Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Toll Lanes Coming?
800 miles of toll lanes on Highway 101, other Bay Area freeways proposed
By Denis Cuff Bay Area News Group
Article Launched: 07/22/2008 05:19:16 PM PDT
A Bay Area transportation commission is proposing the creation of a $3.7 billion, 800-mile-long network of mixed-use carpool and toll lanes on more than 12 freeways in a big new attempt to ease chronic traffic congestion.
Called High Occupancy Toll or HOT lanes because they are free to car poolers in rush hour and open to other vehicles for a toll, the network of express lanes would be developed over the next 25 years by a group county, regional and state transportation agencies.
The lanes would be established along much of Highway 101 on the Peninsula, Santa Clara County, and in parts of Marin and Sonoma counties. In the East Bay, the lanes would be along most of Interstates 680, 80 and 880, and Highway 4, and along much of I-580 in the Livermore Valley.
"We believe a network of HOT lanes across the region can reduce congestion, and speed up traffic flows," said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which allocates state and federal transportation dollars in the Bay Area.
"There isn't room to build new freeways in the Bay Area, so you have to make them operate more efficiently to increase their capacity."
The commission is scheduled to take a early step to advance the plan Wednesday when it considers a 25-year Bay Area transit funding division plan. It allocates $6.1 billion of expected HOT lane toll revenues toward building and operating the express lane network, and to operating express buses in the lanes. Construction cost alone for the system is pegged at $3.7 billion
The network will help traffic movement in several ways, regional transit planners predict.
Existing car pool lanes would be open to solo drivers who pay an electronic toll through FasTrak or a similar system, which uses an electronic reader to link with transponders in motorists' cars,
Tolls — perhaps 20 cents to 60 cents per mile —would be variable, with the highest prices charged during the worst traffic congestion to prevent lanes from becoming clogged, planners say.
The drivers who pay tolls get to move into the faster lane, and that leaves fewer cars and less congestion in the regular freeway lanes. "We're making better use of the extra capacity of the lanes," Goodwin said.
The project would convert 500 miles of existing carpool lanes and would build new HOT lanes along 300 miles of freeway stretches where there is room to do so.
Traffic flows also will be helped because an express bus system would be funded with the anticipated profits from the tolls, said Amy Worth, an Orinda city councilwoman who serves on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
"The express buses are an important part of the plan," Worth said. "The buses will use the (express) lanes, getting more passengers out of their cars and off the freeways."
Many details of the HOT lane network have yet to be worked out, including the exact toll charges and the responsibility of different agencies in building and operating the system.
However, Goodwin said officials will get valuable experience when two HOT lanes open in late 2010 on I-680 along the Sunol Grade between Sunol and Fremont and along I-580 in Dublin.
"A lot about the network is theoretical, but we'll get real world experience fro the 580 and 680 lanes about the public demand, and how much toll revenues are generated."
At its meeting in Oakland Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will consider adopting a set of principles to guide the development of the proposed network of express lanes.
Under the statement, the network would involve cooperation between Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, county congestion management agencies, and the Bay Area Toll Authority, the branch of the MTC that oversees bridge toll collections.
Also, toll profits generated within a travel corridor would be used on other measures to reduce traffic within that same area, the statement says.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.