Highway 101 is the pits. From Morgan Hill through the South Bay all the way to Candlestick Park. More than 63 miles of it.
For the first time since Roadshow's annual Dirty Dozen list of readers' most complained-about traffic problems made its debut a decade ago, the top spot is not a single problem area -- it's an entire stretch of freeway. There are so many bad spots on 101 that it's hard to isolate one as the worst.
"It takes me between 35 to 45 minutes to get between Woodside Road and San Antonio Road in the morning," groaned Patrick Hollister of Redwood Shores. He's talking about a measly seven miles.
"What is going on with the carpool lane on 101 north between Story Road and 880?" asked Shehnaz Khan
Highway 101 was the runaway No. 1 ranking this year in our annual Dirty Dozen survey, based on the hundreds of calls, emails and faxes that roll into Roadshow each week. The list could very well change down the road, now that the column has extended its coverage into northern Alameda County, Contra Costa County and a little of the North Bay. The Caldecott Tunnel leaped to the No. 2 spot.
"It gets clogged terribly," said Don Pomplun of San Ramon on the notorious Highway 24 tunnel that connects Contra Costa County to Oakland.
Howls also are roaring in over the new toll lanes at Highway 237
Interstate 580 through the Livermore Valley is no picnic. The same is true of I-880 from Oakland to the South Bay. So is 101 really the toughest grind?
Believe it, say a couple of guys who monitor Bay Area traffic every day.
"Highway 101 is by far the worst," said Stan Burford, KGO's chief traffic reporter, saying he would include 101 as far as into Sonoma County on top of the Dirty Dozen list.
Added his counterpart at KLIV, John McLeod: "Highway 101 is definitely at the top of the heap."
There's a lack of metering lights (Morgan Hill and Palo Alto), antiquated interchanges (Capitol Expressway, Highway 87, Willow Road, Poplar Avenue and Highway 92), a carpool lane that ends in Redwood City, potholes galore north of Candlestick and just too many cars from one end to the other. Slow, slower and still slower it goes.
The most difficult spot may be the 85-101 interchange in Mountain View, where drivers often cut into exit lanes, then jump back onto the freeway in a desperate try to save a few precious minutes. The exit to Shoreline Boulevard toward the Google campus is a real time waster.
This is tough to swallow. The 85-101 interchange and the exit to Shoreline were built just six years ago -- at $125 million the most expensive interchange in Silicon Valley. It's new, but it's jammed.
Over the past two decades, as planners saw the freeway surge coming on the main route into and out of Silicon Valley from the South County and the Peninsula, more than $2 billion has been spent to widen the freeway, add merging lanes, rebuild interchanges, install metering lights, put down new water-resistant pavement and make other improvements.
And more is coming. Work on new merging lanes between Highway 85 in Mountain View and the San Mateo County line will begin in a few months. The carpool lane will be turned into an express or toll lane between Morgan Hill and Redwood City in several more years, and in some spots a second carpool lane will be added adjacent to the existing lane.
There is also talk of converting the fast lane in San Mateo County into a carpool lane -- something that has not been done in California in more than three decades, since the Santa Monica Freeway debacle on I-10.
There was such an uproar from solo drivers who lost a lane that Caltrans' philosophy ever since has been to add carpool lanes only if they are new, extra lanes. But 101 is so bad that policy may be rethought.
Despite the many problems with our roads, there are a few reasons to cheer.
To the delight of many, numerous freeways have been repaved -- 17, 85, 580, 680 and 880. And there is a major surprise on the list of the 12 best improvements: Interstate 680 south from the I-580 interchange to Fremont ranked among the most complained-about roads a year ago. But in the past few months, I've heard barely a peep -- except for complaints about speeders in the toll lane.
"Those of us that drive 680 from the Tri-Valley area have noticed things have changed this year," said Ross Berckmoes, of Pleasanton. "Traffic in the morning coming in and in the evening going out has been lighter. Much lighter than it has been for a couple of years. We are puzzled."
There may be a reason. When traffic gets so bad, drivers change habits and look for a carpool or another route, or they leave earlier or later to beat the grind. That may be a sound strategy on some roads, but not, it seems, on 101.
Pity the unaware. When Peter King of Sports Illustrated came here to cover the 49ers-Giants playoff game three weeks ago, he suffered the agony that is the Bayshore and the Monday after the game wrote in his "dislikes" column:
"Traffic on U.S. 101 at 4:20 p.m. Friday. In rain varying from steady to a heavy mist, it took me two hours and 55 minutes to drive from the 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara to my hotel in downtown San Francisco. One crazy, maddening ride."
Tell us about it.
Contact Gary Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5335.
COMING ON HIGHWAY 101
Here are some of the improvements planned for Highway 101.
1. Convert carpool lanes into express (toll) lanes from Morgan Hill to Whipple Road in Redwood City.
2. Begin work on Capitol Expressway ramps in spring or summer.
3. Complete Tully interchange work this spring.
4. Continue to plan second southbound exit lane to Highway 87.
5. Merging lanes, metering lights coming from Highway 85 to San Mateo County line to be done later this year.
6. Begin merging lane work this spring from Marsh Road to Embarcadero Road in San Mateo County.
7. Continue study to consider converting fast lane into a carpool lane from Redwood City to San Francisco.
8. Rebuild Broadway interchange.
9. Study to be done on what changes to make at Highway 92 interchange.