From 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, these lanes can be used for free by carpools of three persons or more, vanpools, motorcyclists and buses. Vehicles with two passengers, who used to take advantage of carpool lanes, won't get a free ride anymore — and neither will clean-air vehicle drivers. Those two groups will have to pay half of the toll price to use an express lane.
Solo drivers can use the express lanes, but they'll pay the full toll amount.
One big change from the former carpool lanes: Anyone using an express lane must have a FasTrak toll tag with them, even those who don't need to pay a toll, or they'll be fined.
By charging tolls on segments of the local highways, transportation leaders expect to be able to manage the volume of vehicles in express lanes, keeping it low enough for drivers to achieve a minimum speed of 45 mph, according to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).
Those toll prices will change as traffic congestion changes, rising with increased traffic to discourage some budget-conscious drivers from using the lanes, and then decreasing with less traffic to incentivize more drivers to jump in.
The express lanes in north Santa Clara County were created by restriping existing single carpool lanes on Highway 101 (between routes 237 and 85 and on Route 85 from Grant Road to the Highway 101 and Route 85 interchange). New signage, monitoring technology and barriers were also added.
The existing double carpool lanes on Highway 101 from the Route 85 interchange to the San Mateo County line in Palo Alto were both converted to express lanes.
The local express-lanes project broke ground in March 2019, two years after Senate Bill 1 was signed into law. SB 1 is investing $54 billion over a decade to fix roads, freeways and bridges across California. Of that state funding, $220 million is going to San Mateo County's current express lanes segment, and $33 million is helping to fund VTA's latest segments.
"The integration of managed express lanes will reduce congestion all along the U.S. 101 corridor. It will encourage carpooling and transit ridership as well as the use of technology to help manage traffic," Toks Omishakin, Caltrans director, said in a video about the project.
Construction of additional express lanes is continuing, with lanes being extended north, up from Whipple Avenue to Interstate 380, and south on Highway 101 to I-880.
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