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Meters for 99 onramps?
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The public will be asked to weigh in on a proposed idea to bring ramp metering and a diamond lane to Highway 99 through Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

The Ceres City Council was given a brief overview of the process to consider those two additions to the freeway system at its Nov. 26 meeting.

Terry Klem of DKS Associates explained the San Joaquin Regional Ramp Metering and High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lane Master Plan.

"The region's highways are getting congested and we can't necessarily build ourselves out of it," said Klem.

Ramp metering is a traffic operations strategy whereby traffic entering a freeway from an onramp is controlled with a traffic signal.

Many Bay Area commuters have been using the system for years. It's more of a foreign concept to Valley drivers.

He said metering traffic onto Highway 99 on the onramps have been a proven way to prevent traggic jams and boost freeway capacity. But there are a number of negatives to consider, he told the council. Traffic can backup on the onramps and onto local streets. And whenever cars sit idle in one spot, car emissions can be a problem in the area. In some cases, the backup caused by metering can then cause drivers to prefer to navigate on local streets.

Likewise, diamond lanes for carpools, van pools, buses and hybrids can increase passenger-carrying capacity of a highway. But some HOVs are less productive than regular mixed lanes, said Klem. Such lanes can be limited to only those hours were they would prove effective.

A survey in the state revealed that about 69 percent of motorists said HOVs increased their desire to carpool.

But there are also possible problems with diamond lanes. There is often a problem of traffic weaving as motorists jockey to get in position to get in and out of diamond lanes. Enforcement also must be ongoing to insure the lane is being used by the right vehicles.

Klem's agency is in the process of collecting data and producing a detailed computer model of how both features will impact Highway 99 traffic. A technical analysis is currently being done with a draft report issued by early January.

A final recommendation will be made to Caltrans by June.

A plan will be developed to phase in the lanes as funding becomes available.