Agency to vote on San Ramon Valley express lanes toll ordinance

Proposal seeks minimum toll of 30 cents per zone, plus dynamic-pricing increases

A Bay Area agency is set to consider adopting an ordinance Wednesday that would establish toll rates for the Interstate 680 express lanes under construction in the San Ramon Valley.

The proposal being weighed by the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority (BAIFA) would set a minimum toll of 30 cents per zone for the new I-680 express lanes, now set to open next year.

Solo drivers would have to pay a toll to use the express lanes during operating hours, 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The lanes would be free to access for solo drivers outside of those hours and at all times for vehicles carrying two or more people, motorcycles and eligible clean-air vehicles.

The ordinance under consideration Wednesday morning in San Francisco also sets forth penalties for toll evasion and policies that will guide the toll-collection process.

The $49 million express lanes project on I-680 from Walnut Creek to Dublin, managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), involves converting existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into toll express lanes across approximately 23 miles overall.

Under the toll ordinance, the local I-680 express lanes will be split up into four zones, two in each direction.

Southbound zones run from Rudgear Road to Crow Canyon Road and Crow Canyon Road to Alcosta Boulevard. Northbound zones span from Alcosta Boulevard to Crow Canyon Road and Crow Canyon Road to Livorna Road.

The minimum toll would be 30 cents per zone during operating hours -- the same floor price for express lanes on I-680 in Sunol, I-580 in the Tri-Valley and Highway 237.

But the cost for solo drivers to access will vary throughout the day, with the agency implementing increases through a dynamic-pricing algorithm based on lane speeds and volumes of all lanes. Toll rates will be updated on express lane signs through the corridor, and toll readers will be placed roughly every mile or two.

Tolls will increase as express lane congestion increases -- in an effort to discourage solo drivers from using the express lanes. The logic is reversed when congestion eases. A motorists' toll rate is locked in as soon as they enter the lane, and the rate remains the same for the duration of their trip, regardless of any rate changes during that time.

The BAIFA ordinance would not establish a maximum toll price, which MTC executive director Steve Heminger said is common for modern express lane policies.

"Staff recommends the ordinance not fix a maximum toll amount as to most effectively manage traffic and meet federal and state performance requirements. This approach is consistent with that for express lanes on 1-580 and (Highway) 237," he said in his staff report.

For toll violators, they would receive a first notice with a bill for the price of the toll plus a $25 fine, and if unpaid, a second notice would follow for the toll price and a $70 penalty. A first-time offender with no FasTrak account can have the fee waived if they open an account afterward.

Drivers who enter the lanes will be required to use a FasTrak Flex reader, which offers adjustable settings based on one, two or three-plus vehicle occupants. Electronic and visual assessments will be used to identify express lane violators.

The local I-680 express lanes, which began construction nearly one year ago, were initially set to open by the end of this year, but Heminger said in his staff report that the lanes will be open some time during the second quarter of 2017. It was not immediately clear when or why the time-frame was changed.

The BAIFA's public meeting Wednesday is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. at the Bay Area Metro Center at 375 Beale St. in San Francisco.

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13 people like this
Posted by Evening driver
a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2016 at 8:28 am

Logic?!? There is very little logic in this use tax plan!! Spending $49 million dollars to tax solo drivers, and over a greater duration of time than the ridiculous times demanded of the current HOV segregation lane (quit jacking the hours!). If you really want the money, and this is really about the money - damn the traffic, it's going to be lousy anyway - then do not exclude any vehicles. If this is supposed to discourage solo drivers or encourage environmentally sound vehicles, then by all means DO NOT exclude motorcycles, or work trucks, or delivery vehicles. All of which seem to slip the cracks of detection in the process.

12 people like this
Posted by So frustrating
a resident of San Ramon
on Jul 27, 2016 at 9:46 am

Just another tax for us to pay. It's incredibly unfair to those of us who are working, have kids in school, paying thousands of dollars a month for before/after school care, and are asked to donate a thousand dollars in August to support the programs at our local schools.

I don't understand how anyone can see this as fair. Once again, those who have money will experience an easier life (i.e., easier commute) and those of us who do not have money will suffer (i.e. longer commute, getting our kids up earlier, etc).

8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Jul 28, 2016 at 5:29 pm

This is just another example of what has gone wrong in California. Here's another unelected agency demanding that we pay a toll tax for using a freeway lane that our taxes already paid for. This toll does nothing to improve the flow of traffic as all the I680 lanes are stop & go, just creeping along during commute hours.

1 person likes this
Posted by Old timer
a resident of Danville
on Jul 29, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Just another "stupid" tax implemented by unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats. Unless a divider is installed, you'll pay to have the privilege of crawling along at a slightly(very)faster pace than everyone else during heavy commute hours. But at least the cameras will catch carpool cheats!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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