Toll lanes open on Highway 101, but pricing still isn’t clear

Toll lanes opened on Highway 101 on Friday. Post photo.

This story was originally printed Feb. 11 in the Daily Post. To get all of the local news first, pick up the Post in the mornings.

Daily Post Staff Writer

The far left lane on Highway 101 between Sunnyvale and Redwood City has become a toll lane during most hours of the day unless you have three people in the car.

But you won’t know how much you’ll be paying to drive in the toll lane until you get there. The price will vary based on congestion — they’ll charge more to reduce the number of cars in the lane to keep traffic moving.

There’s no rate card or price sheet saying how much the government will charge. The lowest rate is 80 cents between Whipple Avenue in Redwood City and the 237 interchange in Sunnyvale.

And there’s no cap.

The price will be shown on overhead signs — and, of course, on your FasTrak bill.

However, prices will vary depending on what county you’re driving through. For the portion of the toll lanes in Santa Clara County, the minimum will be 30 cents. In San Mateo County, the minimum toll is 50 cents.

Algorithm sets prices

The pricing is set by an algorithm, said Matt Click, policy program manager for the San Mateo County Express Lanes Joint Powers Authority, which runs the toll lanes.

The algorithm takes into account the traffic volumes and how to set the price so people keep moving through the lane and traffic isn’t stopped, Click explained.

The algorithm was developed with the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority, which works with transit agencies in the Bay Area on planning and operating their toll lanes. Click said it was fine tuned for Highway 101.

Why is there no cap? Click said the system needs to set the price in order to manage the demand, and they don’t know yet what that price is.

By the end of the year, toll lanes will go up 101 to the 380 interchange in San Bruno. The entire stretch will give motorists opportunities to exit the lane so they don’t have to pay the toll.

A goal of 45 mph

According to VTA, the tolls are priced to allow a minimum of 45 mph in the lanes.

The toll lanes will be operating from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. The project cost $637 million.

If the price goes up while you’re in a lane, you will pay the toll that was posted when you enter it. However, if you’re driving from Mountain View to Menlo Park, you may see two charges on your bill because the two counties will appear as two separate charges.

Drivers won’t have to pull into a toll booth every few miles to pay. Instead, they will have to get a FasTrak Flex transponder for $20. A “flex” transponder allows the person in the car to say how many people are in the car in order to get a reduction on their toll. People who have a regular transponder, they can exchange the new device for free.


Certain vehicles — such as motorcycles, SamTrans buses, emergency vehicles and CHP vehicles — will be exempt from paying tolls. These vehicles will still need a FasTrak toll tag.

Vehicles with two people can receive a 50% toll discount, along with some clean air vehicles, or CAVs, with a decal from the DMV.

But what if you don’t have a transponder and accidentally drive through a toll area? You’ll get a $25 ticket, which will drop down to a $5 ticket if you buy a FasTrak transponder. But if you ignore your initial notice, the ticket will go up to $70.

The toll lanes have been under construction since March 2019. Construction is continuing north to 380. That span is expected to go open toward the end of the year.

The project in San Mateo County has a budget of $581.14 million. Santa Clara County is spending $56.3 million. The difference in cost is due to the fact that San Mateo County’s stretch of toll lanes is longer than Santa Clara County’s. The total is $637.4 million.


  1. Add this to the growing list of things that made the Bay Area a good place to leave and yet one more thing that one day we will all wonder – why did we ever let them get away with that?

  2. You may pass by our store and get a bag of beans. Sorry, I can’t tell you the cost, an “algorithm” will decide. The price may change from the moment you take the unmarked bag from the shelf until you get to checkout. There may be drought conditions in Peru at that moment affecting the price. If a whole bunch of people buy beans for dinner that day, the “algorithm” will crank up the price until people cease consuming beans. Payment only with credit card. Price increases may occur and be debited beyond the day of purchase if demand increased after your purchase. No refunds. If you transport the beans out-county, there is an inter-county levy.

  3. A confusing, hot mess to fix to fix an arguable problem with a redundant & regressive tax.

    Do better San Mateo County and the SMCEL-JPA!

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