New I-580 express lanes set to open

A $55 million project to create express lanes expected to ease congestion along Interstate Highway 580 in the East Bay will be opened later this month, transportation officials said Tuesday.

Alameda County Transportation Commission officials at a news conference in Pleasanton provided details on the lanes, which run in both directions of Highway 580 across Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore.

Transportation officials said the project, which began construction in June 2014, is in its final stages and the lanes are expected to be open to the public sometime after Presidents’ Day.

Arthur Dao, executive director with the commission, said the opening will represent “a decade of worth of planning, engineering, development and construction to improve mobility in this congested corridor.”

The project builds on a network of existing express lanes in the Bay Area, such as on a stretch of Interstate Highway 680 south of Pleasanton.

The new express lanes consist of a 14-mile westbound lane that begins at Greenville Road in Livermore and ends at San Ramon Road near the Highway 680 connector.

There are two eastbound lanes, which span 11 miles between Hacienda Boulevard on the border of Dublin and Pleasanton and Greenville Road in Livermore.

In both directions, there are areas where access into and out of the express lanes are limited, represented through double white lines.

The express lanes, which are an alternative to traditional toll roads, will be in operation on weekdays between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.

There will be a potentially hefty price for solo drivers that opt to travel in these lanes, up to $9 in the eastbound direction and $13 for those traveling west, according to transportation officials.

The maximum rates apply to those using the full distance of the lanes. The lanes are otherwise divided into zones that drivers pay for based on where they entered and exited.

The minimum cost is 30 cents per zone, with adjustments to that cost being made by an algorithmic pricing system that pulls data about current traffic levels from sensors.

Tess Lengyel, deputy director of planning and policy for the transportation commission, said the tolls were developed to adjust for supply and demand.

Based on the current price displayed on signage when a driver enters the express lane, the driver is charged through an electronic detection system, Lengyel said.

“This is the next generation of technology,” Lengyel said. “There are no toll booths. This is how the tolls are generated.”

Lengyel added that there is no cost for motorcyclists, buses, eligible clean-air vehicles or those who would otherwise be able to access a carpool lane.

Those drivers will still need to use a FasTrak Flex toll reading device, which can be purchased in various locations, Lengyel said.

The small battery-powered device has adjustable settings based on whether a vehicle has one, two or three-plus occupants.

“We do not want cheaters in this lane,” Lengyel said. “The California Highway Patrol is our partner and will be out there monitoring.

These toll tags are what gives them information on vehicle occupancy.”

Lengyel explained that toll revenues will be routed completely to operational and maintenance costs for the express lanes. Any additional funds will be used to support transit projects along the corridor.

When asked how those visiting the Bay Area — or even those who live in it — will be aware of the new system, Lengyel said work is being done to preemptively address that challenge.

“We recognize this is a new system and that drivers will have to adjust to this over time,” Lengyel said. “We’re trying to do a lot of education to make sure that drivers understand how this operates.”