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Original post made by Curious on Sep 20, 2010

September 20, 2010

Traffic backed up for miles into Pleasanton and Dublin due to shorter Hwy 84 merge lane onto 680.

Fasttrack users who were traveling in the non-toll #2 lane were charged due to their proximity to the sensors.

Complete lack of enforement by CHP allowed single drivers with Fasttrack to poach toll lane.

Drivers with empty/fake Fasttrack transponders utilized lane without any consequences.

Carpoolers were delayed by single occupant vehicles trying to navigate the new lane and enter/exit points.

Toll lane users exiting at Mission did not benefit since they were forced to wait at long backup at the Mission offramp.

Non-toll/HOV traffic flowed freely from 84 all the way to 237. There was no need to pay the toll charge to utilize the lane.

This project received priortitization over other more needed freeway improvements (eg. northbound 680 HOV lane) due to heavy lobbying by corporate interests in Silicon Valley.

Comments (29)

Posted by Mike B., a resident of Birdland
on Sep 20, 2010 at 11:25 am

Why is this not a surprise, especially if it is Caltrans running the show. Were there any studies done and by what agency to determine the effectiveness of the toll road?

Posted by Jill, a resident of Carlton Oaks
on Sep 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm

According to Web Link , the backup wasn't due to the new toll lane:

"Southbound Interstate 680 drivers, the new toll lane wasn't the chief reason your commute was hell Monday morning.

"A series of crashes, stalls, unrelated road work and gawkers caused a 20-minute backup from the I-580 interchange to the start of the express lane south of Highway 84 on Monday."

Other comments from the original poster:

"Fasttrack users who were traveling in the non-toll #2 lane were charged due to their proximity to the sensors."
Can you back up this claim?

"Complete lack of enforement by CHP allowed single drivers with Fasttrack to poach toll lane."
Single drivers with FasTrak are *supposed* to be able to use the lane. That's what the toll is for. Carpoolers shouldn't pay (assuming they don't have a FasTrak transponder in the vehicle or put it in a mylar bag so it doesn't register with the sensors).

Posted by Curious, a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm

@ Jill - That should have read "single drivers WITHOUT Fasttrack to poach toll lane".

Yes, I can back up the prior statement. 5 Fasttrack users in my office who did not use the toll lane were charged even though they were driving in the #2 lane.

Caltrans did not advise Fasttrack users not utilizing the toll lane to place their transponders in the mylar bag.

Posted by Kay, a resident of Vineyard Hills
on Sep 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm

"I hope this new toll lane fails miserably."

Curious, your remarks on a prior post regarding the new lane told us how eager you are to blast this project before it even opened. Why are you so ready to call this an "epic failure" after just a few hours of operation?

If commuters in SoCal can learn to use the hundreds of miles of toll lanes they have, so can we. Stop the griping and get a life.

Posted by blip, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 4:27 pm

the fastrack transponder bonfire has been scheduled for october 7th

Posted by Nurse Shark, a resident of Bridle Creek
on Sep 20, 2010 at 4:44 pm

"Drivers with empty/fake Fasttrack transponders utilized lane without any consequences." another claim that doesn't seem to have any factual base.

What is this all about? And did you and your buddies spent your work day gathering Caltrans and CHP data?

Weird. Oh, and "epic fail" suggests this is a teenage author, which probably explains the hyperbole and presentation of opinion and conjecture as fact.

Posted by Commuter, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm

So how do you put your transponder that is affixed to you windshield in its mylar bag if you have a carpool.

Posted by 8year680Commuter, a resident of Dublin
on Sep 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Traffic moved well over the grade before the toll-lane dis-improvements, this will be a bust for revenue.
Carpooling this morning up the grade, the HOV was the slowest lane due to a pokey driver ahead of me going below the limit, and now that you can't change lanes, I was stuck.

The Silicon Valley companies pushing for this lane as a priority need to be revealed, and their puppets in the legislature. I680N now appears to be the most congested (slowest for the longest) highway in the bay area, every evening.

I predict semi-permanent road work to artificially make the traffic in the "pauper lanes" miserable in an attempt to drum up revenue for this toll-lane.

Posted by Pleasanton Parent, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm

I'd like to see the data supporting the claims in the original post as well.

Posted by Jill, a resident of Carlton Oaks
on Sep 20, 2010 at 9:14 pm

More details on the morning commute, from Web Link - sounds like it would have been a bad morning even without the new lane opening:

Here is what I found south of Sunol Boulevard: a big rig stalled on the shoulder (one of those things that wasn't listed on reports to radio stations), two Caltrans trucks parked in the median with more than a dozen traffic cones lining the road as workers trimmed weeds (awful timing), contractors and their truck nearby in the median doing something else, and a portable electronic sign flashing "Express Lane Ahead" messages.

"I was surprised it slowed almost to a stop just prior to 84," said Craig Thomas of Moraga. "This never happens. The news seemed to be saying it was due to people crossing all three lanes, but I don't think so. There was a lot of traffic on 84 and I'm not sure why."

Here's why. A couple of bad accidents took place before 7 a.m. on I-580 in the Livermore Valley. That sent drivers who normally take 580 to 680 onto Highway 84 to get around those crashes.
And many of those who wanted to go into the carpool lane did so almost immediately, even though they had almost a mile before needing to merge left.

Posted by Bettie R., a resident of Carlton Oaks
on Sep 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm

It was congested for many reasons - other issues, but also, its brand new. I'm going to give it a chance - it might help my commute, but only after everyone gets educated on how to use it.

Posted by Becky, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

I really wish this money had been spent on an HOV lane in the northbound direction. I never have trouble getting to work (Sunnyvale), but coming home on the Sunol Grade has become a nightmare. If I'm on the grade after 4pm, my 30-mile commute takes an hour and a half.

Having a carpool lane in one direction does not promote carpooling.

Posted by Larry McKinnon, a resident of Southeast Pleasanton
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:40 am

It's just another tax, nothing more, nothing less. As for it working in Southern California, that's a joke. How much money did this cost, who lobbied for it to be done, what is the data from Cal Trans that said this was a viable project. Those are the questions we should be asking.

Posted by 680 carpooler, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:49 am

Write to Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty

Web Link - Scott Haggery

Buffer space has been wasted all over. The sudden exits from carpool lane in restricted areas will cause more back up. This whole plan was not required. Carpool lane worked fine on 680 and there was no need for a toll lane.

What we require is a Northbound carpool lane.

Posted by kolohe, a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:50 am

i hope this works, niles canyon has been packed with traffic the past 2 days...just unreal...

they have these tolls back east and it works...what's wrong with us californians?

Posted by Maggie, a resident of Valencia
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:58 am

For goodness sake - counting today, it's only been open for 3 days. Like everything else, it will take time to adjust and to work through the glitches.

Posted by Lee, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 9:08 am

I drove the new fastrak lane on Tuesday, and it was wonderful! I avoided it on Monday as I anticipated it might be a mess on the first day. I hope there are plans to put a northbound lane in soon, as the return in the post 3 pm time frame is a mess and could benefit from a fastrak lane.

Posted by San Jose Commuter, a resident of Livermore
on Sep 21, 2010 at 9:10 am

Who says you can't get out of the lane once you're in it? What is preventing you from getting out or in? Just two lines of white paint? Also, as ususal on 680, there were no CHP officers in site either yesterday or today when I rolled through there at 7:15 am. I agree that we need something in the north bound direction, even just one more lane. I never use the HOV lane and won't be using this new one because I leave early enough and the flow of traffic is fine for the most part except where the lanes start falling off from 4 or 5 to 3 or 4. If we are trying to make money then why not just create a toll road and then that way everyone has to pay.

Posted by Jimmy, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 9:22 am

What's your excuse for today's backup, Jill?

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Sep 21, 2010 at 9:55 am

This blog appears to be a nice Caltrans bashing event without factual data. If any of it is fact then it is usually posted somewhere credible like the Caltrans website or somewhere that can filter out the BS. I have driven 580/680 for years and yes, I get frustrated with the traffic. I would love to throw mud at Caltrans too just out of all the wasted minutes I have spent on these roads but is it really their fault or the massive influx of population in the Bay Area? You can build 10 more lanes and expect it to solve your problems but I bet it still wouldn't stop traffic jams.

Posted by reasonable, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 10:13 am

It was painful this morning, especially at the entry/exit points.

And I felt compelled to stay in the FAR right hand lane for fear of getting charged on my FASTRAK which is permanently affixed to my windshield. I am not going to scrape it off and carry it around in a mylar bag which I will probably lose and/or get in an accident rummaging around for it when I'm trying to cross a bridge.

I guess that means I won't be able to carpool either....

Posted by Joe, a resident of Siena
on Sep 21, 2010 at 10:50 am

For those claiming that your Fastrak got charged even though you were not in the new toll lane, how do you know that you were charged? Just because it beeped? Did you log online to your Fastrak account web page to see if you were actually charged? You are not understanding the technology. When I park at Garage A at SFO (which has a Fastrak entrance gate), my unit will beep---but it will not be charged. It only charges me if I am actually at the Fastrak entrance gate.

If, however, you DID check your account web page and you WERE charged incorrectly, then of course this is a "bug" that needs to be worked out. No biggee....this is something new. Relax, and it will be taken care of.

For those asking about what to with your transponder on your windshield if you want to use the lane as a carpooler, the FAQ section (on the 511 dot org web page) clearly states that you simply remove it (it's held on by Velcro), and put it into the mylar bag. If you do NOT do this, then YES----you will be charged. A machine does not know you're a carpooler, so it is YOUR responsibility to take care of this.

If you lost your mylar bag, again, go to the 511 dot org web page under the FAQ and it answers your question. You simply call an 800 number and request a new bag.

Anything new on a freeway is going to cause a few hassles the first few times it's used. Drivers do not seem to adopt well to change. But once the regular commuters have driven this thing for a few weeks, it will be no big deal and most people will figure it out. This is normal. I'm sorry everything wasn't "perfect" the first day, but there were extenuating circumstances.

As far as CHP enforcement, if you look at the transponder receiver locations (the metal devices that hang over the lanes), just on the other side of those poles are two signal lights----green and red. It looks identical to what you see on the OPPOSITE side of metering lights when entering a freeway. This is how a CHP officer knows if someone is coming through with a valid Fastrak account or not. If the light goes "red", then CHP can pull you over. If the light is "green", then you are fine (just like with metering light enforcement). The lights face southbound, so don't expect to see the lights unless you are really looking carefully.

Now, the issue of ONE slow driver in front of you that is messing things up. Sorry, I can't help you there. It frustrates the heck out of me as well. Some drivers are clueless---what can I say? And for the person who said why can't you just cross the double white lanes and get out of the lane, well, physically, of course you can. But legally, you can not---it results in a traffic ticket (a moving violation). And if your action causes a ripple effect accident, expect to have many more violations and lawsuits to deal with. It's not a wise thing to do.

I used the toll lane yesterday, but I wasn't there until 11AM. I was the only car in the lane as far as I could see in front of me and behind me---I loved it! And the cost for my drive from Pleasanton to the south Mission exit? 30 cents.....It was worth every penny.

Posted by Curious, a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

"This is how a CHP officer knows if someone is coming through with a valid Fastrak account or not. If the light goes "red", then CHP can pull you over. If the light is "green", then you are fine (just like with metering light enforcement). The lights face southbound, so don't expect to see the lights unless you are really looking carefully."

That is assuming there is a CHP officer to monitor the green/red lights. If a tree falls in the woods, but there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

@ Joe - why would you pay $0.30 to drive in the toll lane when all other lanes were moving at normal speeds at 11AM? Is this part of your own personal stimulus plan?

And yes, I checked my account and I was billed for the toll lane even thought I was in the #2 lane. Thanks Caltrans! I'll be waiting patiently for my refund.

Posted by David, a resident of Canyon Oaks
on Sep 21, 2010 at 12:07 pm

This must be fixed! We need a government blue ribbon panel overseen by a select group of appointed six figured salaried board members reporting into a regional oversight board appointed by the Sec of Transportation who then directs and advises a top Madison Ave advertising agency working with the best (and most expensive) public relations firm to blanket the area with "American Recovery and Reinvestment - Putting America back to work" (Stimulus) signs so all this negative feedback is addressed. If that doesn't work then a photo op with Obama gladhanding and backslapping McNerney with Pelosi beaming in the background will do the trick!

Posted by Joe, a resident of Siena
on Sep 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm


Regarding your first comment, of course a CHP officer has to be there in order to enforce it. I don't understand your point. How many times have cars rolled through stop signs, or gone through red lights, or gone over 65 MPH on the freeway---and gotten away with it? I think you would probably complain if CHP was there yesterday monitoring the lights on day one. You'd probably say, "Don't they have anything better to do than hassle us commuters??". Look, sometimes they will be there, and sometimes they will not be there. They do have other duties to attend to. Do you see CHP enforcing every metering light onramp at commute times? Of course not. There aren't enough officers on-duty to cover so many tasks at once. So your point is moot here.

Regarding your second point, okay, since the charge is there, then as I said earlier, this is obviously a bug that needs to be worked out. You'll get your refund. Have you ever moved into a new house, or a newly constructed office building? The first few weeks (and sometimes months) can be a real challenge. It's just the real world, and this is how things work. I'm sorry it wasn't perfect.

Regarding your questions about why I used the lane at 11AM. First of all, I just wanted to be able to say that I was a part of freeway history, and drove in the toll lane on day one---that's all. But your assumption about the traffic moving just as fast in the others is absolutely not correct. I made it to South Mission in record time, passing car after car after car. I was driving between roughly 70 and 72 MPH the entire way. I loved it.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Siena
on Sep 21, 2010 at 12:15 pm

David----That's funny! (Unfortunately, it has a ring of truth to it!).

Posted by so cal resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

the So Cal toll lanes are mostly separate roads - the one in Orange County that takes you away and to Irvine is great because it is not part of a freeway that is not a toll lane. It appears that the lane on 680 should have been a regular lane that Cal Trans should have added since there was space for it, and not made it a toll lane. If they wanted to build a toll lane, it should have been separate from the freeway and IN BOTH DIRECTIONS.

Posted by marym, a resident of Vineyard Hills
on Sep 21, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I used the new lane on Monday, and a CHP officer was right there to check that I had my transponder in the car. The traffic getting off of 84 and on to 680 was horrendous yesterday, and it looked like that again this morning from my view heading northbound on 680 this morning. I still have not been charged for Monday's use. I agree that a northbound lane would be fantastic. My commute from SJC is terrible just about every day of the week now during rush hour.

Posted by Jill, a resident of Carlton Oaks
on Sep 23, 2010 at 10:57 am

My answer to the continued back-ups is that, as common sense would dictate, it will take a week or two for everyone to get used to it. Then things should settle down.

As for the toll charges for people driving in the #2 lane, this is what I heard back from Gary Richards (yes, I e-mailed him):

"There are actually two readers, one on the Express Lane (lane 1) and
one between lanes 2 & 3. Knowing that some cars traveling in lane 2
might get "read" by the Express Lane reader inadvertently, the system
is set up so a positive read by the lane 2 reader cancels out the
inadvertent Express Lane read and no toll is charged."

If the system isn't working as advertised, then I'd suggest that people contact FasTrak and/or CalTrans so that it can be fixed.

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