After almost two decades in the dark, plans are rolling forward to energize metering lights in Pittsburg and North Concord by the end of the year.
County transportation officials also are looking at giving the green light to metering entrances to Highway 4 through Martinez and Antioch by the end of 2015.
The addition of the signals on Highway 4 and Highway 242 during peak commute hours is aimed at improving traffic flow on one of the Bay Area and nation's most punishing commutes, according to local transportation officials.
"We've seen metering lights deployed in other parts of California and the United States and it's a good operation that helps keep traffic flow moving efficiently and effectively," said Randell Iwasaki, Contra Costa Transportation Authority's executive director.
Officials point to the benefits drivers have seen from metering lights in Southern California and parts of the Bay Area such as Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
Caltrans is in the process of repairing the existing -- but never used -- traffic lights at Highway 4 entrances between Solano Way and Railroad Avenue. Construction for that segment is estimated at about $900,000, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Plans call for lights to be added as part of the widening project under way from Pittsburg's Loveridge Road to Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch and ready to be activated once road construction is complete. The price tag for those lights is estimated at about $26 million.
According to the county's implementation plan, metering lights would reduce the westbound Highway 4 drive time from Antioch to Alhambra Avenue in Martinez by 10 minutes, and nine minutes for the eastbound afternoon commute.
Metering lights would shave seven minutes off the morning drive from Antioch to the Highway 242/Interstate 680 interchange and one minute off in the other direction in the afternoon, according to the study.
Though installed in 1995, Contra Costa transportation officials and local leaders had balked at using metering lights because they could cause surface street backups where onramps are short and red lights are long, thus creating headaches for local traffic.
With the approval of Proposition 1B in 2006, the county began studying ways to improve mobility in the area and along the Highway 4 corridor, with metering being one of the possible answers, Iwasaki said.
Metering lights help traffic move as the road crowds because they keep multiple cars from trying to to squeeze onto the freeway at once, causing drivers behind the merging cars to hit the brakes and set off a ripple effect, Iwasaki said. The number of side swipes and accidents would also be reduced, leading to a more "orderly procession," he said.
Local transportation representatives have varying comfort levels with the idea.
Sal Evola, Pittsburg's vice mayor, said the metering lights will be good for the region, if implemented properly.
"From all the studies and modeling I've seen, with the lights going through the entire corridor, it should be effective and reduce commuters' drive time," he said.
In addition to concerns about local traffic spillover, Concord Councilman Ron Leone wonders if the lights actually save drivers time or if they will cause more delays.
"I remember from my own experience commuting to Fremont, it seemed like it was delaying me more than helping me," Leone said. "Does it make sense for us to do? I don't know yet, but I'm willing to listen."
Traffic conditions are being monitored as part of a "before and after" study. Caltrans also will periodically monitor how the ramps are working once they are in operation to see if the signals need recalibrating.
A memorandum of understanding would also have to be agreed upon between Caltrans and the cities.
"The last thing we want is for traffic to be backed up into (city streets)," Iwasaki said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.