Eleven miles of carpool lanes will open on Nov. 11 to solo drivers willing to pay a toll on the I-110 Harbor Freeway. Though the project seeks to make commuting easier, some students said they don’t think the toll lanes will be helpful.
Dubbed Metro ExpressLanes, the project aims to reduce traffic congestion in the L.A. area. The price of the toll ranges from 25 cents to $1.40 per mile, depending on traffic levels.
The cost will be highest during rush hour, when the most vehicles are on the road. Electronic signs will display the current cost so drivers can decide if they want to enter the lane and pay.
To use the ExpressLanes, all drivers must purchase a transponder. The transponder has different settings for the number of people in the car. As a result, only people whose transponders are programmed for a solo driver are charged the toll while driving in the ExpressLane.
Transponders will cost $40 for drivers, except for those registered with AAA who will receive an $8 discount.
The ExpressLanes are part of a $290 million project funded largely by a congestion reduction demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“This will go a long way in terms of reducing congestion along Harbor Freeway,” said Rick Jager, Metro’s communications manager.
No new lanes are being built, but the system is expected to decrease overall traffic. As some solo drivers move into the current carpool lanes, more space will open in the mixed-flow lanes.
“The idea behind the lanes is to try to better manage the infrastructure currently in place,” Jager said.
Despite their advantages, the toll lanes can be pricey. Traveling all 11 miles during rush hour would cost over $15. Though Metro does have discounts available to lower-income drivers, no such program exists for students.
Undergraduate Student Government Commuter Senator Adam Prohoroff, a senior majoring in accounting, explained that this is the trouble with the ExpressLanes.
“Many current commuter students can’t afford to live on campus, so they would be financially unable to use the new lanes,” he said.
Prohoroff acknowledged that the lanes could be advantageous to students who carpool or use the Metro Vanpool Program, but generally believes that most students will not utilize the ExpressLanes.
Pradeep Nadeswaran, a freshman majoring in biology who said he often drives home on the weekends mirrored Prohoroff’s sentiments.
“I’d rather just plan a little extra time into my schedule and go through the traffic [than pay the toll],” Nadeswaran said.
Prohoroff also said he felt it was unfair that some students should be stuck in traffic because they cannot afford extra fees.
“The lanes put pressure on commuter students,” he said. “Ideally, everyone should look into alternative transit.”
Prohoroff said the average commuter student could save $3,000 per year if they took the Metrolink instead of driving.
Jager, however, said the ExpressLanes project is “trying to change commuter behavior by encouraging people to join carpools or take public transit.” Part of the money from the grant was used to purchase 59 additional clean fuel buses and to add 100 vanpools to the routes.
“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 traffic across all lanes of the 110 freeway,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in a press release.
The shift of drivers will not impact carpool lanes because they currently have a very large capacity, according to the press release.
The project also provides incentives to take public transit. Transit riders will be credited five dollars toward ExpressLane tolls if they ride the bus 32 times. Carpoolers and vanpoolers are also rewarded for using the ExpressLanes, as they are entered into a drawing for free gas cards every month.