Caltrans’ I-205 “Managed Lane” Project: A Classic Example of what Happens when Highway Planners Ignore the Big Picture

Excerpts from BATWG’s 11.4.21 letter to Mr. Scott Guidi of Caltrans respond­ing to the Notice of Preparation (NOP) for a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the I-205 Caltrans/SJCOG project.

NOP: The goal is “….to improve local, regional, and interregional circulation for all modes of travel between the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area” by addressing the following problems:

  • Increased commute times and corridor congestion on I-205
  • Increased use of I-205 as an intercity and interstate truck or freight route
  • Need for alternative [non-automotive] modes of transportation between San Joaquin County and the San Francisco Bay Area.

BATWG: The project proposes to examine a “no build” and four “build” alternatives – three of which would add freeway lanes and a fourth that would convert an existing I-205 mixed flow lane in each direction into a multiple-occupant vehicle (HOV) lane.

Currently five westbound lanes converge at the I-205/I-580 junction: three westbound from I-205 and two westbound from I-580. Three of the four NOP build Alternatives would add a fourth westbound lane on I-205. It is obvious that six westbound lanes funneling into four I-580 lanes would make the already bad congestion problem even worse. Under no circumstances should I-205 be widened in a manner that would add either traffic or congestion on I-580. The fourth build alternative would reserve an existing I-205 lane in each direction for multiple-occupant vehicles. Arranged with proper traffic controls, Alternative 4 could achieve the three stated NOP objectives listed above, but is probably a non-starter.

Read more here

Pursuant to MTC’s Plan Bay Area 2050 and the California Transportation Plan, a better approach would be for State and regional agencies to get together and jointly create an express bus service designed to get travelers quickly and comfortably between various points in San Joaquin County and the Bay Area.

Yet SJCOG’s Congested Corridor Plan-Final Report (2020) reveals on page 39 that the westbound I-205 HOV/Transit/Express Lanes “will result in increased congestion and delays at the terminus of the project in Alameda County.”

BATWG Recommendations:  

  • Creating additional congestion and delays on I-580 is not acceptable.  Such problems should be directly confronted and resolved – and not by highway widening.  It makes no sense to expand I-205 without taking into account the resulting effects on I-580 and other nearby roadways. The project should NOT terminate at the I-205/I-580 interchange.
  • That the I-205 project be deferred until post-COVID travel patterns and societal effects are better understood and predictable than they are now. (See internationally acclaimed transportation expert Alan Pisarski’s September 21, 2021 presentation to BATWG, described elsewhere in this Newsletter). Outdated and otherwise flawed forecasts do not lead to well-conceived projects.
  • That the following operating changes be applied where and as necessary: Conversion of mixed flow lanes to HOV lanes; Ramp metering with bypass lanes for HOV vehicles; Congestion pricing; Highway tolling. The need for a high quality express bus system to reduce VMT and ease highway backups gets more apparent every year.
  • That the area of the project be expanded as necessary to avoid adverse effects on I-580 and other roadways beyond the currently defined “limits” of the project. 

Until the issues and problems identified and highlighted herein  are eliminated, BATWG will remain in support of NOP Alternative 1: the No-Build alternative.

Conclusions:  Because of the lack of knowledge of the coronavirus-driven future household travel and behavior relationships, remote work practices, hybrid in-office workforce practices, fast changing on-line retail and delivery patterns and other long lasting societal effects, now is no time to be pushing ahead with major highway expansion projects.  When post-coronavirus conditions become sufficiently understood to permit the reliable modeling of post pandemic travel behavior, we believe the State of California’s comprehensive, multi-modal, activity-based, personal and goods movement forecasting model would produce the most effective results for the I-205 project.  It is essential that whatever is done avoids overcrowding or increasing highway traffic or otherwise adversely affecting roadways in the vicinity of the project.

In the late 1950’s it no doubt made sense to widen freeways from time to time.  By the 1970’s it was obvious to most observers that the practice was no longer working in crowded metropolitan areas.  Yet it continued and despite MTC’s Plan 2050 and the California Transportation Plan it appears that even today the destructive, out-of-date expansion of crowded freeways is still favored in some quarters.

 In the coming months it is hoped that Caltrans and SJCOG will broaden their perspective and remain open to the potential of a really good express bus system to solve the transportation issues within and between San Joaquin and Alameda Counties. 

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