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.
Great post Eric, it should be pointed out that the new authority that oversees this project has yet to adopt a policy that says net funding “will” go to transit, the state law, just says it can.
Now that these HOT lanes are coming on line, there’s an opportunity for advocates to guide agency decision-making regarding any revenues generated. But given that 2+ person carpools still can use the lane free of charge, less revenue will be generated than otherwise might be. To the extent there is profit, it might simply be directed to other network components.
Also, note that the first HOT lanes to come on line are both parallel to BART extension corridors. So even if there are profits, and even if they are dedicated to “transit,” it’s likely that they would be pressed into service to fund dubious BART extensions.
Theres a huge problem with these lanes, in that theyre not consistent.
Most HOT lanes allow carpools for free, but theres a huge difference in HOW.
I believe this project allows anyone without a transponder to enter the lane, and a cop on the shoulder enforces the rule (they see a blinking light that says no transponder).
But other lanes require you to have a transponder and set it to 2 or 3 people (LA).
And yet others require you to register your entire vehicle as a car pool vehicle (miami).
So when someone used to this lane goes to LA…..theyre going to get a fine.
I have a reverse commute from Fremont to Pleasanton, so I’ve watched the construction of the new HOT lane (northern end). They did a whole lot of widening, with giant retaining walls.
So I was surprised to see the separation between the HOT lane and regular lanes is mostly just a double stripe, maybe a foot wider than the old HOV stripe. In particular, the Sunol Grade went through a whole lot of widening, including a whole new offramp at Vargas, even though the final lane configuration is nearly the same as before.
What was all the widening for? It’s only the entrance/exit areas that seem to use the extra width. It seems they could have limited the widening to just those spots.
Oddly, the new lane is not much use to people headed to Fremont. The first HOT lane exit is at south Mission, bypassing everything except Warm Springs.
Call me a communist, but isn’t this clearly discriminatory to drivers with less money? High-income drivers will be able to afford to drive faster than others… on a public road.
Excellent question Justin, these lanes were once decried as the Lexus lane for the reason you articulated, however, poor and rich profit from these lanes as the “rich” driver gets out of the regular lane leaving one less vehicle in the jam packed lane leaving “poor” driver slightly less jam packed. The more “rich” driver move over the less congested the “poor” driver’s lane becomes.