Pay­ing to go faster on the 405?

If ap­proved, toll lanes through Sepul­veda Pass could open in 2027, a year be­fore L.A. hosts Olympics.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura J. Nel­son

Los An­ge­les County spent 4½ years and more than $1.6 bil­lion to widen the 405 Free­way through the Sepul­veda Pass.

Now, the car­pool lane born from that mega-pro­ject is fac­ing a ma­jor change of its own: tolls.

The Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity is in the early stages of plan­ning to al­low solo driv­ers in the 405’s car­pool lanes, for a price. Sim­i­lar pro­grams on por­tions of the 110 and 10 free­ways charge driv­ers a per­mile toll that changes based on traf­fic con­di­tions.

A faster way would be wel­come news for the tens of thou­sands of daily com­muters who slog through the Sepul­veda Pass.

How the pro­gram would guar­an­tee a faster trip in a car­pool lane al­ready crowded dur­ing peak pe­ri­ods has yet to be de­ter­mined.

The toll lanes would run be­tween the 101 Free­way in the San Fer­nando Val­ley and the 10 Free­way in West L.A. If ap­proved, of­fi­cials say, the lanes would open to driv­ers in 2027, just be­fore Los An­ge­les hosts the 2028 Sum­mer Olympics.

“We’re an­tic­i­pat­ing a very large num­ber of vis­i­tors,” said Alice To­lar, a Metro se­nior trans­porta­tion plan­ner. “Not only would we want to im­prove things for our reg­u­lar, on­go­ing users, but we’d want to im­prove things in time to rep­re­sent Los An­ge­les County.”

On Thurs­day, Metro’s board is sched­uled to con­sider a three-year, $27.5-mil­lion con­tract to move the 405 toll lane pro­ject closer to con­struc­tion.

Metro staff have rec­om­mended hir­ing the engi­neer­ing firm WSP USA Inc., for­merly Parsons Brinck­er­hoff, to pre­pare an en­vi­ron­men­tal anal­y­sis, a traf­fic study and a de­tailed cost es­ti­mate.

The toll lanes are be­ing de­vel­oped in par­al­lel with a rail mega-pro­ject through the Sepul­veda Pass.

The tran­sit line, which will ei­ther be a sub­way or a mono­rail, has an es­ti­mated price tag of $9.4 bil­lion to $13.8 bil­lion and a tun­nel as long as 13 miles through the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains.

The rail pro­ject has about $5.7 bil­lion ear­marked

from Mea­sure M, the sales tax in­crease that county vot­ers ap­proved in 2016, leav­ing an es­ti­mated short­fall of at least $3.7 bil­lion.

Metro of­fi­cials have pre­vi­ously said that rev­enue from the 405 toll lanes could be used to help fund the Sepul­veda Pass rail line by cre­at­ing a rev­enue source that Metro could bor­row against.

The widen­ing of the 405 added a sin­gle car­pool lane in each di­rec­tion. Metro’s study will ex­am­ine whether there is enough space in the free­way’s aux­il­iary ar­eas to cre­ate a se­cond lane for tolled trips, or whether Metro would have space to con­vert only the car­pool lane to a sin­gle HOV lane.

The toll lanes have $260 mil­lion through Mea­sure M, avail­able start­ing in 2024. The study will de­ter­mine whether the pro­ject will need to find ad­di­tional money, said Shahrzad Amiri, a Metro deputy ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

The 405 toll lanes will be mod­eled af­ter the Ex­pressLanes on the 110 Free­way be­tween Ex­po­si­tion Park and the South Bay and the 10 Free­way be­tween down­town and El Monte.

The lanes are free to ve­hi­cles with mul­ti­ple oc­cu­pants, pro­vided they have a transpon­der. Car­pools of two or more peo­ple get a free ride on the 110; on the 10, car­pools must have three or more oc­cu­pants dur­ing peak pe­ri­ods.

Driv­ers who are alone in the car and en­ter the Ex­pressLanes are charged a per-mile price that starts at 25 cents and rises as con­ges­tion in the paid lanes grows worse.

The per-mile price, which

Metro has raised seven times since 2012, is now capped at $2.10, cre­at­ing a max­i­mum toll of $23.10 on the 110 and $29.40 on the 10.

The higher prices are de­signed to keep some users out of the lane, and force oth­ers to exit, leav­ing faster travel speeds for those who do pay.

All car­pool and toll lanes that re­ceive fed­eral funds are re­quired to main­tain av­er­age speeds of 45 mph at least 90% of the time dur­ing peak pe­ri­ods.

Less than 30% of the lanes in Cal­i­for­nia meet that goal, and the per­cent­age is even lower in Los An­ge­les County, ac­cord­ing to Cal­trans.

No por­tion of the 405 car­pool lane in Los An­ge­les County met that stan­dard more than 25% of the time in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data avail­able from Cal­trans.

The cause of the con­ges­tion, an­a­lysts wrote in a state report, was that “de­mand ex­ceeds ca­pac­ity.”

How the 405’s car­pool lane would ac­com­mo­date driv­ers alone in their cars, and still meet fed­eral speed stan­dards, is un­clear. Cal­trans did not an­swer a re­quest for com­ment. The ques­tion will be ad­dressed in the traf­fic study, Metro of­fi­cials said.

The 405 pro­posal is part of a broader Metro plan to con­vert car­pool lanes to toll lanes on more than a dozen seg­ments of Los An­ge­les County free­ways. The plan calls for eight projects, in­clud­ing the 405, to be com­pleted by 2027.

That in­cludes the 105 Free­way be­tween the 405 and the 605 Free­way, and an ex­ten­sion of the Ex­pressLanes on the 10 from El Monte to the San Bernardino County line.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

NORTH­BOUND on the 405 Free­way through the Sepul­veda Pass. The widen­ing of the 405 added a sin­gle car­pool lane in each di­rec­tion.

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