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By Tim Hunt

Looking at traffic patterns with some facts

Uploaded: Nov 19, 2015

The past couple of weeks have been even uglier than normal on the freeways that bisect the Tri-Valley area. They add both the blessing of economic vitality because of location and the curse of lots commuter and truck traffic going through our area.
Two weeks ago traffic was at a near standstill two working days in a row. Interstate 680 was closed at the Sunol Grade by a spill involving a big rig on a Friday and another big rig accident on I-580 Monday morning closed lanes in the morning commute. The accidents demonstrated just how critical these arteries are to employees, employers and both retail businesses (served from warehouses in Tracy and the San Joaquin Valley—think of Safeway and Orchard Supply plus many others) plus the traffic stemming from the Port of Oakland.
The traffic statistics, provided by the Alameda County Transportation Commission show some interesting trends looking at 2010 numbers vs. 2014 (no 2015 numbers are available).
For instance, looking at I-580 peak morning hours westbound, the average speeds have dropped consistently over the four-year period. For instance, from First Street to Airway/Highway 84 has dropped from 42.4 mph to 27.1 mph.
It’s similar in the afternoon when commuter traffic mixes with truck traffic from both the port and big rigs returning to San Joaquin Valley warehouses, but it has shifted east. In 2010, from San Ramon/Foothill Road to I-680, the speed was just 13.6 mph but has improved to 35.4 in 2014 (here’s betting that drops significantly in 2015 based upon my non-scientific looks out the window).
The congestion has moved to Livermore where the average speed from First Street to Greenville has dropped from 56 mph to 22.2 mph.
The ongoing improvements with the diamond lanes becoming toll lanes plus the truck climbing lane coming on the Altamont could change that situation for the better.
The I-680 numbers show similar stories. The average speed from Washington Blvd. to Mission Blvd/238 had plunged from 36.9 mph to 19.2 mph. It does not get appreciably better in the afternoon until you clear Calaveras. No doubt it has worsened in 2015—that’s been my experience on the infrequent occasions I find myself on the wrong side of the Sunol Grade in the afternoon.
For the morning commute, the biggest bottlenecks are Bernal Avenue to Sunol Boulevard—the two ramps where most of the Pleasanton residents get on the freeway to head to the Silicon Valley--the numbers show 34 mph—my 2015 visual says these will plunge. The speeds over the Sunol Grade all run in the 50 mph range in 2014—again, these will sink dramatically when the 2015 speeds are compiled.
In Pleasanton, I reached out to traffic engineer Mike Tassano to ask what difference the extension of Stoneridge Drive east to Jack London Boulevard in Livermore (at the upscale outlets) has made on Valley Avenue from Santa Rita to Stanley Boulevard.
He reports that the afternoon volumes on Valley Avenue are about twice that of Stoneridge (2,600 vehicles vs. 1,250 on Stoneridge. The simple conclusion is that Stoneridge neighborhood fears of “cut-through” traffic have been greatly exaggerated.
Stoneridge has resulted in a decrease of about 200 trips on Valley Avenue—certainly not a silver bullet, but an improvement.
What’s will be interesting is to see if the eastbound afternoon commute traffic can be eased enough so people bound for east Livermore or Ruby Hill find it quicker and more convenient to use the Highway 84/Isabel corridor to get home instead of Santa Rita to Valley to Stanley.
At non-peak hours, the Isabel connection is much faster to Ruby Hill and south Livermore destinations than taking Stanley or Vineyard Avenue.
What we have remains a huge work in progress that continues to change based upon the explosive job growth in the broader technology sector that also included the construction sector to serve those firms. Have you checked out the big construction cranes in San Francisco lately?