I-10, I-110 toll lanes in LA on go - but doubt over future HOV-toll conversions

April 4, 2011
By Peter Samuel

Atkinson Construction got their notice-to-proceed from Los Angeles Metro in January on detailed design of a toll Express Lanes project on the I-10 and the I-110 - two of the busiest highways in the LA metro area. Actual construction is due to begin mid-year for an opening of 25 miles, 41km of 2x2 toll lanes late 2012.

I-10 is the main east-west highway through downtown LA, and the I-110 goes from central LA due south  to the port area.  So far tolls have been confined to the far reaches of the LA area - Orange County with its three TCA tollroads and the 91 Express Lanes. This project will bring tolling to the heart of Los Angeles, city of freeways.

The I-10 toll lanes on the San Bernardino Freeway will extend from just north of downtown LA 14.2 miles, 23km east to the I-605 in El Monte, in the lanes that have been known as the El Monte Busway, one carpool lane each direction now. The project creates an extra lane each direction by restriping and using an enforcement/breakdown shoulder, for 2x2 lanes.

The I-110 Harbor Freeway toll lanes will go for 11 miles, 17.7km from just south of I-10 in downtown LA to just south of CA91 in lanes known as the Harbor Transitway. Here there are already 2 lanes each direction.

At 100 lane-miles, 160 lane-km it will be the country's largest HOT or toll lanes project.

With dynamic pricing in which toll rates are adjusted according to changes in measured lane capacity a minimum speed of 45mph will be offered at even the busiest times of the day. By admitting single occupant vehicles into what were previously lanes reserved for carpoolers and managing traffic with tolls to maintain free flow, the Express or HOT Lanes will add effective capacity, while providing - at a price - the option of a quicker trip than available in freeway lanes alongside.

Switchable transponder to declare toll or free

All users of the toll lanes will be required to have a transponder - a switchable California spec Title 21 hardbody tag from Federal Signal/Sirit. When eligible for the free ride the transponder will be switched to 'carpool', otherwise to 'toll.' California Highway Patrol will do random, deterrent enforcement.

Only cars will be allowed to buy into the Express Lanes. Tolls will vary in the range 25c to $1.40/mile, depending on the capacity available and the speed of traffic. In such 'dynamic pricing' tolls charged only change after a lag sufficient to allow traffic to clear the facility so they are charged the toll that was signed when they approached the entry.

Xerox ACS are doing toll system

ACS Xerox are doing toll system integration as prime sub to Atkinson, and Aecom is doing civil design work. It is the first design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) contract Metro has done. ACS will be operating a customers revise back office with parent Xerox providing systems and expertise for printing an mailing of bills and notices for people making image-based trips.

"ACS' expertise in applying intelligent transportation practices will allow drivers on I-10 and I-110 in Los Angeles County to make better use of the highway without having to stop and pay a toll," said David Amoriell, group president of Transportation Solutions for ACS. "Essentially this project will expand the capacity of the interstate without adding expensive new lanes."

Other teams competing for the project were Flatiron West Inc with Raytheon their tolling integrator and Brutoco Engineering with ETCC doing toll integration and Kimley Horne the design.

Below engineers' estimate

Atkinson's price was $99.4m total with civil construction $37m,  system integration $5.7m, operations in demo period $6.5m.

LA Metro's engineers estimate was $167.5m with civil $37m, system integration $16.5m, ops $14.9m.

Brutoco bid $114.5m with civil $35.5m, system integration $14.9m, ops $11.2m.

Flatiron West bid $132.3m with civil works $44.7m, system integration $10.3m, ops $9.6m.

Project cost is much higher - around $290m - because it is includes includes major improvements in bus transit service to make use of the freer flowing lanes - largest item being purchase of 57 new buses and improvements to bus stations for improved transit on the routes.

The project called Los Angeles County Congestion Reduction Demonstration Project is called a demonstration or pilot project with only a full commitment to one year's operations. An extensive evaluation plan has been instituted to measure performance and to allow decisions to be made about its future based on some serious analysis's of how it works.

The project has received grants of $210m from USDOT under an urban partnerships program with Caltrans involved as well as LA Metro. A large array of other congestion reduction measures than tolls are included:

- modernization, expansion and better security at bus stations

- an intelligent parking management system downtown covering some 13k parking spaces

- realtime traffic, transit and parking information

- new rideshare programs

- a low-income discount for transponder issue and accounts

- improvements to freeway ramps and signals

The I-10 and I-110 corridors are among the most heavily trafficked and congested corridors in the Los Angeles area, which has regularly been assessed as the most congested urbanized area in the country by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). Congestion on the roads goes weekdays from 6 to 10am and from 3 to 7pm in the evening. 86 percent of peakperiod vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) are measured as occurring in congested conditions.

Congested roads are poor in moving vehicles and people. The mixed flow lanes on both I-10 and I-110 carry around 1,400 to 1,500 vehicles/hour/lane presently and the HOV lanes 1,500 to 1,600 vehicles/lane/hour. Free flowing lanes can carry in the range 2,000 to 2,400 vehicles/lane/hour, a 40% to 70% improvement in throughput.

BACKGROUND
: The I-10 El Monte Busway opened in 1974 for buses only. In 1976 it was opened to cars with 3 or more occupants. On Jan 1 2000 the occupancy requirement was dropped to 2 persons and overloaded the lanes, eliminating any time advantage over the regular lanes. In Jul 2000 the occupancy requirement in peak hours (5am to 9am and 4pm to 7pm was increased again to three persons, alleviating the congestion for the time being. BY 2005 congestion had returned to the HOV lanes.

It carries about 100 buses and 1600 cars/hour in peak periods.

The I-110 Harbor Transitway opened in 1996 with five bus stations in the median, but 2 occupants and above have always been eligible. The free lanes are just as congested as those of the I-10 but the twin transit/HOV lands of the I-110 are - understandably - less congested than the single lanes of the I-10.

Two leading Republicans "allying" with left radical Democrat Maxine Waters to block HOT Lanes: LA Times

Veteran congresswoman Maxine Waters 35th US House District straddles the northern portion of the I-110.

Waters has the familiar leftist 'Lexus Lanes' objection to tolls and is quoted in the Los Angeles Times: "I don't think it's fair that drivers of lesser means, making a grueling commute to go to work and make ends meet for their families, should sit in stand-still traffic while those who can afford to pay about $4 for a one-way trip get to use the carpool lane."

By such ultra-egalitarian thinking in which misery must be spread equally, if anyone must sit in traffic, then everyone should.

This is (1) regardless of whether a quicker trip will be worth the price for different people on different occasions, and (2) despite the fact that no one is made worse off by the option to pay, since the free lanes will still be there.

And some traffic will be taken out of the free general purpose lanes by those choosing the toll lanes, so everybody should be better off.

But all this is too complicated for a determined egalitarian like Waters. She knows her right and wrong, and that's the end of her thinking.

US House Republican Gary G Miller, who represents a district (42nd) southeast of Los Angeles has long been critical of the project, even though he has the 91 Express Lanes running through the middle of his district. He has different objections but they lead him to the same position as Waters.

Miller says: "If you want to do a toll road, build a toll road with private funds. But don't use taxpayers' dollars to build a road and then charge them to use it."

Actually most of the taxpayer dollars on the LA I-10/I-110 project are going for transit - for the new buses,  and bus stations - none of who would work without the use of variable tolls to manage traffic in the lanes in which they run and assure free flow conditions.

The taxpayer monies for the I-10/I-110 aren't building the road. The 'road' is 99% there already but it's too congested to be productive. It needs variable tolls to allow it to operate productively.

Miller also told the LA Times that the top $1.40/mile for I-10/110 toll lanes "absolutely infuriates me."

He has waxed indignantly in an interview on talk radio also.

This is populist hypocrisy. In the middle of Miller's district the Orange County Transportation Authority's 91 Express Lanes charge over a dollar a mile top toll rate - $10.25 for 10 miles. Is that a source of fury too?

There have to be such charges if these managed lane projects in congested corridors are to deliver the guaranteed free flow ride.

What should be infuriating to Congressman Miller is that congestion in the free lanes is so bad that people will pay such high tolls to get by it.  The high tolls represent the value of the free flow ride versus the congestion.

The Congressman's "fury" should logically be directed at the free-lanes' congestion, not at the solution.

What's his solution? He doesn't have one, of course.

The opposition of the odd couple Waters and Miller to rational road pricing in Los Angeles is not new.

And although it has been in planning and procurement for over three years - it is actually running about year behind the original schedule - Miller and Waters both told the LA Times recently they are still looking for ways to block implementation of the tolls in the project.

With agreements and contracts signed and work under way the cost of unwinding the project at this stage would be huge.

Claim to have the support of House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica

Most interesting though is the LA Times report that the odd couple in Los Angeles has an ally in no lesser person than House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica.

The LA Times reported Waters and Miller had "also gained an important ally in his fight to block similar projects in the future: House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Florida)."

Mica himself was not quoted.

This seems odd because Mica supported and has praised a similar project in his own state, Florida - the I-95 HOT lanes project between Miami and Ft Lauderdale that is very similar in character to the LA projects.

We tried to check this out, asking to speak to Congressman Mica. We didn't get throughout to the great man.

His press secretary Justin Harclerode declined to say what Chairman Mica's position is on the LA I-10 and I-110 toll lanes.

He did however give us this:

"Mr Mica's position on tolling is that existing interstate capacity should remain free.  He is open to considering tolling of additional capacity in an existing highway footprint or right of way, or entirely new capacity."

This seems to mean Congressman Mica opposes conversion of HOV lanes into HOT lanes because HOV lane are free. Most toll lanes projects are based on conversion, so it would seem he wants to end them.

We followed up with this email:

"Thanks Justin:

"It seems to me this would mean:

-  he would discontinue the opportunity in present law for states to toll HOV lanes on interstates making them into HOT lanes or value priced lanes?

-  the end to the provision in federal law to allow tolling of an existing interstate to finance rebuilding and modernization of that capacity?

"Is that correct?"

We could't get any response to that.

COMMENT: Congressman Mica's position is unwise. The notion he seems to hold that old tax-built roads are "paid for" and that tolls involve "double taxation" is widely held, but false. Roads are never "paid for" except fleetingly. They begin to wear out from traffic and the weather from the day they are opened and they cost money to operate, maintain, modernize and replace.

And in urban areas they need modern tolls to be properly managed.

Once toll collection itself was a source of congestion - when we had to stop traffic with a gate to collect the toll.

Technology has ended that.

With this opportunity we should be moving vigorously to price more roads. With toll technology allowing us to collect tolls at highway speed, without reducing the service they provide by stopping traffic at a toll gate we don't need to be at the mercy of grants from governments with taxing powers.

Direct road charges (tolls) are especially necessary in urban areas where roadspace is so expensive and difficult to provide.

Roadspace as a scarce commodity needs to be priced.  Providing any scarce commodity free to the user invariably produces debilitating shortages.

So congestion can only be overcome with the kind of traffic-variable tolls Los Angeles is doing in the converted lanes of I-10 and I-110.

Fuel taxes have got us where we are today - wasting billions of hours and dollars sitting in traffic. The taxes as a a major financing mechanism are the problem.

The solution is in making highways self-financing, direct-charge operations, managed one by one for efficient operations by operators forced to make a living selling a road service. In a small but important way that's what LA's toll lanes are experimenting with - editor.

LA I-10, I-110 toll lanes project:

http://www.metro.net/projects/expresslanes/

LA Times piece:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-toll-20110313,0,5503781,full.story

TOLLROADSnews 2011-04-03


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