A new 14-mile-long toll lane went into operation this week, allowing solo drivers the opportunity to use the new dual-use carpool lane by paying a toll electronically with FasTrak.
To use the toll lane, solo drivers must also use FasTrak, the same reader many motorists already use to cross Bay Area bridges without having to stop at toll booths. Solo commuters who don't have FasTrak reading devices can't use the new I-680 lane.
The limited access lane runs along an existing carpool lane on a 14-mile stretch of southbound I-680 between Pleasanton and Milpitas. Carpools, motorcycles and anyone driving a hybrid car with a special carpool-use-lane sticker attached to the bumper are still able to use the lane for free.
Caltrans reminds these drivers, however, to be sure to remove a FasTrak reader from their windshield and store it in a protective wrap so the overhead FasTrak sensor won't charge them.
Even motorists traveling in lanes adjoining the new toll lane may want to move their FasTrak readers off the dashboard to avoid being charged by sensors that may have a broader reach.
State and local officials gathered in unincorporated Alameda County near Fremont last Thursday to celebrate the Bay Area's first "express lane."
Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty led the hour-long ceremony. Other speakers included State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-10th), Caltrans District 4 Director Bijan Sartipi and Teresa Becher, chief of the California Highway Patrol's Golden Gate Division.
Instead of a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, a car wrapped in "I-680 Express Lane" logos, drove through a banner to mark the opening.
The new toll lane went into operation at 5 a.m. today and will operate every weekday from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., replacing the current carpool hours, which allow all drivers to use the lane in the late morning and early afternoon hours.
Solo drivers will pay a toll, the amount of which will change depending on the density of traffic on the highway at the time. Signs a half-mile prior to the three access points into the lane will display the toll price, allowing drivers to choose whether it is worth it to lessen their commute time.
The minimum toll will be 50 cents, with the average toll ranging from $4 to $6, Haggerty said. But if the toll lane gets too crowded, the toll option will be shut off and the lane will become carpool-only again.
The FasTrak electronic toll collection system is the only way drivers can pay the required toll. There are no toll collection booths on the new lane. The California Highway Patrol will provide visual and electronic enforcement of the lane.