MTC’s plan to add Express Lanes along Interstate 680 in Contra Costa County reached a key milestone this fall with the completion of most civil construction needed to convert the existing carpool lanes between Walnut Creek and San Ramon to Express Lanes. This includes the installation of overhead sign structures, construction of enforcement areas and maintenance vehicle pull-outs, and the laying of conduit for the electric systems that will power the toll system and communications network. Work remaining before the planned spring 2017 opening includes the installation of toll readers, enforcement cameras and antennas; and completion of a fiber optic communications network that will run the entire length of I-680 through Contra Costa County to accommodate a later extension of the I-680 Express Lanes corridor from Walnut Creek to Martinez.
“Traffic congestion keeps increasing,” said Lisa Klein, principal for MTC’s Express Lane program, “So MTC is looking for all possible ways to get more people where they need to go using the existing infrastructure. We know the carpool lanes on I-680 are pretty full already, but we also know there is capacity to move more cars into these lanes at certain times.”
Phase 1 of the 680 Express Lanes project includes the conversion of 11 miles of carpool lanes from Alcosta Boulevard in San Ramon to Livorna Road in Walnut Creek and 12 miles of southbound carpool lanes from Rudgear Road in Walnut Creek to Alcosta Boulevard. These will be the first Express Lanes to be built and operated by MTC, and will boost the size of the growing Bay Area Express Lanes network to 73 miles from the current 50. Existing Express Lanes along Interstate 580 and Interstate 680 in Alameda County are operated by the Alameda County Transportation Commission, while Express Lanes on State Route 237 in Milpitas and San Jose are operated by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. At full buildout, the Bay Area Express Lanes network will total 550 miles, with 270 miles operated by MTC.
When the new 680 Express Lanes open, solo drivers who choose to pay a toll can access the lanes for a more reliable trip between Walnut Creek and San Ramon. Tolls are based on the level of congestion and the length of the trip. The higher the congestion, the higher the toll. Carpools, vanpools, motorcycles and eligible clean air vehicles will be able to use the Express Lanes free of charge if they have a FasTrak Flex® toll tag. Solo drivers can use traditional FasTrak tags or FasTrak Flex tags to pay for tolls in the Express Lanes.
Before starting a trip, solo drivers will set their FasTrak Flex tags to the “1” position so the system can charge the vehicle the proper toll. A carpool driver with one passenger will set the tag to the “2” position, while drivers with 2 or more passengers, motorcycles or eligible clean air vehicle drivers will set their tags to the “3+” position. The 2 and 3+ settings allow cars to use the lanes for free. These tag settings also trip beacons that allow California Highway Patrol officers to enforce vehicle occupancy requirements.
“People are very frustrated with congestion on I-680,” said Andrew B. Fremier, MTC’s deputy executive director for Operations. “The Express Lanes are a step toward improving travel-time reliability and moving more people through the corridor more efficiently. The FasTrak Flex® requirement for carpools and other toll-free vehicles is especially important because it gets at the issue of fairness. It helps ensure carpools are legitimate and ensures that solo drivers pay a price for using the lanes during peak travel times.”