The Bay Area's first "express lane" opened to traffic on Interstate 680 Monday morning. As expected it caused some confusion and additional traffic delays as drivers got used to the new feature.
The lane looks a lot like a carpool lane, but it has a double white-line border. It runs a 14-mile stretch of southbound I-680 between Pleasanton and Milpitas. There are three entry and exit points that are supposed to be clearly marked along the way. Here's an overview map, courtesy FasTrak.
The lane allows solo drivers to use the carpool lane if they pay an electronic toll through FasTrak. You will need a FasTrak transponder in order to use it. It is another example of a class system in our current society where people with money have different rules.
Express lanes have operated in Southern California and elsewhere in the country, but this will be the first one in the Bay Area.
The new express lane opened before most of us woke up. It will be activated Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Solo drivers will pay a toll which will go up or down depending on the density of traffic on the highway at the time. Signs starting a half-mile prior to the three access points into the lane will display the toll price, allowing drivers to choose whether it is worth it to lessen their commute time.
The average toll will range from $4 to $6. Officials say there will be times when the lane goes back to carpool only if traffic gets bad enough and, they say, if that happens the signs will let drivers know.
Another express lane is scheduled to open next year on I-580 between Pleasanton and Livermore, along with a westbound I-580 in 2012.
Carpoolers will still be able to use the lane for free. If you have extra people in your car and don't want to be charged for the ride, you are supposed to put your Fastrak transponder in a mylar bag.
The rules and enforcement plan is complicated to say the least. Mr. Roadshow did a nice Q&A in Sunday's paper which you can read here.
Lori Preuitt has FasTrak, but if came with a mylar bag she's long since lost it.