UPDATE, SATURDAY 9:45 a.m.: The ExpressLanes will open at 10 p.m. Saturday. Related post: ExpressLanes basics.
With the clock ticking down toward the scheduled opening of the ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway, Metro officials held a news conference this morning to help spread the good word that Los Angeles County's first toe-dip into the Land of Congestion Pricing is now now imminent.
I'll cut right to the chase:
•Tolling on the ExpressLanes is set to begin Saturday night, weather permitting. Rain could get in the way of work that needs to be done on signage before the opening, thus the tenative date.
•CHP officials asked motorists to be mindful of safety and to enter and exit the ExpressLanes only at the designated places on the freeway. Do not cross double white lines.
•Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called this a “historic moment in Los Angeles County's transportation history.” He's right — this has never been tried before here. Motorists need to get used to them and Metro will need to make any necessary adjustments. Please be patient and take the long view — this is a one-year demonstration project to determine if there is perhaps a better way to manage some of the most crowded freeways in the nation.
•Duarte Mayor and Metro Board Member John Fasana did his homework and succintly explained what the fuss is all about. “If you travel the freeways of Los Angeles County, you often see the empty spaces in the carpool lane,” he said. “This will help redistribute traffic on all the lanes of the 110, which will benefit everyone — whether you use the ExpressLanes or not.”
Here is the news release from Metro:
Metro ExpressLanes along the 110 Harbor Freeway, an innovative project to reduce traffic congestion, will open to the public on Saturday, Nov. 10, weather permitting. The opening will mark the debut of Los Angeles County’s first HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes, which will allow solo drivers who pay an electronic toll to travel in 11 miles of converted carpool lanes on the 110.
Only solo drivers using the ExpressLanes will be charged a toll. Carpools, vanpools, buses and motorcycles will be able to travel toll-free in the 110 Metro ExpressLanes, which are located between Adams Boulevard and the 91 freeway.
But all motorists will need a FasTrak® account and transponder to travel in the 110 Metro ExpressLanes when tolling begins on November 10. To date, more than 30,000 Metro ExpressLanes FasTrak® transponders have been issued to motorists who have opened accounts to use the Metro ExpressLanes. Enhanced enforcement will be in place to ensure all vehicles in the ExpressLanes have a transponder when the carpool lanes on the 110 become HOT lanes on Nov. 10.
“When solo drivers begin to travel on the 110 ExpressLanes, all commuters will benefit—whether they pay a toll or not—because the ExpressLanes will redistribute and clear traffic across all lanes of the 110 freeway,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who also is a Metro Board Member and Chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Congestion Pricing. “Shifting solo drivers who are willing to pay tolls into the empty space in the ExpressLanes will speed travel time for all drivers. Everyone wins when freeway traffic flows more smoothly.”
Metro ExpressLanes is a one-year demonstration project – overseen by Metro, Caltrans and several other mobility partners – to enhance travel options and ease congestion on two of the region’s busiest freeways.
The Metro ExpressLanes project is converting 11 miles of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes on the 110 Harbor Freeway and 14 miles of HOV lanes on the 10 San Bernardino Freeway (between Alameda Street and the 605) to HOT lanes that will allow solo drivers to use the carpool lanes by paying a toll. The110 ExpressLanes will be the first to open, and the 10 San Bernardino Freeway ExpressLanes will open early next year.
The tolls will vary depending on traffic. Sensors will be used to measure congestion in the Metro ExpressLanes and will increase the toll from 25 cents a mile to a maximum of $1.40 a mile as more vehicles enter the Metro ExpressLanes. Overhead electronic signs will display the current toll being assessed so solo drivers can decide if they want to pay the toll or continue driving in the general purpose lanes.
“This new congestion pricing approach has worked well in other cities. We believe Metro Expresslanes will also be successful in Los Angeles, making it possible for us to improve transportation options today and into the future by reinvesting the net toll revenues in transit and carpool improvements in the corridor,” said Duarte Mayor and Metro Board Member John Fasana.
To travel in the Metro ExpressLanes, solo drivers can use their existing FasTrak® transponders or obtain an ExpressLanes FasTrak® transponder. To travel toll-free, carpool and vanpool drivers will need a switchable FasTrak® transponder from Metro to use the ExpressLanes. The switchable transponder allows drivers to indicate the number of occupants in the vehicle (1, 2 or 3+) and can be used on all toll systems in California.
“This is an opportunity to be on the leading edge of an innovative new project that will improve commute times and air quality,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.
To open a FasTrak account and receive an ExpressLanes switchable transponder:
• Visit www.metroexpresslanes.net
• Call 511 and say “ExpressLanes”
• Visit walk-in centers at 500 W. 190th Street in Gardena or at the El Monte Station, 3501 Santa Anita Avenue, El Monte
• Mail an application, which is available online, to Metro ExpressLanes, PO Box 3878, Gardena, CA 90247
The costs vary depending on payment methods. Drivers who open their accounts with a credit or debit card will pay $40 and the transponder deposit will be waived. The $40 will be applied to any tolls incurred while driving solo in the Metro ExpressLanes. There is a $3 monthly account fee, which will go into effect when the 10 Freeway Expresslanes open early next year. The monthly fee is waived after four one-way trips in the Metro ExpressLanes and/or on travel on eligible transit in the ExpressLanes corridor.
Discounts are available. Members of the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) can open a Metro ExpressLanes FasTrak® account at a discounted price of $32 by visiting www.AAA.com/metroexpresslanes or visiting their local AAA office. In addition, 21 participating Costco stores throughout Los Angeles County are providing a 10 percent discount to their members who open up accounts at their stores.
In a first for an ExpressLanes project, low-income commuters can receive a $25 toll credit when setting up an Equity Plan account, and the transponder deposit will be waived. They must reside in Los Angeles County and have an annual income below $37,061 for a family of three. There is a limit of one Equity Plan account per household.
“Like all new endeavors, it will take some time for commuters to become familiar with all of Metro ExpressLanes’ options, and it will take some time before we see traffic flowing more smoothly on the 110,” said Metro CEO Art Leahy. “Signing up for a transponder now and taking a few minutes to learn how the ExpressLanes work will help make this project a success, and that will be good news for all of us who travel on the 110.”
Transit riders will also benefit from the ExpressLanes project. It is adding 59 more clean fuel buses and 100 vanpools to the routes. The project also has expanded and updated transit facilities, including a new state-of-the-art El Monte Station and it has improved the Artesia Transit Center, Metro bus stations along the Harbor Freeway, widened the Adams Boulevard off ramp from the 110 Freeway by adding an additional turn lane and created a new pedestrian bridge along Adams Boulevard and downtown parking.
A first in the nation, the project will link transit usage with toll credits by offering transit riders a $5 toll credit for every 32 one-way bus trips taken along the route. Another first is a Loyalty Program that will reward carpoolers and vanpoolers for taking Metro ExpressLanes by entering them into drawings for free gas cards each month that they use Metro ExpressLanes.
The Metro ExpressLanes program is a $290 million project, primarily funded by a $210 million congestion reduction demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.