The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has announced that the existing carpool lanes on Interstate 680 between Walnut Creek and San Ramon in California will convert to dynamically tolled Express Lanes on October 9.
The opening of the new Express Lanes will allow solo drivers in either direction to use the existing HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes if they choose to pay a toll that varies based on real-time traffic conditions. Access to the lanes will remain toll-free for carpool and vanpool vehicles with two or more occupants, buses, motorcycles and qualifying clean air vehicles.
All vehicles using the Express Lanes on weekdays from 5am to 8pm will be required to have a properly-mounted FasTrak toll tag or transponder. As the transportation planning, financing, and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, MTC is introducing the Express Lane along a 12-mile (19.3km) southbound section of I-680 and for 11 miles (17.7km) northbound.
Both lanes will operate as ‘open access’ lanes, allowing drivers to move into or out of the Express Lanes at any time, with tolls changing every few minutes according to demand. Tolls will rise as traffic increases, and fall as it reduces, allowing solo drivers to decide if the travel time saving is worth the price. Electronic variable message signs (VMS) will show one or two destinations and the current toll to travel to each, with drivers guaranteed the price shown on the sign at the time they enter the Express Lane.
The opening of the US$56m I-680 Contra Costa Express Lanes project marks the first in a series of improvements planned by MTC, Caltrans and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to help relieve congestion in the I-680 corridor. Additional Express Lanes are being planned for I-680 between Walnut Creek and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, and construction will soon start in the southbound direction.
The I-680 Contra Costa variable tolled lanes are the first addition to the Bay Area’s network of Express Lanes to be spearheaded by MTC. The new Express Lanes join those on Interstate 580 and southbound I-680 in Alameda County, and on State Route 237 in Santa Clara County. MTC and its partners ultimately plan to develop a 550 mile-long (885km) network of Express Lanes by 2035. The planned buildout will close gaps between existing carpool lanes to speed travel for carpools, buses and motorcycles; and to provide solo drivers with new options for more reliable trips.