Work on the San Mateo County 101 Express Lanes is progressing, with tolling expected to start soon, although the projected express lanes opening date for the southern segment has been pushed back to Jan. 28.
The Express Lanes Project is a joint venture from Caltrans, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, or TA, and the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County, or C/CAG. The project will create 22 miles in each direction of new express lanes on the Highway 101 corridor in San Mateo County. Transportation officials have said it would reduce congestion, increase the number of people who can travel, encourage carpooling and transit use and improve travel times. Express lanes are carpool lanes that give solo drivers the option to pay a toll to use the lanes, which transit agencies believe will provide an incentive for solo drivers to switch to carpools or buses.
TA staff in August noted opening the southern segment at the end of 2021 as originally planned could be interrupted by weather, supply chain disruption and COVID cases, which have occurred. The new target date is scheduled to avoid the holiday season, work around weather delays and streamline the testing process. Staff expects the total project to be completed in mid-2022. The TA is working with the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority and Caltrans to ensure a smooth rollout with no schedule impact on the northern segment opening at the end of 2022.
The San Mateo Express Lanes Joint Power Authority, comprised of members of C/CAG and the TA, will manage the express lanes when opened. Existing carpool lanes will be converted to express lanes between the San Mateo and Santa Clara County line and Whipple Avenue. New express lanes are being constructed between Whipple Avenue and Interstate 380.
Staff said the northern segment between Whipple Avenue and Interstate 380 in San Bruno is going through resurfacing for future express lanes. Work in the median includes toll sign foundations and lighting. Other work includes overlay paving, constructing a median barrier and completing fiber optic cable connections to the Millbrae BART station. Staff said the delays on the southern end would not affect the north segment schedule. A staff report showed project expenses are being used as expected, with around $4.5 million left for work on the northern segment, with around $13.89 million spent out of the total $18.4 million.
Dynamic toll fees will also be charged to use the lane. People using the lane will need the FasTrak Flex, a toll transponder people can use to declare how many are in their vehicle. Tolls will be charged through the FasTrak system. Carpools with three or more people can drive toll-free in the express lanes, while carpools with two people qualify for a 50% discount. Certain clean air vehicles, or CAV, that run on fuel cells, battery or plug-in hybrids with a valid CAV decal qualify for the 50% discount for the following year. Staff said that having lane options for two people was necessary as having carpool options for only three people would force cars with two people into general lanes and create more congestion. Staff also noted that if people carpooling did not have the FasTrak Flex, the system would assume they are a single occupant and charge them accordingly.
Director Mark Nagales, also the South San Francisco vice mayor, asked that more outreach include more information presented to people who spoke English as their second language to ensure information reaches underserved communities. Staff noted it would implement radio programming in Spanish and Chinese languages to reach immigrant communities.
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