Metering lights zoom onto Peninsula onramps

Stoplights are cutting precious minutes from drivers’ commutes during rush-hour traffic.

Metering lights were installed on U.S. Highway 101 onramps between Santa Clara County and state Route 92 in San Mateo in January 2007. Now, Peninsula commute times on Highway 101 are as much as 20 percent shorter than 18 months ago, officials said.

The lights, which carry negative connotations with some drivers, force commute-time drivers to stop briefly before they reach the freeway so cars slowly flow onto the roads.

The results from the previous 18 months have accelerated the installation of more of the lights throughout San Mateo County, said Richard Napier, executive director of the group in charge of the lights, the county’s City/County Association of Governments.

Metering lights will be turned on within the year on Highway 280 onramps between San Francisco and Interstate 380 in San Bruno, Napier said.

Lights will be added to Highway 101 between Route 92 and San Francisco — where traffic is the heaviest on the Peninsula — within two years, he said.

“Our board [of directors] was somewhat cautious in the beginning, and now our board has only one concern: how to put them out there faster,” Napier said.

Southbound drivers have knocked off four to eight minutes from an average 30- to 35-minute commute on Highway 101 through the south Peninsula since the lights were installed, according to the agency.

Northbound drivers, however, have seen their commute cut only slightly since the lights were installed, Napier said, because traffic remains gridlocked on areas north of metering lights.

Complaints from drivers, problems with the lights malfunctioning and criticisms from cities about overflow traffic have been minimal since they were installed, Napier said.

San Mateo County is following a precedent already established throughout the Bay Area, in particular in the South and East Bays, said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“Metering lights are a proven, cost-effective way to increase the efficiency of the freeway system,” Goodwin said.

The lights are quick to install and cost only $800,000 for the southern portion of Highway 101 and

northern half of Interstate 280. However, extra equipment required for the northern part of Highway 101 has put the price tag for that project at more than $8 million.

The metering-lights project will be funded by the City and County Association of Governments.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

Life by numbers

Cars that use U.S. 101 on a weekday in county:

199,000

Cars using Interstate Highway 280 on a weekday in county:

121,000

Installed metering light cost for southern Highway 101:

$300,000

Metering light cost for northern Highway 280:

$500,000

Metering light cost for northern Highway 101:

$8 million-$9 million

Southbound commute time cutfrom southern Highway 101 after lights installed:

10-20 percent

Northbound commute time cut from southern Highway 101 after lights installed:

2 percent

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