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San Ramon Valley I-680 express lanes now expected to open in October

MTC: Firm date dependent on pending software test conclusion

The upcoming Interstate 680 express lanes are now set to open in October, with the exact opening date pending the conclusion of a software test set to finish mid-September, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The $45 million San Ramon Valley project involves converting high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into toll express lanes.

"We're doing this for mobility," said MTC project manager Barbara Laurenson said while providing a project update to the San Ramon City Council in July. "As the region grows, we need to have an infrastructure that is supportive of carpools, vanpools and express buses. We all are suffering from the growth of our region, and we know that we have to use all the tools that we have to reduce congestion."

The project includes one northbound express lane from Alcosta Boulevard in San Ramon to Livorna Road in Alamo, and one southbound express lane from Rudgear Road in Walnut Creek to Alcosta Boulevard. It's part of a larger plan sponsored by MTC and Caltrans to develop an integrated Bay Area express lanes network.

Construction began on the project in August 2015 and was originally intended to be completed in late 2016.

Everyone will be able to drive in the lanes, but only HOVs and some select others can use them for free during toll hours: carpools, vanpools, eligible clean-air vehicles, motorcycles and buses all count as HOV for tolling purposes.

All cars, though, will need a toll tag. Toll-exempt vehicles can set the FasTrak Flex toll tag in the "2" position for 2-person carpools and the "3+" position for everything else, while solo drivers can use either a standard FasTrak toll tag or a FasTrak Flex tag set in the "1" position.

The lanes will operate from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and will be managed and monitored by MTC.

Tolls will be dynamic, Laurenson said, and dependent on traffic. The minimum toll price will be 50 cents and the maximum will be set by supply and demand. At times, the lane could open to all.

There are two zones in each direction, and the pricing signs along the freeway will specify how much solo drivers end up paying to reach the end of the zone versus the end of the express lane. For example, a driver heading north from Dublin may be tolled $1 to reach Crow Canyon Road (the end of one zone) and $3 to reach Livorna Road (the end of the express lane).

According to project officials, motorists can expect to see dots, test toll amounts and notifications that testing is occurring on the overhead electronic signs, and the signs' "under construction" labels will be removed. And nighttime lane closures on I-680 are set to continue throughout the next month.

This San Ramon-Walnut Creek segment is the first of three proposed MTC projects intended to implement express lanes most of the way from Alcosta to the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.

Other express lanes

* The Alameda County Transportation Commission (Alameda CTC) is set to begin construction late 2017 on a new express lane south of Pleasanton, on northbound I-680 from Auto Mall Parkway in Fremont up to Highway 84.

It's the first of a two-phased approach to create an express lane along northbound I-680 between Highway 237 in Milpitas and Highway 84 south of Pleasanton. Currently, the southbound direction already has an express lane for this stretch.

* Alameda CTC also constructed express lanes along the Interstate 580, two lanes eastbound and one westbound through Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore. The lanes opened mid-February 2016, and according to county officials back in March, a year's worth of data showed that the lanes did indeed provide congestion relief.

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