HOT Lanes Aim to Zap Traffic, Cool the Planet
If there is a
centerpiece to the Transportation 2035 investment package,
it is an 800-mile web of high-occupancy toll lanes, known as
the Regional HOT Network.
HOT lanes are high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes with a twist:
Buses, carpools and vanpools can use the lanes free of
charge, while solo drivers pay for the privilege of using
available excess capacity in the diamond lanes. “HOT
lanes provide a form of ‘congestion insurance’ by
giving travelers the option of a delay-free trip when they
need it most,” said Lisa Klein, a senior planner with
MTC joined together with Caltrans, the Alameda County Congestion
Management Agency and other partners in the fall of 2008 to
break ground on the region’s first HOT lane — along
14 miles of southbound Interstate 680 through Alameda and Santa
Clara counties, a stretch known as the Sunol Grade. That lane
is scheduled to open in 2010, as is a second facility on eastbound
Interstate 580 through the Tri-Valley area in Alameda County.
Also in the works are HOT lanes on Route 85 and U.S. 101 in
Santa Clara County.
Tolls for solo drivers will be higher when there is more congestion,
and lower when the lane is less crowded — a concept known
as congestion pricing, value pricing or dynamic pricing. Drivers
will be able to pay their tolls electronically without slowing
down or stopping, thanks to the FasTrak® toll collection
system managed by MTC’s Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA).
MTC estimates that it will cost $3.7 billion to build the HOT
Lane Network, and another $3.9 billion to operate it over the
next 25 years, for a total cost of $7.6 billion. With gross
HOT lane toll revenues expected to reach $13.7 billion over
the same period, the remaining $6.1 billion in net revenue
could be used to fund express bus service, rail extensions
and rail-service enhancements along the HOT corridors, as well
as interchange improvements and the like.
The high-occupancy toll lane on I-680 will be the first segment
in a planned 800-mile Regional HOT Network that will extend
from Sonoma County in the north to Gilroy in the south. MTC
would convert to HOT lanes some 400 miles of carpool lanes
that already exist or are under construction, plus 100 new
miles of fully funded diamond lanes scheduled to be built in
the next four years.
The revenue initially generated could finance bonds that could
be used to construct an additional 300 miles of HOT lanes that
close gaps and extend the system. “The Regional HOT Network
is a strategy for accelerating completion of the region’s
carpool- and bus-priority system,” said Klein. “The
Bay Area could complete the planned carpool-lane network as
early as 2016 — 20 to 40 years faster than if we were
to rely on traditional state and local funding sources.”
By relieving congestion and increasing average travel speeds
sooner than would be possible by building HOV lanes with traditional
funding sources, the Regional HOT Network is projected to reduce
carbon dioxide emissions by more than 10 million tons over
the next 40 years, and to save some 3.4 billion person hours
With stats like these, it’s no wonder an MTC poll taken
in the spring of 2008 showed that 62 percent of Bay Area voters
support the concept of a HOT network for the region.
HOT lanes have been in operation for more than a decade in
Southern California and in Houston, and in the past five years
have opened in Seattle, Denver, Miami,
Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.
While the California Legislature authorized a limited number
of Bay Area HOT projects in 2004, additional legislation would
be required to extend the network to 800 directional miles.
- The I-680
Express Lane is expected to operate 24/7 and will be separated
by double yellow lines and a chevron area.
signs will display the current toll for solo drivers with
FasTrak®. The toll
will vary based on the level of congestion in the I-680
Express Lane and will be adjusted to maintain a minimum
speed of 55 mph.
- Signs and lane striping at
access points will provide drivers safe entry and exit.
- For solo drivers who choose
to use the I-680 Express Lane, an overhead antenna will
read their FasTrak® transponder
and the correct toll will be automatically deducted from
their prepaid FasTrak® account — no
toll booths, no slowing. I-680 Express Lane rules and use
will be enforced by the California Highway Patrol using
visual and electronic means.
(Graphic provided by Valley Transportation Authority)