What are HOT lanes? HOT lanes are similar in concept to HOV lanes. HOT stands for High Occupancy Toll and HOV stands for High Occupancy Vehicle. HOT lanes (a.k.a. Express Lanes) allow not only multi-passenger vehicles, clean air vehicles with decals, transit buses and motorcycles to use them free of charge (just like the HOV lanes), they also allow solo drivers to use them for a fee. These lanes are not new to California or to Santa Clara County. Toll Roads exist in Southern CA (e.g. lanes on Highway 91 or the entire Highway 73 in Orange County). HOT lanes already exist in Santa Clara County on Highway 237 leading to Interstate 880 in Milpitas and on Interstate 680 from Sunol to Milpitas.
Now, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) has proposed HOT lanes on Highway 85. The proposal includes adding a HOT lane in each direction in the current median of Highway 85 between Highway 87 and Interstate 280 (approx. 14 miles). Additionally, the existing HOV lanes (next to the median) would be converted to HOT lanes from Highway 101 in Mountain View to Highway 101 in South San Jose (approx. 26 miles).
The project is estimated to cost $176 million and be operational in late 2018 if funding can be identified. This project must widen several bridges in the median to accommodate the new lanes. The toll collection system will have no booths to slow the traffic down. Instead, it will display the current price per mile on overhead boards to let commuters decide, then use the overhead antennas to read the FasTrak transponders of the solo drivers in the express lane and deduct the toll automatically from their prepaid account.
Proponents include many residents from Morgan Hill, South San Jose, Cambrian and Almaden Valley. They are often stuck in rush hour traffic in both directions and favor improving their commute. They support even more express lanes as the current HOV lanes are too congested.
Opponents include the Cities of Los Gatos, Saratoga and Cupertino who are suing the Caltrans (owner of the facility) to stop the project from advancing. They claim they are unhappy with the noise emitted from Highway 85 as it is and adding more traffic without mitigation will not help matters. Mountain View is considering its options to join the suit. The opponents also cite the cost of the project, the disruption to traffic, and the fact that the second lanes don’t go all the way to Highway 101 on each end to make their case against the project. They also point out that this project would likely eliminate the future possibility of light rail along the median of Highway 85.
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Visit the VTA website here for more information.