MTC: I-680 express lanes set to open in early fall

'We're doing this for mobility,' agency rep says of $45M project

Express lanes on the Interstate 680 between San Ramon and Walnut Creek are nearing completion, scheduled to open in early fall, though a hard date has not yet been specified.

The project converting carpool lanes into toll express lanes is intended to promote carpooling and improve traffic congestion on the I-680 corridor, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) project manager Barbara Laurenson said at the San Ramon City Council meeting Tuesday night.

"We're doing this for mobility," she said. "As the region grows, we need to have an infrastructure that is supportive of carpools, vanpools and express buses. We all are suffering from the growth of our region, and we know that we have to use all the tools that we have to reduce congestion."

The project includes one northbound express lane from Alcosta Boulevard in San Ramon to Livorna Road in Alamo, and one southbound express lane from Rudgear Road in Walnut Creek to Alcosta Boulevard. It's part of a larger plan sponsored by MTC and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to develop an integrated Bay Area express lanes network.

The $45 million project involves converting high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into toll express lanes. Project construction, which began in August 2015 and was initially expected to be completed in late 2016, is now scheduled to be completed by late September or early October, Laurenson said.

Everyone can drive in the lanes, but only high occupancy vehicles and some select others can use them for free during toll hours.

In order to use the express lanes, drivers will need to obtain a toll tag -- toll-exempt vehicles must use a FasTrak Flex toll tag, set in the "2" position for 2-person carpools and the "3+" position for everything else, while solo drivers can have either a standard FasTrak toll tag or a FasTrak Flex tag set in the "1" position.

Solo drivers will be charged a toll fee to use the lanes, while carpools, vanpools, eligible clean-air vehicles, motorcycles and buses can use the lanes toll-free.

The lanes will operate from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and will be managed and monitored by MTC.

A key component of the plan, said Laurensen, is "dynamic tolling" -- as traffic increases, tolls increase, and vice versa.

The minimum toll price will be $0.50 and the maximum toll will be set by supply and demand. There may be times, said Laurenson, during which the lane will be "open to all."

There are two zones in each direction, and the pricing signs along the freeway will specify how much solo drivers will end up paying to reach the end of the zone versus the end of the express lane. For example, a driver heading north from Dublin may be tolled $1 to reach Crow Canyon Road (the end of one zone) and $3 to reach Livorna Road (the end of the express lane).

"A driver is guaranteed the price shown on the sign at the time the driver enters the express lane," MTC officials wrote in a staff report. "If the toll amount changes while the driver is in the lane, the driver still pays the price posted when entering the lane."

Lane enforcement will look similar to that across Bay Area bridges. Cameras are present to snap photos of license plates, and when someone travels on the express lane with the FasTrak Flex tag set in the "2" or "3+" position, said Laurenson, that will "trigger a beacon on the express lanes, which will let the CHP (California Highway Patrol) know to extra look at that car to ensure that it is 2 or 3-plus."

"A lot of the revenues from the tolls goes to pay extra CHP officers to be out there and looking at the lanes," she added.

Those who drive on the lanes without the proper FasTrak tag will be charged violation fees, starting at $25 and escalating up to $70.

At Tuesday's meeting, Laurenson acknowledged counter arguments that have been raised to express lanes in general.

Some say the toll tag requirement is an unfair burden, she said, while others state that allowing single-occupant vehicles actually slows the lane down, and is an example of the government prioritizing revenue over mobility. But, said Laurensen, the dynamic tolling is MTC's response to deal with that potential.

Another critique has been one of inequity, that the express lanes are unfair to low-income drivers who may not be able to afford the toll to beat traffic. Laurenson responded to that as well, stating that nationwide research has shown that drivers of all income levels use the express lanes.

Councilman Scott Perkins suggested that staff consider that the lanes be open to all from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., while Councilman Harry Sachs raised the concern that metering lights would be implemented next, something that he feels is a problem in Fremont.

"For San Ramon, I want to know what the plan is for metering lights, if there is any," Sachs said, "so that we can be able to forecast this and figure out what's the best strategy given what we have here and what we're looking for in our infrastructure vision."

Laurenson closed her presentation by going over public outreach plans, including online ad campaigns and the MTC mailing list.

"As a 40-something-year-old mom, I don't use Twitter," Laurenson said. "But I'm all over NextDoor. So we're using a combination of those different tools."


47 people like this
Posted by Dan Davis
a resident of Danville
on Jul 16, 2017 at 7:05 am

Now we get to pay to ride in lanes that we used to ride in for free. How exciting.
Take your time CALTRANS.

17 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Danville
on Jul 17, 2017 at 8:14 am

I just read the preceding column. Looks too complicated and formulaic for average driver to be able to keep clear as he/she is cruising down the freeway at "65" MPH. It seems to defy the KISS philosophy of "keep it simple stupid", something that my experience has lead me to believe has a lot of common sense merit. Maybe even more sensible (as in "common") would have been to take the $45 million and apply it to deferred road maintenance rather than depending on more tax dollars to be collected and mishandled by the politicians.

7 people like this
Posted by Alamo Resident
a resident of Alamo
on Jul 17, 2017 at 10:32 am

You can use the flex tag set on 2 or more on the San Ramon Valley 680 and not be charged. If you go from Pleasanton to San Jose you will be charged as they are on a different system. You have to cover or remove the flex tag with two or more in the car and you will not be charged. Another example of your government at work. To think we actually pay for these people to think up better ideas ??

32 people like this
Posted by Frustrated
a resident of Danville
on Jul 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Another example of how screwed up California is getting under the control of corrupt stupid liberals. They take our tax dollars to make a road where we have to pay to use. They make it so complicated that even carpoolers will end up paying, as I have personally experienced on 580 in the Pleasanton-Livermore area, in several occasions. No matter who you call to complain, you will end up with no answers. It appears there is no limit to the corruption of governor Brown and his gang of liberals.

2 people like this
Posted by Milman Freiton
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Geez Frustrated - and here I thought the 'social engineering' lanes were a liberal invention, but their conversion to '1% lanes' seems rather free marketly. I guess I just didn't realize the breadth of the one-demon-fits-all philosophy.

40 people like this
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Jul 17, 2017 at 5:44 pm

The toll lanes are wrong & severely flawed on numerous levels:

1.) We are being charged to drive in lanes that our taxes already paid for.
This is a clear case of double taxation.

2.) No additional lanes are being constructed. Commute traffic is presently
exceeding design capacity of I-680. Charging a toll cannot change this
obvious fact. After the tolls, I-680 will still be stop/go/creeping
during commute hours.

3.) California is a one party state where huge unelected bureaucracies
continually come up with failed "solutions" that step all over the
population. I-680 tolls are simply another example of this failed
state & it's liberal idiocy.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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