Metering lights improving traffic flow on Peninsula 

New metering lights along Peninsula freeway entrances could be turned on in the next two years after the initial dozen lights proved commute times could be decreased and congestion eased.

Travel time decreased by as much as 10 minutes in some of the most heavily used portions of U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 280 during peak hours, Caltrans Senior Transportation Engineer Lestor Lee said.

The improvements in travel time, Lee said, are as expected. As a result, the remaining portions of San Mateo County’s northbound and southbound highways will get more metering lights for entrance ramps.

“These are the two major corridors,” he said of Highway 101 and I-280. “We want to continue to reduce congestion, travel delay and control ramp-flow rates.”

Metering lights were installed along portions of the Highway 101 and I-280 corridors in 2008, and they were turned on in October of that year.

Vehicles entering the freeway during the busiest commute times would be stopped at the on-ramp and filtered through on a time delay to allow traffic to space out. Lights are on entrance ramps along Highway 101 south of state Highway 92 and I-280 north of Interstate 380.

The lights improve the flow of traffic by easing vehicles that merge, Lee said. Motorists are stopped at the lights for as long as 2½ minutes.

“Metering lights break up the platoons of cars as they approach a merge — they don’t have to brake,” Lee said.

According to Caltrans data, during peak periods, northbound travel time on I-280 has been reduced as much as 15 minutes and nonpeak time by 1 minute. Southbound and northbound travel times on Highway 101 have been reduced 10 minutes. Peak times are considered to be 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Drivers using freeways to commute to and from work said the metering lights are helping with congestion.

Jon Taylor, 40, of San Leandro said the lights help him merge when driving his Pepsi delivery truck during peak hours.

“It gives more spacing between cars,” he said. “If everyone’s going 60 mph and getting to the same place at once, it gives me more room to merge.”

Commuter Hector Valesco, 32, of San Carlos agreed. He said he sees the lights as helpful rather than hurtful.

“I think they’re pretty good,” Valesco said. “It looks like it’s doing the right thing.”

Christine Maley-Grubl, executive director of the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, said the lights are beneficial to commuters.

“It smooths out traffic so you don’t have bottlenecks,” Maley-Grubl said. “It just really works well and it’s a more cost-effective approach than widening freeways.”

The alliance’s goal is to reduce single-occupancy vehicles by encouraging carpooling, biking or using public transit to get to work. Maley-Grubl said the metering lights and alliance programs would dramatically decrease congestion on the Peninsula.

Sandy Wong, transportation projects manager with the City/County Association of Governments, said as a commuter herself, she has noticed an improvement in areas where the lights were installed.

“I drive a good portion of both highways and, personally, I see a difference,” Wong said. “It smooths out the operation and gets cars into the main line easier.”

C/CAG partnered with Caltrans to install the lights, along with work with communities to establish timing and spacing of cars. Lee said the wait time at each metering light is different because of the length of the ramp and the potential backup it could cause on city streets.

Because of the current lights’ success, Caltrans is installing the electrical equipment and lights on 29 more ramps along Highway 101 from Highway 92 north to the San Francisco County line. The total cost of installation is estimated at $9.5 million.

Lee said each ramp varies on cost depending on work needed, the number of lights to be installed and signage added. Each ramp can range from less than $100,000 to $300,000.


Lane change: Widening of Highway 101 is expected to improve commute times.

Highway 101 widening reaching final stages

Congestion-relief efforts along Peninsula highways continue as Caltrans crews work to wrap up a 4.5-mile stretch of widening on U.S. Highway 101 this summer.

Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navaro said the additional auxiliary lane — which is between exits — and reconstruction of overpasses will be completed by early July.

The $157 million project began in 2003 with public input and environmental impact reviews. Construction on the auxiliary lane, which runs on Highway 101 from Millbrae Avenue to Third Avenue in San Mateo, began in 2007.

On average, 244,000 vehicles travel between those two exits annually, according to Caltrans.

Though early on, the project closed lanes, caused massive delays and increased travel times on the Bayshore Freeway, officials are pleased with the progress.

“I think people will be extremely happy with the overcrossings, wider shoulders and their own pedestrian-bike lanes,” Navaro said.

Auxiliary lanes, she said, take commuters from one ramp to the next so they do not have to merge with traffic.

“It flows better,” she said. “You have a whole lane to merge in and out of.”

Each direction of Highway 101 had four lanes for cars to travel on prior to the project. Now, each direction has five lanes, Navaro said.

The auxiliary lanes opened for use last fall.

In addition to the auxiliary lanes, Navaro said, Caltrans reconstructed three freeway overpasses — at Peninsula Avenue, Monte Diablo and Broadway — and added bike lanes and pedestrian bridges, along with building new retaining walls to block the noise from highway traffic.

Once the project is complete, Peninsula drivers can expect improvements to Marsh Road in Menlo Park, Navaro said.

That project also will add auxiliary lanes south to the Santa Clara County line beginning in 2011.

 — Andrea Koskey


Pump up the volume

Number of cars, monthly, at Peninsula on-ramps during peak commute times:

U.S. Highway 101

194,000 Whipple Avenue, Redwood City

245,000 Hillsdale Boulevard, San Mateo

232,000 Broadway, Burlingame

198,000 Oyster Point Boulevard, South San Francisco

Interstate 280

106,000 Edgewood Road, Redwood City

115,000 Millbrae Avenue, Millbrae

197,000 Avalon Drive, South San Francisco

217,000 Junipero Serra Boulevard, Daly City

Source: Caltrans

Blinking here and there

Future locations of on-ramp metering lights:

Highway 101 (north of 92)

  • Fashion Island Boulevard
  • Third Street
  • Millbrae Avenue
  • Sierra Point Parkway

I-280 (south of I-380)

  • Millbrae Avenue
  • Crystal Springs Road
  • Edgewood Road

Source: Caltrans

Lighting the way

11 Existing metering lights

10 Minutes average commute time decreases

29 New lights on U.S. Highway 101

$100K-$300K Cost per ramp

Source: Caltrans

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