There are a lot of wonderful things about living on the Virginia side of the D.C. Metro area; navigating and understanding the road system is not always one of them. I thought I would begin a short series explaining some of the more complicated roads. Where possible, I will also provide a brief history of how we got to this point of confusion!
Last night I was on the way to my son's basketball practice when I drove by a sign for the Dulles Toll Road. Underneath that sign was another sign for the Dulles Access Road. The distinction to me is as natural as getting up in the morning, but it is not easily understood by people unfamiliar to the area. There is a third road, The Dulles Greenway, that is integrally tied to the others and can cause even more confusion.
The Dulles Access Road was created when Dulles Airport was built to provide direct access to the airport from RT 495 The Beltway (a topic I will cover in another segment). This road is owned by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and maintained under contract by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). With the opening of Route 66 inside the beltway, the access road was linked to Rt 66 and provided a (slightly) easier way for travelers to go between Dulles Airport and Reagan National Airport. The Access Road does not provide exits at all interchanges, so drivers using the road need to pay close attention to the signs if they will be exiting before arriving at the Beltway. The road is not intended as a general use road; the only authorized traffic is airport customers or service providers. This restriction presented a problem for many commuters who saw the Access Road as a quick way to get in to D.C. and Tysons Corner from the western Suburbs of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. It became commonplace for commuters to drive out to Dulles, buy a cup of coffee or a paper (and thus becoming airport customers) and then use the road to commute.
A need was established and in the early 1980s a toll road, The Dulles Toll Road (affectionately--or not--called the Toll Road by locals since it is the only one) was built by VDOT to parallel the Dulles Access Road. The Dulles Toll Road covers the distance between RT 495 (The Beltway) and Route 28. The Dulles Toll Road participates in the Virgina Smart Tag and Ez-Pass programs. It also has an HOV-2 (high occupancy vehicle- 2 people) lane which is in effect each day during morning and afternoon rush hours. Access and egress from the Dulles Toll Road is available at most (but not all) interchanges along the road. In the case of Wolf Trap Farm Park, the ramps are only open for performances at the park and other special events.
There was still a commuting problem to be solved for the people of Loudoun County since the Dulles Toll Road begins/ends at Route 28 in Fairfax County. A private firm purchased land and in 1995 opened the Dulles Greenway, which extended the Toll Road out to Leesburg. The Dulles Greenway is privately owned and is a separate road from the Toll Road although they are linked. Passengers can used their Smart Tag on the Dulles Greenway. Pricing varies depending on the exit selected. The Greenway begins/ends at the Route 15 Bypass in Leesburg and connects to the Dulles Toll Road just past Route 28.
To get to Dulles Airport on to the Dulles Access Road drivers must either access it directly from Route 66W, exit immediately after exiting The Beltway on to the Toll Road (but before the Main Toll Plaza for the Toll Road) or enter from the west-bound Toll Road (drivers are not charged for west-bound access, but are charged when they exit the toll road). This sounds very confusing, and I am sure it is for people new to the area. Once you figure out the rules,however, it is fairly straightforward.
Just remember if you are leaving the airport headed east on the Toll Road and you need to exit on Rt. 28 or to Herndon, Reston or Vienna, PAY ATTENTION TO THE SIGNS. There have been many times that people have missed the exit (they are grouped) and ended up being forced to continue on to exit at Route 7 at Tysons Corner.
I hope this helps clarify the distinctions between these 3 roads.
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