Motion proposes further study of ExpressLanes for part of the 105 freeway

The above motion is scheduled to be considered by the Metro Board of Directors this month — the motion seeks to launch environmental studies of adding ExpressLanes to the 105 freeway, with an initial segment between the 405 and 605 freeways. To be perfectly clear: the motion concerns more studies of the concept. A decision to go forward with such a project would come much later.

The 105 freeway, as you likely know, intersects with the existing ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway. The 110-105 junction includes exclusive on-ramps and off-ramps between the 110 ExpressLanes and the HOV lanes presently on the 105 — i.e. there’s no need for motorists to exit the ExpressLanes or HOV lanes when going between the two freeways.

The idea, at this time, would be to have two ExpressLanes in each direction. That would be done mostly by re-striping the freeway with some spot widening. Adding those extra lanes would require approvals from Caltrans, the state agency that oversees freeway operations.

Some background: the Metro Board in 2010 had asked Metro staff to study the possibility of adding ExpressLanes to the 405 freeway between the Orange County border and Los Angeles International Airport. At the time, Orange County was considering adding HOT lanes to the 405 but Orange County Transportation Authority officials have since rejected that notion and want to add a general lane instead to their portion of the 405. This Metro staff report explains the issues.

As a result, Metro has studied other alternatives and determined that adding ExpressLanes to the 105 and eventually the 605 would help provide an ExpressLanes corridor between Orange County and LAX. If that happens, it would be a phased approach and the Board is being asked to consider an initial segment on the 105 between the 405 and 605.

ExpressLanes on 10 and 110 freeways to be continued beyond next January

The Metro Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to continue the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways beyond January of 2015. The Board also voted to charge a $1 monthly maintenance fee on all ExpressLanes accounts to help cover costs of operating the lanes but chose to exempt those with equity accounts.

In order for the ExpressLanes to continue beyond January, a second step is required: a state bill that is pending in Sacramento (SB 1298) must also be approved.

The vote followed the release of a federal preliminary analysis this week that found that the ExpressLanes met many of their goals since initially launching on the 110 freeway in Nov. 2012 followed by the opening of the lanes on the 10 freeway in Feb. 2013. In particular, Metro officials noted that commuters who shifted from the general lanes on both freeways to the toll lanes enjoyed a speedier commute; users saw an average peak period travel time savings of 17.11 and 13.86 minutes on the 10 freeway and 12.80 and 7.81 minutes on the 110 for the morning and afternoon peak periods, respectively.

Ridership in the Silver Line — which uses the ExpressLanes on both the 10 and 110 — also increased 27 percent.

One item that generated discussion was the maintenance fee. When the ExpressLanes began, there was a $3 account maintenance fee for those who used the lanes three or fewer times each month. After complaints from customers that the fee served as deterrent to sign up for an account, the Metro Board decided to waive that fee last spring.

Still, Metro must pay its concessionaire $3 for each transponder issued. Metro Board Member Gloria Molina authored the motion calling for the $1 fee for all users as a way to regain $2.3 million of that cost, saying she wants to see as much of the money generated by tolls (about $18 to $20 million during the pilot period, twice what was expected) to be reinvested into transportation improvements in the 10 and 110 corridors.

Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky said he was against the $1 fee but said it was an improvement on the $3 fee.

Metro officials say that they anticipate improving marketing, outreach, education and enforcement efforts along the ExpressLanes. Most of those who testified publicly asked the Board to extend the ExpressLanes program. Several Board Member also said that they are interested in expanding the toll lanes to other freeways in the future, although the only plans on the table are for eight miles of toll lanes in the Santa Clarita Valley on the 5 freeway.

In order to use the ExpressLanes, all users must have a transponder. To learn more about opening an account, please visit the ExpressLanes homepage.

The news release from Metro is after the jump.

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Transportation headlines, Thursday, April 24

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The people mover at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

ART OF TRANSIT: The people mover at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

Freeway toll lanes seem to speed things along, somewhat (L.A. Times) 

Here’s the top of the story, which provides a good summary of the preliminary analysis of the ExpressLanes that was released this week:

The first comprehensive analysis of Los Angeles County’s experimental toll lanes indicates the pay-to-drive routes made some rush-hour commutes faster and less painful, both in the toll lanes and in the free lanes, but made little to no difference for many drivers battling morning traffic.

According to an independent report prepared for federal transportation officials, the toll lanes along the 110 and 10 freeways didn’t significantly change overall traffic speeds during peak periods for drivers using either the tollway or the general lanes.

But for individual drivers on the freeways at certain times, the experimental lanes may have made a significant difference: Drivers heading west on the 10 Freeway toll lanes at 7:30 a.m. may have driven up to 18 mph faster than they could have before the tollway opened, the report said. But on the northbound 110 Freeway at 8 a.m., commuters in the free lanes crept toward downtown Los Angeles at 21 mph, the same speed as before the lanes opened.

The Metro Board is scheduled to today to consider whether extending operation of the ExpressLanes beyond January 2015.

In related news, the Los Angeles Newspaper Group has an editorial saying it’s too soon to continue the ExpressLanes. Excerpt:

As it is now, the MTA has authority to run toll programs along the two freeways through January 2015. There’s a bill in the Legislature that would extend that authority and open the possibility of proposing more toll roads.

The legislation by California Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, could be a game changer for the MTA, which has previously floated the idea of a toll lane on the 405 Freeway.

It’s going before some key legislative committees next week, so there’s a push by MTA staffers to get the board to back an extension. An affirmative vote would bolster the bill, SB 1298, which has already gained the support of the board.

Also, RAND’s Martin Wachs (a senior researcher) and UCLA’s Brian Taylor (Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies) have an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Register arguing that the Metro Board should make the ExpressLanes permanent. Excerpt:

HOT lanes carry more people with less delay than other lanes, and can be added at lower cost and disruption than most alternatives. An independent consultant to the Federal Highway Administration issued a report last week showing that these lanes have improved transit service and given drivers more choices. Unlike other new highway lanes, they also raise needed revenues for transit improvements from drivers voluntarily paying tolls. Most importantly, HOT lanes increase the choices available to travelers, who can drive in regular lanes for free, pay for faster and more reliable driving during rush hours, opt for the improved express bus service financed by the tolls, or join new toll-subsidized van pools.

The FHWA study found that during the short demonstration period, in addition to those already having them, nearly 260,000 new drivers were issued transponders. While average driving speeds changed only slightly in both the express lanes and general lanes during the peak hours, travel time reliability was a principal benefit for HOT lane users.

Bait bikes ready to nab S.F. bike thieves (SFist) 

Gotta love this:

The bike theft unit of the San Francisco police department took to Craigslist on Tuesday with a post titled, “We Have Our Bait Bikes Out.” Complete with a snazzy decal of a creepy cycling skeleton, the ad warns of GPS-laden bikes that the cops will track. And if you sell a stolen bike, the po-po threaten to toss you in jail and plaster your face “all over social media.” 

The SFPD isn’t saying how many bikes actually have GPS devices installed in them. Nor does it say if clever thieves can de-activate or destroy the GPS. The idea is to instill a kernel of doubt in those who steal.

Off the bus, but pressing on (USDOT Fast Lane blog) 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says that President Obama will soon release a detailed proposal for a multiyear federal transportation spending bill. The current bill expires this year and Congress hasn’t yet agreed on the next one. Metro is certainly watching this one closely, hoping the bill includes both a loan and bond program that are key to the America Fast Forward program to expand federal funding for transportation projects.

Security cameras help transit agencies fight crime (Transit Wire) 

A short and unskeptical article but with some interesting info about efforts to use cameras to deter crime or enforce rules in both Portland and Chicago.

 

Metro Board to consider extending ExpressLanes on 10 and 110 freeways beyond January 2015

One key issue that the Metro Board of Directors are scheduled to consider at their meeting on Thursday: whether to continue tolling as part of the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways beyond January 15 of next year.

Some quick background: Metro received a $210.6-million federal grant in 2008 to use on transportation improvements in the 10 and 110 corridors. That included trying theExpressLanes for a year-long pilot period to determine if there might be a better way to manage traffic on both freeways. The lanes have proven to be popular with more than 253,000 transponders issued — far more than Metro originally anticipated. (Here is the ExpressLanes home page, including information on how to get a transponder).

The Metro staff report on the issue is above (pdf here). The report also includes a technical memo from the Federal Highway Administration that offers a preliminary analysis of the ExpressLanes, as well as some statistics. Excerpt:

Although preliminary, the results described in this report suggest that the LACRD projects are accomplishing many of their goals and objectives. Consistent with other new HOV/HOT conversion projects,the congestion data analysis shows degradation in travel times and travel speeds performance during the initial deployment period on some portions of the I-10 and I-110.

However, consistent with other sites, the same facilities are showing an upward trend in travel time reductions and increases in speed in the later portions of the pilot period. The tolling analysis findings indicate that the number of trips on the ExpressLanes (by all groups) continued to increase over the course of the demonstration period, partially demonstrated by the increase in gross revenue from toll-paying vehicles.

The many incentive programs proved to be successful with almost $13,000 in toll credits issued to Transit Rewards Program account holders and over $100,000 in toll transponder credits issued to over 4,000 LA County households enrolled in the Equity Plan. In addition, the ExpressLanes program surpassed several of its goals including enrolling over 100 new Metro-registered vanpools and issuing over 253,000 transponders by the end of the demonstration period.

Transit analysis findings indicate that Silver Line ridership increased largely due to CRD-funded service. The entire line (bothI-110 and 1-10) showed a 27 percent increase in monthly boardings after the new service was added with an additional 15 percent increase post-tolling. When surveyed, a third of new riders said they drove alone prior to the increased services and 48 percent of riders agreed that tolling has improved their travel. Additionally, the surveys showed an overall good level of customer satisfaction with transit services.

 

One other point worth considering from the Metro staff report: a more thorough analysis of the ExpressLanes is also being done and Metro intends to use the information to make any improvements necessary to make the ExpressLanes work better.

As a related item, the Metro Board is also scheduled to consider a motion by Metro Board Member Gloria Molina that would permanently waive the $3 account maintenance fee for infrequent users and instead substitute a $1 monthly fee on all accounts.

 

Metro to publicly finance HOV toll lane project for Santa Clarita Valley

i5_project_map

We posted last year about a Measure R project to add tolled HOV lanes to 13.5 miles of the 5 freeway in the Santa Clarita Valley between the 14 freeway and Parker Road. Vehicles with one or two occupants would pay a toll while vehicles with three or more occupants could use the lanes for free; tolling the lanes allows the project to be built well before the original Measure R completion date of 2040.

Today we have this update: Metro and Caltrans have decided to publicly finance the project instead of seeking a public-private partnership (known as a PPP). Why? It’s less expensive to publicly finance the project by using $352 million in now-available Measure R and other funds and a federal low-interest loan for $175 million.

Under a PPP, a private firm or firms would have paid for the construction of the project and then been repaid, in part, by collecting and managing tolls from the lanes for 35 years. In this case, public financing will allow Metro to borrow less money and secure a lower interest rate on the needed loan.

This project as originally proposed was also unusual because it included new sound walls for the 210 freeway in Pasadena and Arcadia and the 170 and 405 freeways in Los Angeles, and adding extra lanes for a short stretch of the 71 freeway in Pomona. Under the public financing deal, those projects will be built separately. The toll revenues would be reinvested and used for transit services and traffic operations in the 5 freeway corridor in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The current forecast calls for the HOV lanes on the 5 to open in 2021, the soundwalls to be completed in 2019 and for the additional lane on the southbound side of the SR-71 to be done in 2021 and the lane on the northbound 71 to be finished in 2028.

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 19

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L.A. should hike sales tax to pay for street repair, report says (L.A. Times) 

Two city of Los Angeles officials — the Chief Administrative Officer and the Chief Legislative Analyst — recommend asking voters in November to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for the repair of streets and sidewalks. The City Council will have to decide by July whether to put the tax hike to voters. If so, two-thirds of voters in November would be needed to increase the city’s sales tax, which is currently nine percent.

The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times that the mayor had not decided whether to support the tax or note. “Mayor Garcetti is committed to improving L.A.’s infrastructure and will continue assessing a range of options to determine the best way forward,” [a spokesman] said in an email. Garcetti, of course, also serves on the Metro Board of Directors and will chair the Board beginning July 1.

The issue has possible implications for Metro, where staff continue to explore the possibility of going to county voters in 2016 to ask them to either extend the Measure R sales tax increase beyond 2039 or possibly ask for a new tax to fund new projects. Voters in L.A. were among the largest supporters of Measure R. How would they respond to the possibility of sales tax issues appearing on their ballots in both ’14 and ’16? Stay tuned!

Metro fare change is needed to keep transit options rolling (Daily News)

The opinion piece by Metro CEO Art Leahy explains the need for the fare increase proposal by Metro staff. Excerpt:

In two years, Metro faces a $37 million operating deficit that will balloon to $225 million in 10 years. We’re squeezing every penny we can from local sales taxes and tapping dwindling operating assistance from state and federal coffers to make up the balance between what our riders pay and the cost of delivering service.

We cut overhead, eliminated non-contract jobs, beefed up efforts to curb fare evasion, and boosted productivity — but it doesn’t pencil out. And, no, we can’t legally siphon monies from voter approved Measure R street and highway projects or stop the rail program.

Without additional revenue, the momentum in delivering new transit and weaning solo drivers from behind the wheel will come to a screeching halt. Bus service would be cut and we couldn’t open new rail lines under construction.

Fare changes are necessary. Staff has proposed two options to gradually get us to a point in six years where riders would cover one third of our operating costs. Again, it’s not just about raising fares. Staff also is proposing free transfers within a 90 minute period instead of charging double for transfers as is now the case. This will encourage customers to more fully use their investment in the growing transit system.

 

There is a public hearing on the fare increases at 9:30 a.m.,  Saturday, March 29 in the board room at Metro headquarters that is adjacent to Union Station. More info on the increase proposals can be found on the fare change page on metro.net.

Anatomy of a near miss (Peninsula Moves, the Caltrain blog) 

The video is scary but it’s refreshing to see a government agency post it as a way to potentially save lives. In this case, the man went around a barrier that was down and almost gets hit by an express train on the San Francisco Peninsula.

First toll lanes in Contra Costa County to be installed along 680 freeway (Contra Costa Times) 

Twenty three miles of ExpressLanes will be up and running in 2016 in the East Bay. Tolls collected will help pay for an eventual 500 miles of similar lanes throughout the Bay Area. Officials are billing the lanes as a sort of “congestion insurance” for motorists — something they can pay to use when they positively, absolutely have to be somewhere on time.

 

 

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, February 10

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Even Bruce Springsteen is singing about the 405 and this coming weekend’s Jamzilla, when the northbound lanes of the 405 will be closed or mostly closed for 80 hours. Above video from Springsteen’s show Saturday night in Perth, on the west coast of the AC/DC continent.

43 years ago Sunday: Sylmar quake topples freeway and prompts seismic retrofitting plan (Primary Resources) 

The Metro Library’s blog takes a good look back at the 6.6-quake in San Fernando on Feb. 9, 1974, that brought down freeway bridges, killed 49 in the VA Hospital in San Fernando and compromised many other structures. As a result, a new state law prohibited new development in earthquake fault zones. But 43 years hence, the state is still mapping those zones — the reason that Metro did extensive mapping work of its own when planning the Purple Line Extension in the Century City area.

A new OCTA video promoting the 91 Express Lanes that run between the 55 freeway and the Riverside County Line. The big news these days is that Riverside County is getting on board and adding the toll lanes between the county line and Riverside, a project scheduled to be complete in 2017. By most accounts, the aforementioned AC/DC song aptly describes this commute.

Bullet train ridership estimates up, cost estimates down in new business plan (L.A. Times)

The cost drops by $800 million to $67.6 billion to build the completely grade-separated line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, ridership projections are up by 25 percent to 35 million in 2040. The state is appealing a Superior Court ruling last year that prohibited the sale of state bonds to help fund the project — without the state bonds, the project can’t receive federal funds. Meanwhile, the project hopes to break ground this summer on the initial 29-mile segment of track near Fresno.

Sochi got the gold, bypassed village got the dust (New York Times)

The new road and railroad between Sochi and the Winter Olympics ski resort don’t include an exit or station, respectively, at a tiny mountain village of 200 that also took the brunt of highway and railroad construction. Residents hope that some of the Games’ money and excitement will trickle down to them, but that appears unlikely for now.