Express (HOT) Lanes and Carpool Lanes
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an express lane?
An express lane, also known as a high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane, is a designated lane motorists driving alone can use if they pay a toll, allowing them to avoid traffic delays in the adjacent regular lanes. Express lanes usually are combined with High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV or carpool) lanes that have enough capacity to handle more vehicles. Toll-paying drivers and toll-free carpools/vanpools share the lane, increasing the number of total vehicles using the HOV/HOT lane.
Why consider express lanes?
The appeal of this concept is three-fold:
Why the need for an express lane network in the Bay Area?
There are several gaps in the region's current carpool lane system. Filling these gaps would create a seamless network of unobstructed lanes to provide a faster commute for travelers who use them. MTC's 25-year Regional Transportation Plan indicates that these gaps cannot be filled with traditional existing revenues.
What is the time frame for implementing the Bay Area Express Lane Network?
Implementation of the network already has begun. State legislation enacted in 2004 allows express lane projects to be constructed in two corridors in Alameda County and two in Santa Clara County. The first project opened in 2010 on I-680 over the Sunol Grade. Work is also underway to develop express lanes in the I-580 corridor in Alameda County and at the Route 237/I-880 connector and in the SR 85 and US 101 corridors in Santa Clara County.
Are express lanes a new concept?
No. Express lanes have a proven track record with over a decade of operation in San Diego, Orange County and Houston. Since 2005, new express lanes have opened in Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle and Miami.
How does an express lane work?
Motorists usually enter and exit the lane at specific locations. An electronic reader identifies the vehicle from an in-vehicle transponder (FasTrak) and deducts the toll from a prepaid account.
How much does it cost to use express lanes?
Toll rates vary based on demand, and be can adjusted to maintain optimal traffic flow. As an example, tolls to use express lanes on southbound I-680 have ranged from $1 to $2.50 during the morning peak period.
What is the express lane revenue used for?
Express lane revenue can be used to help pay off bonds issued to finance construction, provide for maintenance, operations and enforcement of the lanes, and to fund new or enhanced transit service.
Do express lanes discourage ridesharing and transit use?
No. Drivers still will have a financial incentive to carpool in the express lanes. For example, carpooling in the Interstate 15 corridor in San Diego has increased 80 percent since 1996 when the conversion of carpool lanes to express lanes took place. Also, express lanes have the potential to improve transit travel times by ensuring access to relatively free-flowing travel lanes for commuter bus service, especially during rush hour.
I've heard express lanes referred to as "Lexus lanes" – don't they just benefit the rich?
A study done by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo of the State Route 91 express Lanes in Southern California found that "although roughly one-quarter of the motorists in the toll lanes at any given time are in the high income bracket, data demonstrate that the majority are low and middle-income motorists. The benefits of the express lane are enjoyed widely at all income levels."
The study also found that express lane use was more closely tied to current travel conditions and trip needs than income. Express lanes really are a form of "congestion insurance" for any traveler willing to pay the toll - whether it is a businessperson late for a meeting or a parent racing to pick up a child at day care.
For more information on express lanes see:
Metropolitan Transportation Commission • 101 Eighth Street, Oakland, California 94607
This page was last modified Thursday July 21, 2011
© 2013 MTC