Award of Merit:
Interstate 680 Delivers an Express Success
Solo drivers can access the I-680 Express Lane for a fee that varies based on real-time traffic flows, while carpools can use the lane free of charge. (Photo: Noah Berger)
It “took a village” of elected officials, businesses and government agencies to transform an existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane into Northern California’s first Express Lane: a 14-mile stretch of southbound Interstate 680 across the Sunol Grade, from Highway 84 in Alameda County to Highway 237 in Santa Clara County. Proof of the pioneering lane’s success is the number of drivers using it: more than 2,000 per weekday, up 30 percent from a year ago and nearly double the number when the lane first opened in September 2010. Express Lane speeds are generally 7 to 10 mph faster than the speeds in the general-purpose lanes during the morning commute.
Thanks to today’s sophisticated high-tech transportation systems, toll roads of yesteryear are relegated to picture postcards. I-680 Express Lane tolls are collected electronically through FasTrak® and deducted automatically from drivers’ FasTrak® accounts. No more toll gates or toll booths; drivers don’t even have to slow down to pay a toll or access or leave the lane at its three entry and exit points. Overhead electronic signs designate the lane, which is separated from the general-purpose lanes by double white solid lines, except at the entry and exit points where “weave” lanes are provided.
The I-680 Express Lane marks another advance, as one of the first in California to use “dynamic pricing” to assure a smooth commute. By varying tolls based on real-time measures of traffic flows in the I-680 corridor, the Express Lane maintains a steady level of service in the lane. During peak commute hours, the toll changes every three minutes depending on traffic volume and speeds. A can’t-miss, overhead electronic sign displays the current toll, which varies from $1 to $7.50 during peak hours and drops to 30 cents during off-peak hours. Vanpools, carpools with two or more passengers, motorcycles, transit buses and zero-emission vehicles use the lane for free, and when the toll lane is not in operation on nights and weekends, it’s open to all users.
A coalition of transportation agencies worked for nearly a decade to design and construct the Express Lane. With funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Caltrans, the Alameda County Transportation Commission (Alameda CTC) and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) collaborated to design and develop the lane. The Alameda CTC and VTA formed a joint powers authority to manage the operation, with Caltrans supporting routine maintenance, and together these three agencies are sharing an Award of Merit for their pioneering approach.
The MTC-run Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) handles FasTrak® toll transactions and customer service, while the California Highway Patrol provides enhanced patrols to enforce violations.
The region’s first Express Lane is now paving the way for a regional plan to develop a total of 570 Express Lane miles in the Interstate 80, 580, 680 and 880 corridors and on highways 85, 237 and 101.
— Marjorie Blackwell
Transactions Fall 2012 Issue: Contents