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Editorial: Express lanes are not a silver bullet for I-680, but should help

 

Bay Area freeway congestion delays hit a record high in 2016, up 9% from 2015 and a whopping 80% since 2010.

According to a Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) report released last month, Bay Area freeway congestion delays -- defined by MTC as time spent in traffic moving at speeds slower than 35 mph -- during weekday commute periods increased to 3.5 minutes per commuter per day, up 9% from 3.2 minutes in 2015. The delay was only 1.9 minutes per commuter per day in 2010.

Until a few years ago, there were a number of Tri-Valley freeway segments on the top-10 most congested Bay Area freeway list.

The only Tri-Valley freeway segment to make the 2016 top-10 list was the northbound I-680 afternoon commute from Crow Canyon Road in San Ramon to Contra Costa Boulevard in Pleasant Hill. MTC is hoping to change this when express (toll) lanes from Alcosta Boulevard to Livorna Road northbound and from Rudgear Road to Alcosta Boulevard southbound open on Monday morning.

Express lanes, also known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, are available to carpools and other exempt vehicles without charge, but solo-driver vehicles are required to pay a variable fee that is adjusted in response to demand during operating hours. Because solo drivers can choose to pay to use a lane they could not use before, capacity increases in that lane, freeing up the general lanes. In theory, at least.

Express lanes are credited for another Tri-Valley stretch of freeway being dropped from the top-10 most congested list. According to the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC), the express lanes that opened last year on I-580 from Greenville Road in Livermore to the intersection with I-680 in Pleasanton/Dublin made the difference because they maximized capacity.

However, building additional lanes as part of the I-580 project no doubt contributed to the positive result. It makes sense that travel speed increases and congestion decreases with more lanes available, regardless of the presence of a toll lane.

The $56 million I-680 San Ramon Valley express lanes project converts existing HOV lanes (one in each direction) into toll lanes, with no widening or additional lanes added. With more potential users of the far-left lane and more drivers maneuvering toward that lane, there seems a real possibility of some level of traffic flow improvement, but not nearly to the extent realized with I-580.

The I-680 San Ramon Valley express lanes will operate Mondays through Fridays from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- and remain free to all drivers outside those hours. When traffic is light during toll hours, the fees will automatically decrease so traffic moves in all the lanes and additional congestion is not created. However, it does not appear that there will be any "open to all" times during operating hours in this segment as there are on neighboring lanes on I-680 and I-580 in Alameda County.

Additionally, the express lanes would do little to reduce the number of collisions, stalls and other incidents on the roadways during rush-hour commute times, and these inevitably back up traffic -- as do just normal conditions at the key highway interchanges, I-680/I-580 to the south and I-680/Highway 24 to the north.

When crashes happen now, solo drivers will use the carpool lane to get around the incident, which helps alleviate some of the backup when a lane or lanes are closed. With a toll lane, though, this might not be an option, particularly for those without a FasTrak Flex toll tag.

A vehicle without a FasTrak moving into the express lane to avoid a backup could potentially be fined after the fact, as happens with automated toll enforcement at Bay Area bridges. License plate cameras identify vehicles moving through without a valid FasTrak and the vehicle owner gets a notice in the mail for the toll plus hefty penalties.

Express lanes are not the silver bullet that will immediately and completely fix the complicated and increasing problem of traffic congestion on I-680 in the San Ramon Valley. However, history shows these toll lanes can improve traffic flow.

We are hoping for a bit of relief to the congestion that plagues this stretch of freeway, but our hopes are tempered with realism.

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Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Tami
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 6, 2017 at 7:39 am

The pavement and lanes that we, the taxpayers, have already paid for and been using should still be available to use for free outside of the rush hours. There's no reason we should have to drive right next to each other when that lane lays mostly empty throughout the late morning and early afternoon. That's when people living in that immediate area are using it and we shouldn't have to pay to now.


38 people like this
Posted by Joyce
a resident of Danville
on Oct 6, 2017 at 9:13 am

How anyone could expect this toll lane to reduce traffic is unfathomable. If the toll lanes make traffic worse, they need to be abandoned immediately and the heads of decision makers and salespeople selling and approving this project need to roll. During rush hour, the HOV lanes are already nearly as backed up or more backed up as the other lanes with no capacity for accommodating significantly more cars so it won't help. During non rush hour times between 5 am to 8 pm, fewer people will probably use the far left lane than do currently because they do not want to pay a toll. As a result, the remaining lanes will become more congested during those times than they are now. Just a boondoggle and waste of time and $56 million building that "Express Lane" without adding another lane like on 580!!!! And on top of it, we taxpayers will be charged to use freeway lanes we have already paid for!!! Sounds like a money making scheme and nothing else!!!!


12 people like this
Posted by Really
a resident of Danville
on Oct 6, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Did they add an extra lane or just update the same lane that was already there and now they are charging a toll to drive on it.

What am I missing here.....

Thank you for making my commute an easier one, What a load of.... you get it....!


31 people like this
Posted by Driver Bob
a resident of Danville
on Oct 6, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Love how the MTC and CalTrans and Fastrack try to put a positive spin on a heap of poo.
Traffic will NOT improve on I-680 because capacity has NOT increased. PERIOD!
Changing the segregation lanes into Extortion lanes will do nothing to improve flow. Have none of the "Traffic Engineers" involved ever taken a physics class?
If you fill a jar with sand, it doesn't matter if the sand on the left side has to pay to be there, you still can't put more sand in the jar.

ALSO
IF you are going to charge single driver vehicles for the express pleasure of creeping along in the far left lane, why do ANY vehicles with single drivers get to ride in the segregation lanes without charge? If you are going to demand payment from one group, then you MUST demand it from EVERY group. Otherwise you are truly segregating by your chosen select preferences, and isn't that pretty illegal???

Big question: How many decades will it take to recoup $56 MILLION for roadways that were ALREADY paid for? "Your Tax Dollars At Work" read the sign years ago when these roadways were being constructed.


32 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 7, 2017 at 4:54 pm

This fiasco toll lane experiment is the kind of thing you get in a one-party state run by a bunch of politically correct liberals who assign huge unelected bureaucracies to make decisions for us & walk all over us. We are living in a state that effectively is a one party liberal dictatorship.


5 people like this
Posted by Alamo Ron
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 8, 2017 at 9:26 am

Here's two quotes from the article:

"...Express lanes, also known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes..."

"...but solo-driver vehicles are required to pay..."

How can a solo driver vehicle be considered a high-occupancy vehicle? It sounds like scam-speak to me.


29 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 8, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Here's an example of faulty confused reasoning from the above "editorial":

"Express lanes are credited for another Tri-Valley stretch of freeway being dropped from the top-10 most congested list. According to the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC), the express lanes that opened last year on I-580 from Greenville Road in Livermore to the intersection with I-680 in Pleasanton/Dublin made the difference because they maximized capacity.

However, building additional lanes as part of the I-580 project no doubt contributed to the positive result. It makes sense that travel speed increases and congestion decreases with more lanes available, regardless of the presence of a toll lane."

The only thing that made a difference on I-580 was the building of additional lanes. It is simply wishful thinking to state "the express lanes that opened last year on I-580 from Greenville Road in Livermore to the intersection with I-680 in Pleasanton/Dublin made the difference because they maximized capacity". This is an example of a political self aggrandizing unsubstantiated claim, simply a fantasy. The only thing that made a difference on I-580 was the building of additional lanes.




21 people like this
Posted by Julie K
a resident of Danville
on Oct 9, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Since all the lanes are already filled to capacity, including carpool lanes, anything that helps one lane must then hurt others. So our choices now are to pay for what we didn't used to have to pay for or to sit in worse traffic. How is this helping again exactly?

At least before we could wait until after rush hour. Now they have actually taken a lane away during non- rush hour making that worse too. And they wonder why residents aren't in favor of it. Complete ridiculousness!!


19 people like this
Posted by Bethany
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 16, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Traffic is much worse in non-commute hours since the I-680 toll lane opened. What's the point in charging drivers when the freeway is running clear? Well, it's not running clear anymore, because freeway capacity has been reduced by one lane.


15 people like this
Posted by Westside dave
a resident of Danville
on Oct 16, 2017 at 3:27 pm

I agree with you Bethany, I've noticed it too as I'm off work at 1:30. Just keep in mind that it's only on the honor system. You can easily slip in and out of the "Express (taxed) Lane where the cameras are positioned. I've witnessed many folks doing just that in the last week alone.


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

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