The term "express" has a dual meaning on the 95 Express project in northern Virginia. For the more than 200,000 vehicles that travel the 29-mile stretch of Interstate 95 south of the Capital Beltway every day, the project, to be completed in early 2015, aims to relieve congestion and speed traffic flow. For engineers and construction crews, the goal is to expedite delivery of the $1-billion project built right in the middle of a heavily traveled artery.

The project will convert 20 miles of the highway's existing 40-year-old, dedicated high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes south of the Beltway into dynamically tolled lanes available to all motorists willing to pay. It also will widen 14 miles of existing HOV highway to three lanes from two and carve nine new miles of similarly reversible roadway out of the highway's median.

The Express Lanes project's multiple tasks had to be planned, designed and built in a limited-access corridor and within a 28-month schedule that began almost immediately after the ceremonial groundbreaking shovels were put away on Aug. 7, 2012.

"From the first day of construction, everything has been focused on being ready for the first day of tolled operations," says Walter Lewis, project director for Fluor-Lane 95 LLC, the design-build contractor for the Transurban-led consortium that secured private financing for the project. The consortium will operate and maintain the system under a 75-year contract with the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT).

Northern Virginia highways are familiar turf to the Transurban/Fluor Corp.-Lane Construction Corp. joint venture. The team was wrapping up a $1.4-billion, 14-mile toll lane project on the western side of the Capital Beltway when the 95 Express Lanes job began. When completed, the two projects will connect at the Springfield interchange.

Indeed, speed was so critical for the project that the cycle of design-package development and client review was under way as the public-private-partnership financing structure was being made final. "By the time the packages were formally submitted, they were close to 100%," says Richard Prezioso, Transurban deputy project manager. "Our joint work groups had been going through the plans as they developed, so we had pretty much agreed on the big decisions."

Time-sensitive transitions

The existing HOV lanes gave the 95 Express Lanes team a ready-made footprint, but they were far from ready for their new purpose. "The upgrades required much more than simply repaving and adding signs," says Dan Papiernik, mid-Atlantic toll services leader for lead designer HNTB.

Besides widening 14.1 miles of the HOV lanes, existing concrete barriers on the existing section had to be demolished. Cast-in-place protective structures and guardrails with foundations for signs, lighting and tolling gantries had to be installed. Infrastructure to support the tolling system also had to be put in place, including more than 1.5 million linear ft of conduit and 3.7 million ft of cable and wire.

What's more, all of this work had to be carefully managed to meet VDOT's mandate that the existing HOV system be available to carpoolers during normal rush hour periods.