As the I-680 Express Lane marks its first anniversary, almost half a million drivers have paid a toll electronically for a faster trip over the Sunol Grade.
Transportation officials are pleased with the results so far.
"Usage is rising," said Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, chair of the I-680 Express Lane Authority board of directors. "More drivers each month are choosing to use the Express Lane to avoid traffic congestion."
"Hundreds of commuters use this facility everyday," he added. "The facility provides a reliable option for commuters who need the dependability in their travel times through the corridor."
The 14-mile stretch of I-680 from Pleasanton to Milpitas is the first Express Lane in Northern California.
"The results show Express Lanes are an effective way to ensure there is an option for commuters who want a reliable commute," said Andrew Fremier, deputy executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "The experience gained from the first year of operations on 680 allowed us to develop a realistic long-term strategy for establishing a true regional network of express lanes in the years to come."
The I-680 Express Lane opened at 5 a.m. on Sept. 20, 2010. After the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays, usage was stable from January to May at about 1,400 trips per day, almost all during the morning commute from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. This average has risen to 1,500 per day in June and July, to 1,600 per day in August and to more than 1,700 per day so far in September.
Maximum weekly usage came last week, with 9,757 trips and $29,321 in revenue. The one-day peak usage was February 8, when 2,324 drivers used the lane.
According to representatives of the Express Lane Authority, there were 482,552 toll trips on the lane during its first year of operation, generating revenue of $858,328. Express lane speeds are 9 or 10 mph faster than the speeds in the general purpose lanes during the morning commute. Most drivers use the express lane an average of twice a month, with fewer than 200 using the lane three or more days per week.
The I-680 Express Lane operates Mondays to Fridays from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tolls remain free at all times for carpools with at least two occupants, and the lane is "open to all" on weekdays after 8 p.m. and all day on weekends. California Highway Patrol officers provide enforcement using visual and electronic means.
Solo drivers who want to use the I-680 Express Lane need a FasTrak toll tag mounted on their windshield. Drivers are charged a toll each time they choose to use the Express Lane. The operation is fully electronic, with no toll booths or tollgates, so customers do not need to slow down or stop to pay.
Motorists with a FasTrak toll tag can enter the express lane at designated locations. An overhead electronic sign displays the current toll being assessed. Toll costs vary based on real-time traffic levels on the express lane to ensure that traffic in the lane flows smoothly.