Living in the DC area means traffic, and traffic means money – especially if you’re Transurban, the Australian company who owns and manages the 95 and 495 Express (See: Expense) Lanes. While the name never caught on, early adopters of the pay-to-play road systems circumventing DC traffic begrudgingly referred to the toll lanes as “Lexus Lanes” inferring that the cost to travel in the left lanes would require a hefty paycheck just to cover the fees – and they still aren’t wrong.
During rush hour (See: Rush 4 Hours), toll prices can increase to $6.60 per MILE. Richmond’s WTVR wrote that “the website for Virginia’s new 95 Express lanes showed tolls can range from 20 cents to approximately 80 cents per mile, but the company that runs the lanes, Transurban, confirmed they have charged up to $6.60 to travel one mile on the express lane.” At any given time, you can regularly see the heart-breaking pricing to go from the Springfield Interchange to Fredericksburg rising in the $20 range – and that’s just one way.
The 95 Expense lanes are being extended to take paying drivers to Fredericksburg – dubbed the 95 Express Lanes Southern Expansion, the project is estimated to complete December 2017. The road is owned and financed by Transurban but managed by VDOT (the Virginia Department of Transportation). Time to take out a second mortgage on your home should you want to travel the entire 495-95 stretch of toll roads.
But what’s worse than paying in spare kidneys to take the toll road? Paying and watching the regular (free) lanes buzz past you while you sit, trapped in dead stop traffic in your toll road prison. You see – the pricing system for the toll roads is a confusing mix of economics and lack of common sense which they have named “dynamic pricing“. The Express Lanes use supply and demand to determine costs. To maintain the toll’s speed limits (which are typically 5 mph higher than the neighboring regular lanes), the price will increase to dissuade on-the-fence drivers from accessing the lanes leaving the lanes wide open for those willing to pay a little more. As rush hour starts to subside, fewer people want a faster way home and the prices drop.
Now here’s the confusing part. If there’s an accident on the toll lanes, the price will also increase to prevent drivers from using the road assuming that the higher costs will turn a majority of people from taking the lanes. But what about those drivers willing to pay a little more to make it home on time? Yeah – they’re stuck paying to not move.
Here’s the good news. Entering into the toll lanes is a business transaction between you and Transurban – your EZPass is the credit card. Transurban has guaranteed you a faster route home in exchange for your hard-earned cash. If at any time your drive home is hindered by traffic in the toll lanes, there has been a breach of contract and you can get your money back. Woohoo! But wait – it won’t be easy and it may not work.
We recently took an over-priced trip down the toll road only to be stuck in traffic due to an accident. Once we were home (2 hours later and a few gray hairs more), we submitted a ticket requesting a refund. Here’s what we got back:
Yeah – so it worked. This time. Artavia was sure to mention that the toll road wait could have been avoided if I’d downloaded their app and email notifications. Transurban has also been working on installing congestion signs before exit points to give drivers a heads up when it’s time to bail or pay the price.
To request a refund, you’ll have to reach out to them through the rather in-depth contact form on their website. If that doesn’t work, you can call them at 855-495-9777 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If that doesn’t work either, you can always show up at the Alexandria headquarters located at 6440 General Green Way, Alexandria, VA 22312.
And brace yourself – toll roads in the DMV aren’t going anywhere. With the introduction to the I66 tolls in December 2017 and the extension of tolls through 395 estimated to be completed by 2020, paying to get home in under an hour may be our only option.