Construction is well under way on the first Bay Area Express Lane project to be planned, built and operated by MTC. This project is converting existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to Express Lanes on Interstate 680 through Contra Costa County, from Rudgear Road to Alcosta Boulevard in the southbound direction, and from Alcosta Boulevard to Livorna Road in the northbound direction. It will result in 23 miles of Express Lanes through San Ramon, Danville, Alamo and southern Walnut Creek (about 12 miles in each direction).
The project is taking shape within the original footprint of the freeway, with no widening or additional lanes, and is part of a planned 550-mile network of Express Lanes throughout the nine-county region. The work is going on in the lanes adjacent to the median, which is where the HOV lanes are currently situated.
MTC is scheduling construction work so that it will have minimal impacts on traffic. “Work is mainly occurring at night, although there may be occasional activity on the shoulder and on arterial streets adjacent to the highway during the day to complete the communications network,” said Barbara Laurenson, MTC’s program coordinator. Night time construction typically involves closing one or two highway lanes depending on the nature of the work.
As the moniker implies, Express Lanes are designed to provide a more reliable trip. The new I-680 lanes will be available toll-free to carpoolers/vanpoolers and other toll-exempt vehicles. The lanes also will be available for a fee to solo drivers looking to bypass traffic, with tolls varying by the time of day and traffic conditions and paid via the FasTrak® electronic toll collection system managed by MTC.
Construction of the new Express Lanes along I-680 began in August 2015 and is scheduled to last approximately 15 months, with completion expected in the fall of 2016. Activities include installation of variable message signs and overhead toll gantries/readers that can detect FasTrak® toll tags in cars, building concrete foundations for overhead freeway sign structures and CHP enforcement areas, and laying conduit and fiber optic communications cables for traffic management system communications.
Two Express Lanes are already in operation in the Bay Area. The Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) operates an Express Lane along a 14-mile stretch of southbound Interstate 680 in Alameda County known as the Sunol Grade, while the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority runs Express Lanes along the State Route 237/Interstate 880 interchange (both directions) in Santa Clara County. Express lanes are also set to open soon along the Interstate 580 corridor through the Tri Valley in Alameda County, also under the auspices of the ACTC. In the case of the I-580 and new I-680 lanes, carpools and other toll-exempt vehicles will have to have a FasTrak® Flex tag set in the 2-occupant or 3+-occpuant position to travel toll-free.
The new lanes now under construction along I-680 represent the first time that MTC is taking on the role of project manager, construction supervisor and eventually lane operator. Of the 550 miles of Bay Area Express Lanes, MTC will operate 270 miles by converting 150 miles of existing carpool lanes to Express Lanes, and later adding 120 miles of new lanes to fill gaps. The full network is scheduled to be built out by 2035.
— Brenda Kahn & Megan Nangle