Eric Brandt/Daily Journal
Assembly Bill 744 would authorize development of a comprehensive network of high-occupancy toll -- or HOT -- lanes on Bay Area freeways, allowing solo drivers the option to bypass congestion by paying a toll.
Legislation allowing solo drivers to pay up to 50 cents a mile to bypass traffic with approximately 800 miles of Bay Area commuter lanes is expected to speed through the state Capitol after its introduction yesterday.
State Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, introduced Assembly Bill 744, which would authorize development of a comprehensive network of high-occupancy toll — or HOT — lanes on Bay Area freeways, allowing solo drivers the option to bypass congestion by paying a toll to use lanes in which carpools and buses currently travel free of charge.
The legislation would create an 800-mile Regional HOT Network that would include conversion of 500 miles of existing carpool lanes to HOT lanes plus construction of 300 miles of new HOT lanes. The plan would cost $3.6 billion to implement but produce an estimated $6 billion in revenue that would likely be used to make transit improvements around the Bay Area, said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin.
In San Mateo County, the existing carpool lane on Highway 101 beginning in Redwood City will be converted to a HOT lane. Further in the future, Highway 101 will be expanded between Redwood City and Millbrae to allow for new HOT lanes, Goodwin said.
Partners in the Regional HOT Network initiative will include Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the Bay Area’s county congestion management agencies.
The plan would charge solo drivers between 25 cents and 50 cents per mile to travel in the carpool lane. The price would be tied to the amount of congestion during the travel time with higher fees charged during heavier commute periods. Fees would be directly charged to a driver’s FasTrak account. A trip from Redwood City to San Jose in the HOT lane would cost approximately $6 to $10, Goodwin said. The Bay Area Toll Authority would collect the tolls similar to how FasTrak is used to bypass toll booths on bridges. Carpool commuters can still use the lanes for free.
The plan is often criticized as the "Lexus lane” because only those who can afford it can travel faster.
Goodwin said it is a way to balance traffic when the carpool lane is underutilized and other lanes are congested.
"People from all walks of life can use it when they absolutely have to get somewhere,” Goodwin said.
The participating agencies have yet to sort out all the details with the plan. One major concern among agencies is how the profits will be devised. Goodwin said it will likely be used to improve traffic in the area in which the fees were collected. For example, money collected in fees for travel in San Mateo County could be used for stop light synchronization on El Camino Real in the county, Goodwin said.
"The Regional HOT Network simply makes economic sense,” Torrico said in a press release yesterday. "It will not only create a lot of much-needed construction jobs over the next few years but will provide a long-term boost for the Bay Area economy by increasing productivity and making it easier for workers to get to and from jobs. And it will generate billions of dollars that can be used to finance other transportation improvements in the years ahead.”
The Bay Area’s first HOT lanes — which will be located along Interstate 680 over the Sunol Grade between State Route 84 and State Route 237, along Interstate 580 through the Tri-Valley, and the direct connector between at the Interstate 880/State Route 237 interchange in Milpitas — are scheduled to open in 2010. The state law currently allows for certain areas to create lanes as a demonstration site.
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