Traffic has slowed a bit on the 110 since the Express Lanes opened a little over a week ago as people try to puzzle out what the signs mean, according to project manager Stephanie Wiggins. But once people get used to the new system, average speeds in the regular lanes should increase between 2 and 10 miles an hour, depending on various traffic conditions. That's what has happened in other parts of the country where this system is in operation.
And money generated from the toll lanes will be plowed into transit improvements along the two highway corridors. Already, 59 new buses have been purchased for those corridors with money from a $210-million federal grant, which will also pay for a new El Monte bus station and transit center improvements.
The federal gas tax, set at 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't been increased since 1993, said Martin Wachs, a transportation expert at Rand, and cars manufactured since then get much better mileage. That has meant less revenue for highway construction and maintenance. Tolls are a way to generate new funds for transportation improvements while at the same time creating more options for travelers.
As for the Lexus lane charge, UCLA transportation guru Brian Taylor argued that toll lanes aren't a bad deal for low-income people. When sales tax increases are used to pay for transportation projects — as with Measure R in Los Angeles County — everybody pays and the burden is greatest on the poor, because they lose a bigger percentage of their income. But if tolls are used to finance a project, such as the 91 Freeway toll lanes, it's the Lexus drivers who carry the load.
By the middle of last week, 44,000 transponders had been registered, and about 1,200 vehicles per hour were using the new Express Lanes, exceeding Metro's expectations.
Wednesday afternoon, on my way back from Torrance, a highway sign estimated a 20-minute drive to downtown from the 91. The Express Lane sign listed a price of $3.35 for that drive. I jumped into the toll lane and made it to Adams in 11 minutes, meaning I had saved about nine minutes.
That was the good news.
And the bad?
Express Lanes aren't everywhere (they stop at Adams heading north), and traffic will always be a great equalizer in Los Angeles.
It took me 20 minutes to go from Adams to the Staples Center, a distance of maybe a mile.
Did I mention that walking is sometimes the fastest option?