By Gina Channell-Allen
Driven to the point of asking questions about the HOV hoursUploaded: Oct 24, 2013
I'm more or less a "road warrior." For seven years I made the drive from Sonoma to Pleasanton - 75 miles one way, the equivalent of a four-hour daily community. For three of those seven years I made a stop in San Rafael on the way to Pleasanton because I was also the publisher of that division. I have spent several hours traveling Interstate 680 between Interstate 80 and the Sunol Boulevard exit in Pleasanton; my little Civic Hybrid has basically carved grooves into the road so it can go on auto-pilot.
So imagine my surprise and delight on Monday when I saw the new HOV hours! I thought, finally, they have eliminated the morning hours because, at least on 680-South, those lanes were usually empty after 8 a.m. But, oh, were the others backed up! Excitedly I moved into the lane and watched the diamonds speed under my wheels.
Then I passed the matrix board near Dublin and realized the new hours tacked to the signs didn't say 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. - it said 5 A.M. to 7 p.m. I immediately got back in the non-HOV lane. I did not want to give the state a gift of $451, which is the cost of a ticket.
After the initial relief of not getting busted in the carpool lane pool-less, I got a little angry. Why did this happen? When did this happen? And why didn't anyone know about it? Shouldn't, uh, a local media source have received a press release? Or what about a little advance warning on the expensive matrix boards?
According to Martin Engelmann, Contra Costa Transportation Authority Deputy Executive Director, Planning, the change was in response to the BART strike, and the new hours were welded to the signs when the strike was announced or shortly thereafter.
Engelmann said this plan of action was approved in July, during the first BART strike. But, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission website, "since traffic volumes and BART ridership are typically higher in October than in the summer," Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the MTC implemented "aggressive carpool strategies" this time around.
" Basically (the carpool hours) went from a few hours to all day," he said. "And it wasn't just 680."
Interstates 80 and 880 also had carpool hours extended from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Caltrans designated the West Grand Avenue on-ramp to the Bay Bridge for high-occupancy vehicles (three or more occupants), trucks and buses.
All this was to encourage more carpooling during the strike, which is admirable. However, the strike has been over for days and the hours remain 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the signs.
I hope this is not intended to be permanent. Traffic is bad enough without shutting down a lane all day.
"I assume they will be reverting back," Englemann said, "but I haven't heard anything."