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Toll lanes could be coming to I-680

Plan would make solo drivers pay during peak hours

Nearly 50 people turned out Thursday night to learn more about plans to convert parts of HOV lanes on Interstate 680 into toll roads during peak driving hours.

The plan is similar to one already in operation on southbound I-680 south of Sunol. When the project is complete, north and south lanes from San Ramon to Walnut Creek would have tolls during commute times.

Tolls for solo drivers would vary based on congestion and to help traffic in the express lanes flow smoothly. The fee to drive the road would increase as traffic congestion increases and decrease when congestion decreases.

The project -- expected to be completed by spring 2016 -- would convert existing HOV lanes to express lanes from Rudgear Road in Walnut Creek to Alcosta Boulevard in San Ramon southbound and from Alcosta to Livorna Road northbound. It would create 23 miles of new express lanes through San Ramon, Danville, Alamo and southern Walnut Creek.

I-680 would not be widened or have new lanes added. Instead, the existing HOV lanes would be restriped and have new FasTrak toll readers, traffic monitoring video cameras and equipment, and observation areas to help the California Highway Patrol monitor the lanes.

There are a couple differences between the toll lanes that would be installed and the toll area in operation near Sunol, according to Pierce Gould, senior planner of express lanes for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

Unlike the restrictive access into and out of lanes currently in use on I-680 south, Gould said, "access will be like today's HOV lanes."

That means drivers would be able to move in and out of the lanes rather than waiting for access points on the road.

A new kind of toll tag would be used as well, Gould said. The new FasTrak tag would not have to be hidden away by drivers with multiple passengers or other cars that can use the road without paying. That tag would have a switch to indicate if the driver is paying to drive the road, or in a carpool or clean air vehicle.

The plan is a product of the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority (BAIFA), a joint effort between the MTC and the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA). The authority consists of elected officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa and Solano counties.

When the network of express lanes is complete, BAIFA will operate 270 miles of express lanes. BAIFA will start by converting 150 miles of existing HOV lanes to express lanes, then add 120 miles of new lanes to close gaps in the system.

BAIFA says the toll lanes would create a seamless network of HOV lanes that would encourage carpools, vanpools and express buses, make better use of HOV lane capacity, provide more reliable travel times for solo drivers and manage lanes to keep traffic moving more efficiently.

The project is not connected to a plan that would create ramps onto and off HOV lanes in San Ramon.

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