More progress for better commutes along Highway 101

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

Cars on the Bay Bridge may move at a slow crawl, but the Bay Area’s transit agencies are picking up speed on their efforts to get more people moving with less traffic. As of last week, there are two significant marks of progress in our campaign for better express lanes: on Highway 101 from San Francisco to San Jose, and in Silicon Valley.

Optimizing Highway 101 in San Mateo County

Since December 2013, TransForm has been advocating for San Mateo County to consider our “Optimized HOT” approach for a segment of Highway 101. This Optimized HOT strategy would convert a mixed-flow lane to an express lane, use revenues to support public transit along the corridor, and put a plan in place to ensure that low-income families aren’t negatively impacted.

Recently we met with staff of the San Mateo City/County Association of Governments (CCAG), San Mateo County Transportation District (SMCTD), and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), where we learned about their newly coordinated efforts along Highway 101’s north-south corridor.

Most importantly, these agencies are considering our Optimized HOT approach on one segment in particular: the I-380 interchange to the San Francisco/San Mateo County line.

These efforts are likely to include a range of strategies with a corridor-long express lane as the project’s focal point. They are also focused on solutions that involve the business community, such as better management of private shuttles, priced parking by employers, and the use of park-ride lots to encourage carpooling. Included in the package is a proposal to expand SamTrans express bus service even before an express lane comes online.

While state permission is still needed in order to convert a mixed-flow lane to an express lane, the agencies’ plans are a sign of significant progress. We look forward to working with MTC, the county agencies, and other key stakeholders to ensure that these express lanes improve transportation choices for everyone using the highway.

Funding transit & equity in Silicon Valley

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is similarly taking a step towards an Optimized HOT approach. Their staff just proposed a budget that would dedicate express lane revenues to public transit and an equity program for low-income travelers.

A year after VTA announced that they wanted to implement all three elements of the Optimized HOT approach (conversion, revenues to public transit, mitigations for low-income travelers), VTA has finally taken official steps towards making this a reality.

Most significantly, VTA’s draft FY2016-FY2017 budget includes a proposal to spend all of the FY2017 net revenues from the Highway 237 express lanes on public transit and mitigating impacts on low-income families (see here for VTA’s draft budget – pages 113-115 of the PDF include the express lanes revenue proposal).

The net revenues are still small – just $125,000 dedicated to those two purposes in FY2017. And we think VTA could do more, for instance: start the program in FY2016, use some of the accumulated reserves from past years’ net revenues to start up the equity program and/or transit along the corridor, and make commitments about uses of future net revenues. But this is an important start, and we applaud VTA staff for putting it in their draft budget.

Towards a regionwide network of express buses on express lanes

With these encouraging steps, we look forward to opportunities to go even further. We know there are other segments of the region's proposed Express Lane Network that would be excellent candidates for the Optimized HOT approach to express lanes. One day we hope to see shorter commute times for all drivers, with buses, carpools, and happy travelers rolling through congestion-free Optimized HOT lanes.


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