New I-66 toll lanes begin commuting shift in Northern Virginia (2024)

After five years of construction, traffic moved smoothly during the weekday debut Monday of new Interstate 66 travel lanes that soon will let commuters pay to get to their destination more quickly.

Four high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes — two in each direction — are free during an adjustment period, allowing commuters to test drive them and have access to five lanes in each direction. Tolls will go into effect before the end of the month, officials said, with rates that change depending on how much traffic is on the road.

The western nine miles of the 66 Express Lanes — part of a 22.5 mile project stretching from the Beltway to Gainesville — opened Saturday. The roughly remaining 13 miles are expected to open before the end of the year.

The lanes are the latest addition to Northern Virginia’s growing express network, the largest change to the Washington region’s road infrastructure in years. The segment also opened ahead of schedule, an accomplishment for a complex, multibillion-dollar project in a region where so many other projects have been delayed.


The lanes, on one of the region’s most congested highways, were billed as a way to help the state better manage traffic, foster carpooling and public transit use, and give commuters more options. Project officials have declined to say what an average toll would be.

On Monday, Washington-bound traffic from Gainesville to Centreville moved more slowly on the three general lanes than in the new express lanes but was generally free-flowing. The paced slowed significantly as traffic from the new lanes ended at Route 28 and merged into the general lanes. From there, traffic moved into an active work zone, with uneven lanes and changing patterns through to the Beltway.

New I-66 toll lanes are open. Here’s what you need to know.

“Today’s opening of the 66 Express Lanes allows the Commonwealth and its partners to begin delivering long-awaited relief to drivers who have dealt with daily congestion, unreliability and most recently, five years of heavy work construction,” Virginia Transportation Secretary W. Sheppard Miller III said at a ceremony Monday at a park-and-ride lot in Manassas.

He said the early opening of the western section is another indication that “Virginia continues to lead our region and the nation making positive transportation improvements through innovative solutions.”

By growing its network of toll lanes, officials say, Virginia will increase the capacity of its transportation network and give drivers more options. Solo drivers will have access to two additional lanes in each direction if they are willing to pay. Having more people in the HOT lanes will help to relieve congestion in the general lanes, officials say.

The benefit, state transportation officials say, is a quicker, more reliable trip than they could get in the interstate’s regular lanes. The speed limit in the express lanes is 70 mph, compared with 55 mph to 65 mph at various locations in the general lanes. Drivers who carpool will be able to travel free in the HOT lanes.

Thomas Smith, a government contractor who commutes from Orange County, Va., to Northern Virginia said his Monday commute was uneventful as he used the new lanes. But traffic on the general lanes moved slowly, he said, voicing concerns that congestion could worsen when tolls begin.

“I don’t think it’s going to get that much better,” he said. “If people aren’t willing to pay, then they’re literally going to be stuck in less lanes than there was before. And it’s absolutely horrible.” Generally, the number of free lanes in each direction will be reduced from four to three across the corridor.


Without tollbooths along the stretch, drivers need an E-ZPass unless they are on a motorcycle. Drivers will be able to pay online, by mail, by phone or at a customer service store in Manassas.

The eastern segment of the 22.5 mile system is expected to open in December. The partial opening this past weekend was intended to let drivers familiarize themselves with new traffic patterns along the route as the fifth year of construction wraps up on the $3.7 billion program. With the latest addition, Northern Virginia has more than 70 miles of express lanes.

Nine miles of new 66 Express Lanes to open around Sept. 10

The project keeps three general-purpose lanes eastbound and westbound, adding two HOT lanes in each direction. Those lanes will connect with 10 miles of rush-hour, peak-direction toll lanes that opened in December 2017 between the Beltway and D.C.

The new HOT lanes are the result of a public-private partnership between Virginia and I-66 Express Mobility Partners, a consortium of investors that will maintain and operate the toll lanes under a 50-year concession.

Other improvements in the corridor include the addition of more than 4,000 park-and-ride spaces with access to the express lanes, new and enhanced bus service, new ramps and improved interchanges, and 11 miles of bike and pedestrian trails.


Ramps from commuter parking lots at University Boulevard in Gainesville and at Century Park Boulevard in Manassas provide direct access to the lanes.

At the Manassas lot, where 1,300 new parking spots are expected to be available by the project’s completion, state and project officials marked the opening Monday with the unveiling of a sign: LANES NOW OPEN.

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann B. Wheeler (D-At Large) said the toll lanes — in addition to improvements to transit and the free carpooling option — will be a “game changer” for the county.

“Nearly a half-million residents who call Prince William County home have been plagued with one of the worst commutes in the nation for well over a decade. Today is a celebration of an expansion of the tool kit of transit options,” Wheeler said, citing the expansion of park-and-ride spaces near the interstate and commuter bus services that will be able to use the express lanes.


Jeffrey C. McKay (D-At Large), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the project will facilitate transit service and encourage carpools. He said residents also will experience better travel along the corridor through improvements that include major interchange restructuring, the widening of Route 29 in Centerville and improvements for pedestrians along Lee Highway.

“A lot of times toll lanes get criticized by folks because, from an equity standpoint, they’re not fair to everyone,” he said. “And as I remind folks that, you know, first of all, being able to have the private sector make these investments means, one, our public dollars can go to more public transportation solutions for everyone in the commonwealth. And secondly, every car that I can get in an express lane and out of the general travel lane opens up an opportunity for everyone else, in some cases people who can’t afford to use the toll lanes.”

In public forums, some residents and commuters have been optimistic about a better commute in a corridor that often resembles a parking lot. Others worry about potentially unaffordable tolls and the changes along the route, such as a reduction in general travel lanes in some segments. Project officials say that one of those four lanes has been an HOV lane during rush hour, and in a section of the corridor, a shoulder lane was available only during peak travel times.


As new pavement was applied to the road surface in recent weeks, some drivers said the road became so shiny that vehicles were reflected in the glossy black surface.

“It’s just so bright. Sometimes the white lines blend in with the glare,” said Troy Nolan, a Prince William County resident who takes the highway to work in Reston. “It’s a safety hazard.”

Nancy H. Smith, a spokeswoman for I-66 Express Mobility Partners, said the opening of the first section of express lanes went smoothly. She said shiny pavement isn’t unusual, adding that the roadway includes reflective striping to help with visibility.

“It’s normal for pavement to have that kind of sheen because it is new,” she said.

Officials haven’t discussed toll rates or how much time drivers would save on a trip in the toll lanes. When the toll system launched five years ago inside the Beltway, drivers paid up to $40 for the 10-mile trip.


The toll system will be a 24-hour operation, which officials say is meant to create an incentive for drivers to carpool. The lanes will have a dynamic pricing system, with tolls rising and falling based on traffic conditions.

Nolan said the widened road is likely to make his commute more expensive, but also better.

“I’m going to take advantage of it if I can take the toll and get to work faster,” he said. “It all depends: if it’s a $40 toll, probably not.”

New I-66 toll lanes begin commuting shift in Northern Virginia (2024)


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