Published July 20, 2010
Volume 18, Number 7

Southbound I-680 Toll Lane Debuts September 20    

The first HOT, or High Occupancy Toll, Lane in Northern California will open at 5 a.m. on September 20. Stretching 14 miles along southbound I-680 from Highway 84 in Pleasanton to Highway 237 in Milpitas, the controlled-access lane will offer three entry points to accommodate solo drivers willing to pay to travel in the less congested carpool lane at the far left of the roadway.

A dynamic pricing scheme will adjust HOT Lane tolls according to real-time demand. The full fee scale has not yet been released, but a video preview of the Alameda County Express Lanes project indicates amounts will range from $3 to $6. It also references studies showing that a HOT lane can save, on average, 17 minutes of drive time.

Converted from the existing carpool lane, the Express Lane is separated from the general-purpose lanes by triple lines, except at entrances and exits. Overhead electronic signs display the pricing plan of the moment, giving drivers the chance to make an informed decision about whether or not to use the lane. Typically, the more dense the congestion, the higher the rate. “Sensors in the road monitor traffic levels, and toll prices are set to maintain free flow in the Express Lanes at all times,” says Katy Rath, community liaison with the Alameda County Express Lanes project.

Payments are automated through FasTrak, with overhead antennas reading the car’s transponder and deducting the quoted amount. Although the dynamic pricing scheme means that the dollar figure can change momentarily, the amount is fixed at the time the vehicle enters the lane. Toll proceeds are designated for public transit improvement along the 680 corridor.

While there is no need to worry about slowing down for a tollbooth or traffic gate, drivers should be familiar with all the conditions affecting travel and FasTrak use. Express Lane operational hours are 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Single-passenger cars without a valid FasTrak tag will be in violation of state law and subject to a fine. Carpool vehicles with two or more people, motorcycles, transit buses, and eligible hybrids continue to use the lane for free. Larger trucks are not permitted. A carpool driver who does have a FasTrak tag should cover it with the Mylar bag originally provided to prevent being charged for the trip. Rath reminds commuters to re-install the toll tag properly on the windshield for later travel, since it needs to be operational for Bay Area bridges, and FasTrak regulations stipulate that the driver is responsible for having the tag in the right place.

Overseen by the Sunol Smart Carpool Lane Joint Powers Authority, the I-680 HOT Lane is the by-product of state legislation passed in 2004. Another toll segment along I-580, two lanes heading east from the Hacienda Drive interchange to the Greenville Road undercrossing, is slated to open in 2011, under the direction of the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency. For more details, visit www.680expresslane.org.


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