The Bay Area's plan for an express lane network is deeply flawed

On September 28, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission approved submitting an application to the California Transportation Commission for authority to build a network of Express Lanes. The proposed 270-mile network, which will allow solo-drivers to pay their way into HOV lanes, would cost $6.4 billion to build, yet MTC held no public planning meetings on the project.

At the meeting, TransForm asked Commissioners to initiate a transparent public planning process for the Bay Area Express Lane Network, in parallel with the CTC application. In doing so, we recommended that the process should:

  • Fully integrate and expand express buses, vanpools, and carpools to maximize benefits for all of us based on best practices from around the U.S.
  • Analyze how low-income commuters in the Bay Area, already burdened by the highest combined costs for transportation and housing in the entire country, can benefit from the network, and
  • Ensure that this multi-billion dollar transportation project meets our SCS targets and significantly reduces greenhouse gases and the amount we drive

TransForm also presented the results of an independent analysis of MTC's Express lane application that we had requested from Professor Deb Niemeier, who is with the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Professor Niemeier identified several weaknesses in MTC's method for evaluating the project, stating “we find MTC’s evaluation to be an overly optimistic portrayal of project benefits that ignores climate and equity impacts.” The analysis shows that the project is likely to have a negative climate impact in the long run unless the project is revised to have a focus on promoting transit and other alternatives, rather than lane expansions. The assessment also makes a powerful call for conducting a real equity analysis, based on race as well as income. The full analysis is available here.

Several Commissioners echoed these concerns and spoke in support of having a public planning process. Committee Chair James Spering and MTC executive staff stated that they will hold planning meetings. But MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger stated that he wanted a “clean” resolution authorizing the CTC application, without any commitments to future planning processes. The Commission voted to proceed with the application with no requirement for a public planning process.

Given the history of this project, in which previously promised public meetings have not been held, TransForm continues to be concerned. To our knowledge, MTC has no plans to hold any planning meetings about the network as a part of the SCS/RTP process, where this planning should take place. We understand that planning for the network authorized in the approved application may begin sometime next year.

TransForm continues to believe that Express Lanes could be a good step towards equitable road pricing, if they create more transportation choices and support access for low-income residents, but that MTC’s current approach will not do so. We will continue to follow this planning process and urge MTC to engage in public planning to improve this multi-billion dollar project.

Read more about why we think the Bay Area deserves a better Express Lanes plan.

You can find links to MTC's materials on the proposed Express Lane network in the Sep 9 Planning Committee packet (agenda item #2) and Sep 28 MTC packet (agenda item #9).

For more information, contact Manolo González-Estay.

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About This Blog

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.