Express/HOT Lanes

Express lanes, or High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, are carpool lanes that allow solo drivers to pay to use them when there is excess capacity. TransForm is leading an effort with environmental and social justice partners to ensure that HOT lanes create more transportation choices and support access for low-income residents.

The Bay Area could have a regional roadway network with transit and high-occupancy vehicle lanes seamlessly connecting the region’s jobs centers, providing convenient and swift transit connections through the Bay Area. Planned as a transit system, one that sells excess system capacity to non-carpool vehicles, we could meet our region’s goals, the SCS targets, while providing new transportation choices. In fact, even Los Angeles is already planning such a network.

Express Lanes, particularly if done through the conversion of existing carpool and all-purpose highway lanes, may be a good step towards equitable road pricing. A HOT network focused on getting the most out of our highways through conversions of existing carpool or general purpose lanes to express lanes, enables agencies to generate net revenues sooner and prevents costly highway expansion and associated environmental impacts. This approach, "Optimized HOT," can move more people with less traffic with revenues generated to fund transit and low-income mitigations.

Through the Plan Bay Area process, we successfully advocated that our regional agencies start moving away from trying to build our way out of congestion.  MTC committed to studying innovative approaches to HOT network implementation, the first step in realizing any cost savings that could go to low-income mitigations and increased transit options. However there is a lot of devil in the details. We will need to be satisfied on a range of equity, transportation and transportation funding issues before we could support a final project.

Campaign Updates

  • April 18, 2014: The Race is on! Three counties are all looking at implementing key elements of the "Optimized HOT" strategy. Santa Clara & San Francisco have joined San Mateo in looking for a way to move more people with less traffic. Who will do it first? Read more in our latest blog post.
  • February 13, 2014: At their monthly meeting, several board members of the San Mateo City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) called for the agency to study TransForm's proposal for Optimized HOT. Three board members spoke out to say that Optimized HOT offers the potential to alleviate congestion on 101 and provide new choices to a broader range of people, all within our existing infrastructure.
  • February 10, 2014: the California Air Resources Board proposed a first update to our state's AB 32  Climate Change Scoping Plan. The revised scoping plan identifies an additional climate strategy to "improve the efficiency and throughput of existing transportation systems."  
  • February 4, 2014: A new and improved Caltrans may be on the horizon. The California State Transportation Agency released a third party assessment of Caltrans. The review offers a host of critical reforms. Caltrans' focus on old standards that favor expanding roads over all else must end. The report recommends that Caltrans avoid "inducing new demand for single occupancy vehicle (SOV) travel."
  • December 16, 2013: TransForm is proposes that San Mateo County study an innovative strategy for express lanes on Highway 101 that will make the best use of highway lanes and simultaneously fund transportation choices to truly reduce congestion.  Our new report, Innovation Required: Moving More People with Less Traffic, shows that a new approach we're calling "Optimized HOT" would move nearly twice as many people as the county's current proposal, but have less traffic for everyone.  Learn more on our blog here.
  • July 18, 2013: A little past midnight MTC and ABAG approved the following language into the final Plan Bay Area: "all project-level environmental clearances will comply with applicable requirements for environmental justice, and focused outreach will be conducted with low-income communities as part of the express lane network development and implementation. Furthermore, MTC will study the potential benefits and impacts of converting general purpose lanes to express lanes in order to inform implementation of the express lane network." 
  • June 14, 2013: In response to the public comment period, where TransForm urged MTC for a better Express Lane Network, staff presented a report that includes recommendation to study the benefits and impacts of converting general purpose lanes to Express Lanes. Such analysis would inform implementation of the network and future long-range plans. We continue to advocate for a more equitable network that includes revenues for transit.
  • May 16, 2013: Read TransForm's recently released white paper entitled Moving People, Not Just Cars: Ensuring Choice, Equity & Innovation in MTC’s Express Lane Network. At a projected cost of $6.7 billion, the proposed Network is the largest highway project and the second-largest project overall in Plan Bay Area.  We thought it merited some closer scrutiny. We’ve been concerned about MTC’s Express Lane Network for awhile. This paper goes much more in-depth to analyze the plan and provide detailed recommendations about how to improve it.
  • September 28, 2011: MTC moves forward with CTC application for Bay Area Express Lane network, seeking authorization for express lanes on 270 lane-miles of regional highways as part of a larger network. This will be a key input into the 2013 Sustainable Communities Strategy and Regional Transportation PlanTransForm releases independent analysis critiquing the plan's climate impact and lack of equity analysis. For details read our blog post here: MTC Express Lanes: Flawed Plan, Needs Public Planning.


  • TransForm's report, Innovation Required: Moving More People with Less Traffic, proposes that San Mateo County study Optimized HOT lanes as a strategy on Highway 101 that will make the best use of highway lanes, reduce traffic, and fund an expansion of public transit, vanpools, and other transit alternatives that are affordable and accessible to all. With state approval, an Optimized HOT lane network would not only address San Mateo County’s traffic problem, but also set an important model for the entire Bay Area to follow.
    • The report's accompanying infographic offers a synthesized version of the proposal. Click here to view the Optimized HOT Lanes Infographic
  • TransForm's report, World-Class Transportation for the Bay Area, outlined TransForm’s support for well-designed express lanes that invest funds generated by the lanes to expand transportation access for low-income individuals, provide greater transportation choices for all travelers in the corridor, and maintain the ability of carpools and buses to avoid congestion.
  • For more information contact Jeff Hobson.

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