Freeway express-lane project speeds ahead | News | Palo Alto Online |

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Freeway express-lane project speeds ahead

New toll lanes will allow solo drivers in carpool lanes

Cardboard "passengers" who ride with carpool-lane cheaters could become obsolete when the freeway lanes are converted to allow solo drivers.

Under a plan for State Highway 85 and U.S. Highway 101, carpool lanes will be converted into express toll lanes, allowing solo drivers with FasTrak transponders to drive in the fast lane at any time.

Toll rates have not been determined, but similar express-lane projects across the country have fees ranging from $1 to $10, based on time of day, the distance driven and the level of traffic in the express lane.

Cars with two or more occupants, motorcycles, transit buses and eligible hybrid vehicles can still drive in the lanes for free, according to Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which will set the toll price.

The Highway 85 express lanes will run its entire 24-mile length and would open in 2012. Highway 101 might have two express lanes in each direction, which would stretch 41 miles from Morgan Hill to Whipple Road in Redwood City, according to the VTA. It would open in 2015.

The lanes would be separated from regular lanes by a double-yellow line. Electronic signs would display the toll, which would vary, for solo drivers using FasTrak. An overhead antenna would read the car's FasTrak transponder and deduct the fee. The toll would adjust so that traffic maintains a minimum of 55 mph, according to VTA.

The express or "smart" lane program could double the number of cars allowed to travel in the carpool lanes according to Jennie Loft, VTA spokeswoman.

"The existing carpool lanes are underutilized. For example, on SR 85 the carpool-lane volumes vary between 600 and 1,000 vehicles per hour. The carpool lanes can accommodate up to 1,650 vehicles per hour, while maintaining a high level of service," she wrote in an e-mail.

The project cost is estimated at $496 million -- $96 million for Highway 85 and $400 million for Highway 101. Net revenue between 2015 to 2035 could reach $1.2 billion in future-year dollars, Loft said.

The VTA board approved the project in December.

Express lanes have been popular and successful in other parts of the country, according to the VTA. San Diego, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle and Salt Lake City are among cities having added express-lane programs. Alameda County is also installing express lanes to Interstate highways 680 and 580. Those "smart lanes" are due to be completed by 2010, according to VTA.

In a study by engineers at the University of Central Florida, some drivers in Orange County, Calif., reported a 40-minute cut in their commute times when using the express lanes on a 10-mile toll road.

VTA claims the lanes will help lower pollution by reducing the number of vehicles stuck idling in traffic. A growing population could add to already existing congestion, and express lanes could alleviate future traffic problems, agency officials stated.

Santa Clara County estimates a 35-percent growth in population and a 22-percent increase in jobs -- 513,000 new residents and 430,000 new jobs -- by 2035, according to the VTA.

But funding for transportation improvements is projected at only a fraction of that amount. New freeways will only increase by 5.6 percent in capacity. State and federal funding for more than a $4.3 billion list of improvements has not materialized, VTA officials have stated.

Considering the disparity between drivers' needs and financing, more efficient use of existing roads would help solve part of the problem. And some of the tolls could be used for other transportation improvements in the 85 and 101 corridors, including bus and other services, according to the VTA.

A final vote by the VTA board on the designs of the express lanes will take place later this year. Caltrans and California Highway Patrol will also have input into the designs of Highways 85 and 101.

The express lanes are part of the 800-mile Bay Area Express Lanes network developed in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's regional transportation plan through 2035.

The California State Assembly will hold a hearing on Assembly Bill 744 on April 20, which would authorize the Bay Area Toll Authority to acquire, construct, administer and operate the express-lane-network program on state highways in the nine-county Bay Area. VTA was authorized to implement the express lanes project by the state legislature in 2004 and 2007.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2009 at 10:32 am

Does anyone know how cars with >1 person avoid getting charged for these tolls? Just curious - I'm sure it has all been worked out and operates smoothly, just like our wonderful plans for high speed rail.


Like this comment
Posted by SwizzleStix
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 10, 2009 at 10:34 am

How does the system account for Carpool riders? Do solo drivers and carpool drivers enter at different places? Last time I checked my Fastrak transponder it had no way of sensing or registering wether I was driving alone or with passengers.


Like this comment
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 10, 2009 at 10:57 am

So the rich get to get where they are going faster? Sounds very elitist to me.


Like this comment
Posted by Against HSR
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2009 at 11:18 am

Alice,
Similar to the High Speed Rail an exact cost is not being given. The HSR will cost more than the $50. each way that they are estimating, and it will also be for the rich. Regular employees will not be able to afford it on a daily basis.


Like this comment
Posted by cc
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2009 at 11:51 am

Alice, this is part of the economic stimulus plan. Giving the rich access to carpool lanes incentivizes commuters to get rich. An unfortunate side effect is that it takes away the incentive to travel green. With this plan you can drop your carpool buddy if you earn enough to afford the fast lane -- unless they drop you first. It’s a race to riches, bound to stimulate the economy. Under the new rules the rich trump the green.


Like this comment
Posted by Fredster
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm

And look at all of the pretty new signs


Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Looks like we need net neutrality for the road and Internet tubes. :/

qq


Like this comment
Posted by Stephen Rock
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 10, 2009 at 2:57 pm

xpress Lanes are a euphemism for toll lanes, which means that rich get priority and the poor get screwed again. I hoped that with current "populist" revolt against the wealthy, our govt would become more sensitive to the needs of us all. But apparently not. I thought that with the rejection of Bush's program of spying, our govt would not be tracking were we drive using 'fast track'. But apparently not.
Instead of encouraging people to car poor or use fuel efficient cars, our county just wants to let people with money pay to get what they want.


Like this comment
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2009 at 3:58 pm

I understand that the toll-exemption for car poolers works just like it does now if you don't have fasttrak, and if you have fasttrack, you just turn it off. Cops can ping single drivers to check that they have fastrak and that it is on.


Like this comment
Posted by Rich as Can Be
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I think this is a great idea! The rich are better than the poor, they work harder and are smarter than the poor -- they support everyone else and deserve to get better services.


Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2009 at 5:25 pm

>So the rich get to get where they are going faster? Sounds very elitist to me.

Perhaps, but the poor also get where they are going faster because the rich are no longer in their lanes....


Like this comment
Posted by poor person
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm

>>So the rich get to get where they are going faster? Sounds very elitist to me.
>Perhaps, but the poor also get where they are going faster because the rich are no longer in their lanes....

Moreover, "the rich" will be paying tolls that will pay back the state for the construction and maintenance of a second carpool lane, doubling carpool lane capacity in the process. Both lanes will be fully accessible to all carpools, rich or poor, for free. Sounds like a pretty good deal for everybody.


Like this comment
Posted by Local Commuter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Eat the rich.


Like this comment
Posted by Local Commuter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2009 at 12:19 pm

It is upsetting to see the car pool lane, originally thought of as a way to be kind to the environment by having people share rides, become a highway for those with money who can drive a gas guzzling SUV if they pay their way. They already use more of our natural resources then they are due.

See commment above.


Like this comment
Posted by Samantha
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Class warfare aside, I support the toll lanes. When you look at who actually use the toll lanes, it's not primarily the rich. Usage patters in areas where they already have the lanes show they're used by people who on occasion need to get where they're going faster and don't mind paying the toll. Examples are people late for their flight going to the airport, parents trying to avoid a ($5/minute in some cases) fine for being late to pick up kids from daycare,people late for an important work meeting, etc.

While it would be nice to be rich and be able to always get in the lane, it's nice for everyone to have choices to go faster when you need to. And since the money for the tolls can be used to expand the highways, I think we all benefit in that way.

If we turn down the toll roads because we are afraid some rich guys will be using them, we'll be cutting off our noses to spite our face.


Like this comment
Posted by Local Commuter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I imagine if it is a toll lane instead of a lane where you purchase a sticker that allows unlimited use, that would be a good idea. We could all use it occasionally. But if you can simply purchase a sticker to drive in the lane, I still object.

Good points, Samantha. Thanks.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2009 at 6:46 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"Posted by PointOfView, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I've always felt intuitively that forced carpool lanes are unfair, but did not know that they violate the state constitution. How do they do that?"

CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION
ARTICLE 16 PUBLIC FINANCE


SEC. 6. The Legislature shall have no power to give or to lend, or
to authorize the giving or lending, of the credit of the State, or of
any county, city and county, city, township or other political
corporation or subdivision of the State now existing, or that may be
hereafter established, in aid of or to any person, association, or
corporation, whether municipal or otherwise, or to pledge the credit
thereof, in any manner whatever, for the payment of the liabilities
of any individual, association, municipal or other corporation
whatever; nor shall it have power to make any gift or authorize the
making of any gift, of any public money or thing of value to any
individual, municipal or other corporation whatever; provided, that
nothing in this section shall prevent the Legislature granting aid
pursuant to Section 3 of Article XVI; and it shall not have power to
authorize the State, or any political subdivision thereof, to...

The special, unique permission to use a carpool lane is a gift.


Like this comment
Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2009 at 8:38 am

Thanks, Walter.

That interpretation would seem to outlaw a bunch of things, such as the new farmers' market.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2009 at 9:21 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It does indeed. The political attitude, well demonstrated by our own council, is "To hell with the law, ain't I got the power?"


Like this comment
Posted by cc
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2009 at 9:36 am

But Walter, isn't your example the equivalent of saying that toll bridges are unconstitutional?


Like this comment
Posted by Samantha
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2009 at 11:00 am

Under Walter's interpretation of the Ca Constitution, driving on any public street or highway would be a "gift" since nobody has a "right" to drive on the public streets or hold a driver's license - both of which are considered "privileges" under California Law. I'm not sure this gets us anywhere.

As I understand how the toll lanes are operated in other places, you get a transponder which triggers a charge when you enter the carpool lane. The prices change according to traffic conditions and are displayed on big electronic signs along the roadway. So you can decide whether the price is worth the time savings to you before you go into the lane. I don't think you can buy a pass for use: you have to pay the toll every time you use the lanes...but don't pay anything if you don't. Sounds like a good idea to me.


Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2009 at 11:31 am

I am not sure that toll lanes will generate much revenue. They can only be used in a few locations because they require the lanes to be physically separated with well-defined entry and exit points so tolls can be charged at the entry (Samantha's comments above are correct). They will cost a lot to build, and enforcement will be complicated. People will undoubtedly call for strict enforcement, which will sidetrack the CHP from enforcement of truly dangerous behavior which will cost us all in more crashes to be dealt with, or require hiring of more CHP officers. Considering the limited number of miles of these lanes that can be built I am not sure that they will generate enough revenue to pay for much more than their own cost, and I am seirously doubt that they will ever be a major source of funding for other projects.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Apr 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Why did they change the 101-85 intersection in the first place? Traffic doesn't flow any better.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

A toll bridge where a class does not pay the toll is a gift to that class- a lane limited to a certain class except for engineering [weight] purposes is a gift. I have not seen figures on the net gain from tolls after the total personnel cost is deducted to know if it is worth the wasted time collections cause. As with many government programs the value of the individual's time and convenience is discounted.


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Walter,

I wish someone/thing would apply your interpretation of the "gift" section of the CA constitution to:

Welfare
Food stamps
Bicycle lanes
Illegal immigrants
"Progressive" taxation
Education subsidies
BMR housing
Free emergency room medical care
"Senior" discounts
Etc, etc, etc....


All of these illegal gifts promote a dependency class, and who are they gonna vote for?? The illegal gift givers.




Like this comment
Posted by Money Buys Convenience
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Agree with Rich As Can Be. The rich are supporting many of the poor with the huge taxes we pay. And we didn't get rich by accident. There is a lot of hard work and discipline involved. Rich people do not hoard their money. They donate a lot too.


Like this comment
Posted by ROB
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Apr 30, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I feel for you poor PALO ALTO people


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