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Confused drivers crash at entrance to new Beltway toll lanes

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Photo - The new Capital Beltway express lanes (left) a few days before they opened on Interstate 495. (AP photo)
The new Capital Beltway express lanes (left) a few days before they opened on Interstate 495. (AP photo)
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The new Beltway Express lanes had a bumpy introduction to Washington rush hour on Monday, forcing road crews to repaint lines overnight on the highway to help out bewildered drivers.

Six crashes happened near the entrance to the special lanes between their Saturday opening and Monday afternoon, mostly caused by confused drivers who accidentally entered the lanes and swerved to get out, officials said.

The new express lanes -- two in each direction --span from the Springfield Interchange to just north of the Dulles Toll Road and charge drivers tolls via E-ZPasses. The tolls become more expensive when more cars are in the lanes. The tolls peaked at $1.90 for the whole length of the Beltway on Monday, officials said.

Six accidents in one place on the Beltway in such a short timeframe is unusual, officials said. From Nov. 3-5, the entire Virginia side of the Beltway saw a total of seven accidents.

"What makes this unique is the fact that all six crashes within the past three days have all occurred at the entrance to the northbound Express lanes (Braddock Road Exit 54)," Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said in an email to The Washington Examiner.

Transurban, the company operating the lanes, and Virginia agencies made changes to the lanes Sunday and Monday nights in order to make the first entrance to the lanes safer.

On Sunday night, crews added more colored reflectors to the posts separating the lanes from the rest of the Beltway. They also changed electronic signs to read "New traffic pattern" and "Use caution."

Workers plan to paint new lines to extend the merge lane at the entrance to the Express lanes overnight Monday, in time for Tuesday morning rush hour.

"These two changes will hopefully let drivers know that change is coming ahead," said Beltway Express lanes spokeswoman Pierce Coffee. "It is a major transition ... We need drivers to be alert and aware out there."

Coffee said Transurban and Virginia will also consider adding paint that reads "E-ZPass Only" about a mile before, and again a half-mile before, the entrance to the Express lanes.

Officials urged drivers Monday not to swerve or back out of the Express lanes. Those who ride the lanes accidentally can pay online or contact customer service at 495expresslanes.com.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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