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How L.A.'s new freeway toll lanes work

November 19, 2012|By Stephanie Wiggins
  • Cameras and electronic sensors over the ExpressLanes on the 110 Freeway, south of the Slauson Avenue transit station.
Cameras and electronic sensors over the ExpressLanes on the 110 Freeway,… (Los Angeles Times )

After The Times’ recent articles on Los Angeles County’s first-ever ExpressLanes project ("L.A. County enters era of freeway toll lanes"; "L.A. County toll lanes get smooth start, despite some grumbling"), some details deserve clarification about how this innovative new approach will reduce congestion on two of the region’s most heavily traveled highways.

The Metro ExpressLanes project is designed to improve travel times by expanding and enhancing transit options along the Harbor Freeway and the San Bernardino Freeway. The project aims to  increase the capacity of the 110 and the 10 by opening the carpool lanes to solo drivers willing to pay a toll. (The 10 ExpressLanes are to open early next year.)

The project converts 11 miles of high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes on the 110 (between Adams Boulevard and the 91 Freeway) and 14 miles of HOV lanes on the 10 (between Alameda Street and the 605) into high occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes. Because the ExpressLanes electronically assesses tolls for solo drivers, all vehicles must have a FasTrak® transponder.

Carpoolers, vanpoolers and motorcycles still travel for free in the ExpressLanes with a FasTrak transponder that allows them to indicate the number of occupants in the vehicle (1, 2 or 3+). (When the ExpressLanes on the 10 open, the carpool rules will be the same as they are today; carpools are three or more people during peak travel times.)

The ExpressLanes’ goal is to improve travel times for all commuters on these two freeways. By shifting solo drivers into the HOT lanes, Metro ExpressLanes frees up space in the other lanes of the freeway and helps reduce time for all commuters, whether or not they use the ExpressLanes. 

To avoid backups in the ExpressLanes, sensors measure congestion and adjust the tolls from 25 cents a mile to a maximum of $1.40 a mile as traffic increases.  Overhead electronic signs display the current toll so solo drivers can decide if they want to pay the toll or continue driving in the general purpose lanes.

To ensure widespread use, low-income residents can receive a discount on their FasTrak account through an equity plan. Though there is a $3 monthly account maintenance fee, most commuters will not be charged the fee because it is waived for drivers who use the ExpressLanes for four one-way trips a month, and it is automatically waived for those enrolled in the equity plan.

The project is adding 59 clean-fuel buses and 100 vanpools to the route, improving downtown parking and upgrading and expanding transit stations. Instead of a bus every 30 minutes during rush hour, a bus now runs every 10 minutes during rush hour on the Harbor Freeway. 

Taking the time to understand the many benefits of the project will ensure its success, and that will be good news for all commuters on the 110 and 10 freeways.  To learn more, please visit www.metroexpresslanes.net.

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Stephanie Wiggins is the executive officer of the Congestion Reduction Demonstration Initiative at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).

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