The Interstate 95 Express Lanes just married their first anniversary and the data is in: The high-occupancy toll lanes shorten most rush hour commutes, on average, by about 15 minutes.
That's according to data compiled by Transurban, the private Australia-based company that operates the lanes, as well as a survey of 1,700 area drivers conducted last September.
But among readers of InsideNoVa.com's Facebook page, the jury is still out. Some like reader Katie Cunningham, agree the I-95 Express Lanes have been a big help.
"Without them, my commute from Woodbridge to Rockville would be horrific," Cunningham wrote. "With them, I can leave at a reasonable hour and be home at a reasonable time."
Others say tolls are too expensive - or fluctuate too unpredictably. Some also complain the lanes have made congestion worse in the "regular lanes" because they're now more crowded with drivers unwilling to pay.
"There are fewer people in the [HOT] during the post-6 p.m. hours, which has made the jams worse," said reader Barry Drennan.
And there are those like Dumfries resident Kevin Taylor, who says the lanes are sometimes pricey but generally worth the money.
"As much as I use them, I really can't stand how expensive they are," Taylor wrote. "But I'd much rather get home earlier each day."
Sounds about right to Prince William County Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, who said residents remain split on the Express Lanes. Nohe chairs the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional transportation planning agency.
"The community is still divided, there's no question," Nohe said. "It's not unsurprising that there's still a lot of people who are frustrated."
Love 'em or hate 'em, the I-95 Express Lanes, which first opened to traffic in December 2014, are here to stay.
Just days before the first anniversary, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the lanes would be extended two miles south - to relieve congestion near their current terminus at Garrisonville Road in Stafford, the source of many complaints - and either miles north, through Arlington County, which also fiercely fought the Express Lanes project.
The state is also moving ahead with plans to add HOT lanes to Interstate 66 - both inside and outside the beltway.
The new projects, which won;t open until 2018 at the earliest, are confirmation that state officials remain committed to public-private partnerships to build new toll lanes.
But that;s not necessarily a bad thing, according to 73 percent of area drivers who told Transurban they have a "positive impression: of the I-95 Express Lanes.
The results are even better - 86 percent - for carpoolers and bus riders, who don't have to pay tolls to use the lanes, which are always free for vehicles with three or more passengers.
Another finding: The so-called "Lexus lanes" are actually used by all kinds of drivers. According to Transurban, Express lane users most commonly drive Toyota's (21 percent), followed by Hondas (15 percent), and Fords (12 percent).
"If you want to be accurate, they're really Honda or Toyota lanes," said Mike McGurk, a Transurban spokesman. "This isn't just an option for those who make a lot of money."
According to Transurban, the I-95 Express Lanes host an average of 45,000 to 50,000 vehicle trips each weekday, about 35 to 40 percent of which are toll-free. Still, the lanes collect an average of about $207,000 in toll revenue each work day.
The tolls go to Transurban as part of its 2012 contract with the state. Transurban made what VDOT calls "a substantial upfront equity commitment" and secured a U.S. Department of Transportation loan to build the lanes.
"The arrangement allowed Virginia to deliver a nearly $1 billion project for only $82 million," VDOT's website says.
Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, strongly opposes planed tolling on I-66 inside the beltway. Still, he said the I-95 Express Lanes "are, by and large, an improvement."
"They give people the option to get into the HOT lanes when they need to het some place quick," he said.