680 express lanes to open Monday

- The Metropolitan Transportation Commission says next week will begin a new era of commuting on the horribly crowded 680 corridor. They are sometimes referred to as so-called "Lexus Lanes."

Monday morning, 5 AM, the long awaited Express Lanes on the 680 corridor from San Ramon to Walnut Creek will begin. They will operate from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Car pools, motorcycles and clean air vehicles will pay no toll.  Single passenger cars will, for a fee, be able to use the lanes, raising the issue of "Lexus Lanes" for the wealthy.

"Everybody using the lane will need to have a FasTrak toll tag. And, if you want to travel toll free, you'll need a Fastrak Flex Tag," said John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Flex tags have a three point switches; "1" for solo drivers, "2" for two passengers and "3" for three or more passengers.

Cheaters beware.

"Flex tags activate a beacon, along the roadway, that the CHP can see and the CHP will then confirm that there are two or more people in the vehicle or otherwise qualifies for toll free travel," said Mr. Goodwin.

A computer determines your price based on the actual congestion at the time you enter the Express Lanes. "As congestion increases, so too will the price in the toll lane and as congestion falls, the price will go fall," said Goodwin.

Unlike other Express Lanes, such as those on the 580 which have maximum price caps, this one will not. "I guess if they're willing to pay the price, as long as it doesn't jam up the HOV Lane," said 680 commuters Bob Norsworthy.

"I probably will never use them. I think they'll take the money and use it for that train. So, if they truly used it for what it was being raised for, maybe, but I do not really trust that it will happen that way," said Patty Scott, another 680 highway user.

But in this well to do corridor, many will. "Through this corridor, you've got a lot of people who are going to use it because they don't care and they've go a lot of expendable income to get out of the hassle of being in the other lanes," said Mr. Norsworthy.

Express Lanes will continue to be placed Bay Area wide for the next 18 years. You can learn how to exchange your current FasTrak transponder for FasTrak Flex BayAreaFasTrak.org.

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