FAQs

Get Ready for the SMART Corridor

About the SMART Corridor

Get Ready for the SMART Corridor

What can motorists expect on the I-80 freeway when the SMART Corridor Project is activated?

Beginning in mid-2016, motorists will notice a number of new features on I-80 between the Carquinez Bridge and Bay Bridge. View the infographic for a quick snapshot of how the system works, or read on for details.

Overhead Signs
Overhead electronic signs will light up when there is an incident or traffic jam ahead (the signs are not intended to be illuminated during non-incident conditions). The signs will display different types of information:

  1. Suggested speeds: in cases of accidents, construction, inclement weather or other unexpected driving conditions, the signs may advise that traffic speeds have slowed ahead. Motorists should gradually slow down to the advised speed.
    image1
  2. Lane signs: yellow arrows or yellow X’s and red X’s will provide early warning of upcoming lane blockages during an incident. Motorists should move to the lanes with the green arrows when it is safe to do so.
    image2

image3A green arrow indicates an open, unblocked lane.

image4A yellow arrow or yellow X indicates that a lane is obstructed ahead and that motorists should begin to change lanes when it is safe to do so.

image5A red X indicates a blocked lane that motorists should avoid.

Smart Ramp Meters
New ramp meters will adjust in real-time to current traffic patterns to smooth the flow of traffic merging on to I-80. As with standard ramp meters, motorists should stop when on-ramp traffic signals display red lights and proceed one car at a time when they display green lights.

Traffic Information Boards
Stationed at key interchanges, these large signs on the shoulder of I-80 will use graphics to depict congestion and estimated travel times to regional destinations. Motorists can use the signs to get a “snapshot” of driving conditions at key decision points, and choose the best route for their trip.

What improvements are being implemented on San Pablo Avenue and local roads?

“Trailblazer” Signs
These electronic signs on San Pablo Avenue and some cross streets will tell drivers who have chosen to detour around a freeway incident when they have passed the incident site and can return to the freeway. Detouring motorists should follow these navigational signs back to the interstate.

Extended Green Lights
Signal timing improvements have been in place on San Pablo Avenue since 2014. During incidents, extended green lights will help motorists who have opted to detour to San Pablo Avenue to pass through local streets quickly and promptly return to I-80, minimizing impacts to neighborhood traffic. They also have been upgraded to detect oncoming transit vehicles and reduce transit delays in the corridor.

Why is Caltrans activating the system in phases (known as “sequenced activation”) and introducing these elements one at a time?

Activating the system in phases allows time for motorists to adjust to each of the new elements. During sequenced activation, the most familiar elements will be activated first and will be carefully monitored and adjusted, if necessary, before the less familiar elements come online, building towards the activation of the entire system.

What can motorists expect to see during sequenced activation?

The I-80 SMART Corridor includes overhead signs, traffic information boards, ramp meters, variable advisory speed signs and more. Here’s what you can expect to see when each of the new elements is activated:

  • Ramp Meters
    Ramp meters will be set to show a continuous green light for one week to alert the public that ramp metering will begin. They will then be activated to help motorists merge safely and smoothly onto the freeway.
  • Overhead Signs
    Overhead signs will begin displaying merge arrows and advisory speeds during incidents. Some roadside signs will display advisory speeds and incident information as well. If the signs are on, slow down to advised speed limits. If warned of obstructed lanes ahead, move to the lanes with the green arrows.
  • Traffic Information Boards
    Traffic information boards will begin showing regional congestion and estimated travel times. Choose the best route to get to your destination.
  • Local Street Signs
    “Trailblazer” signs will begin helping motorists who exit the freeway to detour around an incident navigate local streets. Drive carefully and return to the freeway when these signs indicate you’ve passed the incident.

What can motorists expect during the activation of the smart (adaptive) ramp meters?

The I-80 SMART Corridor Project will activate new smart ramp meters that will adjust to current traffic patterns in real time to smooth the flow of traffic merging onto I-80. As part of the overall sequenced activation of the project, these smart ramp meters will be activated using a phased approach to allow motorists time to adjust to the new technology, and to monitor and adjust for traffic conditions on local streets.

Starting on July 19, metering lights in both directions of I-80 will be activated to rest on solid green from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. for one week. The lights will begin metering on July 26 during the weekday morning commute hours of 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Subsequently, metering lights will remain solid green in both directions of I-80 for another week during the afternoon weekday commute hours of 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. until the afternoon peak period begins on August 2. Meters will also be operating on weekends, starting July 30, depending on prevailing traffic conditions.

It is common for newly activated ramp-meter locations to experience delays during the first few days. Caltrans will monitor the metered on-ramps and make adjustments to fine-tune the metering operations. A ramp metering telephone hotline number, 510-286-4531, is available to help answer any metering-specific questions or report any related issues.

The ramp meters on I-80 are connected to an intelligent adaptive system that will actively monitor traffic conditions throughout the corridor and optimize the ramp meters in real-time. It will be the first implementation of this technologically advanced strategy in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If the system has been activated, why aren’t any of the signs on?

When an incident occurs, the overhead message signs and other elements will light up, warning drivers of blocked lanes or reduced speeds ahead, decreasing the potential for more accidents and giving drivers the choice to change their route. The signs are not intended to be illuminated during non-incident conditions.

When will the system be fully activated?

The project is scheduled for full activation in August/September. This activation date is subject to change, pending the successful monitoring and resolution of any potential issues, including in response to any stakeholder concerns, during sequenced activation.

About the SMART Corridor

What is the “SMART Corridor”?

The SMART Corridor is a fresh approach to managing Interstate 80 that uses technology to optimize the existing roadway. “SMART” stands for Safety, Mobility and Automated Real-time Traffic Management.

The I-80 SMART Corridor Project is a combination of hardware and communication technologies (also known as an Intelligent Transportation System, or ITS) that will enhance safety, improve travel time reliability and reduce accidents and associated congestion. The I-80 SMART Corridor takes a “smart” approach to the management of one of the busiest interstates in the Bay Area and uses technology and active management strategies to improve traffic flow along the I-80 corridor from the Carquinez Bridge to the Bay Bridge within Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, without requiring the construction of new roads or the widening of existing ones.Through the coordination of several project components, the corridor will be managed as one integrated system. The Bay Area is the first region in the state to use a system this extensive to manage our infrastructure more efficiently.

Where else has this type of technology been implemented?

Elsewhere in the US, this type of Intelligent Transportation System has been implemented in Seattle, WA, and San Diego, CA. In Seattle, a comparison of the two years prior to implementation to the two years after implementation shows a total decrease of 11% in the average number of collisions. The same time comparison shows a 25% decrease in the average number of weekend collisions. Additional Intelligent Transportation Systems are being planned for Bay Area freeways, including State Route 4 and Interstate 880.

How can motorists benefit from the I-80 SMART Corridor Project?

There are many traffic flow and safety benefits to the project, including:

  • Enhanced safety through the reduction of abrupt lane changes, sudden slowdowns and associated accidents.
  • Travel-time savings and predictability through smoother traffic flow.
  • Congestion relief along the corridor during incidents.
  • Smoother and safer freeway merging through new ramp meters.
  • Transit travel-time savings along San Pablo Avenue through signal light improvements that detect and extend green lights for oncoming transit vehicles, as well as bypass lanes at some on-ramps for carpools and transit vehicles.
  • Improved emergency vehicle access and incident recovery time.

What evidence is there to suggest SMART Corridor improvements will reduce secondary accidents or improve traffic flow?

On the span of westbound I-80 where the project’s eleven overhead sign frames are located, the accident rate is twice as high as the statewide average for comparable highways (such as I-405 in Southern California). Traffic accident data for a 3-year project study period showed a total of 3,196 collisions along I-80 from the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza to Buchanan Street. This averages to just over 25 collisions per week (200 working days per year and 3 years). Although secondary accidents are not specifically categorized in CHP Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), half of all collisions (48%) occurred in stopped or slowing conditions and half of all collisions (50%) were rear-end collisions. This is a strong indication that secondary accidents make up a significant portion of all collisions on the corridor. A recent evaluation of SMART Corridor-type elements in the Seattle, WA region revealed the potential safety benefits of the I-80 SMART Corridor include a decrease in collisions of as much as 25%.

Motorists currently experience as much as 25-35 minutes of delay during typical commute hours. The I-80 SMART Corridor project has several elements that are known to improve traffic flow. These elements include:

  • Ramp metering – This traffic management strategy has been widely recognized across the country as a tool for reducing freeway delay. In fact, some corridors in the Bay Area have seen freeway bottlenecks completely disappear after ramp metering was deployed.
  • Local road improvements – Traffic signal priority (extended green lights) for motorists who have opted to detour to San Pablo Avenue, as well as for transit, will help keep traffic and transit moving.
  • Real-time traffic information – Advance information about real-time traffic conditions, including incidents, is widely recognized as a tool to reduce secondary incidents and associated congestion by advising drivers of major impacts to the flow of traffic downstream. Through a reduction in incidents, travel times will become more predictable.

Why I-80 and San Pablo Avenue?

Safer, more efficient and reliable traffic flow along I-80 is essential to the current and future vitality of the Bay Area. I-80 carries as many as 270,000 vehicles a day and has approximately 25 accidents per week. On westbound I-80 between Richmond and Emeryville, the accident rate is twice as high as the statewide average for similar highways (such as I-405 in Southern California). Motorists experience as much as 25-35 minutes of delay during typical commute hours. Currently, when a traffic incident occurs, motorists traveling at high speeds may not stop in time for the sudden slowdown or may be forced to change lanes abruptly, resulting in secondary accidents that worsen congestion. Emergency vehicle access is impacted, resulting in slower incident response and recovery times.

Some motorists may choose to exit onto San Pablo Avenue to avoid the traffic jam, but the traffic signals on San Pablo Avenue and other arterials are not currently equipped to handle the resulting increase in traffic. Gridlock occurs, impacting bus operations and traffic flow on these streets. Without knowledge of the accident location, diverted motorists stay on city streets, and traffic jams persist. Even if motorists don’t detour, they don’t know how long it will take them to reach their destination due to inconsistent and unreliable travel times.

How is the SMART Corridor funded?

The $79 million project is funded by federal, state, regional and local voter-approved funds. The state funds are sourced from the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA) created by State Proposition 1B, passed by California voters in 2006 for transportation needs, and the Traffic Light Synchronization Program for transit and arterial improvements. Local funds include Alameda County Measure B funds and Contra Costa County Measure J funds. These funds are being invested in innovative transportation solutions to meet current and future demand on one of the busiest corridors in the region.

Who is responsible for maintenance of the SMART Corridor system?

The I-80 SMART Corridor Project represents a partnership between Caltrans, the Alameda County Transportation Commission, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, local jurisdictions along the corridor and local transit agencies. The system is a network of regional improvements, with maintenance responsibilities shared among the partner agencies.

How does the SMART Corridor differ from navigation apps like Waze?

Waze is a mobile application that allows drivers to passively share real-time traffic and road information or to actively report accidents, police traps or other hazards. The navigation tool adjusts the driver’s route based on hazards or traffic jams reported by the motorist’s local community of drivers.

The smartphone navigation app Waze allows drivers to share real-time traffic information and report incidents, which can inform individual drivers’ routes, but does not optimize overall roadway operations. The I-80 SMART Corridor project is an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) that combines hardware and communication technologies to make our infrastructure itself “SMARTer.” Through the I-80 SMART Corridor Project, Caltrans is able to take a bird’s-eye view of regional traffic operations during an incident and actively manage traffic on both the freeway and local streets to restore the interstate traffic flow to normal as quickly as possible. This comprehensive approach allows for active traffic management that not only empowers motorists to make informed driving decisions but also smooths out traffic flow, improving travel time reliability and predictability at the source. Individual lane management facilitates faster emergency access to help the interstate recover from incidents more quickly. Additionally, the ramp meters will help to actively reduce merging collisions and smooth out the bottlenecks of merging traffic.

How can I contact the project if I have questions or concerns?

You can contact the I-80 SMART Corridor project by calling the project hotline at (800) 747-5031 or sending an email to info@80SMARTCorridor.org. Find out more information on the project website, www.80SMARTCorridor.org.

What agencies and municipalities are involved with the SMART Corridor?

The I-80 SMART Corridor project is a cooperative effort between The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans); the ten municipalities along the corridor (Oakland, Emeryville, Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo, Pinole, Hercules and Contra Costa County representing the unincorporated areas); AC Transit; WestCAT; Alameda County Transportation Commission (Alameda CTC); Contra Costa County Transportation Authority (CCTA); West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee (WCCTAC); and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

What other SMART Corridor projects are envisioned for the Bay Area?

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Contra Costa Transportation Authority, San Mateo City/County Association of Governments and Alameda County Transportation Commission are all considering similar projects.