Caltrans Activates Powell Street I-80 Metering Lights to Ease Highway Congestion

3 mins read

Emeryville commuters may have noticed a change in their drive this morning as Caltrans activated the metering lights at the Powell Street on-ramps to I-80.

The activation is part of the “I-80 SMART Corridor” real-time traffic management project being implemented along the notoriously congested stretch of the Eastshore freeway, from the Carquinez Bridge, through the MacArthur Maze, and onward to the Bay Bridge. Adjustments to the metering lights will be made in real-time based on traffic demands and incidents in the corridor. Metering lights will also be activated on over three dozen other on-ramps within the corridor.

It’s all in an effort to enhance safety, reduce accidents and congestion, and improve travel time reliability. An especially tough task given that 270,000 vehicles travel on this particular stretch of I-80 each day.

“We have no ability to build our way out of that congestion due to physical limitation in the area, nor is it the sustainably right thing to do,” said Shannon Brinias, Public Information Officer for Caltrans.

Brinias says the average driver traveling the 22-mile corridor experiences approximately 31 minutes of delay, not including actual travel time. Although the anticipated time savings once the project is completed will only amount to a three-minute reduction in delay for drivers traveling the entire corridor, she is quick to point out that when added up across all drivers on a daily basis, the savings is significant.

“Once we flip the switch, a free-flowing corridor will not happen. The congestion is pretty significant,” said Brinias. “This project is paying back lost productivity all of the commuters are experiencing with that time in traffic.”

Another benefit of the metering lights is to reduce the potential for accidents. Brinias points out that a high percentage of freeway accidents occur because of merging.

“Emeryville residents can expect a more measured approach to I-80 via ramp meters,” said Brinias.

The activation of adaptive ramp metering lights is one of the major pieces of the $79 million project, which will include new dynamically changing traffic information boards, overhead electronic signs, an incident management protocol, and upgraded traffic detection and management systems.

Once fully activated, pieces of the SMART system will work together to advise drivers on road hazards and accidents, suggested driving speeds, and alternate routes and detours. Another piece of the system will involve the coordination, monitoring, and control of select traffic signals on surface roads in the corridor area, including along San Pablo Avenue.

In one example provided on the overview video below, a traffic accident would lead to the activation overhead advisory signs for motorists, showing which lane is blocked and a reduced speed limit. Drivers who choose to detour around the accident will see electronically controlled “trailblazer” signs on local streets, directing them when to get back onto the freeway.

[youtube id=”CHhxsqNkJFo” width=”620″ height=”360″]

The agency said they worked with affected cities, including the City of Emeryville, to make roadway improvements and took into consideration impact on local roads. Within Emeryville, the city installed a number of cameras and related equipment in key intersections, which can be viewed and monitored by Caltrans. The state also added additional hardware at area intersections with state right-of-way, which included capabilities such as changing traffic light timing in real-time, based on traffic demands.

“Our goal is not to cause undue congestion onto local streets,” said Brinias.

Every component of the project, including the metering lights, will be tied into a Traffic Management Center, staffed and operated 24 hours a day. The center will be responsible for “overseeing the various actions to manage the corridor as a whole so that throughput is as efficient as possible,” said Brinias.

The metering lights will be turned on in both directions of I-80 from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. initially, although it may be adjusted, according to Brinias. The metering lights started operating today for the morning commute from 5 a.m to noon. The evening commute, from noon to 8 p.m., will be metered starting next Tuesday, August 2. Caltrans expects delays while motorists get adjusted to the metering lights for the first few days they are activated.

The on-ramp from eastbound Powell Street to westbound I-80 (coming from the Emeryville Marina) will remain unmetered.

At the other Powell Street on-ramps, AC Transit transbay buses and others high occupancy vehicles will not be able to jump the queue, as they do not feature an HOV lane. It remains unclear if the an HOV lane will be added in the future.

Full activation of all of the project’s components is expected sometime in August or September.

For more information on the project, visit 80smartcorridor.org or call (510) 286-4531.


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Bobby Lee

is a Bay Area native who’s lived in the Christie Core Neighborhood since 2010, Bobby enjoys exploring the far corners of our region, trying the newest restaurants in the area, or relaxing to 80's era television sitcoms and game shows. For the past six years, he's hosted a web video series called 2 Minute Finance teaching basic money management and consumer education.

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