Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Exploring Express Bypass Lanes

A diagram of a grade separation of two streets.All throughout the Western United States, The Transit Coalition took note of how local agencies are dealing with transportation issues. Many agencies have explored free express lanes or more simply--bypass lanes. Unlike carpool and high occupancy toll lanes, bypass lanes are open for free for any motorist. Express traffic can get on and go. In some jurisdictions, the law even permits truck traffic.

Like many express carpool and toll lane corridors, bypass lanes are express lanes which bypasses local exits in a developed area to let through traffic seamlessly travel through the corridor--at least that is the intent of such lanes. Here are some examples:

I-15 Bypass Lane - Ontario:
Caltrans is currently replacing the slab and upgrading bridges along the I-15 corridor between Ontario and Devore. Construction crews built a temporary construction bypass lane in the northbound direction earlier this year to get around much of the construction activity.  Crews later switched the direction of the bypass lane for southbound motorists. Any traffic except for trucks or other vehicles restricted to the right two lanes may use it. The bypass lane will only be there for the duration of construction; SANBAG is currently studying the feasibility of high occupancy toll lanes through this area all the way up toward Victorville.

Las Vegas Strip I-15 Express Bypass Lanes:
The I-15 express lanes through Las Vegas are free express lanes which allow traffic to seamlessly bypass the exits adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip. Truck traffic may also utilize it. Think of it as a four lane rural desert freeway within an urban highway. The Coalition will continue to watch this facility as growth continues along the south side of the Las Vegas region; commuters headed to Downtown Las Vegas from the south and tourists patronizing the resorts outside of the Strip may soon fill the express lanes up during rush hours and weekends. If local officials are in a position to have to convert the bypass lanes into a high occupancy facility in the future, there will be controversy.

OCTA's 2010 Ill-advised Arterial Interchange Proposal:
Back in Orange County, one idea from a 2010 OCTA meeting that needs to be highlighted was the grade separation of local streets, also known as arterial interchanges. Major intersections would be elevated in order to minimize the need for drivers to stop at stoplights, possibly looking something like the concept design pictured above. Without transit infrastructure, the proposal had a terrible effect for cyclists, bus riders who need to transfer and pedestrians. Here is a clue: The Harbor Transitway.

Utah Timpanogos Highway Commuter Lanes:
Between Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah State Highway 92--Timpanogos Highway--houses commuter bypass lanes which connects I-15 to a Salt Lake City suburb several miles from the freeway. The lanes allows commuters and mountain tourists to bypass several traffic signals on the mainline. An adjacent dedicated multi-use pathway caters to bicycle and pedestrian traffic and offers friendly connections to the local streets. The suburbs in the area are built out and land use control in the mountains is protected. Overall, this project wasn't bad.

I-15 Express Lanes - Utah County:
Okay, the I-15 Express Lanes through Salt Lake City is a high occupancy toll lane facility, but since we're in Salt Lake, how is the facility faring since LA's system is mired in so many problems? Things aren't so bad in the Beehive State. Like San Diego's HOT lane system, Utah's toll lane facility allow for free carpools or a switchable FasTrak-like toll transponder called the Express Pass. Carpoolers and other 2+ HOV's do not need to preregister or get a transponder beforehand to use the lanes. They can get on for free and go! Tolls for non HOV's range from $.25 to $1 per zone; each zone spans the length of a local exit. Local highway patrol units use intelligence-driven enforcement tools to combat carpool/toll payment cheating. The region also has a fast expanding passenger rail and BRT network and plans are underway to develop a direct access ramp linking the HOT lanes with a local multi-modal transit center. These are amenities we would like to see in the Inland Empire.

Back to bypass lanes. There also several dedicated bypass roads throughout the country and many of them work. It certainly takes strong land use controls to prevent urban sprawl along these lanes and roads. Unchecked growth along these routes would basically turn these bypass lanes into ordinary suburban roads they were intended to avoid. Agencies must also follow Utah's example of including transit-friendly pathways for people traveling without a car. The Transit Coalition will continue to watch the progress of such highway expansion proposals.

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