101 Express Lanes FAQ

Project Design/General Questions

 

1. What is the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project?
2. How will express lanes help address congestion?
3. Why is the Project being built in San Mateo County?
4. How will the express lanes improve my commute on U.S. 101?
5. How will the Project benefit transit users?
6. Does this Project take away a lane on U.S. 101?
7. Will there be a shoulder to pull over on once the lanes are constructed?
8. Will the freeway require new signs and equipment for the express lanes?
9. Why not just build a carpool lane?
10. How will the express lanes in San Mateo County connect to the ones in Santa Clara County? Will I have to pay twice?
11. How is the Project funded?
12. Why doesn’t this Project extend all the way to the San Francisco County Line?
13. How long will it take to build?
14. What is happening during Phase One, in the Southern Section of the Project?
15. What is happening during Phase Two, in the Northern Section of the Project?
16. How will construction impact me?
17. How can I find out about construction activities that may affect traffic?
18. How will I know about project-related traffic on U.S. 101?
19. Where can I get more information about the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project?
20. How has the Shelter-in-Place order affected Project construction?
21. With traffic volumes so low during the Shelter-in-Place order, do we still need this Project?
22. Who owns this Project and is responsible for deciding operations policy?
23. Who will operate the express lanes?  
24. Who is managing this Project?
25. Who decides how much the tolls will cost?
26. What happens to the tolls collected?
27. How do I pay for the express lane?
28. Who will be able to use the express lanes?
29. If I don’t want to pay a toll, what are my options travelling on U.S. 101?
30. How are toll prices determined in real time?
31. How are occupancy rules enforced in the express lanes?
32. How does FasTrak work with the express lanes?
33. What if there is an accident and the only open lane is the express lane?
34. Where can I find more information on how this project fits into the larger network of Bay Area Express Lanes?
35. What will the hours of operation for express lanes be?

 

1. What is the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project?

The San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project is a multi-year, multi-agency project initiated to reduce traffic congestion and encourage carpooling and transit use on U.S. 101 in San Mateo County. The Project will create 22 miles of express lanes in each direction on U.S. 101 from the San Mateo County/Santa Clara County Line to I-380 in South San Francisco. The San Mateo Express Lanes will seamlessly connect to the express lanes being constructed in Santa Clara County. When the Project is complete, drivers will have the option to drive in an express lane from the southern end of Sunnyvale to the San Francisco airport.

2. How will express lanes help address congestion?
Express lanes are High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV), or carpool lanes, with the option for non-carpoolers to pay a toll to use the lanes when space is available. Non-carpoolers, such as solo drivers, will have the option to pay to use the express lanes, while maintaining speeds of 45 miles an hour or higher. This increases the speeds in the general purpose lanes because some drivers will move out of them and into the express lanes. In an express lane, vehicles travel faster than in the general purpose lanes. This provides an incentive for solo drivers to switch to a carpool or bus, an outcome that improves travel and air quality. This is why San Mateo County leaders decided an express lane was the right way to address traffic on U.S. 101.

Click image below to watch a video on how express lanes can help address congestion in San Mateo County!

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3. Why is the Project being built in San Mateo County?
Industries along the U.S. 101 corridor, the major commute route between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, produce between 20-25% of California’s annual gross domestic product. This booming economy has fueled revenue and job growth, but it has also created overcrowding on U.S. 101. The San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project creates 22 miles of express lanes in each direction between the San Mateo County/Santa Clara County Line and I-380 in South San Francisco, improving traffic conditions and travel times for all motorists on the corridor.

Click image below to watch a video on the need for the Project!

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4. How will the express lanes improve my commute on U.S. 101?
Based on data gathered and analyzed for the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project, implementing an express lane on the U.S. 101 corridor will offer the most significant travel time savings to drivers when compared to other alternatives considered, such as building a new general purpose lane or not implementing an express lane. Drivers will experience the greatest travel time savings during the AM peak period (6:00 AM to 10:00 AM) and PM peak period (3:00 PM to 7:00 PM). For example, for a typical driver traveling in the southbound direction between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM, where no express lane is implemented, their travel time could be as high as 35 minutes. If we built an additional general purpose lane to provide more capacity, that same driver could have a travel time of approximately 22 minutes. However, if we implement an express lane and that same driver opted to take a carpool or pay to use the express lane, they could travel the corridor in just over 12 minutes, saving more than 20 minutes of travel time. 

See Project Management and Operations section below for more information on how the express lanes will operate. 

Click image below to watch a video on how express lanes will benefit drivers on U.S. 101!

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5. How will the Project benefit transit users?
Express lanes improve travel time and reliability of bus service by minimizing the delays caused by sitting in traffic. SamTrans (the San Mateo County bus service) is planning multiple express bus routes which will have priority in the express lanes.

6. Does this Project take away a lane on U.S. 101?
The existing number of general purpose lanes will stay the same. Through extensive study, engineers determined they could fit an express lane in each direction by connecting existing auxiliary lanes on U.S. 101 to create an additional general purpose lane and converting the left-most general purpose lane into an express lane. This will result in one new express lane in either direction along with the existing general purpose lanes. 

Click image below to watch a video on how the express lanes are being built!

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7. Will there be a shoulder to pull over on once the lanes are constructed?
After the project is completed there will still be enough space on the shoulders in both the northbound and southbound directions for vehicles needing to make an emergency stop. There are a few locations where the shoulders will be too narrow for vehicles to pull over, but these segments were designed to be short and infrequent spans. 

8. Will the freeway require new signs and equipment for the express lanes?
Like a carpool lane that has special components – striping, pavement markings, and signs – the newly constructed express lanes in San Mateo County will also have special striping, pavement markings, and signs. Unlike some other express lanes, drivers can get in and out of the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes at any point. For the entire length of the express lanes constructed on this project, there will be 8” wide skip strips, which are broken white skip pavement markings, indicating that the lane can be accessed or exited at any point. The words “EXPRS LANE” will be painted in the lanes to indicate their special status. Signs indicating which hours of the day the tolling will be in effect, what types of vehicles can use the express lane, and the cost to drive in the express lanes will also be in use. 

Click image below to watch a video on the different express lane components!

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9. Why not just build a carpool lane?
Caltrans traffic engineers studied a variety of options to determine the most effective way to improve traffic conditions on the U.S. 101 corridor in San Mateo County. They found that with the existing number of vehicles with two or more people (2+ carpool) driving on the corridor, a 2+ carpool lane would fill up quickly and be congested. This would eliminate the benefits for transit riders and 2+ carpoolers. However, the traffic analysis projected that a lane for vehicles with three or more people (3+ carpool) would accommodate the existing 3+ carpoolers and contain extra space, which 2+ carpools and solo drivers could then fill. Combining a 3+ carpool lane with dynamic pricing for other vehicles (single occupancy, dual occupancy, and clean air vehicles) allows the express lane to maintain a consistent speed while also improving travel time in the general purpose lanes. Therefore, express lanes proved to be the most effective way to improve traffic conditions on the U.S. 101 corridor in San Mateo County.

Click the image below to watch a video on the advantages of express lanes over carpool lanes for U.S. 101 in San Mateo County! 

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10. How will the express lanes in San Mateo County connect to the ones in Santa Clara County? Will I have to pay twice?
The San Mateo 101 Express Lanes will seamlessly connect to the express lanes being constructed in Santa Clara County. Express lanes on U.S. 101 from State Route 237 in Sunnyvale to the Santa Clara County Line in Palo Alto are expected to open to traffic in late 2021. Tolls will be based on zones within the corridor and paid using FasTrak®.  Each zone is approximately 4-5 miles long and a specific toll price will be assigned to travel in that zone. Tolls will accumulate as you travel through multiple zones on a trip, regardless of which county you are driving in. Overhead message signs give drivers advance notice of a price to travel to a specific destination. Drivers in the express lane will experience no difference as they travel from one county to another. 

See Project Management and Operations section below for more information on how toll pricing will work in the express lanes!

11. How is the Project funded?
This Project is fully funded. The $581 million Project is funded through a combination of Federal, State, local, regional, and private contributions. With over $53 million pledged from the private sector, this is one of the largest public/private infrastructure partnerships in the history of the region. Additional funds include $9.5 million in federal funding and nearly $307 million in state funding.

12. Why doesn’t this Project extend all the way to the San Francisco County Line?
Planning is underway to extend the express lanes on U.S. 101 in the northbound and southbound directions between I-380 in South San Francisco and the San Mateo County/San Francisco County Line. More information about this separate project can be found at https://www.sfcta.org/projects/101280-express-lanes-and-bus-project

Project Construction

13. How long will it take to build?
Construction of the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes is occurring in two phases. Phase One (also known as the Southern Section of the Project) construction began in 2019 in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Redwood City. Phase Two (also known as the Northern Section) construction in Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, Foster City, San Mateo, Burlingame, Millbrae, San Bruno, and South San Francisco, began in early 2020. All construction is expected to be completed in mid-2022 with the full lanes opening to traffic late-2022. During construction, every effort will be made to minimize adverse impacts to the neighboring communities and the traveling public. The best way to stay informed is to sign up for the weekly construction update or quarterly project update by emailing with the subject line “weekly” or “quarterly” to 101express@dot.ca.gov or visit the 101 Express website.

Click image below to watch a video on the Project limits and schedule! 
 

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Click image below to watch a video on the sequence of construction!

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14. What is happening during Phase One, in the Southern Section of the Project?
During Phase One, the existing carpool lanes are being converted to express lanes from the San Mateo County/Santa Clara County Line to Whipple Avenue in Redwood City and covers the cities of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Redwood City. Express lanes in this section are anticipated to open in late 2021.

Click image below to watch a video on the complete and ongoing work in the southern section of the Project!

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15. What is happening during Phase Two, in the Northern Section of the Project?
During Phase Two, the Project is constructing new express lanes from Whipple Avenue to I-380 in South San Francisco and covers the cities of Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, Foster City, San Mateo, Burlingame, Millbrae, San Bruno, and South San Francisco. Phase Two work is split into two stages. During Stage One, construction crews are working primarily on the outside, or shoulders, of the freeway. During Stage Two, construction crews are working primarily in the middle, or the median, of the freeway. Express lanes in this section are anticipated to open in late 2022. 

Click the images below to watch a video on the work occurring during Stage One and Stage Two in the northern section of the Project!

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16. How will construction impact me?
The following types of construction impacts are anticipated:
• Nighttime lane closures on U.S. 101 throughout the corridor. Working at night will minimize impacts on traffic during the day. Infrequent ramp closures and temporary detours to city streets.
• Temporary lane closures on city streets adjacent to the freeway causing one-way traffic to connect electrical components to nearby hook-ups.
• Overnight full freeway closures in 2021. These closures will take place in only one location per direction at a time and will have a detour plan in place.

Details regarding these activities are included in the project’s weekly construction updates. Updates are also posted to the project website at 101express.com under the “Construction Update” tab. You can also sign up to receive the weekly construction updates by emailing with the subject line “weekly” to 101express@dot.ca.gov.

Click image below to watch a video on the full freeway closures planned in 2021! 

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17. How can I find out about construction activities that may affect traffic?
In addition to the weekly construction updates, Caltrans will provide up-to-date traffic and closure information on portable message signs by the side of the road. Construction activities that could disrupt traffic flow will also be communicated to the general public directly via social media (i.e. Twitter: @CaltransD4) and electronic communications (i.e. e-mail and website). Commuters are encouraged to stay informed by signing up for weekly construction updates by emailing with the subject line “weekly” to 101express@dot.ca.gov or by visiting the 101 Express website.

Any construction activity with the potential to affect city streets will be communicated directly to city staff as well as to the general public directly via social media and electronic communications. General project updates will be communicated to city staff quarterly.

18. How will I know about project-related traffic on U.S. 101?
Caltrans has implemented a Traffic Advanced Warning System during construction to provide up to date information and improve safety in the corridor. This system alerts travelers to real-time traffic conditions via changeable electronic message signs placed within the construction zone on U.S. 101. The system uses sensors to detect the speed and volume of traffic. The system can warn travelers about slowdowns before they are visible, and the warning gives drivers extra time to react, which has been shown to reduce accidents and improve traffic flow.

Click image below to watch a video on the Traffic Advanced Warning System! 

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19. Where can I get more information about the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project?
Caltrans maintains a project website at 101express.com. Anyone can visit the website, and also sign up to receive weekly construction updates or quarterly project updates by emailing with the subject line “weekly” to 101express@dot.ca.gov or by visiting the 101 Express website. Follow @CaltransD4 for the most up-to date information.

Click image below to watch a video on typical details provided in the weekly construction update! 

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 20. How has the Shelter-in-Place order affected Project construction?
During the various stages of the Shelter-in-Place order associated with COVID-19, Caltrans has continued to perform infrastructure construction activities on the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes Project. During this time, Caltrans has made use of extended nighttime lane closures and daytime working hours to increase construction efficiency. Caltrans continues to monitor the flow of traffic and make adjustments, as necessary.

Click image below to watch a video on the extended construction hours that have been utilized during this time!

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21. With traffic volumes so low during the Shelter-in-Place order, do we still need this Project?
Though COVID-19 has had a major impact on this region, the projections for growth through 2040 have not significantly changed. Beyond the growth in jobs and housing, the recovery from COVID-19 could also increase traffic levels as people may be less likely to carpool or ride a bus. However, we anticipate travel times and congestion to return to pre COVID-19 levels. The congestion on U.S. 101 will only continue to get worse. The San Mateo 101 Express Lanes have been designed to address pre COVID-19 and future delays that cannot be otherwise controlled. 
Project Management and Operations

22. Who owns this Project and is responsible for deciding operations policy?
The San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) and the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG) have formed the San Mateo County Express Lanes Joint Powers Authority (SMCEL JPA) to manage the express lanes. The SMCEL JPA is responsible for setting policies for operations of the express lanes. More information about the JPA can be found at http://ccag.ca.gov/express-lane-jpa/. For information on express lane policies and operations, visit SMCExpressLanes.org.

23. Who will operate the express lanes? 
Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority (BAIFA), a Joint Powers Authority between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA), will operate the express lanes under contract by the SMCEL JPA.

Click image below to watch a video on how the express lanes will operate!

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24. Who is managing this Project?
Project design and construction is being managed by an integrated team from Caltrans, SMCTA, and C/CAG. 

25. Who decides how much the tolls will cost?
The tolls will vary in real time, as described in the Answer to Question 30. The SMCEL JPA Board members are in charge of making all policy decisions. This includes setting toll policy and prices. You can read the adopted toll ordinance at SMCExpressLanes.org.

26. What happens to the tolls collected?
Revenue from the tolls will be allocated by the SMCEL JPA. Revenues must first be used to cover the operating and maintenance cost of the express lanes. In accordance with State and federal regulations, funds in excess of what is needed for the operations of the lanes can be used on transportation corridor improvements, the improvement of transit service, and support for transit operations, such as:
• Increased and/or improved transit services
• Park & ride lots
• Transit signal priorities
• Potential equity and incentive programs
• Local improvements such as first & last mile projects to support transit operations
• Expansion of express lanes north of I-380 and/or other transportation improvements in the U.S. 101 corridor

27. How do I pay for express lane?
All motorists wishing to use the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes must have a valid FasTrak® account. The
FasTrak Flex® toll tag provides the best experience for all express lane users (from single-occupant drivers to carpools). The FasTrak® CAV toll tag is required to get a Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) discount. Motorists must use a FasTrak Flex® or FasTrak® CAV toll tag, set to the appropriate number of persons in their vehicle, to receive a discounted or toll-free trip.  For more information, visit: https://www.bayareafastrak.org/en/about/get-fastrak.shtml.

Using the Express Lanes

28. Who will be able to use the express lanes?
The SMCEL JPA has adopted an ordinance for toll policy, including information on who will be eligible to use the express lane. You can read the adopted toll ordinance at SMCExpressLanes.org.

Click image below to watch a video on how to use the FasTrak Flex toll tag in the express lanes!

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29. If I don’t want to pay a toll, what are my options travelling on U.S. 101?
Consider transit or carpooling. Since express lanes are designed for transit vehicles and carpools with 3 or more people, they provide faster and more reliable travel times for transit users and vehicles with 3 or more people. In addition, express lanes are voluntary, and U.S. 101 in San Mateo County will continue to have the same number of general purpose lanes that exist today. No one will be forced to pay a toll to drive on U.S. 101.

30. How are toll prices determined in real time?
Traffic conditions are constantly monitored through detectors in the roadway, feeding that information back to the traffic control center. When the operator sees the express lane slowing down as a result of too much traffic, the toll price is increased for those who paid to be in the lane. This reduces the willingness of non- 3+ carpoolers to enter the lane, freeing up capacity in the express lane and making it easier for carpoolers and buses to travel faster. The operator will also have the option of limiting the express lane to only 3+ carpoolers, buses, and other multi-occupancy vehicles if traffic in the lane becomes too slow. Non-3+ carpoolers will need to exit the HOV lane. During the hours of operation, these lanes are planned to enable traffic to travel at speeds of 45 miles an hour or greater per Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requirements. When the lanes drop below that speed the toll operator may take corrective actions. 
Overhead message signs give drivers advance notice of a price to travel to a specific destination in the express lane.

Click image below to watch a video on how tolling will work in the express lanes!

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31. How are occupancy rules enforced in the express lanes?
California Highway Patrol (CHP) is responsible for enforcement. There are several CHP enforcement areas along the project corridor, allowing CHP officers to monitor the occupancy of each vehicle. FasTrak Flex® toll tags set at “2” or “3+” will trigger beacons that help CHP officers enforce occupancy requirements in the lanes. In addition, cameras will be able to photograph license plates of vehicles that use the lanes without a toll tag for toll violation enforcement. Video surveillance will allow FasTrak® to identify possible toll evaders with license plate reader technology, like the video technology already in use on Bay Area bridges. This technology is being expanded across Bay Area Express Lanes to provide consistency for its users.

Click image below to watch a video on how occupancy rules and tolls will be enforced in the express lanes!

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32. How does FasTrak work with the express lanes?
While traveling on the San Mateo 101 Express Lanes, motorists are required to have a valid FasTrak® account. Motorists may also use their FasTrak Flex® or FasTrak® CAV toll tag to receive the corresponding discount for the number of persons in their vehicle. For more information on using FasTrak® in the express lanes. please visit: https://www.bayareafastrak.org/en/support/express-lanes-faq.shtml. 

Click image below to watch a video on how to use the FasTrak Flex toll tag in the express lanes!

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33. What if there is an accident and the only open lane is the express lane?
CHP will take over and have complete control over the system in the event of an accident. The lane will be opened or closed to various vehicles at their discretion.
 
34. Where can I find more information on how this project fits into the larger network of Bay Area Express Lanes?
Visit the MTC website for more information about how this project fits into the larger Bay Area Express Lanes network.

35. What will the hours of operation for express lanes be?
At the time of opening, the operation hours will be 5AM to 8PM, Monday through Friday.