Toll roads may come to CA

April 20, 2009 7:33:58 PM PDT
Drivers beware, the days of the "free-way" may be numbered. There are plans for hundreds of miles of toll roads in California, not just on bridges, but pay-as-you-go highways. It is already common in Europe and Asia.

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The owners and operators of 350 tolling facilities from around the world are comparing notes in San Francisco this week.

International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association President Kary Witt says Americans are listening to ideas about best practices from the Europeans.

"For example the Europeans have been involved in public-private partnerships on toll roads for much longer than the United States have. There's very mature models of all electronic tolling. There's no cash transactions at all," says Witt.

Bay area bridges have a mix of cash and FasTrak and Witt says open-road tolling is the future. Open-road tolling is in use in the Bay Area only at the Benicia Bridge -- this is state-of-the-art electronic tolling where cars don't even need to slow down.

"Well that's the buzz in the industry, the direction everyone will go," says Andrew Fremier from the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Vendors say someday cars might be produced with the technology for paying tolls and parking built in.

High-occupancy toll lanes, or express lanes, are also in our near future -- sooner than built-in tolling hardware. Express lanes allow solo drivers to pay to use the same lane carpools use for free. The price varies depending on congestion levels.

A total of 26 miles worth of express lanes are on track to open next year on the I-580 in Livermore and on the Sunol Grade on the I-680. But transportation officials have plans for another 500 miles and a final 300 more to make an 800-mile express lane network in the Bay Area.

"What we're talking about is a proposal that would allow us to bond against future toll revenue by charging for the additional capacity that's in HOV lanes, using that money to then build the remaining 300 miles, and close the gap in the network," says Fremier.

The first step, clearance from Sacramento, is possibly only weeks away.

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