Millions in improvements offer hope for I-80 traffic

Caltrans this week will begin phasing in the operation of a $79 million traffic improvement system along 17 miles of the Interstate Highway 80 corridor north of Oakland, agency officials said today.

The project along Highway 80 from the Carquinez Bridge to the Bay Bridge is meant to ease traffic along what is frequently ranked as the most congested stretch of road in the Bay Area.

Caltrans officials said as many as 270,000 vehicles use the corridor each day and commuters collectively experience 16,000 hours of delay each day.

The project involves changes along Highway 80 as well as city streets, especially along San Pablo Avenue from Highway 80 near Hercules to Oakland.

Welcome signs along the stretch of highway will start operating this week to tell drivers about the I-80 Smart Corridor Project and direct drivers to 511.org for information.

Next week, and for a few weeks, Caltrans will turn on 44 ramp meters that will eventually adjust automatically to the traffic flow.

Also, signs over travel lanes will begin operating to notify drivers what lanes are open after an accident and what speed is safe.

The signs will only be on when an accident has occurred.

Caltrans officials hope the signs will allow commuters to travel more quickly around an accident and emergency and maintenance vehicles to get to an accident more quickly.

The new system also includes signs along San Pablo Avenue and other side streets that tell drivers how to detour around an accident.

Also, traffic lights on those side streets are equipped with sensors to keep the lights greener longer for buses and emergency vehicles, Caltrans officials said.

A communications system will manage traffic overall on the corridor and city streets and send information to other agencies such as the California Highway Patrol.

Caltrans officials plan to have the whole system operating by Labor Day.

“All this is to get traffic moving much more quickly,” Executive Director of the Alameda County Transportation Commission Art Dao said. The project has been a collaboration between Caltrans, Dao’s agency and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

Officials cannot build the Bay Area out of its traffic problems, so transportation officials are turning to technology, Dao said.

“The name of the game today is efficiency,” he said.

Caltrans officials hope to increase the reliability of commute times and reduce the number of times a driver crashes into an existing collision, Caltrans District 4 Chief Deputy District Director Dan McElhinney and Caltrans Project Manager Dina El-Nakhal said.

A project of this size has not been tried anywhere in the Bay Area or the nation, McElhinney said.

Similar projects may be tried in the future along U.S. Highway 101 north of San Francisco and along Interstate Highways 580, 680 and 880, he said.