TOLL ROADS FOR L.A. COUNTY? METRO SEEKS TO CONVERT SOME CAR-POOL LANES.
Grappling with increasingly crowded Southland freeways, the Metro board Thursday said it will seek to convert some of Los Angeles County's most popular car-pool lanes to toll roads.
Under the plan, solo drivers could use the car-pool lanes if they pay a toll. Vehicles with two or more occupants -- which currently use the lanes for free -- would also pay a toll, although less than solo drivers. It's unclear how the plan would apply to hybrids.
"Orange County has them and so does San Diego County, but we've never had toll roads," Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Marc Littman said. "This is another option for reducing congestion, improving mobility and generating additional revenues that we could use to improve public transit."
Initial plans are to convert car-pool lanes on the San Bernardino Freeway in the San Gabriel Valley, the Harbor Freeway and the Foothill Freeway from the 605 to the 134.
A second phase of the project would convert car-pool lanes under construction on the 60 and future lanes on the 10 and 210 east of the 605.
But the proposal drew immediate concern from the Automobile Club of Southern California and other transportation advocates.
Steve Finnegan, government affairs manager for the Auto Club, said Metro is trying to meet a tight federal deadline to unclog freeways and car-pool lanes and is proceeding with little input from motorists and other interested parties.
If the plan is not carried out thoughtfully, Finnegan said, it could further clog already congested freeways and create a public backlash.
"If you have a car-pool lane that is really underutilized and there is extra space on that lane and you want to offer single-occupant cars the option to use those lanes for a price, then maybe that should be explored," Finnegan said.
"But if they take a car-pool lane that is already crowded and allow people to pay to drive in that lane, then more people would have to be kicked out of that lane to keep the speeds going.
"That means you'll have more cars and congestion in the other lanes. And that will harm mobility more than it will improve it, and that kind of proposal should not go forward."
Details are unclear
Details on exactly how the lanes would be converted, or what the toll amounts would be, were unclear late Thursday.
The Metro board said that as part of the plan, it will join with the state Department of Transportation to apply for a federal program that helps cities convert car-pool lanes into toll roads. Metro has until Dec. 31 to file the application with the federal government.
If approved, the lanes could be converted by summer 2009.
Kymberleigh Richards, director of public affairs for Southern California Transit Advocates, said a similar proposal was floated in the 1970s and drew a huge outcry from motorists.
In that plan, officials wanted to convert a regular lane on the 10 between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica into a car-pool lane, which would have increased traffic congestion in the other lanes.
"It's certainly an idea to look into," Richards said. "Whether or not it's practical in its implementation I think depends on whether motorists are willing to go along with it without screaming bloody murder."
The federal government already has awarded $850 million to other cities that have applied to be part of its Congestion-Reduction Demonstration Initiative.
The program seeks to ease national transportation woes and provides incentive funds to cities that take part, including San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Seattle and Minneapolis. It was unclear Thursday how much money the Los Angeles area could get.
Metro board member David Fleming said he supports the plan.
"We have left a lot of federal money untouched," he said. "We have to plan for population growth and find ways to move people and goods more quickly. For me, it's a win-win."
Meanwhile, the board voted 11-1 Thursday to proceed with a $31 million plan to install 275 turnstiles at subway and Orange Line stations to stop people from riding for free.
Metro staff will return to the board in January with a contract. A similar project in Atlanta helped increase fare revenues and ridership.
A recent study found about 6 percent of riders are not paying for tickets, costing Metro about $5.5 million a year.
In addition to recouping that revenue, Metro might also be able to reduce the $7 million annual cost of contracting with the Sheriff's Department to provide civilian fare inspectors to help ensure people are not riding for free, Littman said.
But opponents criticized the plan, saying the contract is set to be awarded without competitive bidding.
Board member Richard Katz challenged the board to require the project pay for itself through savings generated by decreasing the number of people riding for free.
"I think this is a great boondoggle waiting to happen," Katz said. "It may end up costing us a lot of money on down the road."
WHAT WOULD CHANGE?
PHASE ONE would convert the car-pool lanes along Interstate 10 (El Monte Busway), the 110 (Harbor Freeway Transitway) and the 210 from the 605 to the 134.
PHASE TWO involves the Pomona Freeway, future car-pool lanes on the I-10 east of the 605, and car-pool lanes on the 210 east of the 605.
WHAT WOULD CHANGE? (see text)