I-580 toll lanes opening delayed; I-680 projects on the way

$55-million project now due for completion after Christmas, New Year holidays

With jam-packed freeways an all-too-common roadblock for many drivers in the area, Pleasanton is on track to soon find itself nearly surrounded by one of regional traffic officials' go-to strategies for congestion relief.

Toll express lanes, an alternative to traditional carpool lanes, continue to be built along both directions of Interstate 580 through Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore.

The estimated $55 million project recently ran into a delay, pushing the completion date into next year -- meaning the lanes won't be open in time to help with the busy holiday shopping and travel season along the I-580 corridor as initially anticipated.

Meanwhile, just north of Pleasanton, construction crews last month started work on I-680 express lanes from San Ramon to Walnut Creek.

And to the south, final design is underway for a planned express lane on northbound I-680 from Auto Mall Parkway in Fremont up the Sunol Grade -- the opposite direction from the adjacent express lane on southbound I-680, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this month.

"The idea behind both express lanes and traditional carpool lanes is to maximize throughput of people," said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). "Where express lanes have the edge is in managing traffic speed and volume. Another advantage is better enforcement of carpool vehicle-occupancy requirements."

The MTC is among the agencies coordinating the "Bay Area Express Lanes" effort to create 550 miles of express lanes across the region by 2035.

The I-580 and I-680 south projects are overseen by the Alameda County Transportation Commission (Alameda CTC), a 22-member agency comprised of county, city and transit officials.

"We are supportive of the full network of express lanes along 680 and 580, as they will provide additional freeway capacity and encourage carpooling," said Mayor Jerry Thorne, Pleasanton's representative on Alameda CTC.


"These new express lanes will promote carpooling -- carpoolers use the express lanes for free -- and will increase capacity and flow of all the lanes by making best use of each lane," said Tess Lengyel, deputy director of planning and policy for Alameda CTC.

The I-580 project, which began construction in June 2014, is converting the eastbound high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane and another lane into two express lanes from Hacienda Drive to Greenville Road in Livermore.

For the westbound direction, a single express lane will run from Greenville to the San Ramon/Foothill roads overcrossing, creating the first HOV-specific lane on westbound I-580 through the corridor.

New driving lanes were previously built in each direction as part of separate HOV and auxiliary lanes projects, Lengyel said.

The express lanes would be free to access for carpools, vanpools, public transit, motorcycles and eligible clean-air vehicles while other solo drivers could pay a toll to use the lanes from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The lanes would be open free-of-charge all other times.

Express lane access will be nearly continuous, except for limitations eastbound between Hacienda and Fallon and El Charro roads and westbound between Hacienda and San Ramon Road.

Alameda CTC officials hope the lanes will help maximize HOV efficiency and reduce congestion throughout the corridor, which ranked as the sixth-most congested freeway during commute hours in the Bay Area, according to a study released by the MTC in 2013.

Whether express lanes impact another significant congestion contributor -- crashes -- isn't immediately clear, according to Goodwin.

"I am not aware of any data that show either an increase or a decline in accidents on express lanes when compared to either traditional carpool lanes or general purpose lanes," he said.

The toll express lanes could provide a new opportunity to increase the capacity of heavily traveled I-580, according to Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon), who represents the Tri-Valley.

"My hope is that it will help alleviate congestion," she said, adding, "I'm going to be watching very closely to make sure we have the capacity we're hoping for."

Such monitoring will have to wait though, as the express lanes -- originally scheduled to open this fall -- recently hit a delay during construction, pushing the opening date out to early 2016, if weather cooperates, Lengyel said.

"We have had construction delays on the civil infrastructure due to material shortages, and thus a little more time is needed to complete full system integration efforts as well as system testing throughout the corridor," Lengyel explained.

Baker said the I-580 delay surprised her somewhat because she heard from Caltrans officials a few weeks ago that the project was on track.

"The main thing is they just get it right the first time," she added.

Among the project components still to be completed is the adoption of a toll fee schedule, which Alameda CTC expects to approve in the "next several months," Lengyel said.

The agency will use dynamic pricing, with toll rates going up or down to help traffic move smoothly. Tolls will increase as express lane congestion increases -- in an effort to discourage solo drivers from using the express lanes. The logic is reversed when congestion eases.

A motorists' toll rate is locked in as soon as they enter the lane, and the rate remains the same for the duration of their trip, regardless of any rate changes during that time.

Drivers who enter the lanes will be required to use a FasTrak Flex reader, which offers adjustable settings based on one, two or three-plus vehicle occupants. Electronic and visual assessments will be used to identify express lane violators, with the California Highway Patrol responsible for enforcement.

Toll revenues will first go toward covering operation and maintenance costs for the express lanes, with remaining funds used for other transportation and transit efforts along the I-580 corridor, according to Alameda CTC.

Baker vowed to work to make sure toll funds are not diverted away from transportation projects.

The express lane project is currently estimated at $55 million, with funding sources consisting of Measure B, federal, regional and local funds.

I-680 Sunol (southbound)

It's almost five years to the day since Alameda CTC's first express lane opened in September 2010 on I-680 south of Pleasanton, in the southbound direction from Highway 84, over the Sunol Grade and down to Highway 237 in Milpitas.

"We do hear regularly from our residents that drive from Pleasanton to the South Bay that the commute in the morning is better than it was without the express lane," Thorne said.

"The express lane has improved speeds on all lanes," Lengyel added.

Drivers in the express lane travel an average of 16 mph faster than motorists in non-express lanes during peak commute hours, according to Alameda CTC. Additionally, average travel times in the non-express lanes were reduced by 13% overall and 22% from 8-9 a.m., according to Lengyel.

She said the commission collects its driving data using in-ground detection loops and overhead sensors.

Toll lane usage has increased 119% from the first year to the fifth year, from 1,410 daily users to 3,087, according to Lengyel. The average toll has been $1.94, and the lane has drawn more than 2 million solo drivers, according to Alameda CTC.

Still, she said, toll revenues are not currently exceeding operating costs, and the express lane is subsidized by grant funding.

I-680 Sunol (northbound)

"The question we are most asked about express lanes is 'when will you open the northbound 680 lanes?'" Lengyel said.

Alameda CTC plans a two-phased approach to creating an express lane along northbound I-680 between Highway 84 south of Pleasanton to Highway 237 in Milpitas -- a project that also calls for freeway widening and several auxiliary lanes connecting on- and off-ramps.

Officials just started with final design for Phase 1, the 9-mile stretch from Auto Mall Parkway in Fremont to Highway 84, according to Lengyel. The project would add an express lane and eliminate two bottlenecks in the area that cause heavy congestion during the evening commute, she said.

The design stage is estimated to continue into next year, with construction to follow in 2017 and opening in late 2018.

Construction costs estimates haven't been determined, but the overall I-680 northbound project has almost $120 million in funding designated from Measure B, Measure BB, state and federal sources, according to Alameda CTC.

Officials also plan to update the I-680 southbound express lane at the same time, "making it into a near-continuous access configuration to provide additional access opportunities to and from local interchanges," Lengyel said.

I-680 San Ramon Valley

Roadwork signs and equipment have arrived to start on new express lanes along I-680 north of Pleasanton -- including a stretch of the freeway in the San Ramon Valley that saw barriers, cones and crews clear out less than 15 months ago upon completion of new auxiliary lanes.

The MTC-led project plans to convert existing HOV lanes from Alcosta Boulevard in San Ramon to Rudgear Road in Walnut Creek (southbound) and Livorna Road in Alamo (northbound), about 23 miles in all. No freeway widening will occur.

Construction, which began last month, is expected to last until late 2016. The overall project cost is currently estimated at $49 million, with about half going toward construction, Goodwin said.

Toll lane hours and rates have not been finalized, but MTC expects to adopt a toll ordinance next June, laying the groundwork for future approval of a dynamic-pricing toll structure, according to Goodwin.

Toll revenues will aim to help "keep traffic moving, improve the reliability of travel times in the corridor and cover the operations and maintenance costs of the lanes," he added. "Any additional revenue will be used to help finance expansion of the Bay Area Express Lanes network."

As for I-680 north plans, the San Ramon-Walnut Creek segment is the first of three proposed MTC projects aimed at creating express lanes most of the way from Alcosta to the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.

The road ahead

Express lanes only offer part of the solution to traffic congestion around Pleasanton, especially along I-580, according to local and regional officials.

"The long-term solution in this corridor is to have multiple types of transportation available to the public that facilitates commuters and goods movement," Lengyel said.

"Understanding that major interchange improvements will require a significant amount of funding commitment and could take many years to implement, Alameda CTC is in the process of initiating studies for incremental improvements that will provide congestion relief at this I-580/I-680 interchange," Lengyel said.

"Also, as part of the long-term network vision for the 550 miles of Bay Area Express Lanes, the 2014 (Transportation Expenditure Plan funded by Measure BB) includes $60 million for express lanes between Alcosta Boulevard and Highway 237 in both directions," she added.

BART is currently undergoing environmental review for a potential 4.8-mile extension of its rail line within the I-580 freeway median to a new station near the I-580/Isabel Avenue interchange. The project would also include a bus-to-BART transfer and a network of express bus services to link BART to rail service at the Vasco Road ACE (Altamont Corridor Express) station.

Lengyel pointed out that there hasn't been room for freeway improvements and new BART rail within the current I-580 footprint -- even before the express lane project.

"When a transit solution is included within the freeway median, widening of the freeway will have to occur and the HOV and express lanes will be adjusted accordingly," she said.

In the meantime, officials like Lengyel hope the new toll lanes, once opened, will provide much-needed help to a longstanding problem.

"While BART is a longer-term solution, Alameda CTC, Caltrans and its partners are working to bring immediate results and congestion relief to the public along this corridor," she added. "The I-580 express lanes will maximize the use of the freeway, and (toll) revenues will be reinvested in the corridor for maintenance and transit investments."

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12 people like this
Posted by Safe Driver Fed up with Idiots
a resident of Downtown
on Sep 25, 2015 at 8:06 am

I was recently caught in epic traffic where a 45 minute drive took nearly three hours -- EACH WAY -- on the same day. It was not caused by excess vehicles on the road, it was caused by a series of idiots who caused accidents. Until we get a handle on this problem we will never solve the traffic issue with more toll roads or more lanes of traffic.

When a person is determined to be the at fault driver that person needs to be personally liable for 100% of the costs of the accident. That means the costs for the cops, the firemen and the clean up crews. They need to be fined an additional significant amount for every minute that the road is closed due to their actions. Want to drive without your brain? Prepare to pay for it.

My pet peeve is the organ donors on motorcycles who lane split at any speed above 15 MPH. On Thursday there were three accidents near the San Mateo Bridge that were ALL caused by a lane splitting motorcyclist. Every accident was avoidable except for the actions of the motorcyclist. I have heard the argument that the engines run too hot if they idle. Fine, lane split when traffic is moving at less than 15 MPH, but do it at a reasonable speed.

No amount of new lanes or toll roads will help with traffic that is caused by morons who simply cannot drive without causing accidents. At least if those idiots are charged huge financial penalties it would help to offset the cost of new lanes for those of us who think when we drive.

4 people like this
Posted by local business owner
a resident of Amador Estates
on Sep 25, 2015 at 8:49 am

The answer is:
Comprehensive driver training and skid pad instruction along with a much more stringent drivers test taken at regular intervals. Right now they will give a drivers licence to any one with 30 bucks. You should have to demonstrate complete competency in emergency situations and accident avoidance to operate a motor vehicle. If you fail, there is public transit and Uber. This will get cars off the road, save gas, clean up the air and save countless lives.

46 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2015 at 8:52 am

I'm not convinced that toll roads increase car pooling. I think toll roads just make it easier for people that can afford the tolls to have a faster/better trip.

9 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Bridle Creek
on Sep 25, 2015 at 9:11 am

Is there any plans to re-surface west bound I-580 from Tracy to Livermore? The road in that section has so many cracks and bumps that I feel my axle would fall off any minute. It's been like that for years, but nothing has been done. Ironically, the section of I-580 from 84 to Pleasanton has been good, but they re-surfaced that. Wouldn't it make sense to re-surface where it's needed most? And that would be from Tracy to Livermore, especially where it starts to go up hill.

8 people like this
Posted by Valley residentaKifo
a resident of Val Vista
on Sep 25, 2015 at 9:19 am

I have lived in Pleasanton since 1971. I would like to know how much money has been spent on widening the road several time, putting commute lanes that will be soon obselote & the construction of BART. Does this mean after the toll lanes are complete they will extend BART to Livermore? I would think the BART extension would have been constructed first. The real problem is that Pleasanton and Dublin keep building. Soon the valley will look like Oakland to San Jose; one long continuous city.

5 people like this
Posted by JJ
a resident of Downtown
on Sep 25, 2015 at 9:52 am

Opening northbound I-680 express lane will probably push for more electric vehicles instead of carpooling. I don't believe this will solve the problem. They need to do more study on this. It seems to me the long downhill segment was the major cause of traffic congestion. To maximize throughput of people, you want all drivers synchronize with a constant speed. This is not possible on steep downhills. If they could widen the highway only on the downhill segment, that might work better than converting one lane to a toll lane.

34 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Sep 25, 2015 at 11:08 am

@local business owner: "The answer is: Comprehensive driver training and skid pad instruction along with a much more stringent drivers test taken at regular intervals. Right now they will give a drivers licence to any one with 30 bucks. You should have to demonstrate complete competency in emergency situations and accident avoidance to operate a motor vehicle. "

You've got to be kidding. "Emergency" driving situations including skid pad training for all car drivers? That's ridiculous. I've been driving for over 30 years and have only gotten into one accident. No, what has saved me from getting into a lot of accidents that many other drivers get into isn't my fast reflexes (since I don't have particularly fast reflexes), or my (nonexistent) emergency driving skills or my (nonexistent) driver skid pad training. You know the secret?: It's called "Defensive Driving". It's exercising the care, judgement and driving maturity to stay out of dangerous or potentially dangerous our hazardous situations in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth more than all the "emergency" and skid pad driving instruction that any reckless and immature driver might have. Avoid getting into hazardous situations in the first place rather than relying on your masterly emergency driving skills to get you out of a tight situation that you probably shouldn't have gotten yourself into in the first place.

Oh, and that one accident that I got in to? I was driving on a rain-slicked highway when I turned a bend and found a long line of cars stopped in a traffic jam ahead of me. My fault: Although I was below the speed limit, I should have adjusted my speed lower due to the rain and road conditions. Again, the solution was to exercise better driving judgment than to hone any emergency driving skills to compensate for a lack of driving judgement.

3 people like this
Posted by local business owner
a resident of Amador Estates
on Sep 25, 2015 at 11:20 am

Damon, that's great, so when some other idiot comes out of nowhere and does something unexpected or uncontrollable do you think your passive defensive driving is going to be better than my 30 years experience driving a race car? Here's the short answer, no. I know you, you are the naysayer who posts ridiculous crap just to be a burr in everyone's saddle. Get a life bud. I happen to be the expert here, and you are not. 99% of people on the road will make the wrong decision in an emergency situation simply because they have no experience at it. I'm right, you're wrong, shut up.

5 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Sep 25, 2015 at 11:40 am

@local business owner: "Damon, that's great, so when some other idiot comes out of nowhere and does something unexpected or uncontrollable do you think your passive defensive driving is going to be better than my 30 years experience driving a race car? Here's the short answer, no."

LOL! Did you really read my post? I said that I've been driving for over 30 years and I've only gotten into one accident which was avoidable if only I had been exercising more caution. In those 30 years there has not been one instance in which having "racing car driving skills" would have made any difference to me. Do you really think that it's likely that there will be some day before the end of my expected lifespan that I will need "racing car driving skills" to save my life in a driving situation?

BTW, due to advances in auto technology, today's drivers already have a number of tools to help them in emergency driving situations such as anti-lock braking systems (computer-controlled brakes to prevent brake locking and skidding) and vehicle stability control (computer-monitored yaw sensors which can adjust braking to individual wheels to help stop a car from skidding out of control). No expert "racing driver" training needed to use these systems. They're constantly operating in the background in most modern cars.

13 people like this
Posted by Safe Driver Fed up with Idiots
a resident of Downtown
on Sep 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm

I said it before and will say it again -- no amount of new toll roads, fancy cars or any other things will ever make up for the overwhelming stupidity of many drivers. I am not talking about drivers who have not taken some professional driving course, I am talking about ordinary people who have too few brains and no good judgment and should be severely penalized when their moronic actions impact the rest of us.

I have been driving for decades without benefit of some driving course for race car drivers. I had one speeding ticket at age 17 and have been involved in two accidents. Both times I was rear ended by an idiot talking or texting on a cell phone. Both times all traffic was stopped in front of me but because I allowed plenty of room between my car and the next, my car was not shoved into another one although in one case the person who hit me was going nearly 50 MPH. THAT is what defensive driving is about, no fancy race car training can substitute for my judgment in allowing all of that extra room.

6 people like this
Posted by lkbradley
a resident of Fairlands Elementary School
on Sep 25, 2015 at 9:49 pm

lkbradley is a registered user.

If we are going to have a delay in completion,on the 580 I pray that at least Cal trans will please finish the lines especially at the on ramps from Santa Rota to Vasco exit. Due to the sun you can not see lines in front of you.Only through the rear view. Today again some driver's and truckers make their own line BC no lines. Same issue retuning back towards Pleasanton. If the rain does come and this is not completed. Were gonna have a lot of accidents.

5 people like this
Posted by truewest
a resident of Stoneridge
on Sep 28, 2015 at 9:20 am

truewest is a registered user.

The article notes the following: "Express lane access will be nearly continuous, except for limitations eastbound between Hacienda and Fallon and El Charro roads and westbound between Hacienda and San Ramon Road." It would be helpful to explain what this means in practice. Those areas are already bottlenecks, and if access to the express lanes access will have "limitations" at those points, it sounds as if the situation will get worse, not better.

2 people like this
Posted by RestOfStory
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 28, 2015 at 2:51 pm

RestOfStory is a registered user.

None of this will change for the better until the electorate asserts their will with the government in Sacramento. Face it--we enjoy this abuse and totally buy in to the view that solo drivers are the problem.

What about all those businesses that choose to locate in SF and the East Bay despite the lack of qualified employees willing to live there. Why not impose a commuter tax on any business that is unable to provide its employees locally?

What about mandating that "transportation" bond money only be used to increase freeway lanes, rather than be sucked off to pay for less effective solutions such as bicycle paths, buses, BART, HOV lanes, education (indoctrination), etc.?

Like this comment
Posted by LaxDad3
a resident of Foothill High School
on Sep 30, 2015 at 7:35 am

LaxDad3 is a registered user.

truewest: the limitations that the article mentions are double solid white lines. Since these lines cannot be legally crossed, they are designed to keep drivers from cutting across all lanes from the express lane to the exit. Although in practice, drivers who brazenly cut across the freeway are not deterred by the double solid lines. In other areas, single dashed white lines are used which drivers can legally cross.

Like this comment
Posted by smuchs
a resident of Downtown
on Sep 30, 2015 at 4:33 pm

smuchs is a registered user.

Sadly, the congestion is so bad all over the Bay area that people don't seem to abide by the rules of the road anymore. People are constantly in the HOV lanes that either don't have the FasTrak device, are not bearing the approved stickers or don't have the required by law number of people in their cars. I've seen people on motorcycles and cars going through pigeon pass on the shoulders because they either can't wait or simply don't want to wait in traffic like the rest of us. I heard a news story that mentioned that these toll lanes are not really helping solve the traffic jam situation at all. I agree that the people driving on motorcycles are not adhering to law for the allowable speed of traffic to be able to split the lanes. I'm not a fan of lane splitting at all. It is unsafe and I've gotten tangled up with someone in SF who thought he would be a bad a-- and swing between lanes then cut in front of me. We ended up entangled and he proceeded to get off of his bike and come over to my car and bang dents into my hood because he thought I did something wrong to him.

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