Monday, September 12, 2005

Local transportation leaders want Interstate 80 carpool lanes and a North Connector road built in the Fairfield area within five years

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Sep 10, 2005 - 10:09:02 pm PDT

Transportation officials weigh carpool lanes, congestion

By Barry Eberling

- Local transportation leaders want Interstate 80 carpool lanes and a North Connector road built in the Fairfield area within five years.

They are in a hurry. A new Benicia Bridge span with 17 toll plazas could open in 2007. It's expected to fix a bottleneck there, as well as moving one down the line to the already congested interstates 80 and 680 interchange in Fairfield.

"Right now, we've got a little bit of time before (congestion) gets dramatically worse," Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls said.

The STA board Wednesday could take steps to put both traffic relief projects on a faster track. The board meets at 6 p.m. at Suisun City Hall, 701 Civic Center Drive.

Carpool lanes could be built on I-80 from Highway 12 at Jameson Canyon to Air Base Parkway, a distance of more than six miles.

Much of this freeway segment already has five lanes in each direction. Transportation leaders think they can squeeze in another lane each way without having to rebuild various interchanges.

Carpool lanes would allow express buses, carpools and vanpools to get by the crowded interstates 80 and 680 interchange more easily. That in turn would mean less traffic in the remaining lanes, Halls said.

To date, the environmental study for the carpool lanes has been part of the larger interstates 80 and 680 interchange study. That study won't be done until 2008.

By doing the carpool lane environmental study separately, transportation leaders hope to finish it sooner. Construction of the lanes could begin in 2008 and be finished by late 2010, an STA memorandum said.

The North Connector is a proposed road that is to parallel I-80 and link Green Valley to central Fairfield. Part of the North Connector could be the existing Business Center Drive.

"It provides an alternate route for local traffic," Halls said.

And less local traffic on I-80 means less freeway congestion.

The latest schedule for the North Connector calls for the environmental study to be done in a few months. Working with Fairfield, the STA hopes to begin construction in 2007 and finish in 2008.

Money is a challenge. Halls said the carpool lanes could cost $60 million to $70 million and the North Connector $60 million to $80 million, though those are rough estimates.

The STA is getting $100 million from bridge tolls, $11 million from the state and $17 million from the federal highway bill. All this money is to help with the interstates 80 and 680 interchange.

But the carpool lanes and North Connector are only some of the interchange projects. Fixing the entire interchange could cost $740 million to $1 billion, the STA estimates.

Also Wednesday, transportation leaders will again discuss a possible transportation sales tax ballot measure for the June 2006 or November 2006 election.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or

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