Q I am just wondering: Will the carpool lane in Milpitas from Interstate 880 to Highway 237 be a big flop like the one on Interstate 680 from Sunol to Milpitas? Will heads roll at VTA and Caltrans?
A Unlikely, and here's why. The flop on 680 may not be a flop, as ridership in the express lane continues to increase. Here's the latest data:
For the first fiscal year (41 weeks from Sept. 20, 2010, through June 30, 2011), the 680 toll lane averaged 6,827 users per week and $16,035 in revenue. The total was 279,890 users and $657,467 in tolls, which was slightly better than the projected $630,000.
From July 1 through Feb. 24, the toll lane has carried an average of 8,953 users a week and generated $21,017 in revenue. That's 31.1 percent ahead of the previous fiscal year.
For the first eight weeks of this year, which included three holiday weeks (New Year's, Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Day), the average was 8,854 users and $21,359 in revenue per week.
The average toll since the express lane opened has been $2.35. The busiest week was Feb. 6-10 of this year, with 10,722 users.
And a reminder: toll lanes at the 880-237 interchange will be open for business Thursday, March 15, at 5 a.m.
Q Driving over Highway 50 into Tahoe one night recently, we were descending the two-lane grade between Echo Pass and Meyers and a large Caltrans snowblower going the opposite direction was blowing a huge plume of snow over our lane and down the cliffs to our right. We were forced to drive under the wall of snow and ice and road debris -- all went very dark for a long two to three seconds. I drive this route regularly and have never had this happen. Usually they blow the snow on the same side, not onto oncoming traffic. Does Caltrans consider this practice safe?
A The short answer is yes. Caltrans says when snowblower operators are heading west on Highway 50 near the Echo Summit, there are many locations where they have to shoot the snow across eastbound lanes. This is especially necessary in the upper section where the bluffs are. In the bluffs, all the snow that is plowed by the trucks while heading west is plowed to the right side of the road. This snow has to be blown across the eastbound lane.
Said-Mark-the-Caltrans-Spokesman: "The rocky bluffs give us no other choice. Operators are told to stop when they see vehicles approach them. Sometimes it takes the powdered snow a couple of seconds to completely settle. During this past storm, the water content of the snow was very minimal, making it a powder almost like sugar. It was very windy and the wind was swirling in every direction. It could have been possible that a blower was blowing snow while heading westbound in an area that they were able to throw to the right and the winds picked up the powder and blew it back towards the road. This does occasionally happen.
"We are going over this issue with all of the operators again to make sure that everyone does understand how the public can be affected by blowing snow. You may also want to tell your readers to approach our equipment cautiously over both the Echo and Donner summits. Oftentimes we even have motorists trying to pass our plow trucks, graders, sanders, brine trucks and even blowers during snow-clearing operations or sanding. Passing the equipment that is making the road safer is never a good idea."
Q I always thought that semis weren't allowed on Highway 84 between Interstate 680 in Sunol and Livermore. But every single day like clockwork, I get stuck behind one going 25 mph, holding up all traffic. Some people get so ticked off, they pass across the double yellow and even run red lights just to not get stuck behind a truck. As far as I know, there is absolutely no reason they have to take it. They can take 580 to 680. It causes a big headache every day. Don't get me started on the rocks that they usually drop. Ask my windshield about that!
A Sgt.-Tom-the-County-Cop says trucks are not banned here. Some truckers who use this road are locals making deliveries in the area, and to cut down on fuel costs they use the shortest route possible.
Q From the description that you gave recently, it looks like the needed improvements to the Highway 4 interchange at Interstate 680 might never be completed, at least in our lifetimes.
A It may be a loooong time before all the planned improvements are completed at this interchange. But other upgrades on this tough road are moving ahead, starting Monday, when ramps are permanently closed at G Street to widen the highway to three lanes each way between Antioch and Pittsburg.
The westbound ramp will close at 11 p.m. Monday and the eastbound ramp will close at 11 p.m. Tuesday. A new interchange will be built at Contra Loma and should be open by mid-2015.
Go to http://widensr4.org for more information.
Q Exiting traffic backs up far onto Interstate 680 every day at Montague Expressway. This is a relatively new commute for me, so I don't know if this is a new phenomenon or just a known characteristic of this intersection. Is there any fix planned? I don't know the patterns well enough to understand the root cause of the backup. Montague doesn't seem overcrowded there and the exit from 680 has a dedicated lane on the expressway. There are some safety issues on 680, since traffic is often almost totally stopped in the exit lane and cars are going quite fast in the neighboring lanes. You have folks in that lane who pull out in front of faster-moving traffic, as well as folks who stay in the fast-moving lanes until the last second and then cut in to the exit.
A There are long-range plans to widen Montague by extending the carpool lane to 680. My theory is that the south 680 backups are so bad at Mission Boulevard that some drivers are going to Montague instead. Anyone else want to weigh in?
Q I have lived in Alameda since 1968 and nothing ever appears to be done in the Posey and Webster tubes leading in and out of Alameda. When is Caltrans going to clean or renovate these tubes to make them even slightly comparable to the Caldecott Tunnel? Although it seems they have increased the lighting, the tubes are still filthy and never seem to be cleaned, while the westbound Caldecott is beautifully restored.
A I put in request to the state for a cleaning, but there no plans to renovate these tubes. However, the Alameda County Transportation Commission will oversee an upgrade to the Broadway-Jackson-880 interchange as well as improvements to other bridges leading to the city of Alameda.
Q It's a great idea to make sure that the batteries in your key remote are replaced every few years. My boss and I recently had an amusing trip across the Bay Bridge when his remote batteries died. He could manually open the doors and start the engine, but the alarm would go off about every 30 seconds all the way across the bay. We got some of the strangest looks! I'm just glad we didn't get pulled over.
A Me, too.
Q The construction at Capitol Expressway and Story Road in San Jose has been going on for years, but I assume that it will eventually be finished. My concern is about the two left-hand turn lanes from southbound Capitol onto Story. Currently, turning traffic can sometimes back up to the light at Capitol. While it appears that the two left-turn lanes could be extended quite a bit back towards that previous intersection, the plastic pylons in the roadway indicate that the extra space may simply be turned into a large median strip. Can you find out just what is planned?
A You are right. There has been a lot of work going on here, but Masoud-the-County-Man sees light at the end of the tunnel. The expressway will get a new surface before new striping within the next couple of months, and the new striping will include longer southbound left lanes. This is tied into work in this area by the water district and sidewalk widening.
Q When traveling south on El Camino Real, there is a bottleneck at 20th Avenue in San Mateo. The right turn at that corner is stopped by drivers who are going straight but do not know that the lane narrows shortly thereafter. It would be helpful if a merge to the left indicator would be painted on the street before the intersection. Is there anything that can be done?
A Perhaps. Steve-the-Caltrans-Striping-Man checked out this location a couple of times and said while the striping is in good condition, there is a problem where a parking lane begins approximately 360 feet from the corner. There is no paint to let drivers know this happens and as cars travel south on El Camino, the abrupt shift in all three lanes causes following vehicles to brake.
He kicked it up to his boss, saying your concerns are legitimate, and advocates beginning the lane shift farther back, closer to the intersection, or removing the parking lane. Stay tuned.
Have a gripe, minor annoyance or major problem with transportation? Look for Gary Richards at www.facebook.com/mr.roadshow or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5335. The fax number is 408-288-8060.