Commentary

Bay Area Eyes HOT Lanes

From the SF Chronicle: The idea of introducing HOT lanes to the Bay Area has been discussed in the past — including on Highway 101 in Marin, on Interstate 80 in the East Bay and at the Caldecott Tunnel — but never went anywhere. Now transportation officials in Alameda and Santa Clara counties are taking serious looks at introducing HOT lanes to the Bay Area. In Alameda County, planners are eyeing the congested Sunol Grade on Interstate 680, where a 14-mile southbound carpool lane is under construction. When the lane is completed in 2007, it would double as a HOT lane under a three-year experiment if the planners follow through. The Sunol Grade ranks as one of the Bay Area’s worst commutes, though traffic has eased as Silicon Valley’s economic fortunes have plummeted. Studies by the Alameda County Congestion Management Authority project said that average speeds in the HOT lane would be 30 mph faster than in the unrestricted lanes, resulting in a time savings of 15 minutes. In 20 years, with traffic in unrestricted lanes continuing to increase, drivers would save 25 minutes. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority officials started investigating HOT lanes on South Bay freeways earlier this month, including a preliminary look at a lane on Highway 101 in southern Santa Clara County. VTA’s board was interested in the idea, and is expected in December to approve a feasibility study that would identify the best locations for HOT lanes. I’m quoted on the “Lexus Lane” charge: “People envision rich people zipping off the country club to play a round of golf,” Balaker observed. “But everyone’s time is money. An accountant or an electrician might benefit by using the lane to get out of traffic and see an extra client. You see plenty of Toyotas — not just Lexuses — on the 91 Express lanes.” Studies of the 91 Express Lanes by academics and consultants have found that users of the nation’s first HOT lanes tend to have income levels similar to those in the regular traffic lanes.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.