First Bay Area Express Lanes Approved For New Bay Area Agency

The Bay Area already has express lanes - but these 23 miles in Contra Costa County on I-680 will be the first built and operated by the new Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority, a division of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

The $5.08 million contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff was approved by the MTC at its March 14 meeting. A January press release announcing the proposal of the lanes also explains the composition of the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority.

BAIFA is a Joint Powers Authority between MTC and the Bay Area Toll Authority. It includes elected officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa and Solano counties. Each of the Authority members also serves as an MTC Commissioner. 

"The $45 million project, which is in the design stage, will create 23 miles of FasTrak express lanes that solo drivers can pay to use -- as long as its traffic is moving at least 45 mph. Construction should begin at the start of 2015, said John Goodwin, a Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman," writes Joyce Tsai.

Costs would have been considerable higher had BAIFA built new lanes rather than converting the existing carpool lanes. Thus, there will be no widening of the corridor necessary. Major costs "will involve installing tolling equipment (electronic toll tag readers) and signage as well as upgrading CHP enforcement capabilities," according to the press release.

The map on the BAIFA homepage shows the Silicon Valley Express Lanes and Alameda County Express Lanes that were built and are operated by Santa Clara County and Alameda County agencies, respectively. The BAIFA fact sheet [PDF] indicates that "(u)pon completion in 2035, there will be 550 miles of express lanes in the Bay Area." Of those, BAIFA, with its partner agencies, will build and operate 270 miles.

The Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) will operate 90 miles of express lanes (and) the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), will operate 190 miles of Silicon Valley Express Lanes.

On the new I-680 lanes, "(t)olls charged can fluctuate minute by minute -- from 50 cents to $1.25 or more -- depending on existing traffic flows, Goodwin said. If the (express) lane gets crowded, they can just read "carpool only." New switchable electronic toll tags would indicate if the car has a solo driver or a carpooler, and electronic readers would automatically charge tolls to accounts," writes Tsai.

Nick Olson, a Walnut Creek resident who commutes to downtown San Jose for work, said he not only carpools with other drivers, but he specifically bought a plug-in Prius to access HOV lanes, since traffic often can be "at a standstill" from San Ramon to Walnut Creek.

In an email, Lisa Klein, MTC's Lisa Klein (Principal, Regional Express Lane Network), writes that "(u)nder Calif. state law, (eligible) vehicles with white/green stickers must be allowed free passage on express lanes. LACMTA has an exemption on the I-10 and I-110 but Bay Area operators do not."

Full Story: First toll lanes in Contra Costa to be installed along I-680 in San Ramon Valley

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