Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New I-80 carpool lanes ready to roll this week

New I-80 carpool lanes ready to roll this week
By Sarah Rohrs/ Times-Herald, Vallejo
Posted: 09/30/2009

Seen from the Travis Boulevard overcrossing in Fairfield on Tuesday, high occupancy vehicle lanes along Interstate 80 will open Thursday morning. (Ryan Chalk / The Reporter)

Common on many Bay Area freeways, a carpool lane makes its Solano County debut in time for Thursday morning's commute.

The 8.7-mile length of carpool lane is on westbound Interstate 80 between Airbase Parkway in Fairfield and Red Top Road, a few miles north of Vallejo, Caltrans officials announced Tuesday.

The new carpool, or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane, will help reduce congestion in Fairfield and the notoriously congested I-80/I-680 interchange, officials said.

"It's going to let people commute in the center lane through the city of Fairfield with fewer problems," California Highway Patrol public information officer Marvin Williford said.

The new HOV lane will be in the far left -- or inside -- lane and be restricted to vehicles with two or more occupants.

The time restrictions are between 5 and 9 a.m. during the morning commute, and 3 to 7 p.m. during the evening commute, Caltrans area construction manager Gerry Santiago said.

Solo drivers using the new lane will get a break until the eastbound HOV lane opens by the end of October, or early November, Williford said.

Once enforcement begins, Williford said there will be no grace period.

"Carpool cheaters will be watched closely," Williford added.

The fine for a first offense is $440, which increases substantially for repeat offenders, he added.

The new HOV lane will not connect to other HOV lanes on either the north or south said.

However, Caltrans regional project manager Nicolas Endrawos said the lane will help relieve Fairfield's bottleneck.

Caltrans has long-range plans to build HOV lanes east to I-505, and from Highway 37 in Vallejo to the Carquinez Bridge, Endrawos said.

By requiring at least two occupants per vehicle, the carpool lane will encourage motorists to share rides, thereby reducing the overall number of vehicles, Caltrans public information officer Traci Ruth said.

Nearly 150,000 vehicles travel on I-80 in Solano County, which increases to 213,000 cars per day in the stretch through Fairfield, Ruth said.

The construction firm of OC Jones & Sons, Inc. is building the new lanes for $29.5 million. The project has also included a new concrete median barrier. Interstate 80 in Solano County has also received 23 miles of new pavement.