The Bay Area’s first high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane, or “express lane,” opens today on southbound Interstate 680 over the Sunol Grade, between Highways 84 and 237 — a 14-mile stretch of freeway that includes 11 miles in Alameda County and 3 miles in Santa Clara County. Carpools and high-occupancy vehicles on this segment of freeway are now joined by single-occupancy vehicles, who are charged a toll via FasTrak transponders for the privilege of driving in a lane that moves faster than the surrounding freeway. Tolls will be charged only on weekdays between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. The price, which is adjusted dynamically in order to maintain a free-flowing lane, will range from a minimum of 30 cents in light traffic to a potential toll of 4-6 dollars in heavy traffic.
This stretch of freeway has been striped to separate the HOT lane from the general purpose lanes. There are three specific points at which motorists can enter or exit the HOT lane. Entry points are placed just south of Highway 84, Mission Boulevard, and Auto Mall Parkway. Exit points are placed just south of Auto Mall Parkway (for drivers exiting at Jacklin Road or points north), south of Jacklin Road (for drivers exiting at Highway 237), and south of Highway 237, where the HOT lane ends.
So how about that toll revenue? In order to defend the worth of HOT lanes against those who protest induced demand, it’s argued that the HOT lane segments built in a particular corridor will generate a new pot of funding to improve transit in that corridor. That may need to be seen to be believed — but, depending on how much profit remains after covering operations and maintenance costs, revenue from the I-680 southbound lane could be used to construct a northbound or other facility in the corridor.
The new lane is only the first step toward building the regional HOT lane network planned for the Bay Area. It’s not yet clear what the full extent of that network will be; once envisioned as consisting of about 800 lane miles, difficulties facing implementation may require that the plan be downsized. In any case, the I-680 HOT lane will be joined next year by another facility in the Tri-Valley, located between Hacienda Road and Greenville Road on eastbound Interstate 580.