Proposed solution to congestion on Highway 101 is catching on
Jeff Hobson
Just five months since we released our Innovation Required report, TransForm’s Optimized HOT proposal is gaining traction throughout the Bay Area. All three county agencies that manage Highway 101 on the Peninsula are taking next steps on TransForm’s idea of how to get the best use of our existing highways.
 
San Mateo County to Study Optimized HOT
Optimized High-Occupany Toll (HOT) and express lanes have been a hot topic of conversation at several meetings of the San Mateo City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) this year. The agency is developing the scope for a parallel feasibility study for express lanes, including key elements of the Optimized HOT approach, for Hwy 101 from the Whipple exit to the I-380 interchange. This feasibility study will move forward in parallel with C/CAG’s existing plans to study the creation of an HOV lane on the same stretch of 101.
 
This is great news! Agency staff has said they’ll definitely study converting an existing lane. Now we need to make sure their study looks at significant increases in transit along the same corridor and low-income mitigations. Staff is currently fleshing out details of the study scope. They expect to seek Board approval as early as May and complete the study by the end of 2014. 
 
Santa Clara County Is Catching Up 
But Santa Clara County might get an Optimized HOT lane in place even sooner! That was the big news from a SPUR-hosted lunchtime forum last week in San Francisco. At the forum, John Ristow, the Chief CMA Officer for Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA), challenged TransForm and MTC to support VTA in trying the Optimized HOT approach for two short stretches of highway on Interstates 680 and 880. Both are short stretches without an existing carpool lane, but VTA staff thinks they are candidates to convert an existing mixed-flow lane to an express lane. Both segments would likely require state legislation, as VTA does not yet have tolling authority for them.
 
TransForm’s Jeff Hobson challenged VTA to take it a step further: commit to opening new transit service on those HOT corridors and every other new HOT lane, at the same time the HOT lane goes in place, and to dedicating HOT revenues to those transit operations. TransForm and VTA staff are meeting soon to follow up. 
 
VTA is definitely learning from its first set of carpool to express lane conversions. In its first year of operations on SR-237, the agency earned over $1 million in revenues and reports time savings for all travelers on the highway –  even drivers in the mixed-flow lanes. This means the lane is operating in the black financially. This year VTA staff plan to ask their Board to spend those net revenues on transit. The agency’s express lanes even garnered media attention from CBS-Radio’s Phil Matier.
 
San Francisco Is Not Far Behind
At the same SPUR Foum, San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Executive Director Tilly Chang and staffer Rachel Hiatt described plans for Highways 101 and 280. SFCTA is applying for a Caltrans grant to study the Optimized HOT approach. Stay tuned for news this summer!
 
Each effort would still need State approval. But with all three agencies pursuing the idea, we’re optimistic the Legislature will allow the Bay Area to innovate.
 
TransForm is delighted that our county agencies are embracing the goals of innovation, choice, and equity and looking for ways to study or try out the Optimized HOT approach. Our agencies recognize that Optimized HOT offers the potential to bring congestion relief sooner and to generate revenues to fund better transit options on Highway 101. 
 
Now the question is which agency will be the first to do an Optimized HOT, and move more people with less traffic?
 
 
For more information on HOT lanes, contact Clarrissa Cabansagan

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.