Los Angeles Hopes To Win Federal Grant For 3 HOT Lanes Conversions

The L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Agency hopes to convert carpool lanes on three freeways to variably priced High Occupancy Toll lanes and win a federal grant. But the plan is upsetting carpoolers and hybrid owners who use these lanes for free.

"The Metropolitan Transportation Agency's initial plan would convert carpool lanes on the 110 Freeway in South L.A. as well as the 10 and 210 freeways in the western San Gabriel Valley" into high occupancy toll, or HOT lanes allowing solo drivers to use these lanes for a per-mile fee that fluctuates on the level of congestion."

"Left out of the pilot project was the notoriously clogged Westside. The Santa Monica Freeway has no carpool lanes to convert, and the 405 lacks the established express-bus and rail alternatives that are on or parallel to the 110 and 10 freeways."

"The idea is part of plans by the MTA and Caltrans to implement "congestion pricing" in L.A.: charging a toll to use certain roads in return for faster speed. The toll prices would rise during rush hour.

"But the big losers could be motorists who now use the carpool lanes for free. Carpoolers would also have to pay a toll, possibly reduced. Also, the proposal provides no toll exemptions for hybrid vehicles that can now use carpool lanes regardless of the number of passengers."

"The concept quickly gained steam in November after the U.S. Department of Transportation said it would give out more grants to fund such projects.

L.A. missed out in the last round of grants issued in August because local officials did not seriously consider such a congestion pricing plan in the county's last federal application.

"We're just too congested to turn our backs on that kind of opportunity," said Carol Inge, chief planning officer for the MTA. The cost of the toll lane conversion could be about $100 million, Inge said.

"Converting carpool lanes into toll roads is far from a done deal. Failing said Caltrans and the MTA need to make sure it's profitable to install and maintain the tolling system.

They will also need to win the support of the California Transportation Commission and the federal grant. The grant application is due Dec. 31."

"San Francisco is further ahead of L.A. in congestion pricing. The city won a $140-million federal grant in August, most of it centered on a plan to replace Doyle Drive, a six-lane, seismically unsound section of U.S. 101 that links the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco's downtown. The 71-year-old road has a structural sufficiency rating of 2 out of 100.

Officials are considering charging users a toll of $1 to $2, which would rise or fall depending on traffic demand. Those funds would help pay the $200 million to $300 million local officials need to raise for the entire $810-million road replacement project, said Tilly Chang, deputy director for planning for the San Francisco Transportation Authority."

Thanks to The Roundup

Full Story: Carpoolers' free ride may be over; An MTA proposal to convert the lanes to toll roads has some fuming.

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