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Debate Over HOT Lanes Heats Up

The Transportation Authority of Marin is exploring the possibility of creating toll lanes on Highway 101 through Marin County.

Would you pay extra to escape the congestion on Highway 101? A study presented to the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) suggests local residents might be willing to shell out the extra bucks.

A poll found 36 percent of Marin residents might be willing to pay tolls, while 34 percent favor special taxes in order to fund improvements to Highway 101. Another 30 percent of people surveyed suggested no new taxes or fees are needed.

The TAM board's executive committee Monday afternoon took up the issue of creating toll lanes on Highway 101 through Marin County. The goal of the so-called high-occupancy/toll lanes is to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gasses by encouraging carpooling. 

Karen Nygren voiced her concern that the express lanes could have the opposite effect.

"I wouldn't go to a (three-person carpool rate)," she told the executive board. "All you're going to do then … is force more people into the mixed-flow lanes and your mixed-flow lanes will become more congested.

A report prepared by Parsons Brinckerhoff described these express lanes as a carpool lane "that can also be used by solo drivers if they pay a toll." There are a dozen HOT, or express, lanes operating nationally in different forms, including one on I-680. Another is being constructed on I-580.

The report offered several different scenarios. One scenario would keep the lanes free all day for carpoolers. A second possibility would charge a toll during peak commute hours. The final possibility would charge commuters during midday and peak hours, weekdays and weekends.

Carpoolers typically use the express lane without paying a toll; however, there are variations: two-person carpools may be required to pay a toll, whereas three-or-more person carpools are free, or, carpools of any size may be required to pay a toll during particular times of day or days of the week," according to the report.

The report proposed charging express lane users 11 cents per mile between Novato and Richardson Bay, and nine cents from Petaluma to San Rafael. Electronic monitors would be placed along the highway to determine where drivers enter and exit the express lane.

One thing that could make the express lane plan more difficult to understand is dynamic pricing, where the toll changes at certain times and at certain stretches. Dynamic pricing is already used on some express lanes.

The project could cost between $66 million and nearly $120 million, according to the report.

The board meets again July 28, 7 p.m., at the Marin County Civic Center.

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