With new southbound car-pool lanes on the San Diego Freeway set to open today, highway officials reported that record numbers of motorists are using the northbound lanes, which opened two weeks ago.
Nearly 900 vehicles traveled the special lane during rush hour Thursday morning, officials said.
"This lane has gotten off to the best start of any of our car-pool lanes so far," said Joe El-Harake, a Caltrans official.
The final southbound stretch of car-pool lanes was to open at 6 this morning, completing a two-year, 24-mile project that created the longest car-pool lane in the state. Today's opening--two weeks after the northbound side became available to motorists--was delayed by an accident that killed a highway worker on April 19. The new section extends from the Corona del Mar Freeway to the Santa Ana Freeway at El Toro.
The entire project cost $54 million and was funded mostly with federal tax dollars. It includes several new features:
* Video cameras that will monitor the lanes' effectiveness on a 24-hour basis. Videocassette recorders will be used at first, but plans call for eventually transmitting the TV images to a Caltrans control room.
* New signs alerting motorists where to exit the car-pool lanes in order to reach specific freeway off-ramps. As with the car-pool lanes on the Costa Mesa Freeway, entering and leaving the car-pool lanes is allowed only in locations marked by signs and a broken paint stripe.
* Double car-pool lanes, with one serving as a 14-foot buffer for merging into and out of adjacent traffic lanes, are being tested on a three-mile stretch between Jeffrey Road and Irvine Center Drive.
El-Harake said 878 vehicles were counted in the northbound lane between 7 and 8 a.m. Thursday. About 3% to 5% of the cars were violating occupancy rules. That translates into more than 1,700 people moving through the lane in one hour, El-Harake said.
The lanes are open to buses, van pools and car pools with two or more occupants, as well as motorcycles.