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Veterans Expressway Opens New Express Lanes

Tampa’s rush hour has seemingly become more manageable during congested periods. The Veterans Expressway – a vital artery – has added an express lane.

But the opening represents the first step of the project and the new express lane’s benefits for Westchase residents are indirect.

While using the Linebaugh Avenue ramp, the most common path out of Westchase to the southbound Veterans, there is no access to the express lane.

The southbound Veterans express lane has an entrance just before Wilsky Boulevard, making Gunn Highway the first accessible ramp before the express lane entrance. It’s a much more viable route for drivers living north of Westchase.

Once drivers enter the southbound express lane, they must remain there until the designated exit at State Road 60, about six miles ahead. The express lane is separated from the other lanes by plastic poles.

In other words, there’s no merging into the express lane in midstream. And there’s no leaving the express lane until it ends.

For drivers heading northbound, the express lane begins just after Hillsborough Avenue and continues until Gunn Highway.

For now, the Veterans Expressway express lane is accessible at no additional charge.

Beginning this spring, using it will come at an additional price to the standard toll.

That’s when the express lane will be extended to Dale Mabry Highway, making it a 9-mile-long option.

The express lane’s toll price? Great question. And it’s one that doesn’t have a specific answer.

But there will be an express-lane toll (in addition to the $1.06 one-way fee during that stretch of the Veterans). Previously, Florida Department of Transportation officials said it would be an additional 25-cent fee.

Now, however, the additional express fee will be determined through “dynamic pricing,’’ meaning the toll price will rise and fall based on demand. If there’s heavy traffic, the express lane will have a higher price. The price will be set to maintain express lane traffic at a minimal 45 mph.

Ultimately, only one thing is certain.

The fully functional express lanes will only be available to drivers with a Sun Pass transponder. The toll-by-plate option, available to other motorists on the Veterans, will not be offered on the express lanes.

Further, only two-axle vehicles are allowed in the express lanes. Vehicles pulling boats or trailers are not permitted.

The Veterans Expressway widening and renovation project began in 2013. It will conclude later this year. Total cost: $380-million.

By Joey Johnston

Image courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation.

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