Only a Year Old, Bay Area's Newest Express Lanes Rated a Success

A report produced by the county authority that built and operates the I-580 Express Lanes in the Bay Area declares them a success. Operating speeds are faster and congestion is reduced. About 11 percent of the freeway traffic uses the toll lanes.
March 21, 2017, 12pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"The Bay Area’s newest express lanes — on Interstate 580 through the Tri-Valley region of Alameda County — are just a year old, but drivers are already pouring into them, eager to pay for a quicker commute," reports Michael Cabanatuan for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Since the combination express and carpool lanes opened in February 2016 on I-580, along the main route between the Bay Area and the Central Valley, more than 7.6 million drivers have taken advantage of them, according to a report released Thursday [March 16] by the Alameda County Transportation Commission, which operates the lanes.

The report is in the form of a 2-page infographic (pdf) of data compiled by ACTC on the "first year in review," identifying the users:

  • Approximately 30,000 trips are taken in the Express Lanes each day
  • 6 percent of the corridor’s solo drivers choose to use the Express Lanes as toll-paying customers instead of the general purpose lanes, reducing congestion in the general purpose lanes
  • 38 percent of current Express Lane users are using the lanes toll-free.

Tolls

"By paying an average toll of $1.62 westbound and $2.13 eastbound, drivers get to drive about 10 mph faster than those in the other lanes," writes Cabanatuan. Depending on direction, motorists on the express lanes are either paying, on average, roughly the same as a local adult AC Transit fare, $2.10, or 23 percent less.

However, peak hour fares jump to the maximum rate of $9 (see infographic), which will create a problem unless the eastbound "cap" is increased to match the westbound maximum of $13. 

As Herbie Huffresearch associate at UCLA's Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and Institute for Transportation Studies, opined in her recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, dynamic tolling is key to fighting congestion. Since 62 percent of express lane traffic is tolled, increasing the toll is instrumental to keeping traffic moving during the peak hour.

But congestion pricing is not a silver bullet, warns John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's metropolitan planning organization.

“I’m not going to tell anyone they will eliminate congestion. They won’t,” said Goodwin of MTC, which is planning the regional network and will operate the new [I-680] lane. “But they will make the roadway operate more efficiently. We will see reduced congestion at the beginning and end of the peak of the commute, but at the peak of the peak, there will still be congestion. It’s not a silver bullet. But it will help.”

Listen to the one-minute KCBS report on the ACTC findings.

Full Story:
Published on Monday, March 20, 2017 in SF Gate
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