There was at least one jolly passenger who didn't have to inch his way through traffic on Interstate 495 in Northern Virginia on Friday morning.
At around 8:30 a.m., Santa Claus commemorated the opening of the I-495 Express Lanes with a 14-mile ride from Braddock Road to Tysons Corner in an Arctic-white Tesla Roadster convertible.
"It was a smooth ride — wonderful," said Santa, when he arrived at the Westpark Bridge ramp near the Tysons Galleria. "It didn't take but 10 minutes... Almost as good as a sleigh."
The Express Lanes, which officially open on Saturday, offer riders with an E-ZPass an option to pay for less traffic, with trips costing upwards of $6 one-way. The speed limit is 55 miles per hour, and costs will fluctuate.
"The 495 Express Lanes are going to provide a predictable trip, and the way we do that is by constantly measuring the traffic, and we set the price to keep the lanes free flowing," said Pierce Coffee, marketing director for Transurban. "So, in advance of every entry point, drivers will see two signs that will show them the price it will cost to drive to three destinations. So, you know your price going on and if it's worth it to take the Express lanes that day or the regular Beltway lanes."
The $1.4 billion project took four years to build, and developer Fluor/Transurban will operate and maintain the roadway under a 75-year cost-sharing agreement with the Commonwealth.
The lanes are good news for Tysons Corner Center — the end of the line for the Express lanes. "It's a brand new direct access, right into the shopping center, and it adds four new lanes to the Capital Beltway, which is one of the main arteries into Tysons. We're very excited," said Cory Scott, senior property manager at Tysons Corner Center. "Traffic has been a problem in the past, but with this project and the addition of metrorail, this area is really going to open up."
Incidentally, Santa was later driven directly through the Tysons Galleria and to his Winter Wonderland on the first floor between Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. He'll be there until the big day.