Securing the future of an Iconic American Beltway
Smith-Midland Corporation – Formal planning for the Capital Beltway, I-495, began in 1950, and it was included as part of the national Interstate Highway System in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, with construction beginning in 1957. The I-495 Capital Beltway was fully completed when its final Maryland segment was opened to traffic on August 17, 1964.
Over the span of the next three decades, through various widening projects, nearly the entire Beltway was widened to eight lanes (four each way), the last major project taking place in the early 1990’s. Over the ensuing 20 years traffic continued to grow and stress the capacities of the road and its daily users.
In early 2000, plans where advanced by VDOT for a traditional highway expansion to help address the growing congestion on the Virginia portion. The plan faced significant opposition, unaffordability, the destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses, and no transit options to support a burgeoning Tysons Corner district.
In 2002, the private sector proposed an alternative under the Public Private Transportation Act to build four new high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes that would expand capacity and deliver new travel choices, including a network for buses and carpools. A partnership with the private sector and tolling would help VDOT deliver improvements more quickly and with fewer tax dollars, provide new travel choices, and reduce impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.
In 2007, VDOT finalized an agreement with Capital Beltway Express, LLC – a consortium that would design, build, operate, finance and maintain the $2 billion HOT lanes project.
The 495 Express Lanes are the first road of its kind in the region to provide HOV service on the Capital Beltway – as well as the option for travelers to pay a toll for a faster and more predictable trip using EZ-Pass.
Construction, managed by Fluor-Lane of Alexandria, VA, began in 2008 and the new lanes, two new lanes in each direction on a 14-mile stretch of I-495 from the Springfield Interchange to just north of the Dulles Toll Road.
As part of the project, Flour-Lane contracting with the Smith-Midland Corporation to manufacturer and install 10 technical shelters to securely house all the E-ZPass recognition equipment. All along the 14.5 mile corridor the Easi-Set all-precast concrete buildings are set in the median strip next to two sets of information collecting pole assemblies hanging over both sets of opposing Express Lanes. Use of this system allows for the EZ-Pass system to collect the tolls of individual vehicle without any slowing of traffic flow.
Smith-Midland manufactured all of the 4” thick reinforced precast concrete panels at their Midland, VA plant, then shipped and erected the buildings using an on-site crane. Each of the 12’ x 20’ Easi-Set Buildings was outfitted by Smith-Midland with steel doors and matching locks, a 2.5 ton heat pump system and programmable thermostat. Each building was set and ready for final equipment outfitting in just one day. This saved valuable time for Flour-Lane, as well as keeping the work site free from weeks of on-site workers needed by traditional site built construction methods.
Opened for business in 2012, the 495 Express Lanes operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The lanes use dynamic pricing based on real-time traffic demand conditions to keep traffic free flowing and provide a more predictable travel option.
Fluor-Lane and its partners garnered numerous awards for the project. “Northern Virginia is notorious for being one of the most congested areas in the country,” said Nic Barr, Vice President of Operations. “The Express Lanes are helping to alleviate congestion and improve travel times, not just in the Express Lanes, but in the regular lanes as well. The improvements the Express Lanes have delivered to the entire corridor are a testament to why projects like the Express Lanes benefit all drivers – not just those who choose to take the Lanes.”
The I-495 Express Lanes project is the most significant package of improvements to the Capital Beltway in a generation.