Eyes on the road: VDOT plans to add roadside cameras to catch drivers attempting to cheat tolling system on I-64 express lanes

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A high-tech crackdown is coming to Hampton Roads interstates.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is working to convert high occupancy vehicle lanes to express lanes on parts of I-64 in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.

The agency has a stern warning for drivers: if they think they can cheat the tolling system to get a free ride on the express lanes, they should think again.

Officials tell 10 On Your Side a new Vehicle Occupancy Detection (VOD) system will be installed to make sure drivers are following the express lane policies during operating hours.

Here’s how it works:

During operating hours, if it’s just you in the car, all you need is a standard EZ-pass and you’re good to go. If there are two or more people in the car, you need an EZ pass flex with the carpooling option set to “on”. If you’re alone and have that option on, you’ll be expected to pay up.

The detection system will count how many people are in the car and compare that to what mode their E-ZPass is set to.

Below are the operating hours for the current express lanes on I-64 in Norfolk:

“We’re going to use an educational approach first where you’ll get a notification saying, let me make sure you understand how to use the technology, the flex transponder and only declare HOV status when you are in that mode,” said David Caudill with VDOT’s Divison of Operations.

Repeat offenders: get ready to pay up.

“You are probably going to be charged the toll rather than the toll-free ride that you were expecting,” Caudill said.

Officials said the camera technology is expected to roll out in late 2022. That’s when VDOT crews are expected to wrap up a $19.2-million project that will convert HOV lanes on I-64 to express lanes in Chesapeake.

“Currently, we just have segment 1 that goes from I-264 to I-564 and we’re shooting for 2022 to have an additional 10 miles open and that will be from Bowers Hill to I-264,” he said.

Segment 1 of I-64 Express Lane Conversion
Segment 2 of I-64 Express Lane Conversion

In Nothern Virginia, you’ll find some of these roadside cameras already in use.

“If you use that E-ZPass flex correctly, you have nothing to worry about,” said Mike McGurk, a spokesperson for Transurban, the company that operates the camera system in Northern Virginia. “Since we first launched this pilot program, and after our recent expansion a few months ago, we’ve sent a little over 9,000 emails to drivers.”

The message from VDOT? Follow the rules so all drivers don’t pay for the consequences.

“If they don’t, what they’re doing is putting the burden of the toll amount actually on the folks who are following the rules,” Caudill said.

VDOT said the money will go first toward tolling operations and maintenance. Then, Caudill said the agency will set aside funds for future toll system replacement needs and to pay off any debt associated with the tolling solution. He said any remaining funds could be used for transit, park and ride services, parking lots, etc.

WAVY also asked VDOT about privacy concerns.

Officials said their faces will be blurred and they won’t store photos unless they have a valid reason to do so. They also said all their servers will be protected.

“Privacy is a big deal,” Caudill said. “There will be blurred images so that you can count the number of occupants in that vehicle.”

Caudill said they won’t have information regarding the costs of the VOD camera systems until April or May.

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