SUISUN CITY — Ramp metering lights on eastbound Interstate 80 in Fairfield are to debut on Feb. 18 for the evening rush hour.
It’s been a slow rollout. The state Department of Transportation installed most of the lights in Fairfield in 2011. At the time, it announced the cost as being about $4.9 million.
Dan McElhinney, deputy director of Caltrans District Four, will attend the Solano Transportation Authority Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday to give details and answer questions about the upcoming activation of the lights.
Mayors from Solano County’s seven cities and a county supervisor sit on the board. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Suisun City Council chamber, 701 Civic Center Blvd.
“It’s part of the public awareness campaign,” Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls said. “It’s an informational presentation.”
Ramp metering lights are designed to keep platoons of bunched-up vehicles from entering I-80. The lights act as traffic signals to space out the traffic, changing from red to green every few seconds. The goal is to make the freeway traffic flow more smoothly.
Ultimately, Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission want to install and activate ramp metering lights throughout Solano County. The lights being activated in Fairfield on Feb. 18 is to be only a beginning.
Halls said the initial step is for lights to be activated on eastbound I-80 in Fairfield for the Thursday and Friday evening rush hours.
“They’re only going to be turned on when they’re needed,” Halls said. “That’s Thursday and Friday. The rest of the time, they will be green. You’ll just drive through as you do now. If they’re green, you go forward. It’s not a huge change.”
Caltrans could also use the ramp metering lights if a freeway accident takes place, he said.
“Let’s say a truck takes out a couple of lanes,” Halls said. “They can use ramp metering to slow down traffic getting on, so emergency vehicles can get there.”
The ramp metering lights are part of a larger effort by Caltrans to use technology to better manage the highway system, Halls said. He mentioned as another example the freeway traffic signs that give information on accidents.
A second proposed step is to activate ramp metering lights along both eastbound and westbound I-80 from Redwood Street in Vallejo to Interstate 505 in Vacaville, possibly in early 2015. A final step would be to activate ramp metering lights in the remainder of the county, when money is found to install the lights, according to a report done for the Solano Transportation Authority a few months ago.
Caltrans has already activated ramp metering lights in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties in the Bay Area. The agency started experimenting with the lights in Southern California during the 1960s. The Los Angeles-Ventura area has 900 ramp metering lights.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.