In-depth: Are I-580 express lanes easing traffic?

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PLEASANTON (KRON) — It is the topic that everyone in the Bay Area talks about (actually complains about)–traffic.

Drivers spend hours on the road, just trying to get from one place to another, even when the destination is not that far away. Caltrans launched several new projects this year to try and get things moving.

On Interstate 580, officials said you can get there faster if you pay the price.

During the frantic rush to beat rush-hour traffic is among the most treacherous Bay Area commutes–I-580 passing through the Tri-Valley Corridor.

“It’s awful,” Las Positas College student Sajad Mojaddedi said.

“In the morning, it’s really, really bad,” Mojaddedi added.

Frequently traveling from Tracy to Livermore and back, Mojaddedi said he uses I-580 every week but wishes he didn’t have to.

He said he hoped the addition of express lanes in February would speed things up. But he said he has noticed an opposite effect.

“It’s causing more traffic than anything,” Mojaddedi said.

Two on the eastbound side and one going west, the express lanes are available for a 14-mile stretch from Pleasanton to Livermore.

Pony up, and, in theory, you can use the lanes to accelerate your commute, with the price-of-use fluctuating based on the busiest and slowest hours of the day.

The Alameda County Transportation Commission says drivers have made nearly 4 million trips since the lanes opened.

A $55 million project that has so far, through paid tolls, has resulted in $4.4 million in revenue.

Overall, on some stretches along the express lanes, the ATC says drivers paying the toll are riding up to 26 miles per hour faster than those using the general purpose lanes.

But studies on the impact to drive times are incomplete.

Mojaddadi says the pay lanes are forcing non-paying drivers to bunch up.

“There’s a lot more people in the right lanes — there’s less people using the express lanes,” he said.

But Officer Miguel Andrade says the express lanes have been a welcome addition.

“For the most part, I’d say yes, but you do have your people who try to cheat the system,” Andrade said.

Andrade works rush hour, looking for drivers cheating the system.

“You’ve gotta think of these double white lines as a big wall — you cannot jump that wall,” Andrade said. “If you go through that line, you hit the wall.”

Andrade says the cheaters are disrupting the system and slowing things down.

“He showed three lights, so there should be three people in this vehicle,” Andrade said. “There’s two. I could pull them over because they should have three, but they’re fine.”

You need a FasTrak transponder in order to use the express lanes.

The light sensors above the lanes indicate how many people are in the passing cars, by either blinking one light, two lights, or three.

Solo drivers pay a toll.

“This car had it on two before, now he has it on one,” Andrade said.

Andrade said this happens often, especially when traffic is stop-and-go, and drivers get fed up.

On any given day, Officer Andrade said he writes up to a dozen tickets to people violating the express lanes.

“She commuted this morning into work — she’s coming back home,” Andrade said. “You would think from there to there, she would figure it out, and she had it set to two, and she would have fixed it, so that why she got a ticket.”

For college student Mojaddedi, he said he will stay in the free lane.

But he said the money is not what’s important

“In the end, it’s just to save time and get to work better,” Mojaddedi said.

In this case, time is money.

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