The heavy congestion and pitiful merges that mar Highway 101 has spawned an idea to add toll lanes to solve the problem although many local officials oppose it.
Bad traffic has prompted the City/County Association of Governments to move forward with securing $16.5 million in grants to study the feasibility of adding auxiliary, carpool and toll lanes to ease traffic on Highway 101.
The C/CAG board approved two resolutions Thursday, June 11 to apply for Measure A highway funds to study adding auxiliary lanes from Oyster Point in South San Francisco north to San Francisco and carpool/toll lanes from Whipple Avenue in Redwood City to the Interstate 380 interchange.
Many C/CAG board members, however, don’t think charging drivers to access a dedicated lane will do much to ease traffic while others say it’s about time transportation funds are spent in north county.
“101 needs help but I’m not convinced HOV lanes are the answer,” Foster City Mayor Art Kiesel said about adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes. The problem, he said, is solving the east-west commute to and from the East Bay as the San Mateo/Hayward Bridge can be a nightmare to navigate.
“The big bulk of traffic is 92,” he said.
In South San Francisco, however, the auxiliary lane proposal could go a long way toward easing commutes out of the city’s biotech hub at Oyster Point, Councilwoman Karyl Matsumoto said.
She said that north San Mateo County is often ignored when it comes to highway project funding.
“I feel like we’re a stepchild for C/CAG projects,” she said.
Ultimately, the problem could be solved with expanded public transportation services, Matsumoto said.
Auxiliary lanes can reduce accidents and help with moving traffic, said Daly City Councilman David Canepa.
Canepa supports carpool lanes but not toll lanes.
“I’m not supportive of charging a toll,” Canepa said.
It would equate to a tax on the poor and middle class, he said.
Carpool lanes disappear traveling north on Highway 101 at Whipple and San Carlos Councilman Mark Olbert supports bringing them deeper into the county.
He’s heard the rhetoric that toll lanes can improve traffic but remains skeptical as to whether they will work here.
“I favor carpool lanes but not necessarily a toll lane,” Olbert said.
Belmont Mayor David Braunstein pointed out that the region suffers lost productivity when workers are stuck in traffic.
The solution may be to find more ways to get commuters out of their cars, he said.
“There’s a limit to what can be done on 101. The issue is how do we get the biggest bang for our buck,” Braunstein said about investing in traffic-calming solutions. Braunstein, Canepa, Matsumoto, Olbert and Kiesel are all on the C/CAG board.
Traffic is so bad on Highway 101, that Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, introduced legislation in February to develop a strategy to tame traffic as the rebounding economy has led to slower commutes.
Mullin’s Assembly Bill 378 makes congestion relief on the 48-mile stretch of highway between San Francisco and San Jose a priority.
The bill declares that the corridor is the most economically productive and important stretch of highway in the state and that its transportation capacity is “grossly insufficient” to serve the “growing number of commuters.”
It also declares that bad traffic on 101 has led to “serious overcrowding on Caltrain.”
The bill seeks to provide a framework for addressing major congestion through San Mateo County by bringing together the business community, transportation experts and city officials to engage the commuting public on ways to alleviate the congestion.
The bill calls for regional transportation agencies to take swift and decisive action to relieve commuter congestion.
Mullin cautions, however, that developing the strategy could be a multi-year process.
C/CAG is seeking the $16.5 million to study the projects from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which has $125 million available for projects that reduce congestion in commute corridors. The work will also be done in partnership with Caltrans.
Seeking the grants is the preliminary step and it could take up to two years before the studies are complete, said C/CAG’s Jean Higaki.
Future phases of work will include design and construction.
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