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the real change on the Bay Bridge

By enelson
Thursday, September 6th, 2007 at 5:12 pm in 511, art, Bay Bridge, Bridges, Caltrans, driving, Freeways, Funding, maps, tolls.

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Throughout last weekend and the week before, I was constantly shaking off attempts to write anything about FasTrak changes on the Bay Bridge.

Why? Because it’s boring. Moving a 6,700-ton slab of earthquake-stressed concrete two stories in the air is a lot more compelling. At any other time, I would have been all over the FasTrak story.

It’s not just that I had better things to do. It’s that it’s difficult to look at that map and say what’s so different about it. They’ve moved some lanes around, they’ve added one and they’ve made the approach lanes longer by 2,000 feet.

The latter change I think most regulars will agree is a big improvement. I’m a Carquinez user myself, and I was positively bubbling about longer approach lanes (up from essentially none) there. I’ve yet to try my alternate bridge, which as the super-groovy “open road” tolling where you get to drive 80, I mean, the speed limit, whatever that is, while listening to your little plastic box go, “Beep, beep! You’re minus four bucks!”

I did experience a moment of weakness on Aug. 31, the day they closed the Bay Bridge, and requested that our graphics guys do a map showing how that span’s lanes would change.

The map never got into our papers, at least not in the last couple weeks. Feeling guilty and somewhat cowed by the graphics department, an editor suggested that it would be good to write something so that the effort of our artist (see below) would not have been in vain.

Of course, there’s a much more important reason for doing it, and that’s that as exciting as the whole Bay Bridge-replacement-in-less-than-three-days thing was, the thing that drivers will notice most is the new lane configuration at the toll plaza.

The fact that the bridge was closed allowed time to paint new lanes, put up new signs and rearrange toll booth equipment with no additional lane closures.

I though my peripheral hearing detected a few noises about “confusion” on Tuesday morning when the new setup went through its first rush hour, but John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which doubles as the Bay Area Toll Authority, assured me that this was not so:

From 5 am to 6:15, things went just like they were drawn up in the
playbook: Slow traffic in the cash lanes on the right and left sides of
the main toll plaza, and traffic flowing easily right down the middle.

As with all things after the Bay Bridge, then everything returned to normal:

Then the metering lights went on and the FasTrak advantage was pretty quickly negated. It became just another heavy traffic day like any other after that.

Funny I noticed the same thing on Tuesday, as did every media outlet in town. Same stuff. Different day. But at least we had our bridge back, and the rest of the day saw smooth sailing through the booths.

But there is a silver lining: Those pesky metering lights might also be reprogrammed to help you people who don’t mind putting up transponders on your winshield and being tracked by the CIA and the Illuminati.

(Actually, I just learned the trick from one of our photographers of inserting the FastTrak box into a Mylar bag to keep NSA and 511.org off your trail. I found out very late that if I had read the instructions in the FasTrak box, I would have known what to do with the bag.)

Here’s the deal, according to Goodwin:

Caltrans is preparing to experiment with a speed-up in the cycling of metering lights that serve the FasTrak-only lanes. Not sure when said experiment will take place, but it most likely will be limited to the metering lights that regulate traffic coming from the three FasTrak-only lanes (18, 19 20) at the mini toll plaza.

So there you go. Caltrans is looking out for me and you other FasTrakers out there.

You naughty, naughty cash payers can just wait your turn.

FasTrak map by staff artist Rog Hernandez.

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