I-15 Express Lanes
Vehicles with two or more drive free every day!
Solo drivers can use FasTrak to automatically pay the toll.
Get on your way in the I-15 Express Lanes
The Interstate 15 (I-15) Express Lanes provide 20 miles of flexible travel between State Route 78 in Escondido and State Route 163 in San Diego.
Carpools, vanpools, transit riders, permitted clean air vehicles, and motorcycles can use the Express Lanes for free without a transponder – all day, every day. Solo drivers can get FasTrak online or at Costco and pay the toll automatically to use the I-15 Express Lanes.
Who Can Use the I-15 Express Lanes?
Two or more always travel FREE all day, every day! Ride with at least one other person and use the I-15 Express Lanes for FREE. No transponder needed.
Transit always gets a pass on the I-15 Express Lanes. Rapid uses the Express Lanes to get you to and from your destination – STRESS-FREE.
No need to split lanes on the I-15 Express Lanes. Motorcycles can use the Express Lanes for FREE all day, every day. No transponder needed.
Clean Air Vehicles
Help reduce carbon emissions and take the I-15 Express Lanes for FREE. Permitted clean air vehicles travel FREE. No double occupancy or transponder required.
Solo Drivers Can Use FasTrak to Automatically Pay a Toll
On days when you can't carpool, vanpool, or take transit, consider taking the I-15 Express Lanes with Fastrak to automatically pay the toll. If the Express Lanes have room - you can zoom (within the speed limit)! Solo drivers need a Fastrak account and transponder to use the Express Lanes.
Occasionally, the Express Lanes fill to capacity, and there is no excess room for solo drivers. When this happens, signs will indicate "HOV ONLY." Solo FasTrak users are not permitted to enter the Express Lanes when "HOV ONLY" signs are displayed.
If you enter the Express Lanes when the "HOV ONLY" message is displayed, you will be charged the maximum toll amount (currently $8) and assessed a fine equal to the maximum toll amount.
If you enter the Express Lanes before the message is displayed, you can complete your trip and will not be fined.
See FAQ for who can use the lanes when the "HOV ONLY" message is displayed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why were the I-15 Express Lanes built?
The I-15 Express Lanes were designed to offer choices and to provide high occupancy vehicles (HOVs) like carpools and vanpools, zero-emission vehicles with an approved Clean Air Vehicle Sticker issued by the California DMV, motorcycles, MTS Rapid, and FasTrak customers with a smoother, quicker, and more reliable trip along the I-15 corridor. The Express Lanes provide congestion relief and help ease demand on the general purpose lanes. A moveable barrier separates the northbound and southbound Express Lanes, which enables operators to increase or decrease the number of lanes in each direction to manage congestion.
Who can use the I-15 Express Lanes?
Carpools, vanpools, transit vehicles, clean air vehicles, and motorcycles can use the Express Lanes for free – all day, every day. No transponder is necessary. Solo drivers can get FasTrak online or at Costco to use the lanes for a fee, determined by a distance-based dynamic pricing system.
How can I get more information on transportation alternatives like carpools, vanpools, and transit?
The SANDAG iCommute program provides carpool and ride matching services, a subsidized vanpool program, and transit solutions. To learn more, visit 511sd.com/iCommute, email iCommute@sandag.org, or call 511 and say “iCommute.”
Can I reach the same destinations from the Express Lanes as I can from the general purpose lanes?
Yes, the Express Lanes provide flexibility for you to reach your destination, and help keep your travel time reliable. Five Direct Access Ramps (DARs) make it easy to enter or exit the Express Lanes directly from local streets, without crossing multiple freeway lanes. There are more than 16 other access points where you can get in or out of the Express Lanes.
Why is the I-15 Express Lanes barrier moved?
The I-15 Express Lanes barrier is moved to relieve corridor congestion, to collect traffic data for analysis, and for maintenance. The traffic data collected on the I-15 Express Lanes and general purpose lanes is continually analyzed to determine the best operational strategy for the corridor. The barrier also is regularly moved for maintenance to ensure the system is kept operational as well as free from debris and trash. In order to properly maintain the system, the barrier must be moved at least once each week.
When is the barrier moved?
The barrier is moved Monday through Thursday mornings (typically 3:30-5:30 a.m.) to make three southbound Express Lanes available to relieve congestion for rush hour commuters. After the morning commute, the barrier is moved back to its standard configuration with two southbound and two northbound lanes (typically 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.). It takes approximately two hours to move the entire 16 miles of moveable barrier.
Who decides when to move the barrier, and how often is this decision evaluated?
The I-15 Corridor Management Team - composed of Caltrans, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) staff - meets quarterly to discuss strategies to improve overall travel along the corridor. This team determines when to move the barrier or consider other possible operational improvements, based on on-going evaluation and analysis of transportation data. The level of effort and committed participation by this team is unprecedented and is the first known corridor management team in the nation.
How was the barrier move schedule determined?
Between July 2015 and November 2016, the barrier was moved on Thursdays to accommodate three southbound lanes in the morning and three northbound lanes in the evening. The barrier was moved on Thursdays because data showed the heaviest traffic volumes. Data collected when traffic is heaviest provides the most opportunity to determine how to best manage the various modes of transportation when the highway is congested.
Data gathered by the I-15 Corridor Management Team showed an overall operational improvement during the morning commute when the lanes were configured with three southbound and one northbound lane; however, data did not show an overall benefit for the afternoon commute when the configuration was reversed. As a result, the Thursday afternoon barrier move was discontinued in November 2016 and the morning barrier move was planned to be extended to Monday through Thursday morning beginning in early 2017. Traffic on Fridays does not follow the same pattern as other weekdays, so the barrier is not moved on Friday.
Is it okay to drive in the Express Lanes while the barrier is being moved?
Yes, you can drive in the Express Lanes as normal when the barrier transfer machine is in motion. Caltrans displays a message on overhead signs to alert drivers that the machine is in motion.
Why don’t you open more southbound lanes when there is a major event at Qualcomm Stadium?
A traffic analysis done for a previous event showed that the southbound backups that occur during major events at Qualcomm Stadium are not lessened by opening more southbound I-15 Express Lanes.
The event backup generally occurs between Friars Road and State Route 52 and, on occasion, as far north as Mira Mesa Boulevard. When the general purpose lanes south of the Express Lanes are heavily congested, the traffic coming from the north is slowed significantly regardless of whether one, two, or three Express Lanes feed into the backed up general purpose lanes. Therefore, the normal Express Lanes configuration is maintained on major event days.
Why does “HOV ONLY” sometimes appear on the overhead message signs?
“HOV ONLY” is displayed on the overhead signs when the Express Lanes are reaching full capacity. Solo drivers with FasTrak accounts should not enter the Express Lanes when “HOV ONLY” is displayed. If you enter the lanes after the “HOV ONLY” message is displayed, you will be charged the maximum toll amount, currently $8, and assessed a fine equal to the maximum toll amount. If you are already in the Express Lanes before the “HOV ONLY” message is displayed, you may stay in the Express Lanes for the remainder of your trip.
Who can use the Express Lanes when the overhead signs say “HOV ONLY?”
Any vehicle traveling with at least two people qualifies as a high occupancy vehicle, or HOV. These vehicles, along with permitted clean air vehicles and motorcycles with any number of passengers, can use the Express Lanes when the overhead signs say “HOV ONLY” — for free without a transponder.
Where can I get a FasTrak transponder?
There are three ways to get a FasTrak transponder:
- Sign up online at 511sd.com/FasTrak.
- Visit participating Costco locations and get $40 in tolls for $34.99.
- Visit the Customer Service Center at 1129 La Media Road, San Diego 92154.
How does the FasTrak electronic toll collection system work?
A FasTrak transponder is a small radio device that is mounted on the windshield inside the vehicle. It identifies the customer's prepaid toll account. Overhead antennas in the I-15 Express Lanes read the transponder and deduct the correct toll electronically from the customer's prepaid FasTrak account. Customers traveling in the Express Lanes with one or more passengers should place the transponder inside the provided Mylar bag to travel without toll charges for that trip.
How much does it cost to travel on the I-15 Express Lanes using FasTrak?
For solo drivers, the toll ranges between 50 cents and $8, depending on congestion at the time the lanes are entered and the total distance traveled. Every three minutes, the system recalculates the per-mile toll rate based on the level of traffic in the Express Lanes, ensuring traffic flows freely.
The toll rate you see on the signs located just before each entrance to the Express Lanes shows the minimum toll you will pay if you enter the facility. The signs also advise you of one or more possible fares for shorter trips to upcoming freeway interchanges, such as SR 56. The toll rate also is available through the 511 San Diego app, which is free for iPhone and Android.
The toll is calculated based on when you enter the Express Lanes; changes during your trip do not impact your toll. The correct toll is automatically deducted from your FasTrak account.
How are funds collected by FasTrak tolls used?
FasTrak toll revenue is used to operate and maintain the Express Lanes and fund congestion relief projects along the corridor, including subsidizing Rapid transit services. Funds also are used to operate the movable barrier in the center of the Express Lanes to improve traffic flow during peak travel periods and to relieve congestion caused by traffic incidents.
How are toll rates impacted when the Express Lanes barrier moves?
When the barrier in the center of the Express Lanes is moved to accommodate three lanes in one direction and one lane in the other direction, extra capacity is created in one direction and capacity is reduced in the other direction. Because of changes in capacity, toll rates may be lower in the three-lane direction and higher in the one-lane direction.
How are the minimum and maximum toll rates decided?
Toll rates are determined based on congestion at the time the lanes are entered. Every three minutes, the system recalculates the per-mile toll rate based on the level of traffic in the Express Lanes. Tolls on the I-15 Express Lanes vary between 50 cents and $8, depending on distance traveled and traffic in the lanes. The 50 cents minimum and $8 maximum tolls are set by the SANDAG Board of Directors, and cannot change without prior approval from the Board.
How does Rapid work on the I-15 Express Lanes?
MTS operates four Rapid routes that use the I-15 Express Lanes to transport riders from North County locations to their destinations in Downtown San Diego, Sorrento Mesa, and University Town Center. These routes feature comfortable new vehicles, frequent and reliable service, and improved station amenities. Visit RapidMTS.com to learn more.
Transit stations and Park & Ride lots are located along the I-15 corridor and are connected to the Express Lanes via Direct Access Ramps (DARs). These DARs allow Rapid vehicles and other Express Lanes users to bypass general lanes and directly enter the Express Lanes.
Is Rapid service impacted when the Express Lanes barrier moves?
Rapid routes operate normally and adhere to their regular schedule when the Express Lanes barrier is moved.
More Information about the I-15 Express Lanes is available at 511sd.com/ExpressLanes.
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