As the year begins, we’re back with an important update on the Traffic Reduction Study to determine if, where, and how to test congestion pricing (i.e. tolls) in our region to reduce gridlock and offer better mobility options to everyone.
We want to share some new information we’ve learned from the initial technical evaluation of the four early concept areas.
We now have a clearer vision of what any traffic reduction pilot program in LA County needs to be successful:
- Affordable pricing that reduces traffic and gets our roads moving again
- Transportation investments that provide people with a rich set of new and improved transportation options, especially in communities that may be served or affected by a pilot program
- Robust low-income assistance programs to ensure no one is left behind
Back in June 2021, we shared early data that showed pricing some roads in each concept area would reduce the time people spend stuck in traffic while increasing the number of people that take transit, carpool, walk, bike, and roll. Pricing would make traffic more predictable, save people time (no more having to leave early in case traffic is wretched) and reduce smog.
We’ve taken a deeper dive into the data to better understand the feasibility of congestion pricing, and potential benefits and challenges of each concept. We’ve been exploring how access to jobs and key destinations would improve, how much time people would save, how much faster traffic would move, and how much local air pollution could be reduced.
We’ve learned that pricing would get vehicles moving again and open up opportunities for investing in easier and faster mobility options. We’ve also learned that any pilot program must address spillover traffic (i.e. people changing their driving routes and clogging up other roads) and include robust low-income assistance programs.
We also need to better understand project revenues and costs. The initial analysis only provides an estimate of the maximum amount of gross revenue each concept could generate on a typical weekday. We need to do more to understand the cost to operate and maintain a pilot program and then estimate the range of annual revenues.
We are not yet making any recommendations on which concept(s) should move forward. At this time, we’re sharing initial technical results to get public input from communities and stakeholders.
We found that pricing in each of the concept areas has the potential to reduce traffic but that Concept 1A (Santa Monica Mountains) and Concept 3 (Downtown LA Cordon) performed the strongest in our modeling. Here are more details on each concept:
Concept 1A: Santa Monica Mountains Corridor
Initial Concept Evaluation: Explore reducing traffic crossing the Santa Monica Mountains through pricing on the 405, 101, 5 and other parallel roadways.
Results: This concept would really get the freeways moving. For example, during the afternoon speeds would nearly double on much of the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass, including at Mulholland Drive where it would increase from 23 miles per hour if there were no tolls to 42 miles per hour with tolls. Speeds on the 101 and 5 would also increase significantly. Someone traveling from LAX to destinations such as Woodland Hills and Pacoima would save 14 minutes, while a trip from Burbank to Santa Monica would be 10 minutes faster.
Challenges: Some spillover traffic could occur that would need to be addressed on unpriced roadways along the 101 and some roadways just east of the 5 that would slightly increase travel times. For example, data suggests that a trip from Glendale to Downtown LA would take an extra minute on a typical day.
Revenues, costs, and opportunities: This concept could generate gross revenues of up to $1.67 million on a typical weekday. The overall capital costs of the tolling infrastructure is estimated to be around $32.35 million. Although we need to further evaluate these numbers, this concept could generate enough excess revenue to address spillover traffic and invest in options such as expanding or adding express bus service on the freeways and low-income assistance.
Concept 1B: US-101 & and I-5 Corridor
Initial Concept Evaluation: This is a smaller variation of Concept 1A that would include pricing on the 101 and 5.
Results: While this concept would result in modest freeway speed and travel time improvements it would increase the amount of driving by approximately 20,000 miles on a typical weekday from traffic avoiding tolls.
Challenges: A significant portion of this spillover traffic would likely be on local roads near the 5 and 101 and unavoidable due to the small geographic area of the concept. This is one of the weaker performing concepts.
Revenues and costs: Typical gross weekday revenues of up to $507,000 may not be enough to address spillover traffic, provide improved transportation options and invest in low-income assistance. The overall capital costs are estimated to be around $18.5 million.
Concept 2: Downtown LA Freeways Corridor
Initial Concept Evaluation: Explore reducing traffic through pricing the Downtown LA freeway network.
Results: According to our data, speeds on many of the freeway segments would increase by a meaningful but not dramatic six to 10 miles per hour. Similarly, a trip from Santa Monica to Downtown LA would only be two to three minutes faster. Trips on many surface streets in and around Downtown LA would actually be slightly slower as a result of spillover traffic.
Challenges: The spillover traffic would occur on many surface streets in and around Downtown LA that fall under Metro’s definition of Equity Focus Communities (EFCs) and have historically been disadvantaged.
Revenues and costs: This concept could generate up to $918,000 in gross revenues on a typical weekday; however investments to address spillover traffic, better transportation options and low-income assistance would be expensive and likely difficult to implement prior to a pilot opening. The capital costs of the tolling infrastructure are estimated to be around $46.21 million. This concept doesn’t perform as well as Concepts 1A and 3.
Concept 3: Downtown LA Cordon
Initial Concept Evaluation: Explore applying pricing to surface streets in an area of Downtown LA bound by several of the most congested freeways in our region.
Results: Reducing traffic in the chronic chokepoints in the heart of the LA County road network would save people time and improve access to jobs throughout the region. Roads in and around Downtown LA would flow better and be more reliable. Even distant communities would benefit. Reducing traffic would increase job access for people driving, it also opens up the potential for existing and new bus services to travel faster and more reliably, giving transit riders access to more job opportunities to more places in the region.
For example, a trip from Downtown LA to Santa Clarita would be seven minutes faster during the afternoon. Even trips that don’t go into downtown LA would be faster. Someone driving from Mid-City to LAX would save over three minutes, for example. Newly flowing surface streets would make existing bus service faster and could accommodate new bus service.
This concept has the most meaningful impact on local air pollution around Downtown LA. In communities immediately adjacent to the priced streets, PM10 and NOx emissions — i.e. key smog ingredients —would be reduced by as much as 6.7% and 10.2% respectively on a typical weekday.
Challenges: Spillover traffic from this concept is expected to be more limited and affect fewer streets than other concepts but would still need to be addressed.
Revenues and costs: This concept could generate up to $2.55 million in gross revenue on a typical weekday. Excess revenues from this concept would likely support substantial mobility improvements and low-income assistance. The overall capital costs of the tolling infrastructure are estimated to be around $58.69 million.
Concept 4: I-10 West of Downtown LA Corridor
Initial Concept Evaluation: Explore pricing on the 10 freeway between the 110 and Santa Monica — one of our region’s most notoriously snarled roads.
Results: Traffic, speed, and travel times on the 10 freeway would improve but not dramatically. For example, most trips on the 10 freeway would be just a few minutes faster. In contrast, already traffic-choked streets along the 10 freeway (used by many buses) would be slower and more unreliable as a result of spillover traffic.
Challenges: Extensive spillover traffic on the surface road network is similar to Concept 2 (Downtown LA Freeways) and would be expensive and challenging to address before a pilot program launches.
Revenues and costs:
This concept also has the lowest gross revenue potential — up to $280,000 on a typical weekday. The overall capital costs of the tolling infrastructure are estimated to be around $39.56 million.
So, where do we go from here?
It’s important to point out that this initial technical evaluation is an early first step. In early 2022, we’ll ramp up conversations with communities and stakeholders across LA County. Inclusive and meaningful engagement is just as important as the technical evaluation — and we’re adjusting the study schedule to make more time for engagement.
We now intend to propose a pilot program and implementation plan to the Metro Board for approval in Spring 2023. If approved, Metro and its partners will begin designing and implementing the pilot program for an anticipated opening in 2026.
We’ll also engage people from different walks of life such as gardeners; parents; students; small business owners; office, hospitality, and manufacturing workers; delivery drivers; super commuters; and others to better understand how people travel and what they want mobility-wise. These conversations will fill gaps in the data and paint a more complete picture of each concept — and what’s needed to make them successful and equitable.
Traffic certainly decreased at the pandemic’s outset — yet by Summer 2021 overall congestion was nearing or exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Traffic will likely continue to get worse unless we do something.
We’ve learned so much from the initial technical evaluation about the potential for a traffic reduction pilot program in LA County. We expect to learn even more from conversations with the public over the next few months about how a pilot could get our roads moving again and support healthier, more prosperous, and equitable communities. This includes a set of virtual public meetings on the following dates in February (meeting invitations and meeting links to follow):
- Wednesday, February 23rd from 12:00-1:30pm
- Saturday, February 26th from 12:00-1:30pm
- Monday, February 28th from 5:00-6:30pm
Visit the project webpage for more updates and to learn about additional ways to participate.