The express lanes project in San Mateo County that broke ground in March was always meant to be just one segment of a continuous stretch of express lanes between San Francisco and San Jose.

By 2022, express lanes will be constructed on Highway 101 between Whipple Avenue and Interstate 380 and, if everything goes according to plan, those express lanes will extend north to Fourth and King streets in San Francisco by 2026. Express lanes already exist in Santa Clara County and will eventually connect to the ones being built in San Mateo County. 

Express lanes promise speeds of at least 45 mph at all times by charging solo drivers to use them while buses and carpools of three people or more will be able to travel on them for free. The point is to incentivize commuters to carpool and take transit by offering a faster lane on which to travel, thereby reducing the number of cars on the road as well as congestion on the general-purpose lanes, officials claim. 

Express lane tolls fluctuate based on traffic volumes and are expected to cost about $1 per mile in San Mateo County.

A study of the 11-mile segment north of Interstate 380 into San Francisco will be completed this month and will include several alternatives, Joe Hurley, director of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority program at SamTrans, said at a meeting May 2

It has not yet been decided if HOV lanes or express lanes will be constructed on that 11-mile segment so Hurley used the term “managed lanes” to delineate that those two options are still on the table.

The plan is for the managed lanes to travel on Highway 101 north of Interstate 380 and through Brisbane before shifting over to Interstate 280 at the Highway 101/280 interchange. Hurley said various constraints on Highway 101 north of the 101/280 interchange prevent that segment from accommodating managed lanes.

A minimum footprint option is to convert the left lane in both directions into a managed lane and a maximum footprint alternative is to widen the highway to allow for the creation of a new lane similar to what’s being done to Highway 101 in San Mateo County.

State law only allows general-purpose lanes to be converted to HOV lanes and not to express lanes.

Preliminary estimates for the extension of managed lanes from Interstate 380 into San Francisco has been broken down by county. The minimum alternative in San Mateo County would cost between $176 million and $226 million and the San Francisco segment would cost between $188 million and $578 million. The maximum footprint option would cost $484 million in San Mateo County and between $322 million and $652 million for the San Francisco portion.

The San Mateo County express lanes segment costs $513 million, largely because of the construction of a new lane in each direction. Noting the high cost of that project and the associated freeway widening, Board Member Emily Beach, also Burlingame vice mayor, was thrilled that alternatives are being studied.

“I can’t tell you how delighted and tickled I am that [we are] studying minimum footprint alternatives and not just the maximum footprint alternatives,” said Beach. “A potential minimum alternative, if we can get performance, talk about tax dollar savings and philosophically what we’re trying to achieve, which is to move more people and not cars.”

Potential funding sources include the county’s transportation half-cent sales tax Measure A and Measure W, State Transportation Improvement Program funding, RM3 bridge toll hikes and Senate Bill 1 gas tax increase, Hurley said. Future toll revenue from the San Mateo County express lanes could also be spent on the expansion of those lanes into San Francisco.

The tentative project schedule is to being the environmental phase this summer with project approval in the fall of 2021. Project design is expected to be complete by spring of 2023 with a groundbreaking in the fall of that year and construction wrapping up in the fall of 2026. 

It’s common knowledge that Highway 101 is regularly congested and it’s only expected to worsen with the expansion of commercial and residential development, Hurley said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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