NO. 1 ROAD: I-680 HOV Lane Completion and Express Lane Conversion

Dec. 2, 2021

This year’s top road opened ahead of schedule and improved travel time for San Francisco commuters

(This feature published as "The Express Lane" in November/December 2021 issue)

Bay Area drivers have dealt with congestion and bottlenecks on some of the busiest highways in the country.

I-680, a major north-south freeway, connects the southern San Francisco Bay Area with I-80 and is a key regional corridor. To maximize highway operations, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA)—in cooperation with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans, and the Federal Highway Administration—completed the $127 million Southbound I-680 HOV Lane Completion and Express Lane Conversion Project.

The project added 3 miles of express lane and converted 8 miles of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane on southbound I-680, and as a result, encouraged transit use and improved highway operations, as well as travel time reliability.

A common theme among this year’s top roads: COVID-19 restrictrictions reduced traffic around work zones, and the I-680 project, like many others, benefited, according to Sheena Patel, a project manager at HDR who oversaw the project with Eric Lilly from WSP USA.

“The traffic on the freeway died down to almost nothing overnight,” Patel said. “And Caltrans allowed the contractor to extend lane closure hours, which helped accelerate the construction even further.”

Lilly and Patel began working on the project together when WSP USA performed the constructability review at the 65% design stage. “As we began discussing the project,” Lilly said, “we realized that we needed to work together to develop a set of clear and concise contract documents that not only met the design requirements but could also be constructed efficiently.”

This reduced the risk of issues that could cause time and cost delays to the contractor during construction.

Patel described collaborating with Lilly as a great experience. “When an issue was identified on this project, we wouldn’t waste any time assigning blame, it wouldn’t even come up,” she said. “We would jump right into brainstorming how to resolve the issue expediently. We’d call each other regularly to make sure that we were on the same page and addressing the changing conditions live.

“We built trust over the course of the project and came to rely on each other to do our jobs effectively.”

“Sheena is awesome,” Lilly added.

The I-680 project connects to a previous express lane project and results in a 25-mile continuous express lane from Martinez to San Ramon. It also eliminated a lane drop at North Main Street, which was the primary cause of congestion and bottlenecks for the 270,000 daily motorists on the corridor.

“This is big news,” said Randy Iwasaki, who was director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority at the time of the project’s completion. “It will be the longest continuous carpool lane in the Bay Area.”

The project opened under budget a year ahead of schedule as an HOV lane, reversing a trend of projects exceeding budget and schedule. The project team saved $1.3 million, which CCTA repurposed for irrigation and landscaping—items scheduled for later due to lack of near-term funding.

The team also overcame significant challenges, including an urban corridor with physical constraints, wetlands and marsh habitats, the need for two separate construction contracts, and complex maintenance of traffic requirements.

With the significant number of stakeholders in the project, the team expected conflicts and issues. However, they developed a strong partnership, fueled by an open, collaborative environment with stout communication. “This was a remarkable project and a testament to partnering,” said Ivan Ramirez of CCTA. “The team achieved savings, compressed the schedule, and provided safety and convenience improvements to the public a year ahead of schedule.”

Project: I-680 HOV Lane Completion and Express Lane Conversion

Location: Contra Costa County, California

Owners: Caltrans (Owner), Metropolitan Transportation Commission (Owner), Contra Costa Transportation Authority (Client)

Designer: HDR (Designer), WSP USA (Construction Management)

Contractor: Bay Cities Paving and Grading

Cost: $127 million

Length: 11 miles

Completion Date: Dec. 31, 2020

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