Dasher and Dancer … and Prancer and Vixen … Comet and Cupid … and Donner and Blitzen … were nowhere to be found.
Santa Claus traded in his sleigh for a fire truck Friday, helping mark the five-year anniversary of the 495 Express Lanes by riding on a Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department engine to Tysons Corner.
Transurban, operator of the 495 and 95 Express Lanes, is marking the fifth anniversary of the 495 Express Lanes by also launching a travel giveaway of $5,000 in free travel prizes and a special $10,000 community grant.
“Today we celebrate five years of helping our customers on the Beltway make it to a meeting on time, get home for dinner with family and travel to work without the anxiety that comes with hitting an unexpected traffic jam,” said Jennifer Aument, group general manager of Transurban North America. “Whether they pay tolls, ride in a bus or carpool, we value all our customers and look forward to working with our partners at VDOT to continually find new ways to provide them with a better Beltway in the years to come.”
Transurban is giving away $50 of free Express Lanes travel to each of 100 lucky customers. Customers can register for a chance to win online at ExpressLanes.com/anniversary-contest starting Nov. 17. The contest will run until Dec. 1. Winners will be randomly chosen on Dec. 4 and notified by email within two days. The $50 of free travel will be applied toward their future 495 and 95 Express Lanes trips.
In honor of the collaboration needed to make the 495 Express Lanes a reality, the $10,000 community grant requires two or more community organizations to apply together and demonstrate how they will work together on a specific project or initiative. Applications will be open Dec. 1-Jan. 31, 2018 with winners being notified and announced in February. Application forms will be available on ExpressLanes.com starting Dec. 1.
In the past five years, more than 3.5 million customers took 67 million trips on the Express Lanes with an average of 23 minutes saved on the 495 Express Lanes during a rush-hour trip. Greater throughput on the Express Lanes has also contributed to less congested regular lanes, shortening commute times by 8 percent during northbound morning rush hour, according to Transurban.
Critics have complained about expensive tolls during peak commute times such as the day before holiday weekends, although a Transurban survey found that 8 of 10 D.C. motorists polled believe the Express Lanes benefit the area.
Transurban has awarded $450,000 in community grants to D.C. area organizations, and has offered support to community projects such as new bike racks, elementary school environmental programs, local neighborhood enhancements, homeless shelter programs and local park cleanups. The Express Lanes operator has also donated nearly $80,000 to local fire and rescue departments through the Drive to Donate program.