SACRAMENTO — A state bill to empower the Bay Area transportation commission to create an 800-mile network of dual carpool and toll lanes passed its first committee hearing with ease Monday.
The Assembly Transportation Committee voted 12-1 to pass AB 744, which would permit the Bay Area Toll Authority to create the system of express lanes and automatically collect tolls with the FasTrak system.
Carpools and motorcycles would not be charged to enter the lanes, while solo drivers would pay a toll based on the time of day and levels of traffic congestion.
The lanes — called High Occupancy Toll or HOT lanes — will reduce congestion in the region with the second worst traffic gridlock in the nation, said the East Bay lawmaker who proposed the bill.
Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, said the toll money collected from drivers will cover the costs of developing and operating the express lanes. Surplus toll money will be used to improve public transit, expand the HOT lanes, or make freeway changes to improve traffic flow, he said.
No one spoke out against the toll lane bill Monday, and it received support from transportation management agencies in Alameda, Solano and Santa Clara counties.
Torrico said he is willing to work on possible amendments sought by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.
The Contra Costa group wants a requirement that at least 50 percent of the surplus toll money be spent on public transit in the travel corridor where it was collected.
"It's something we need to consider," Torrico told the Transportation Committee members in a Capitol hearing.
In response to Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties' concerns about accountability, Torrico said his bill would require new toll lanes to undergo review and hearings by a panel including representatives from the Toll Authority, the state, and county congestion management agencies.
"No HOT lanes will be developed where they don't make sense," said Rebecca Long, the legislative analyst for the Bay Area Toll Authority, the branch of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that wants to build and operate the express lanes.
Long said the Toll Authority is well prepared to run the HOT lanes because it already collects bridge toll money with the FasTrak electronic toll collection system.
Its strong credit rating will enable the Bay Area Toll Authority to finance the toll lanes more cheaply than individual counties could on their own, said Kurt Evans of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
The first two express lanes are scheduled to open late next year on Interstate 580 in the Livermore Valley and I-680 on the Sunol Grade between Pleasanton and Fremont.
Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or email@example.com.