I-80 bridge traffic to get worse before it gets better

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For the fifth consecutive year — to the surprise of no one who drives into San Francisco during morning rush hour — the early commute on westbound Interstate 80 toward the Bay Bridge has been deemed the most congested stretch of pavement in the Bay Area.

Drivers on I-80 from state Route 4 to the toll plaza spent about 12,230 hours in traffic per day in 2006. Meanwhile, Bay Area commuters experienced a 6 percent increase overall in the number of hours spent in traffic compared with 2005, according to a Metropolitan Transportation Commission survey.

And state and local officials say it will only get worse before it gets better. A long list of improvement projects intended to prepare for the expected doubling of the number of Bay Area commuters by 2030 will have the effect of slowing traffic down in the short term, officials said Monday.

Within the next decade, drivers from Sonoma County to Santa Clara County can expect new carpool lanes and wider highways to make commutes a little less frustrating. Additionally, Caltrans, which oversees state highways, will use technological measures such as electronic lane management, real-time travel information and metering lights to make traffic on the corridors even lighter.

Until those improvements are completed, however, commuters should expect detours, bottlenecks and slower travel times to make room for Caltrans workers and equipment in construction zones, officials said.

“You will see even more delay,” said Scott Haggerty, vice chairman of the MTC, which oversees the nine counties in the Bay Area. “Drivers will have to be even more safe as they drive down these highways because there will be more people working on them.”

The projects — which will affect Interstates 880, 580 and 80; state Routes 24, 12 and 4; and U.S. Highway 101 — will cost about $2.5 billion, with about half of the funds coming from a state transportation bond measure voters passed in 2006. A combination of local taxes and other state funds will pay for the rest.

The projects, which must all be implemented by 2012 under terms of the bond measure, come at a time when commuters are spending more time stuck in traffic, according to the MTC.

In 2006, Bay Area drivers spent nearly 144,000 hours in traffic each day, a 6 percent increase from 2005, when commuters spent about 135,700 hours in traffic a day. In 2004, drivers spent about 124,000 hours a day on Bay Area highways.

Drivers in Alameda County accounted for nearly one-third of the bumper-to-bumper time in 2006, spending 55,500 hours in traffic per day. Drivers along I-580 and I-880 have spent more time in traffic than commuters in other counties for the last four years.

In 2002, drivers in Alameda County spent 61,300 hours in traffic per day. The number of hours fell by about 15,000 in 2003, but has been climbing steadily since then.

On I-580 over the Altamont Pass in both directions, commuters spent more than 6,700 hours in the evenings and about 5,300 hours in the mornings in traffic. Caltrans expects a 90 percent increase in traffic on the Altamont Pass by 2030.

“We’re investing in the right corridors,” said Bijan Sartipi, director of the local Caltrans district. “And we will deliver on a timely schedule.”

Bay Area traffic by the numbers

143,900: Total number of hours per day Bay Area commuters sat in freeway traffic in 2006

177,600: Total number of hours per day Bay Area commuters sat in freeway traffic in 2000

621: Total number of freeway miles in the Bay Area

$2.5 billion: Total estimated cost of improvement for each of the Bay Area’s 10 most congested freeways

3,200: The increase in hours Alameda County commuters sat in freeway traffic in 2006 over 2005

12,230: The number of hours each day commuters sat in traffic on westbound I-80 during the morning commute

4 percent: The decrease in traffic delays for Marin County from 2005 to 2006, the only county to experience a decrease

61,000: Number of new jobs created in the Bay Area in 2006

477 million: Total number of freeway trips in the Bay Area in 2005

57 billion: Total number of miles traveled on Bay Area freeways in 2005

132 million: Total number of vehicles that crossed the Bay Area’s seven bridges in 2005

arocha@examiner.com

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