Officials are hard at work trying to alleviate the notorious traffic congestion in California. Across the state, drivers sit still in traffic while carpool lanes sit empty, underused by public transit and vehicles carrying multiple passengers. The solution for the Bay Area, as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission sees it, is to allow solo motorists to pay for using the carpool lanes.

The commission is working up a proposal that would start with a pilot project in 2010 or early 2011 on I-680 S over the Sunol Grade and in both directions on I-580 between Livermore and the I-680 interchange. To implement the project over the entire 12-highway system would require the approval of state lawmakers (who are currently considering such a bill for Sacramento), as well as an investment of an estimated $3.7 billion. That would be recuperated and then some in the long run, generating an estimated $6 billion over the course of 25 years, the balance of which would be reinvested into the transportation network. If implemented, drivers running late and motivated to pay the fee would be able to move into the carpool lane at designated spots and pay with in-car transponders. Although the fees have yet to be determined, they are estimated at between 20-60 cents per mile at the outset of the program, eventually ramping up to as much as $1 per mile by 2030. Similar systems in place in southern California got the nickname "Lexus Lanes" because of the perception that the rich would use them all the time, leaving those with less means stranded in traffic. However officials cite studies that indicate that the system would be used by a wide cross-section of the socio-economic populace.

[Source: SF Chronicle via All Cars, All the Time, Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty]



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