Carpool lanes not ‘efficient’ in reducing traffic, Caltrans says, so it’s pushing toll lanes

A Caltrans map showing the area where toll lanes are proposed.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Carpool lanes don’t attract enough cars to reduce traffic congestion, so Caltrans will likely convert existing lanes to toll lanes on Highway 101 from Mountain View to South San Francisco, a spokesman for the state agency said yesterday (Aug 1).

“There will be times when the carpool lane is carrying about 200 vehicles per hour during carpool hours,” said spokesman Jeff Weiss said. “So if we can manage the lane, and allow traffic that doesn’t meet the criteria (for carpool lanes), we can get more capacity into that lane and that way get up to 1,600 vehicles an hour going through that lane.”

Opening up the carpool lane to solo drivers who pay a toll will result in fewer cars in the other lanes, and hopefully that will get traffic moving a little better, Weiss said.

“It’s easy to be cynical and say it’s about money, but it really is not. It’s a matter of managing operations of the lane in real time to get more capacity,” Weiss said.

But San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa doesn’t buy it.

“This is a money grab, pure and simple,” Canepa said. Canepa said he is unhappy that Caltrans decided in November that its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the highway project would only look at two alternatives — toll lanes or keeping the highway the way it is. The EIR won’t look at the option of a carpool lane.

Canepa says there wasn’t enough input from the public and the county before Caltrain decided to drop the study into a carpool lane.

Weiss said there weren’t many people who showed up at a Caltrans meeting on the subject last year. But since concerns have been raised about the carpool lanes vs. toll lanes, Caltrans is planning on doing more outreach to elected officials in the area.

Canepa isn’t the only official who dislikes the toll lanes. Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel sent a letter this week to Caltrans about the toll lanes, saying the project will slam Mountain View with traffic from all of the solo drivers. Siegel is concerned that the toll lanes may entice techies to not take the bus and instead zoom down 101 in the toll lanes.

Another concern raised by Canepa and Siegel is that the lanes will allow more  affluent commuters to pay their way out of traffic, while those who cannot — and usually have to drive farther — will be stuck in the gridlock.

Weiss said Caltrans hasn’t done any studies on income levels and who uses express lanes, and added that it would be difficult to monitor the lanes to see who is low income and who is not.

Caltrans has heard this criticism before. Prior to the installation of toll lanes on Interstate 680 in the East Bay, Caltrans got similar pushback.

“People were calling them Lexus lanes and all of that, but the feedback we’ve gotten since they’ve been installed has been overwhelmingly positive,” Weiss said.

The toll lanes would cost about $534 million to install, according to Caltrans. However, according to a presentation given to the San Mateo County City/ County Association of Governments on July 12, the county would get about $45 million in gross revenues. But between predicted uncollected tolls, people using the lanes as carpool lanes (and not having to pay), and maintenance — the county should only expect between $9.7 million to $20.5 million a year. This is after the first year, when the county could get between $600,000 to $9 million, according to the report.

Public comment on the project will be taken until Aug. 9, and can be submitted at


  1. How can they say, “Carpool lanes don’t attract enough cars to reduce traffic congestion” when carpool lanes are often jammed, themselves. Further, toll-lane proponents entirely ignore the impact that the extra single-occupancy vehicles have when the leave the un-freeways.

    • These are the same talking point used by other toll lanes operators. Providing options for drivers, HOVs are underutilized, Dollars for other projects, Traffic demand management. 9 miles HOV lanes was converted to toll lanes without any increase in the capacity, and tolls hover around $25, and highest it has gone up to $47.50

  2. I agree with Siegel that there are times when the carpool lanes are full, but it’s not often. I commute 85 every day. The carpool lanes appear to reach their highest level of traffic at 4 p.m. (going westbound) and 8 a.m. (going east bound). Most of the time on 85, the traffic is rather light in the carpool lane, while traffic is always slow in the unrestricted lanes.

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