Los Angeles to open I-110 METRO EXPRESSLANES Saturday Nov 10, dynamic pricing tested Monday

November 6, 2012

2012/11/05: Los Angeles Metro and Caltrans open the first of two major toll express lanes facilities this coming Saturday November 10. Their first big trial with variable tolls managing traffic will be in the Monday rush hour Nov 12. That's the express lanes on the I-110 Harbor Freeway which heads due south out of downtown LA to the junction with the I-405 in Torrance. Their brand-name is Metro ExpressLanes.

The I-110 ExpressLanes' twin, the I-10 ExpressLanes on the I-10 San Bernardino Freeway head due east out of downtown LA, and is due to begin with tolls "early 2013."

The two projects are in key commuter corridors and involve conversion of HOV (high occupancy vehicle or carpool/transit) lanes to HOT lanes (high occupancy or toll.)  Cost of the whole dual highway project is put at $270m, mostly paid for with a federal grant under the FHWA's Value Pricing Program. Cost of the creation of the toll express lanes is about $120m, split about equally between the two projects. (The remainder or about $150m has gone for upgraded bus statioins and buses.) REVISED 2012/11/26

The I-110 ExpressLanes of 2x2 lanes go 11.6 miles, 19km from near the I-10 in the downtown south to the I-405 San Diego Freeway. They have branches about midway onto the I-105 Glen Anderson Freeway - a branch west about 1.2 miles, 2km and east about 2.7 miles, 4.4km, making a total length of about 15.5 miles, 25.4km.

This has been known as the Harbor Transitway before tolls.

The I-10 ExpressLanes project also converts and creates 2x2 HOT lanes from a  mix of 2x2 and 2x1 HOV/transit lanes. It will extend from the downtown nearly 14 miles, 22km east to El Monte just short of the I-605 Freeway.

This has been known before pricing as the El Monte Busway.

As HOT facilities in which single occupant drivers pay tolls the ExpressLanes are being equipped with specified entry and exit zones to and from the general purpose lanes, and at the ends. A map is needed to fully understand it but the I-110 has about 14 entry and exit points, some allowing both entry and exit, others entry or exit. The I-10 Express Lanes will have 11 such entry/exit points.  

Between the specified entry/exit points there will be a solid double white striped lane markings with the threat of large fines for any crossing except in emergencies.

Entry and exit zones will have single dash lane marking of the kind familiar on expressway entries and exits.

All vehicles in the ExpressLanes are required to have a California FasTrak electronic toll transponder. To claim toll-free or discount travel motorists will have to have a switchable transponder that allows them to 'declare' their status as 1-person, 2-person or 3-or-more persons.

The toll equipment is being supplied by 3M/Sirit which dominates the electronic toll market in the state.

System integration work including the algorithms for managing price variations has been done by ACS/Xerox working to LA Metro.

2 or 3 occupants free

The I-110 ExpressLanes will allow toll-free rides with 2 or more occupants at all hours.

On the I-10 ExpressLanes vehicles with 3 or more occupants will travel toll free at all hours, but 2-occupant vehicles will pay tolls in peak hours (5am to 9am sand 4pm to 7pm.)

Dynamic pricing to manage for minimum 45mph

Dynamic pricing will vary toll rates so as to prevent overload of the lanes and to main traffic flow.  Aim will be to guarantee speeds of at least 45mph at all times. Variable message signs about 1/4 mile, 400m ahead of the entry zones will display the current toll to the next exit, and the toll to the end of the ExpressLanes.

Carpools, van pools and motorbikes get free rides but they must have the switchable FasTrak transponder.  Buses also go free. Heavy trucks are not allowed in the lanes.

Tolls are projected at about $20m/year for the two projects. This will be used for cost of operations and any surplus used for improvements in the corridors tolled (a requirement of California law.)

Mostly restriping, signage, systems work

Improvements are being made on the I-110 ExpressLanes to the former Transitway to add a lane on certain entries and exits by a mix of paving and restriping existing pavement. On the I-10 between I-605 and I-710 a second ExpressLane has been created in place of the single Busway lane by restriping and slight narrowing of all lanes and shoulder.

Toll equipment is hung on a cantilever arm off a single central post.

The LA Metro website counter the "tax" argument with this: "No. These are optional tolls, and the choice is yours. Unlike a tax that everyone pays, only the drivers that do not meet the minimum occupancy requirements who choose to use a toll facility will be charged a fee. Solo drivers have the option to use the existing general purpose lanes toll-free, or pay to use the toll facility if better mobility and more reliable trip times are desired."

There is an "Equity Program" for LA County residents with a household income below $37k that provides a $25 toll credit.

Tolls are being advertised as likely to vary between 25c and $1.40/mile, though of course they will be driven by available capacity in the HOT lanes and the 45mph minimum speed objective.

Review next summer

The I-110 and I-10 projects are described as a "one year demonstration program" designed to improve traffic flow and enhance travel options.

In the summer next year LA Metro, Caltrans and others will make a formal evaluation of the Lanes'  performance and a decision on their future.

So far in no case of out of about a dozen HOT or express toll lanes projects around America has the project been found to be a failure and abandoned.  In Florida and Texas they are now non-controversial, and even popular. Early on they were lambasted by some commentators as "Lexus Lanes" but that pejorative heard less, as it is seen that they are valuable at times to people of all income levels.

California pioneered

Southern California pioneered HOT lanes when the French toll company Cofiroute financed the 91 Express Lanes in 10 miles of the median of State Route 91 in Orange County to the south of Los Angeles County opening at the end of 1995 (1995-12-27).  

Dynamic pricing was pioneered on the I-15 Express Lanes north of San Diego starting 2 December 1996.

Expansions and new toll express lanes

The CA/I-15 Express Lanes are undergoing major extension and improvements. The 91 Express Lanes are currently being extended eastward.

Toll express or HOT lane are being developed in the San Francisco Bay area also, and more in San Diego.




entries and exits map:


other toll projects under the FHWA value pricing program:



TRnews earlier report on this project:


TOLLROADSnews 2012-11-05

Further Reading

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