First look: transponders for Metro's ExpressLanes project

And there it is above: the transponders that motorists will need to use the future ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways.

The project is converting the carpool lanes on sections of both roads — see the map after the jump — to “High-Occupancy Toll” lanes, known more commonly as HOT lanes.

Those who currently use the carpool lanes won’t be charged a toll. When traffic is moving and there’s sufficient space in the lanes, other motorists will be able to use the lanes in exchange for a toll. The price of the toll will rise and fall depending on the level of demand.

There will be two HOT lanes in each direction on both the 10 and 110 and the hope is that this one-year experiment — funded by the federal government — will help speed up traffic and transit use across the entire freeway by better distributing vehicles across all lanes. The ExpressLanes on the 110 are scheduled to open in the early fall of 2012 with the lanes on the 10 to open in early 2013.

A map of the ExpressLanes project. Click above to view a larger image.

Transponders are used around the U.S. to electronically collect tolls from motorists — it’s a lot faster than making everyone stop at a toll booth. Metro’s transponders are unique because of the switch on them that motorists must set to tell electronic sensors along the ExpressLanes how many people are in their vehicle.

A couple of examples of how this will work:

Let’s say you’re a motorist who carpools with two other people on the 10 freeway. Before entering the ExpressLanes, you would need to flip the switch to “3.” That tells the sensors and law enforcement officials that there are three people in your car and that you should not be charged any tolls because you are carpooling.

Another example: Let’s say you’re driving alone on the 110 freeway and would like to use the ExpressLanes to escape heavy traffic in the general lanes. In that case, you would flip the switch to “1” and the sensor would charge the motorist a toll.

And how much is the toll? Again, it will depend on the level of traffic — the more traffic, the higher the toll to discourage too many people from using the ExpressLanes. Tolls will range from 25 cents per mile to $1.40 per mile. Overhead electronic signs will inform motorists of the current price of the tolls, so they can make a decision about whether they want to spend the money to enter the ExpressLanes or not.

How to get a transponder? They will be available beginning this spring for those who want to open a pre-paid account, which includes a deposit for the transponder and some money to cover tolls. It costs $40 to open an account with a credit or debit card, $75 for those paying with cash or check and $15 for qualified low-income commuters.

The transponders also work on other toll roads using the FasTrak transponder system, including 91ExpressLanes, the TollRoads in Orange County, the I-15 ExpressLanes in San Diego County and Express Lanes and bridge tolls in the Bay Area.

We’ll be writing a lot more about different aspects of the project in the coming weeks and months. There is also a lot more information on Metro’s ExpressLanes web page. Here are a few key links:

Frequently Asked Questions (English and Spanish)

Benefits to Carpoolers

ExpressLanes dynamic pricing

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