Just after midnight Friday, new toll lanes were scheduled to open on the 10 Freeway from downtown Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley, marking the expansion of Metro's ExpressLanes project.
All drivers who want to use the lanes will need a new FasTrak transponder with a switch to indicate the number of vehicle occupants. Motorists who purchased transponders for use on the 110 Freeway can use the same one.
Drivers will need three or more people in their vehicles if they want to use the lanes for free, up from the two-person requirement on the 110 Freeway. At non-peak times, they'll need just two occupants, Metro's The Source blog explains.
And solo drivers can pay to use the lanes at any time, with rates rising when traffic density is highest under a system termed "congestion pricing." Vanpools, buses can travel in the ExpressLanes toll-free, as can motorcyclists, who now no longer need transponders.
The lanes stretch for 14 miles along the I-10 freeway between Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to the 605 Freeway in El Monte.
Officials celebrated the ExpressLanes opening at a Friday morning event at the El Monte Station, where Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa predicted "one day we’re going to have HOT lanes throughout the region," according to Metro's blog.
The ExpressLanes are a one-year demonstration project, largely funded with federal dollars, that's intended to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. Metro officials have said the program is meant to "change commuter behavior," encouraging better trip planning.
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But the complicated nature of the ExpressLanes has left some drivers initially saying they were befuddled.
"We want to encourage everyone to get their FasTrak transponders as soon as possible so they can enjoy all the benefits of the I-10 ExpressLanes," said Duarte Councilmember and Metro Board Member John Fasana in a news release. "With the successful opening of the I-110 ExpressLanes, we look forward to seeing how the I-10 ExpressLanes will reduce traffic congestion in the San Gabriel Valley."
When 11 miles of ExpressLanes opened on the 110 Freeway in November, officials with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority warned there would be steep learning curve. But now, they say, more than 100,000 drivers have purchased transponders to use the lanes.
Tolls range from 25 cents per mile to $1.40 per mile, with motorists billed to their FasTrak account. Those caught in toll lanes without a transponder are subject to a stiff fine.
"Caltrans created the nation’s first high occupancy vehicle lane more than 40 years ago on the El Monte busway, so it is very meaningful that this is now the site of the Los Angeles region’s second high occupancy toll lane," said Caltrans District 7 Director Mike Miles in the news release. "ExpressLanes are the next logical progression in reducing congestion as the state moves from freeway building to intensive operations management."
The $290 million ExpressLanes program is funded mostly by a $210 million federal grant designed for traffic congestion reduction, Metro said.
To obtain a transponder, drivers must pay $40 that will go toward future tolls. They'll be billed a $3 monthly fee plus the cost of their tolls. Lower-income drivers can qualify for a waived deposit fee and a $25 toll credit.
There are several ways to open an account:
- call 511 and say "ExpressLanes";
- go online at Metro's ExpressLanes website;
- go to Metro's storefront at 500 W. 190th Street in Gardena;
- go to Metro's customer service center at the new El Monte Station, 3501 Santa Anita Ave. in El Monte;
- buy a transponder from AAA, Costco or Albertson and register through Metro.
The ExpressLanes on the 110 and 10 freeways may not be the end of the first-ever tolls in Los Angeles County. This month, Metro is discussing proposed tolls on nearly 14 miles of carpool lanes the agency wants to build on the 5 Freeway through the Santa Clarita area.