Wider highway on the horizon

The end of the impenetrable wall of brake lights faced by many southbound drivers each morning near the U.S. Highway 101 Millbrae Avenue exit could be within sight, according to transit experts.

Construction is set to begin soon after the holiday season on two additional lanes for merging traffic on 101, one in each direction. The lanes will connect the entrance and exit ramps between Millbrae and Third Avenue in San Mateo, allowing drivers getting on and off the highway to merge more easily, Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weis said. “It will decrease travel times in that area, because merging is one of the biggest causes of congestion,” Weis said.

The auxiliary lanes, financed in part by a county transportation sales tax, are part of a series of such projects from the San Francisco border to Santa Clara County, some of which have already been completed. When finished, the lanes will save the average driver about 10 minutes between San Francisco International Airport and Santa Clara. The additional lanes will also slash accidents by 20 percent and cut greenhouse gases by 12 percent, according to Joe Hurley of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.

“As a result of the auxiliary lanes, [drivers] are able to get to [their] destinations sooner, cheaper and safer,” Hurley said. San Francisco resident and San Mateo County Human Services Agency employee Jenny Loft appreciated the hope of an easier commute.

“Any assistance in decreasing congestion on 101 will be a relief,” said Loft, who commutes to Belmont daily.

The cost of the $90 million Millbrae to Third Avenue project has already risen 10 percent since February 2005 estimates, largely because of increasing energy and construction costs, according to Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro. “Right-of-way costs have increased with real estate prices in recent years, and construction costs are up because of shortages of concrete and steel,” Navarro said. Work is slated to begin in February and wrap up in 2010, Navarro said.

The project will include new sound walls along the highway ranging from 12 to 16 feet, widening the Peninsula Avenue overpass in San Mateo and adding pedestrian and bicycle bridges at Monte Diablo in San Mateo and Broadway in Burlingame, officials said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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