The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

LA Moves towards More HOT Lanes

News and Information

What is "congestion pricing?"

Congestion pricing is the concept of charging for the use of a transportation facility, such as a roadway, based on the level of traffic congestion. The greater the level of congestion, usually occurring during morning and evening rush hours, the higher the cost to use the facility.

Congestion pricing is not a panacea for congestion relief, but it is an important tool that many cities throughout the world have instituted or are exploring as a means to reduce congestion. It has been proven to ease congestion by shifting some rush hour highway traffic to other transportation modes such as vanpools and freeway express buses or to off-peak periods by charging for use of selected roads during a selected time. It has worked successfully in London, Stockholm, Singapore, Minneapolis, San Diego, and Orange County.

Why congestion pricing now?

Because it provides another alternative to managing traffic flow, which is growing increasingly worse.

To fulfill our obligation to the people of Los Angeles County, Metro must consider all reasonable options that may contribute to improving our mobility and quality of life. As with any complex issue, many factors contribute to identifying and implementing solutions. At least a few of these challenges include increased population, increased flow of material goods on roadways, more auto ownership and declining funding from gas tax revenue and state and federal governments.

Congestion pricing is one approach for efficiently managing capacity on our busy roadways by:

In the United States, the conversion of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes is one way to manage congestion. When driving on a HOT lane, the driver pays a toll that varies according to:

Monitoring congestion makes it possible to control the traffic levels at all times and maintain the traffic speed at 50 mph. Congestion pricing, when integrating with other traffic management options, would help improve the travel speed of the managed lanes as well as the general-purpose lane.

What kind of demonstration projects is Metro considering for the Los Angeles region?

Under the current proposal, carpool lanes would be converted to HOT lanes along the following freeways:

Metro has proposed a one-year demonstration pilot project to convert certain carpool lanes into High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes to give drivers (whether solo or carpooler) the option to drive on these facilities (at an minimum speed of 50 m.p.h.) in return for toll payments.

When would the tolls be added to the demonstration projects?

Implementation of the one year pilot program (I-10, I-110 and I-210) is expected to start summer 2009.

Why select these three projects?

These demonstration projects meet one or more basic criteria for successful congestion pricing:

How would the toll be paid or collected?

The latest technology involves an easy to use electronic "fast pass" collection system so that patrons do not have to wait in line at toll booths.

Are there any HOT lanes being used in Southern California?

Yes. Two examples of HOT lanes in Southern California include SR 91 in Orange County and I-15 in San Diego. In December of 1995, Orange County opened four 10-mile toll lanes in the median of the existing State Route 91; actual toll revenues in fiscal year 2007 amounted to $44 million, about $5.0 million more than projected.

Since December 1996 solo drivers on an eight-mile stretch of the I-15 in northern San Diego County have been allowed to use the express lanes on San Diego County's I-15 for a fee, while carpoolers continue to travel free of charge.

Will education programs describe how the public can reduce congestion?

Yes. Educating and engaging the public regarding commuting choices is part of the outreach program on congestion reduction that Metro will conduct over the next several months. An early step in encouraging the public to adjust their commuting behavior is to remind the public that viable alternative transit options exist such as express bus service, adequate park-and-ride lot capacity, and efficient commuter rail and vanpool options.

According to the 2000 Census, 70 percent of Los Angeles County commuters drive alone to work, and only 7 percent use transit. Consequently, outreach to major employers in the region will be particularly important. Employers and employees are primary users of road infrastructure and key stakeholders in the development of financial or other incentives to reduce congestion.

Such incentives may include employer-paid transit subsidies, telecommuting options, and staggered work shifts.

How much would it cost to use a "toll" lane?

Various pricing formulas will be evaluated in the Metro study. In other metropolitan areas tolls range from $4.00 to $10.00 during peak commute hours. Pricing will be determined as we develop our operating plan.

What would those funds generated be used for?

Revenues generated by the tolls will be used first to pay for the operations of the managed lanes. It is expected that any additional revenues generated from the tolls will be used to improve or enhanced transportation services along or near the managed corridors. These may include additional bus and rail services, roadway improvements, and other complementary services.

Doesn't congestion pricing favor wealthy commuters?

Congestion pricing benefits all because it provides more options to commuters from all walks of life. Each commuter may select which mode makes the most sense to her or him in terms of cost and travel time. At certain times of day, the least expensive travel options—ride sharing and transit—may also be the fastest.

Revenues generated from tolls not needed for the operations of the lanes would be used to fund improvements to mass transit, which many low income families depend on. Additionally, buses and vanpools would be exempt from any HOT-lane charges. This means that anyone commuting by these modes—whatever his or her income—would travel without paying the toll.

Why can't carpool lanes help more with congestion?

Perhaps the most serious challenge Los Angeles County carpool lanes face is that they are now so popular that they are getting too crowded. Right now, several carpool lanes in Los Angeles County are close to reaching a maximum desirable operating capacity. To ensure these lanes continue to be effective, we must find ways to better manage the flow. One of the options is by implementing managed lane concepts such as congestion pricing.

What happens next?

Metro, Caltrans and the Southern California Association of Governments in coordination with Los Angeles County and other major transportation stakeholders are applying for funding for the Congestion-Reduction Demonstration Initiatives under the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to do demonstration projects that involve converting High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes along the:

There are actually two separate activities taking place at Metro in pursuit of roadway pricing options. First is the USDOT grant which approval may determined as early as January 2008. If so, the demonstrations could commence about 18 months later.

The second activity is a study directed by Metro's Board that requires completion of a countywide study to produce no less than three recommendations for roadway pricing within Los Angeles County. These demonstration projects would commence the following year.

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