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Home>Projects and Programs>Highway>VTA Silicon Valley Express Lanes Program

VTA Silicon Valley Express Lanes Program

What are Express Lanes?

An express lane is a lane to be used by carpoolers, motorcyclists, and clean-air vehicles (with applicable decals) for free, AND single occupant vehicles that pay a toll with a FasTrak transponder.

The amount of the toll for single occupant vehicles will vary based on the level of real-time traffic congestion, usually between $2 and $4.50 during a typical stop-and-go commute, going up as high as $6 during high congestion.

Carpoolers using an express lane need to put their FasTrak tag in its Mylar bag to avoid being charged (The new “FasTrak Flex” is not yet in operation). Outside of carpool hours, all lanes will be open to all vehicles for free.

The 237-880 Express Lanes currently in operation can save a driver approximately 14 minutes when traffic in the general purpose lanes is backed up. 

The VTA Express Lanes Program comes at a crucial time as Santa Clara County prepares for a 38% growth in population and a 62% increase in jobs (668,000 new residents and 540,000 new jobs) in the period between 2010 and 2035. Funding for transportation improvements is projected at only a fraction of that amount.

VTA is participating in the region's planned 550-mile network of express lanes; additional details are available at Network Vision. For a regional perspective, please visit the Metropolitan Transportation Commision Express Lanes webpage

(Full version of map)

The VTA Silicon Valley Express Lanes Program is a network that includes the SR 237 and SR 85 / US 101 freeways. The program is authorized for 2 corridors. 
See SR 237 Express Lanes ProjectSR 85/US 101 Express Lanes Project, and Express Lanes Plans to learn more.

In March of 2012, VTA began operation of Santa Clara County’s first express lanes on the SR 237/I-880 corridor. In the [August 2014 SR 237 Express Lanes Fiscal Year 2014 Update to the VTA Board of Directors], it was noted that the SR 237 Express Lanes has served over 1.3 million toll paying vehicles, about 120,000 vehicle hours of travel time savings have been gained in the corridor and $2.5 million has been generated since it opened for tolling. Read here to learn more about this successful VTA express lane system and how to use it.

Project Benefits

  • More efficient use of existing roadways
  • Provides a new, reliable travel option
  • Travel times improve in all lanes
  • Dynamic toll pricing helps limit overcrowding in express lane
  • Provides a new revenue stream tor transportation and corridor improvements (California Streets and Highways Code Section 149.6[e][3])

Project Schedules

SR 237 Express Lanes Phase 2 Project

Early 2015    Complete project approval and environmental documents
Early 2016    Start Construction
Mid 2017      Open express lanes for service

SR 85/US101 Express Lanes Project

Mid 2015      Complete project approval and environmental document
Mid 2015      Begin final design pending funding
Early 2017    Start construction pending funding
Late 2018     Open express lanes for service pending funding

How Express Lanes Work:

Express lanes are either separated from regular lanes by a double white solid painted stripe, similar to SR 237 Express Lanes or single white dashed painted stripe, similar to existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, also known as "diamond lanes". The double white solid stripe denotes a controlled access type where entry and exit are allowed in openings along the double white solid stripe. The openings are called access points. The following video shows how express lanes work:

The Basics

 Why is VTA considering the express lanes program? 
 How do express lanes differ from traditional toll roads? 
 Who can use VTA's Express Lanes?
 How are the entry and exit points to the express lanes determined?
 What is HOV 2+?
 What does it mean when an express lane sign reads “HOV Only” during expresslanes
    hours?

 What are the hours of operation for the SR 237/I-880 Express Lanes? 
 Will I be able to drive in express lanes all the way from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto?

The Cost

 How are toll rates determined? 
 How much will it cost to use the express lanes?
 How do I pay the toll?

Collection and Tolls

 What is FasTrak and a toll tag?
 If I have a transponder and carry a friend, will I get charged to use the expresslanes?
 What if I drive different cars on different days?
 Where can I purchase a FasTrak toll tag?
 Will the new Fast Trak Flex Tag work on VTA's Express Lanes?

Enforcement

 How will rules for using the express lanes be enforced? 
 What if I am being pulled over or an emergency vehicle needs to pass? 
 What happens if a carpool or toll-paying vehicle crosses the double white line?

Equity

 Do people at all income levels use express lanes? 
 Didn't I already "pay" for this lane? Why do I have to pay again to use it?
 What happens to the money collected from tolls?

The Basics

Why is VTA considering the express lanes program?

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in cooperation with VTA proposes express lane projects in an effort to keep traffic moving. Commute trips within Santa Clara County are forecasted to increase by 51 percent between 2010 and 2035 (MTC 2008), and HOV lane usage is expected to increase. Some routes are already highly congested now, for example, between the I-280 interchange and the I-880/SR 17 interchange, the SR 85 general piurpose lanes operate at full capacity in the northbound direction during morning rush hour, and in the southbound direction during afternoon rush hour. Better utilization of the existing roadway infrastructure is part of the solution.

The 2003 Assembly bill (AB 2032) authorized VTA to conduct, administer, and operate a value pricing and transit development program under which Single Occupant Vehicles may use HOV lanes during the HOV hours for a fee. VTA undertook a feasibility study to see if express lanes are viable option in Santa Clara County, and in the fall of 2005 the VTA Board of Directors authorized staff to develop the Express Lanes Program. A 2007 Assembly Bill (AB 574) allows VTA to implement a value pricing program within any two corridors in the Santa Clara County HOV lane system. VTA began preliminary engineering and public outreach in 2007, and the VTA Board of Directors approved a Silicon Valley Express Lane Program in December 2008.

How do express lanes differ from traditional toll roads?

On a traditional toll road all users pay a usage fee. With express lanes, only solo drivers who choose to use the lane will pay a toll.

Who can use VTA's Express Lanes?

Vehicles carrying at least two people of any age, buses, vanpools, motorcycles and clean air vehicles with applicable decals can use express lanes toll-free and do not need to carry a transponder. Only people who are driving alone must pay a toll to use express lanes.

How are the entry and exit points to the express lanes determined?

Entry and exit points for express lanes are based on a number of criteria including access to freeways and expressways and traffic flows in the corridors. Limited access helps keep express lane traffic moving smoothly.

What is HOV 2+?

New to many drivers is the sign reading HOV 2+. HOV means High Occupancy Vehicle (also known as a carpool). The 2+ designates the need to have a minimum of 2 or more occupants. 
 Go to Top

What does it mean when an express lane sign reads “HOV Only” during express lanes hours?

When you see “HOV Only” on a sign over the carpool/express lane, it means solo drivers may not use the HOV/express lane, unless they are driving a motorcycle or clean air vehicle with applicable decals. The “HOV Only” sign comes on when traffic congestion in the lane, or at the end of the express lane, is so great that it is not possible to maintain the minimum 45 mph speed in the express lane.
 

What are the hours of operation for the SR 237/I-880 Express Lanes?

Southboung I-880 to Westbound SR 237:  Monday-Friday 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Eastbound SR 237 to Northbound I-880:  Monday-Friday 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Will I be able to drive in express lanes all the way from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto?

The goal of the complete express lanes program is to build a continuous express lane network which would allow a driver from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto to experience much less congestion in the urban area.

The Cost

How are toll rates determined?

Tolls are determined by congestion levels. Shorter distances, off-peak travel times, and free-flowing conditions will result in lower tolls. Longer distances, peak travel times, and highly congested traffic conditions will result in higher tolls in order to limit use and keep the express lanes operating at a minimum of 45 mph.

How much will it cost to use the express lanes?

Express lanes never charge for carpools, buses, motorcycles, or clean air vehicles with appropriate decals. For Single Occupant Vehicles, the toll rate varies. As congestion in the express lanes increases, the toll price for solo drivers will increase, and the toll price will be posted on the digital sign as drivers approach the express lane entrance. As congestion decreases in the express lanes, the toll rate will decrease. During very light traffic, a typical toll amount would be $0.25. During very congested traffic, the toll can go as high as $6.

How do I pay the toll?

Tolls are paid through the use of a FasTrak transponder, which is the same device used to automatically pay bridge tolls throughout the Bay Area. Electronic signage in advance of the express lanes will display the toll you will be charged if you choose to use the lane.
 Go to Top

Collection and Tolls

What is FasTrak and a toll tag?

FasTrak is the name of an electronic toll collection (ETC) system that allows you to prepay your tolls, eliminating the need to stop at a toll booth or pay with cash. The FasTrak transponder (also called a toll tag) is a small battery-powered radio toll collection device that mounts easily to your windshield or license plate frame. Solo drivers choosing to utilize the express lanes will need a FasTrak transponder.

Will the new Fast Trak Flex Tag work on VTA's Express Lanes?

VTA’s 237 Express Lanes facility has the ability to read the new Flex Tags. Solo drivers should have their Flex Tag in the #1 position. If someone is using the Flex Tag in the #2 or #3 position, they will not be charged the toll. VTA will implement the new Flex Tag in future facilities currently in the planning phases. 

If I have a transponder and carry a friend, will I get charged to use the express lanes?

If you are carpooling and you have a FasTrak transponder, make sure to place your transponder in the Mylar bag it came with to prevent the antenna from reading it and charging the toll. 

Mylar Bag Replacement

If you need a Mylar bag replacement, call Bay Area FasTrak at 1-877-229-8655, and speak with a customer service agent. They will send you a free replacement Mylar bag within 5-10 business days.

Toll Tag License Plate Frames

If you have a toll tag license plate frame and you will be carpooling in the express lane, you may consider switching to a transponder that mounts on your windshield so you can remove it and place it in the Mylar bag when carpooling to avoid the toll charge.
 Go to Top 

What if I drive different cars on different days?

Take the transponder with you when driving another car or order a second transponder by contacting FasTrak. (Both transponders can be linked to a single account). If you are using a rental car, please click here for additional options.

Where can I purchase a FasTrak toll tag?

FasTrak toll tags are available at various retail outlets or can be purchased directly from the Bay Area Toll Authority. Visit the FasTrak website for more information.

Enforcement

How will rules for using the express lanes be enforced?

The California Highway Patrol will be in charge of enforcement using a combination of new technologies and visual checks for occupancy, as they are already doing with HOV lanes.

What if I am being pulled over by CHP, or there is an emergency vehicle that needs to pass?

If you are being pulled over from an express lane you should pull to the right hand shoulder as soon as it is safe and legal to do so. Per the California DMV Vehicle Code Section 21806 regarding Authorized Emergency Vehicles:

"A person driving a vehicle in an exclusive or preferential-use lane shall exit that lane immediately upon determining that the exit can be accomplished with reasonable safety."

What happens if either a carpool or toll-paying vehicle crosses the double white line? 

Crossing the double white line is a violation of the state vehicle code. The California Highway Patrol will issue tickets to violators. The double white lines are in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of carpool or express lane hours of operation.
 Go to Top

Equity for all

Do people at all income levels use express lanes?

Over a decade of express lane data from Orange and San Diego Counties indicates that the vast majority of drivers – both high and low income - use express lanes as a form of "congestion insurance.”

Didn't I already "pay" for this lane? Why do I have to pay again to use it?

Unlike taxation, no one is forced to pay; solo motorists would simply have a choice to pay for premium service - an uncongested lane that was previously unavailable. Currently, a solo driver in a time-critical situation does not have the option of utilizing a congestion-free carpool lane.

What happens to the money collected from tolls?

The legislation authorizing this project requires tolls from the express lanes be used to support operations and maintenance, enforcement, and further transportation improvements within the corridor including transit.
 Go to Top

  • Overview
  • What are Express Lanes?

    An express lane is a lane to be used by carpoolers, motorcyclists, and clean-air vehicles (with applicable decals) for free, AND single occupant vehicles that pay a toll with a FasTrak transponder.

    The amount of the toll for single occupant vehicles will vary based on the level of real-time traffic congestion, usually between $2 and $4.50 during a typical stop-and-go commute, going up as high as $6 during high congestion.

    Carpoolers using an express lane need to put their FasTrak tag in its Mylar bag to avoid being charged (The new “FasTrak Flex” is not yet in operation). Outside of carpool hours, all lanes will be open to all vehicles for free.

    The 237-880 Express Lanes currently in operation can save a driver approximately 14 minutes when traffic in the general purpose lanes is backed up. 

    The VTA Express Lanes Program comes at a crucial time as Santa Clara County prepares for a 38% growth in population and a 62% increase in jobs (668,000 new residents and 540,000 new jobs) in the period between 2010 and 2035. Funding for transportation improvements is projected at only a fraction of that amount.

    VTA is participating in the region's planned 550-mile network of express lanes; additional details are available at Network Vision. For a regional perspective, please visit the Metropolitan Transportation Commision Express Lanes webpage

    (Full version of map)

    The VTA Silicon Valley Express Lanes Program is a network that includes the SR 237 and SR 85 / US 101 freeways. The program is authorized for 2 corridors. 
    See SR 237 Express Lanes ProjectSR 85/US 101 Express Lanes Project, and Express Lanes Plans to learn more.

    In March of 2012, VTA began operation of Santa Clara County’s first express lanes on the SR 237/I-880 corridor. In the [August 2014 SR 237 Express Lanes Fiscal Year 2014 Update to the VTA Board of Directors], it was noted that the SR 237 Express Lanes has served over 1.3 million toll paying vehicles, about 120,000 vehicle hours of travel time savings have been gained in the corridor and $2.5 million has been generated since it opened for tolling. Read here to learn more about this successful VTA express lane system and how to use it.

    Project Benefits

    • More efficient use of existing roadways
    • Provides a new, reliable travel option
    • Travel times improve in all lanes
    • Dynamic toll pricing helps limit overcrowding in express lane
    • Provides a new revenue stream tor transportation and corridor improvements (California Streets and Highways Code Section 149.6[e][3])
  • Schedule
  • Project Schedules

    SR 237 Express Lanes Phase 2 Project

    Early 2015    Complete project approval and environmental documents
    Early 2016    Start Construction
    Mid 2017      Open express lanes for service

    SR 85/US101 Express Lanes Project

    Mid 2015      Complete project approval and environmental document
    Mid 2015      Begin final design pending funding
    Early 2017    Start construction pending funding
    Late 2018     Open express lanes for service pending funding

  • Image Gallery
  • How Express Lanes Work:

    Express lanes are either separated from regular lanes by a double white solid painted stripe, similar to SR 237 Express Lanes or single white dashed painted stripe, similar to existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, also known as "diamond lanes". The double white solid stripe denotes a controlled access type where entry and exit are allowed in openings along the double white solid stripe. The openings are called access points. The following video shows how express lanes work:

  • FAQs
  • The Basics

     Why is VTA considering the express lanes program? 
     How do express lanes differ from traditional toll roads? 
     Who can use VTA's Express Lanes?
     How are the entry and exit points to the express lanes determined?
     What is HOV 2+?
     What does it mean when an express lane sign reads “HOV Only” during expresslanes
        hours?

     What are the hours of operation for the SR 237/I-880 Express Lanes? 
     Will I be able to drive in express lanes all the way from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto?

    The Cost

     How are toll rates determined? 
     How much will it cost to use the express lanes?
     How do I pay the toll?

    Collection and Tolls

     What is FasTrak and a toll tag?
     If I have a transponder and carry a friend, will I get charged to use the expresslanes?
     What if I drive different cars on different days?
     Where can I purchase a FasTrak toll tag?
     Will the new Fast Trak Flex Tag work on VTA's Express Lanes?

    Enforcement

     How will rules for using the express lanes be enforced? 
     What if I am being pulled over or an emergency vehicle needs to pass? 
     What happens if a carpool or toll-paying vehicle crosses the double white line?

    Equity

     Do people at all income levels use express lanes? 
     Didn't I already "pay" for this lane? Why do I have to pay again to use it?
     What happens to the money collected from tolls?

    The Basics

    Why is VTA considering the express lanes program?

    The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in cooperation with VTA proposes express lane projects in an effort to keep traffic moving. Commute trips within Santa Clara County are forecasted to increase by 51 percent between 2010 and 2035 (MTC 2008), and HOV lane usage is expected to increase. Some routes are already highly congested now, for example, between the I-280 interchange and the I-880/SR 17 interchange, the SR 85 general piurpose lanes operate at full capacity in the northbound direction during morning rush hour, and in the southbound direction during afternoon rush hour. Better utilization of the existing roadway infrastructure is part of the solution.

    The 2003 Assembly bill (AB 2032) authorized VTA to conduct, administer, and operate a value pricing and transit development program under which Single Occupant Vehicles may use HOV lanes during the HOV hours for a fee. VTA undertook a feasibility study to see if express lanes are viable option in Santa Clara County, and in the fall of 2005 the VTA Board of Directors authorized staff to develop the Express Lanes Program. A 2007 Assembly Bill (AB 574) allows VTA to implement a value pricing program within any two corridors in the Santa Clara County HOV lane system. VTA began preliminary engineering and public outreach in 2007, and the VTA Board of Directors approved a Silicon Valley Express Lane Program in December 2008.

    How do express lanes differ from traditional toll roads?

    On a traditional toll road all users pay a usage fee. With express lanes, only solo drivers who choose to use the lane will pay a toll.

    Who can use VTA's Express Lanes?

    Vehicles carrying at least two people of any age, buses, vanpools, motorcycles and clean air vehicles with applicable decals can use express lanes toll-free and do not need to carry a transponder. Only people who are driving alone must pay a toll to use express lanes.

    How are the entry and exit points to the express lanes determined?

    Entry and exit points for express lanes are based on a number of criteria including access to freeways and expressways and traffic flows in the corridors. Limited access helps keep express lane traffic moving smoothly.

    What is HOV 2+?

    New to many drivers is the sign reading HOV 2+. HOV means High Occupancy Vehicle (also known as a carpool). The 2+ designates the need to have a minimum of 2 or more occupants. 
     Go to Top

    What does it mean when an express lane sign reads “HOV Only” during express lanes hours?

    When you see “HOV Only” on a sign over the carpool/express lane, it means solo drivers may not use the HOV/express lane, unless they are driving a motorcycle or clean air vehicle with applicable decals. The “HOV Only” sign comes on when traffic congestion in the lane, or at the end of the express lane, is so great that it is not possible to maintain the minimum 45 mph speed in the express lane.
     

    What are the hours of operation for the SR 237/I-880 Express Lanes?

    Southboung I-880 to Westbound SR 237:  Monday-Friday 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Eastbound SR 237 to Northbound I-880:  Monday-Friday 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    Will I be able to drive in express lanes all the way from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto?

    The goal of the complete express lanes program is to build a continuous express lane network which would allow a driver from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto to experience much less congestion in the urban area.

    The Cost

    How are toll rates determined?

    Tolls are determined by congestion levels. Shorter distances, off-peak travel times, and free-flowing conditions will result in lower tolls. Longer distances, peak travel times, and highly congested traffic conditions will result in higher tolls in order to limit use and keep the express lanes operating at a minimum of 45 mph.

    How much will it cost to use the express lanes?

    Express lanes never charge for carpools, buses, motorcycles, or clean air vehicles with appropriate decals. For Single Occupant Vehicles, the toll rate varies. As congestion in the express lanes increases, the toll price for solo drivers will increase, and the toll price will be posted on the digital sign as drivers approach the express lane entrance. As congestion decreases in the express lanes, the toll rate will decrease. During very light traffic, a typical toll amount would be $0.25. During very congested traffic, the toll can go as high as $6.

    How do I pay the toll?

    Tolls are paid through the use of a FasTrak transponder, which is the same device used to automatically pay bridge tolls throughout the Bay Area. Electronic signage in advance of the express lanes will display the toll you will be charged if you choose to use the lane.
     Go to Top

    Collection and Tolls

    What is FasTrak and a toll tag?

    FasTrak is the name of an electronic toll collection (ETC) system that allows you to prepay your tolls, eliminating the need to stop at a toll booth or pay with cash. The FasTrak transponder (also called a toll tag) is a small battery-powered radio toll collection device that mounts easily to your windshield or license plate frame. Solo drivers choosing to utilize the express lanes will need a FasTrak transponder.

    Will the new Fast Trak Flex Tag work on VTA's Express Lanes?

    VTA’s 237 Express Lanes facility has the ability to read the new Flex Tags. Solo drivers should have their Flex Tag in the #1 position. If someone is using the Flex Tag in the #2 or #3 position, they will not be charged the toll. VTA will implement the new Flex Tag in future facilities currently in the planning phases. 

    If I have a transponder and carry a friend, will I get charged to use the express lanes?

    If you are carpooling and you have a FasTrak transponder, make sure to place your transponder in the Mylar bag it came with to prevent the antenna from reading it and charging the toll. 

    Mylar Bag Replacement

    If you need a Mylar bag replacement, call Bay Area FasTrak at 1-877-229-8655, and speak with a customer service agent. They will send you a free replacement Mylar bag within 5-10 business days.

    Toll Tag License Plate Frames

    If you have a toll tag license plate frame and you will be carpooling in the express lane, you may consider switching to a transponder that mounts on your windshield so you can remove it and place it in the Mylar bag when carpooling to avoid the toll charge.
     Go to Top 

    What if I drive different cars on different days?

    Take the transponder with you when driving another car or order a second transponder by contacting FasTrak. (Both transponders can be linked to a single account). If you are using a rental car, please click here for additional options.

    Where can I purchase a FasTrak toll tag?

    FasTrak toll tags are available at various retail outlets or can be purchased directly from the Bay Area Toll Authority. Visit the FasTrak website for more information.

    Enforcement

    How will rules for using the express lanes be enforced?

    The California Highway Patrol will be in charge of enforcement using a combination of new technologies and visual checks for occupancy, as they are already doing with HOV lanes.

    What if I am being pulled over by CHP, or there is an emergency vehicle that needs to pass?

    If you are being pulled over from an express lane you should pull to the right hand shoulder as soon as it is safe and legal to do so. Per the California DMV Vehicle Code Section 21806 regarding Authorized Emergency Vehicles:

    "A person driving a vehicle in an exclusive or preferential-use lane shall exit that lane immediately upon determining that the exit can be accomplished with reasonable safety."

    What happens if either a carpool or toll-paying vehicle crosses the double white line? 

    Crossing the double white line is a violation of the state vehicle code. The California Highway Patrol will issue tickets to violators. The double white lines are in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of carpool or express lane hours of operation.
     Go to Top

    Equity for all

    Do people at all income levels use express lanes?

    Over a decade of express lane data from Orange and San Diego Counties indicates that the vast majority of drivers – both high and low income - use express lanes as a form of "congestion insurance.”

    Didn't I already "pay" for this lane? Why do I have to pay again to use it?

    Unlike taxation, no one is forced to pay; solo motorists would simply have a choice to pay for premium service - an uncongested lane that was previously unavailable. Currently, a solo driver in a time-critical situation does not have the option of utilizing a congestion-free carpool lane.

    What happens to the money collected from tolls?

    The legislation authorizing this project requires tolls from the express lanes be used to support operations and maintenance, enforcement, and further transportation improvements within the corridor including transit.
     Go to Top

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