If you've ever ridden an AC Transit bus creeping across the Bay Bridge during rush hour, you might have thought: There must be a better way.

Why, for example, didn't bridge planners create a dedicated lane for buses only, giving priority to vehicles that actually move dozens of people across the span instead of just one or two?

Well, they did, nearly 60 years ago. And now there's talk about bringing it back.

In 1961 congestion plagued the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge approaches even though the region's population was half of what it is today. BART was still 12 years away.

Someone, perhaps a California Department of Transportation engineer, had the bright idea to put a contraflow express bus lane on the Bay Bridge. So on Jan. 15, 1962, the state repurposed one of the lower deck lanes as a dedicated bus lane for Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District buses going against the normal traffic flow. It had an immediate impact.

Buses zipped across the bridge in 12 or 13 minutes, twice as fast as automobiles. ACT ticket sales jumped 12.8 percent. The lane was an unqualified success.

Transportation bosses killed it after only one year. The San Francisco Division of Bay Toll Crossing said the bridge's upper deck needed to be repaved, so the express lane had to go away to free a lane for general auto traffic during the construction. But after the paving job was done, the contraflow lane wasn't restored.

The real reason was that car commuters hated losing a lane to buses and lobbied against it. They won that battle, but lost the war.

Today, the misery of crossing the Bay Bridge in bumper-to-bumper traffic is shared by both motorists and bus riders. The bridge and its approaches make up the most congested freeway corridor in the Bay Area, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Between 2010 and 2017 traffic delays increased by 80 percent.

Is it finally time to bring back the contraflow lane?

The idea of a revival is not new. In 2015, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission studied it as a way to improve travel across the bay.

When Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) solicited "transformative" ideas for transit improvements on his Facebook page earlier this month, a constituent and solar energy advocate named Carter Lavin, suggested bus-only lanes. BART Director Rebecca Saltzman wasted little time in seconding the motion.

Bonta replied, "Let's do it!" and told his staff to research legislative solutions to the proposal. However, according to the San Francisco Examiner, his spokesman said Bonta has not committed to a bill, but is just exploring the idea.

Meanwhile, others are jumping on the bandwagon.

Berkeley City Councilman Rigel Robinson submitted a letter to Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over Bay Bridge roadways, pushing for the dedicated lane. Urban Environmentalists, which supports building more housing near transit and jobs, backed the lane idea, and the Sierra Club reportedly favors it.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney tweeted, "Support building on both sides for the bay for a dedicated Bay Bridge bus lane! It's common sense!"

AC Transit, which benefited from the bridge's original dedicated lane, supports "any initiative that helps improve our service frequency and speeds up the commute for riders, whether it’s Bay Area streets, freeways or bridges," spokesman Robert Lyles told the San Francisco Chronicle in an email.

But others have noted that the bridge itself is not really a primary choke point for the transbay buses. The bigger problem is the westbound approaches that funnel traffic from multiple streets and freeways into the MacArthur Maze. Buses might easily get trapped in the slow march through the labyrinth before reaching an express lane, negating any time savings that the lane could provide.

One solution could be extending bus-only lanes eastward to streets and freeways beyond the maze and making modifications to the bottleneck. But the infrastructure changes involved for such a project could cost millions.

ALSO: Why no one has approved a second Bay bridge for 70 years

And there's no guarantee commuters will leave their cars at home and take the bus instead once bus-only lanes are established. That would happen only if commuting by bus becomes much faster door-to-door than driving a car.

It won't be much cheaper. On Jan. 1, AC Transit increased its fares by 50 cents, meaning a one-way adult transbay ticket now costs $6. That's more than the bridge toll drivers pay during non-commute hours (except for weekends).

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Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Digital Reporter. Email: moffitt@sfgate.com. Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate