New metering lights for I-580 in East Bay

September 16, 2008 1:19:44 PM PDT
Caltrans activated new metering lights in a highly congested area of Alameda County, for the first time, early this morning. The metering lights are installed westbound on interstate 580 in the Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore areas.

Ramp metering is considered a low-cost way to ease congestion, but it can be controversial, because not everyone believes it saves time -- in fact, we watched several cars pass through the red light Tuesday morning. This happened, even though Caltrans posted signs reminding commuters of the changes here in the Tri-Valley.

"Getting onto the freeway can be kind of a pain because it backs everything up," said a driver. Terrible traffic backup is precisely why Caltrans flipped on nearly a dozen metering lights Tuesday at onramps to westbound Interstate 580 in the Tri-Valley. Starting at 5:00 am Tuesday morning, the meters went from dark to green and red -- they will operate now on weekdays, from 5:00 am to 10:00 am - covering a stretch between Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton.

To have the metering light probably is good too because of all the interchange going on with 680 over here," said Sumeet Panjabi, San Ramon.

The idea is to help break up the backup of traffic that reaches east to Livermore by limiting the number of vehicles getting onto the freeway during peak commute times, but not every driver believes this new ramp metering will ease commuter congestion.

"580 is so backed up it doesn't really, I don't think it makes that much of a difference during the peak hours," said Bill Murray, Dublin resident.

Yet Caltrans says it's having success with metering installed on eastbound I-580 in the Tri-Valley and on Highway 101 in San Mateo County, and that those meters have cut congestion in half by improving freeway speeds and overall travel times.

"It's a good idea because it regulates the traffic flow, and people don't have to fight each other for the right of way," said JC Naubeyo.

But Caltrans may have some kinks to work out. Tuesday morning at the Hopyard-Doughtery onramp in Dublin, we watched some metering lights stay red so long that some motorists just drive through them. And at the Airway Boulevard onramp in Livermore, Caltrans says it had a 300-percent increase in vehicles trying to get onto 580. This is because many drivers were trying to avoid other backed up onramps due to the new metering lights.

Caltrans says it will continue to have crews watching traffic patterns and recalibrating the metering lights as necessary. Ramp metering is just one part of a $600-million Caltrans project to improve Bay Area traffic.