The steel gate rose, the pylons sunk into the pavement, the message signs lit up, and so it was: The California Department of Transportation’s newest high-tech solution to help unburden crowded freeways--the reversible-direction express lane--opened Thursday afternoon to the delight and reward of northbound car-poolers along Interstate 15.
Caltrans spokesman Jim Larson, among the first to give the expressway a tryout, said car-poolers immediately began flowing into the two-lane freeway strip that runs 8 miles, starting at the split of I-15 and California 163 on the southern edge of Miramar Naval Air Station, to North City Parkway at Rancho Penasquitos in North City.
The express lanes are dedicated to northbound motorcyclists and vehicles carrying two or more people from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Today and every weekday, the lanes will be open to southbound traffic from 6 to 9 a.m.
Traffic access onto the express lanes is computer-controlled by electronic signboards, air-pressurized traffic delineators and steel gates. There are access points for emergency vehicles, but, once a motorist gets on the expressway, he must stay on it for the 8-mile run.
Caltrans hopes that up to 2,000 vehicles daily will eventually use the lanes, slightly reducing the logjam on the traditional freeway lanes and providing a significant time bonus to car-poolers.
Engineers say a motorist heading into San Diego in the morning from North City will spend 30 to 40 minutes to cover the same 8 miles that an express-lane car can travel in just 12 minutes. Whether car-poolers will elect to leave home later--or get to work earlier--remains to be seen.
Officials hope that carrot will bring about a change in driving habits in the region, where an estimated five of every six motorists drive alone.