The award-winning I-15 Express Lanes system is the nation’s most advanced and innovative highway. It provides a flexible, four-lane “expressway within a freeway” that can be managed by expanding or contracting based on traffic flow. Brought to you by SANDAG and Caltrans, the I-15 Express Lanes are designed to offer multiple choices for commuters and were created to provide carpools, vanpools, zero-emission vehicles with an approved Clean Air Vehicle Sticker issued by the California DMV, motorcycles, MTS Premium Express Bus, and FasTrak customers with a smoother, quicker, and more reliable trip along the busy I-15 corridor. The Express Lanes also help ease demand on the general purpose lanes, benefiting all commuters and contributing to a “greener” community as commuters realize both the environmental and economic benefits of ridesharing and public transit. The Express Lanes total 20 miles of congestion-free travel and are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They stretch from SR 163 to SR 78.
The I-15 Express Lanes are an example of a revolutionary, forward-thinking design that serves transportation purposes today, while laying the groundwork for the needs and technology of tomorrow. Fashioned with a barrier separating the Express Lanes from the general purpose lanes, the design allows for the addition of potential new technology, including future traffic management and new communication technology installed in vehicles, enabling them to communicate with roadway systems. A movable barrier separates the northbound and southbound Express Lanes, allowing operators to expand or contract the number of lanes to manage congestion and handle major incidents, special events, and related traffic management needs. The new design provides maximum flexibility to meet both the region’s current needs and to accommodate future growth and capacity.
Carpools, vanpools, motorcycles, and zero-emission vehicles with an approved Clean Air Vehicle Sticker issued by the California DMV can use the Express Lanes for free. Solo drivers with a valid FasTrak account and a FasTrak transponder can choose to pay a toll to use the lanes. The I-15 Express Lanes provide maximum flexibility and quickly take users where they need to go. The Express Lanes offer more than 20 access points to and from the general purpose lanes in each direction as well as four direct access ramps from transit stations along I-15 for your convenience (there will be a total of five in 2014 with the opening of the Mira Mesa direct access ramp and adjacent Miramar College Transit Station). Electronic tolling signs provide information on FasTrak toll rates as well as the estimated length of time it will take to get to various locations. There are also smaller signs along the Express Lanes that let users know when they should exit the Express Lanes in order to get to their desired destination.
Carpools, vanpools, transit riders, motorcycles, and zero-emission vehicles with an approved Clean Air Vehicle Sticker issued by the California DMV may travel on the Express Lanes for free—no preregistration or transponder is required, just enter the lanes and go!
For solo drivers with a prepaid FasTrak account, a distance-based dynamic pricing system is used. The toll is based on rate per mile at the time the lanes are entered and the total distance traveled. Every three minutes, the system recalculates the per-mile toll rate based on the level of traffic in the Express Lanes, ensuring traffic flows freely in the lanes. The toll rate you see on the signs located just before each entrance to the Express Lanes shows the minimum toll you will pay if you enter the facility, as well as the maximum toll should you choose to travel to the end of the Express Lanes. The signs also advise you of one or more possible fares for shorter trips to upcoming freeway interchanges, such as SR 56.
No. The FasTrak toll collection system in use on the Express Lanes is fully electronic. There are no tollbooths or traffic gates and no slowing or stopping to pay a toll. Solo drivers who want to use the Express Lanes must first open a prepaid FasTrak account and mount a small FasTrak transponder on the inside of their windshield. The electronic system reads the transponder each time the customer chooses to use the Express Lanes and automatically deducts the correct toll from the customer’s prepaid FasTrak account.
You may enter the Express Lanes at any one of the numerous entry points along the facility, which includes more than 20 direct access points to and from the general purpose lanes in each direction as well as four direct access ramps from transit stations along I-15 for your convenience (there will be a total of five in 2014 with the opening of the Mira Mesa direct access ramp and adjacent Miramar College Transit Station). Just look for signs that direct you to the various access points. It is easy to navigate in and out of the lanes to reach your desired freeway exit/destination.
The I-15 Express Lanes are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in both directions.
If you are a FasTrak customer and you see the message “HOV ONLY” displayed on the overhead electronic toll message signs, do not enter the Express Lanes as a solo driver. That message is only displayed when traffic in the Express Lanes is congested and no excess capacity is available for solo drivers. If you are in the Express Lanes when the message appears, you are allowed to stay in the lanes at the rate that was posted when you entered—you do not need to exit the lanes. If you enter after the “HOV ONLY” message is displayed on the electronic signs on the Express Lanes or at the transit stations, you could be assessed a fine and you will be charged the maximum fare, currently $8.00.
The travel times displayed on electronic toll signs are for the Express Lanes travel times. Customers asked for this type of information to ensure they are receiving value in return for paying the toll to use those lanes. Travel times for the general purpose lanes are displayed on other message signs in the I-15 corridor.
Only light trucks and sport-utility vehicles are allowed on the Express Lanes. Under California law, commercial trucks with more than two axles are not allowed on the Express Lanes.
No. Trailers and boats are not allowed on the Express Lanes.
Only zero-emission vehicles displaying the approved Clean Air Vehicle Sticker issued by the California DMV are allowed to travel in the Express Lanes for free with a solo driver. If you drive a hybrid vehicle, the only way to ride in the Express Lanes for free is if there are two or more people in your vehicle. The California Department of Motor Vehicles Hybrid Clean Air Vehicle Decal Program ended July 1, 2011. Owners of hybrid clean air vehicles displaying yellow Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) decals are no longer allowed to operate their vehicle in a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane unless the minimum passenger requirements are met. After July 1, 2011, use of an HOV lane without the minimum required passengers may subject the driver to a citation.
That is the Barrier Transfer Machine (BTM). You may have seen the BTM on the I-15 Express Lanes. Ultimately, the BTM will be used to reconfigure the Express Lanes from two lanes in each direction to three lanes in one direction and one lane in another direction to manage traffic flow during peak traffic hours. As of now, the traffic volumes have not triggered the need to use the BTM on a daily basis. Caltrans is moving the BTM on an as-needed basis to maintain its operability, as well as when there are incidents or emergencies. While the BTM is designed for using during normal traffic flows, you may notice small traffic impacts when it is operating. Additionally, you may also notice messages on the electronic signs that will alert you to be on the lookout when the BTM is in use.
MTS currently operates four Rapid routes that use the I-15 Express Lanes to transport riders from North County locations to their destinations in Downtown San Diego, Sorrento Mesa, and UTC. Rapid 235 and Rapid Express 280 and 290 began service between Escondido and Downtown San Diego in June 2014, and Rapid 237 began service between Rancho Bernardo and UC San Diego in October 2014. These routes feature comfortable new vehicles, frequent and reliable service, and improved station amenities.
Transit stations and Park & Ride lots are located along I-15 and are connected to the Express Lanes via Direct Access Ramps (DARs). These DARs allow Rapid and other Express Lanes users to bypass general lanes and enter directly onto the Express Lanes. Rapid and other transit riders, carpoolers, and vanpoolers can take advantage of parking at the transit stations at Sabre Springs/Peñasquitos and Rancho Bernardo. Parking at the Del Lago and Miramar College transit stations are reserved for transit riders, while carpool/vanpool parking is available at nearby shopping centers.
Visit 511sd.com/iCommute for more details.
The average daily traffic on I-15 ranges from 170,000 to 295,000 vehicles, with daily commute delays ranging from 30 to 45 minutes in the general purpose lanes. By 2020, traffic is expected to increase to almost 380,000 vehicles per day. Delays were expected to be as long as 90 minutes if improvements were not made. The I-15 FasTrak program successfully demonstrates that value pricing can be an effective tool for increasing the use of an HOV facility while maintaining free-flow conditions in the facility. SANDAG is committed to delivering on the TransNet promise and improving the quality of life for San Diegans. The I-15 Express Lanes system is the nation’s most advanced and innovative highway, providing a smarter way to commute as well as saving time, gas, and helping the environment.
SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) is the San Diego region’s primary public planning, transportation, and research agency, providing the public forum for regional policy decisions about growth, transportation planning and construction, environmental management, housing, open space, energy, public safety, and national topics. SANDAG is governed by a Board of Directors composed of mayors, council members, and county supervisors from each of the region’s 19 local governments. Supplementing these voting members are advisory representatives from Imperial County, the U.S. Department of Defense, Caltrans, San Diego Unified Port District, Metropolitan Transit System, North County Transit District, San Diego County Water Authority, Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, and Mexico. The Board of Directors is assisted by a professional staff of planners, engineers, and research specialists. More information is available on sandag.org.
The project cost $1.4 billion and was funded in part by TransNet, a half cent sales tax approved by San Diego region’s voters in 2004, and other state and federal funds.