Los Angeles County's venture into toll roads advanced early Saturday with the opening of 14 miles of express lanes on the San Bernardino Freeway — the second project of its type to begin operation in the region since November.
At 12:01 a.m., the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority allowed drivers to travel the 10 Freeway's new high occupancy toll lanes — so-called HOT lanes — between Interstate 605 in El Monte and Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles.
"This shows we are willing to address traffic, gridlock and congestion in the region," said Los Angeles Mayor and MTA board member Antonio Villaraigosa at a dedication ceremony in El Monte on Friday. "Other cities are going to do this across the county. We are going to see smarter use of highways."
The two westbound and two eastbound "Metro ExpressLanes" will be open to solo motorists who pay a toll, but they will be free for cars carrying at least two passengers.
During peak travel times, however, only carpools of three or more people will be able to use the lanes without paying. Van pools and motorcyclists also can enter the lanes toll free.
Using congestion pricing, motorists will pay anywhere from $0.25 a mile during off-peak periods to $1.40 a mile during the height of rush hour. MTA officials estimate that the average one-way cost should range between $4 and $7.
Setting tolls based on the volume of traffic is designed to maintain speeds of no less than 45 mph in the lanes. If the speed falls below that level, solo motorists will be prohibited from entering the lanes until the minimum speed resumes.
Motorists interested in the express lanes must open a FasTrak account with the MTA and make a $40 deposit to obtain a transponder, an electronic device that automatically bills their accounts whenever the lanes are used. Drivers can adjust the transponder to show how many people are in the vehicle, so the charges can be adjusted. Information is available online at metroexpresslanes.net.
The county marked its entry into the use of tollways on Nov. 10, when the MTA opened its first express lanes along 11 miles of the Harbor Freeway between Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center in the South Bay.
The lanes on both freeways are part of a $210-million demonstration project funded largely by the federal government. It includes upgrading transit and rail stations, 59 new clean-fuel buses, the $60-million El Monte Bus Station, highway ramp improvements and 100 new vanpools.
MTA officials said the express lanes on the 10 and 110 will cost $7 million to $10 million a year to operate, but should generate $18 million to $20 million in revenue, money that can be reinvested in both freeway corridors. So far, more than 100,000 people have obtained transponders for the lanes, officials said.
During the next year, the express-lane projects will be evaluated to determine whether the program should be continued and expanded to other freeways in the county.
"We expect it will be totally successful," said Victor Mendez, head of the Federal Highway Administration. "The project offers commuters a variety of choices, not just the highway."