners don’t think it’s a flaw with the design, signage or information, but simply what happens on the bumpy toad to adjustment.
And the Virginia State Police released the following statement with advice for drivers:
VIRGINIA STATE POLICE ASKING MOTORISTS TO PLAN AHEAD FOR MONDAY MORNING I-495 COMMUTE
FAIRFAX - With Saturdays' (Nov. 17, 2012) opening of the new Interstate 495 Express Lanes, Virginia State Police are encouraging all drivers to plan in advance if needing to travel I-495, especially during the Monday morning commute.
"If you are headed out this evening or will be using I-495 in the morning, then please plan ahead and before your trip research your options with the new Express Lanes," said Capt. Mike Spivey, Virginia State Police Fairfax Division Commander. "Your morning drive on I-495 is going to look much different from what you are used to, so take advantage tonight of the maps and detailed information provided at www.495ExpressLanes.com.
Familiarize yourself with where the traffic lanes change to decide if you want or can use the Express Lanes in the morning, thus preventing yourself from being stuck in traffic or causing a serious crash."
Since the new lanes' opening, Virginia State Police have responded to four crashes, two of which have resulted in non-life threatening injuries. All four crashes occurred in about the same location: the northbound entrance of the I-495 Express Lanes.
Plan Ahead. As northbound motorists come upon the change in traffic patterns at the Express Lanes entrance, they are swerving or making sudden lane changes to avoid the toll lanes. This has been the cause of all four crashes, where drivers swerved, lost control and crashed into other vehicles and/or the cement barriers/Jersey walls.
Don't stop or back up. Drivers are also stopping or backing up in an attempt to avoid the Express Lanes and to get into the general purpose lanes. Drivers should never stop or back up on an interstate. If you accidentally find yourself in the Express Lanes or are unable to safely merge into the general purpose lanes, then just keep going in the Express Lanes. Take the first exit and then go to www.495ExpressLanes.com and pay the toll online. Backing up or stopping puts you at risk of causing a crash and being seriously injured or killed.
Virginia State Police have spent the weekend working with VDOT and Transurban to assess and improve signage to warn northbound I-495 motorists of the upcoming lane changes. Additional markings are also being planned for the immediate area to aid motorists.
Two-axle vehicles only. Motorists are also advised that only two-axle vehicles are permitted in the I-495 Express Lanes. Tractor-trailers, passenger vehicles pulling trailers and other vehicles with more than two-axles are prohibited from using the new toll lanes.
For those using the 495 Express Lanes, troopers will be stopping and citing those in violation of the state law mandating the HOV-3 requirement in the Express Lanes (Code of VA 33.1-56.3):
• If traveling with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode, then there must be at least three people riding inside the vehicle to be in compliance with the HOV-3 requirement. Those drivers not in compliance will be ticketed.
• When using the E-ZPass Flex mode, the mode must be selected before entering the 495 Express Lanes. So, don't forget to flip (the switch) before your trip.
• Make sure you nominate (through the 495 Express Lanes Website or by phone) the bumper mounted transponder for HOV-3 travel at least 30 minutes prior to entering the Express Lanes.
HOV-3 regulations in the 495 Express Lanes apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Motorists are also advised that crossing between the white, lane dividers (aka ballards) from the main I-495 lanes into the Express Lanes is prohibited and is extremely dangerous. Violators will be cited.
For more information, please visit www.495ExpressLanes.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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