Caltrans aims to ease congestion on El Camino Real with new traffic cameras, signals

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Road warriors: San Mateo County is working to improve the flow of traffic on a 14-mile stretch of El Camino Real.
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You may not see them, but they will see you. New traffic-monitoring cameras and signals will be going up on El Camino Real — all part of a plan to ease traffic along the busy artery and other city streets between there and U.S. Highway 101 throughout San Mateo County.

Caltrans recently announced $11.7 million in funding for signal improvements, traffic-monitoring cameras, and a system linking them together on a 14-mile stretch of El Camino Real from Interstate 380 in San Bruno to Whipple Avenue in Redwood City.

The project is a significant part of the county’s Street Corridors Program to ease traffic between Highway 101 and El Camino Real. Local officials had worried that the money would not come through in light of state budget cuts.

Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said the project on El Camino Real, where about 30,500 vehicles pass daily during the weekdays and 2,650 an hour during peak commute times, will be done between mid-2012 and early 2013.
 
Unlike some traffic-monitoring cameras, these will not be on the Internet for public viewing, and instead will be on a closed-circuit feeding to the agency’s offices in Oakland.

“I don’t think it’s going to be something motorists will notice,” said Navarro.

But what they should see is less traffic, said Parviz Mokhtari, project manager for the City/County Governments Association of San Mateo County’s Smart Corridors Program, which manages traffic flows. Should there be an accident affecting Highway 101, the program can redirect drivers who may be unfamiliar with city streets. Cameras can show how traffic is flowing, and traffic signals can be timed so that vehicles will move faster.

According to a 2008 presentation about the program, that happens more on Highway 101 than anywhere else.

The accident rate there is 2.86 per million vehicle miles traveled, which is more than double the statewide average of 1.14 accidents. Mokhtari said the program stretches throughout El Camino Real in the county, down to East Palo Alto, and also includes major roads around El Camino Real and Highway 101.   

“This is a major improvement,” Mokhtari said. He said it will increase the amount of traffic without building more road, as there is no room to expand the road.

Mokhtari said the work will be split between Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over El Camino Real, also known as state Highway 82, and the association, though the work will be done about the same time. He said the system should be working within months after construction.

Scott Fletcher, a manager at Brentwood Bowl on El Camino Real in South San Francisco, said it’s a good idea. During commute times, many drivers use El Camino and other streets because of freeway traffic.

“It’s pretty busy most of the time,” Fletcher said. “A lot of people are trying to avoid the freeway.”

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