Uncategorized February 28, 2014

It HOT on Highway 85 – Proposed Fast Track Lane has Neighbors Concerned

Residents are urging you to comment on VTA’s Proposed Express Lane on Highway 85 in Saratoga!  Promising faster, reliable travel and increased efficiency, a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority representative shared the details about the agency’s plans to add an express lane to Highway 85 at the Jan. 16 Saratoga City Council meeting. Some History. Highway 85 freeway was built in two phases: the northern half was built in the 1960s, and runs 5.7 miles from Stevens Creek Boulevard near Interstate 280 to its northern end at U.S. 101 in Mountain View. The second half was opened in 1994 and runs 18.5 miles from U.S. 101 in southern San Jose to Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino. Its opening was heralded as a boon to commuters from Los Gatos, Saratoga and Almaden Valley, who had previously clogged major streets such as Blossom Hill Road and Saratoga Avenue while commuting north to high-tech firms up the peninsula.

Highway 237 Express LaneExpress lanes (also known as High Occupancy Toll or “HOT” Lanes) allow solo drivers the option to use the HOV, or carpool lanes for a fee. All eligible carpools, or carpool vehicles, including clean-air vehicles with applicable decals, continue to use the lanes free of charge.  Fees from solo drivers are collected electronically using FasTrak electronic toll collection technology already used on San Francisco Bay Area Bridges and elsewhere in California. Tolls are based on the level of congestion and are adjusted to maintain a free flow of traffic. Express Lanes are NOT toll roads.  On a traditional toll road all users pay a toll. With express lanes, only solo drivers who choose to use the lane will pay a toll. The toll is a user fee, which is dynamically priced, based on the level of congestion on the roadway. The more the congestion, the higher the fee. The typical toll rates for the 237 Express Lanes have ranged between $1-$5.

How much is the Express Lane expected to improve traffic congestion? Express Lanes are expected to improve overall congestion and corridor travel time by 25 percent during the peak commute periods. This is achieved by allowing toll paying, solo drivers to use the additional capacity that is in the carpool lanes, helping to maximize the efficiency of existing infrastructure.  New roadway striping will delineate express lanes from general purpose lanes with a 2-foot wide buffer zone featuring double solid white lines except at specific entry and exit points. Each entry and exit point would be equipped with overhead electronic signs and a FasTrak electronic toll collection system. Like any construction project, there will be roadway work that will result in closures of lanes but this is usually done at night so that the impacts to the traveling public are minimized.  Overall, express lane facilities are being introduced on Highway 85 and U.S. 101 because there is no more room to expand these roadways, i.e. improvement projects that have far greater construction impacts and take longer to implement compared to essentially reconfiguring the existing roadway to accommodate express lanes.

Highway 85 proposed MapThe SR 85 express lanes project is within the central corridor of the Silicon Valley Express Lanes Program being implemented by the VTA. This project will convert approximately 27 miles of existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV or carpool) lanes to express lanes. The project will add a second HOV express lane between SR 87 and I-280. The project limits are between U.S. 101 in Mountain View and Bailey Avenue on U.S. 101 in south San Jose. The project will also convert the existing HOV direct connector in south San Jose, from U.S. 101 to SR 85, to an express connector.

You can sign up for email updates to stay apprised of scheduled meetings and project updates at www.vta.org.

The timeline for the Highway 85 Express Lane project

Early 2014:            Project approval and environmental documents complete

Mid 2014:              Begin final design

Early 2017:           Open express lanes for service

Where the controversy comes in is in the additional proposal for making highway 85 into a 8 lane freeway.  Here’s is what one resident said about the discussion during the meeting.

“An additional toll lane was proposed (as kind of a done deal) by taking the median area of the freeway. The 1968 contract states that 85 will be a max 6 lanes and the median will be used for public transportation (light rail was noted.) The VTA rep stated that their idea to satisfy this part of the contract was the use of commuter buses!. VTA has made a lot of money, it seems, on other local toll roads and this just smelled like a money making idea. They also said that this idea will pay for its self in 20/30 years. Another issue, if for any reason federal funds have to be used on 85, trucks will have to be allowed”

For more information on the proposal you can go to: http://www.vta.org/projects-and-programs/highway/vta-express-lanes-sr-85-express-lanes-project

If you would like to send an email noting your concerns or have questions.  Emails are to be sent directly to VTA to: 85expresslanes@urs.com

The city has formally submitted their grievance but all the towns on the corridor are affected. Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, Campbell, Cupertino and Sunnyvale.

You can also write:

Dept. of Transportation, District 4

Mr. Ngoc Bui

PO box 23660, ms-8b

Oakland, CA 94623