The future of the Bay Area's carpool lanes

February 11, 2009 6:53:32 PM PST
Imagine the Bay Area's highway system with 800 miles worth of toll lanes drivers could pay to use during peak times. That's one feature of the plan transportation officials are talking about for the future.

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The Transportation 2035 Plan lays out how all expected Bay Area transportation funding will be used for the next quarter century.

It calls for 80 percent of all funding to go for operation and maintenance of the existing road and transit system, approximately 17 percent for transit expansion and a scant three percent for road expansion.

What the Metropolitan Transportation Commission says is the lowest percentage of road expansion of any big city in the nation.

"We have clearly made our choice in this region that our first priority is to try to take care of the system we build. And our second priority is to expand to provide more choices to driving," said MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger.

Those who do drive, and drive alone, will find a new way to get around faster -- for a price. The plan is to replace all 400 miles of carpool lanes with high-occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes.

Carpools and buses will still use them for free -- but people driving alone can join them, for a price that changes with congestion levels.

A similar system is in place in Southern California.

"When we go on vacation and the airfare varies based on seasons, the hotel prices varies, movie prices based on times of the day, phones charges varies based on when you call. The road system is sort of the only thing that doesn't vary," said Heminger.

The revenue from the first 400-miles will then be used to build another 400 miles of HOT lanes.

"This whole project would take 30 to 40 years waiting for public funds. By doing it this way, having private sector by buying into the HOT lanes can be done in five to ten years," said MTC Chairman Bill Dodd.

The plan has been in the works for two years with input from the public. The MTC votes on it next month.

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