Part of US 101 express lane to open in San Mateo County Friday

Starting Friday, part of US 101 along the Peninsula will have an express lane, similar to those on Interstates 680 and 880.

The new express lane will eventually be 22 miles long, running from Palo Alto up to South San Francisco. On Friday the first phase is opening, going from the San Mateo County/Santa Clara County line to Whipple Avenue in Redwood City.

You can either pay to use the express lane with a FasTrak device, or get a discount when you have more than one person in the car with a FasTrak Flex device.  

By moving the lever on the FasTrak Flex, you can show that you have more people in the car. With two people, you will pay half price. And with more than three people in the car, it's free.

"It’s better I pay something more and go faster," said Uber driver Petros Abrahamyan. "(It) saves my time, saves passengers' time."

Abrahamyan said he's excited for the express lane. Right now, if he's backed up in traffic that means fewer people he can drive in a day and less money in his pocket.  

"We really do think it’s going to be very helpful at helping people move up and down the peninsula, and it’s also something that can help us encourage people to carpool, use transit," said Dan Lieberman, a public affair specialist with the San Mateo County Transit District.  

Buses will also get to use the new lane. Lieberman hopes that seeing buses go faster will make taking public transit more appealing for drivers.

"One fully loaded bus, that’s 50 cars off the road. The more we can encourage that, the more we can make that easier, the better it’s going to be for everyone, the easier it’s going to be for us to get around," said Lieberman.

Starting Feb. 11, the express lane will run weekdays 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. The price is based on how long you stay in the lane, and during high traffic times it will be more expensive.

For drivers of clean air vehicles with the appropriate sticker, they will also pay half price, instead of the free ride in the carpool lane they might be used to.

Some drivers aren't so sure they'll want to pay.

"I think I won’t be using it," said David B. in Millbrae.

Van transport driver Gilbert Scott based in Los Angeles said similar projects in Southern California don't help traffic much. 

"There are times when we do pay for (the Express Lane) and think that we’re going to get somewhere a little bit quicker than usual, but it’s kind of like we still sit in the same traffic," said Scott.

But drivers that are used to using the Express Lanes on I-680 and I-880 know it will be convenient when they're running late.

"If it’s really important for me to get on time to work, yea, I pay it. If it’s not, if it’s a matter of 5-10 minutes, it’s okay. I will just use the regular lane," said Fremont resident Zaman.

The money collected from the Express Lane will go to paying for the construction to build it, along with other local transit programs. The county is also planning on using some money to help low income families through the Community Transportation Benefits pilot program.

"This is going to use the tolls generated from these lanes to help do things like subsidize transit passes, get more people enrolled in clipper and help to spread some awareness about existing transportation services," said Lieberman.

Construction for the rest of the lane, continuing up to I-380 in South San Francisco, is set to last through mid to late 2022.