On-ramp metering lights were turned on for the first time during this morning's commute along westbound Interstate 580 and the signals caused many commuters to see red in more ways than one.
Caltrans installed the lights recently and turned them on a week ago, leaving them on green so drivers would be aware that they would be operating soon. But their first day in operation didn't go so smooth. Steven Williams, a spokesman with Caltrans, said Tuesday was problematic for both drivers and the transportation department, but said crews are working out the kinks. At the Airway Boulevard on-ramp, Williams said mechanical problems caused the lights to stay on red. To make matters worse, he said three times the normal traffic volume was reported at that particular ramp.
"The major part of the backup there was because people used Airway who don't normally use it," he said. "We know exactly how many cars use it every day, every hour and we had a 300 percent increase this morning because they were bypassing their normal on-ramp because they saw bottlenecks. You combine that with a mechanical problem and that is what causes the backup."
Some Pleasanton residents reported the effects of the metering lights on local streets, with backups in traffic along the city's major thoroughfares--Stanley Boulevard, Vineyard Avenue, Bernal Avenue, Valley Avenue, Stoneridge Drive and Hopyard Road--from drivers who avoided the freeway due to congestion there from the new system that went on line.
The metering lights are located at the ramps from Grant Line Road in Tracy west to the Foothill/San Ramon interchange in Pleasanton and Dublin. They will operate from 5 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday.
The signals operate on an eight-second cycle during peak commute hours and taper off to six seconds after 9 a.m., when traffic is much lighter, Williams said. The system regulates the number of vehicles on the freeway at any given time so that cars don't experience a backup once they merge on.
Caltrans crews will be deployed tomorrow morning to assess the traffic loads and the signals' operations so that there isn't a repeat of this morning's headaches.
"There's no way of knowing (what problems will occur) until you've actually activated the lights," Williams said. "You can't test traffic signals when you have live traffic."
The 11 metering signals cost $100,000 each, which Williams said is a relatively small cost considering the price tag of other freeway improvements. The eastbound portion of 580 received metering lights in January, which operate for the afternoon commute, 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday from Foothill/San Ramon Road to Greenville Road.