Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let's tour and critique the RCTC-Proposed I-15 Tolled Express Lanes in Riverside County

A virtual tour and opinion piece of how the proposed I-15 tolled express lanes can benefit Riverside County transportation.

Concept of I-15 facing north just past Railroad Canyon Road

"Express Lanes - 2 Miles," an overhead sign along northbound I-15 might say just past Railroad Canyon Road by 2020. From a future transit center, commuters can hop aboard a soon-to-be public express rapid bus and be at work in Orange County in about an hour, cruising along in the express lanes. Or, a family can hop aboard a private bus line headed to Disneyland Resort and enjoy a quick trip there.

Working to improve traffic capacity and operations on Interstate 15, the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 8 are exploring multi-modal lanes for the highway from just north of the I-15/ I-215 separation near Murrieta, northward to State Route 60 (SR-60) near Ontario.

The project includes the study of two build alternatives with a no-build alternative. Alternative 1 proposes to add one Carpool (HOV) lane and one regular lane in each direction from SR-74 to SR-60 and one HOV Lane from I-215 to SR-74. Alternative 2 will add two Tolled Express lanes and one regular lane in each direction from SR-74 to SR-60 and one HOV Lane from I-215 to SR-74. Both would support fast trips for buses and carpools. The widening of the freeway will occur by utilizing the unpaved center median whenever possible.

The proposed I-15 Corridor Improvement Project (CIP) stretches approximately 44 miles in length, traveling through Murrieta, Wildomar, Lake Elsinore, Corona, Norco and portions of unincorporated Riverside County.

RCTC I-15 HOT Lanes Graphic

What are the I-15 Tolled Express Lanes?
Tolled Express Lanes are RCTC-proposed dedicated lanes with limited entrances and exits that provide travel time savings, trip reliability, a facility for rapid express buses, as well as congestion relief in the general purpose lanes if usage policies are written correctly. RCTC proposes to develop the toll rate policy and will be compatible with the current toll system used on State Route 91 in Orange County.

RCTC proposes that all vehicles that use the tolled express lanes be required to have transponders, an electronic FasTrak reader captures the transponder ID and bills the account established by the driver. The Transit Coalition opposes the transponder requirement for carpools and seeks to abolish the FasTrak mandate for any 2+ or 3+ HOV for both corridors to encourage carpooling, attract private sector transit bus lines, and to better redistribute the traffic flow (read more about TTC's position here).

Tolls collected from solo motorists would be used to pay for the project's construction along the corridor. RCTC reports that no public funding has been allocated for the HOT lanes; however The Transit Coalition believes the state can and should provide funding for this project. Local officials must continue to hold the state accountable for its actions and ensure state transportation tax funding is making it to the highways and rails as it should.

Concept of I-15 facing north at Highway 74

Future Concepts: Heading Northbound on I-15
Under Alternative 2, the northbound I-15 carpool lanes would become a pair of high occupancy toll lanes at Highway 74. The southernmost HOT lane entry point would be here. Any 2+ carpool and any other high occupancy vehicle with at least 2 persons should be able to get on free and go without needing to pre-register. The express lane toll for solo vehicles should also vary, based on the amount of traffic in the HOT lanes and travel speeds of the regular lanes (supply-and-demand congestion pricing). In the example pictured above, the I-15 is free-flowing at 65-70 MPH all the way to the 60 freeway; so the maximum posted toll is $0.60. During peak congestion, a solo motorist can expect to pay up to $8-10 to travel to SR-60 and about $3-5 to SR-91.

At this entrance to the I-15 Express Lanes, three toll amounts are displayed on the overhead toll sign. The top amount displays the minimum toll amount of $0.50 to the next HOT lane exit, Indian Truck Trail. The second row displays the toll amount to travel to the 91 Freeway which is $0.50 because the freeway is free-flowing. The last amount shows a $0.60 toll to the 60 Freeway, the end of the Express Lanes. The bottom, "CARPOOLS 2+ NO TOLL" displays the 2+ occupancy requirement needed for toll free, non-transponder travel.

Tolls may change as traffic conditions change, but solo motorists always pay the toll displayed on the sign upon entry; toll amounts are locked in upon entry.

Concept of I-15 facing north a mile past Lake Street

Conceptual Access Point north of Lake Street
I-15 Commuters originating from northern Lake Elsinore headed north normally use Lake Street. A HOT lane access point a mile north of Lake Street would yield many benefits for carpools originating from Alberhill and other communities in the area. Also pictured is a sign listing possible direct exits/ramps from the HOT lanes. These ramps would be designed for park & ride patrons and rapid express buses headed to/from future transit stations, each located a block or two from the ramp. The RCTC-proposed direct access ramp to the 91 Express Lanes is also included on the exits list.

Conceptual Access Point near Weirick Road
Another intermediate conceptual access point should be placed near Weirick Road, allowing traffic to/from Temescal Canyon communities streamlined access.

RCTC Proposed 91 Express Lanes Access Point at Cajalco Road

RCTC-Proposed Direct Access Ramp to SR-91 Express Lanes
RCTC has proposed adding a new tolled express lane direct connector to and from the 91 Express Lanes to the I-15 Express Lanes. This will provide direct access from eastbound 91 Express Lanes to a new median express lane southbound on I-15 and from a new northbound median express lane on I-15 to the westbound 91 Express Lanes. Traffic entering or exiting I-15 at Ontario Avenue, El Cerrito Road, Cajalco Road (pictured) and points south will be able to use the direct connector to or from the 91 Express Lanes.

RCTC Proposed 91 Express Lanes Access Point at Magnolia Avenue

The Transit Coalition believes that it is essential for carpools to have free access to HOT lanes without a requirement for transponders and objects to pre-registration policies that would result in a reduction of carpools instead of single occupancy vehicles.

If HOT lane policies are set correctly, free mobility will be a long-lasting reality for HOV traffic traveling along Southern California freeway corridors. With public express buses, 2+ or 3+ private HOVs, motorcycles, and private sector bus lines having their own set of dedicated free-flowing lanes through traffic-choked corridors, the public-private benefit would be enormous.

Please note that this tour and HOT lane ideas presented are conceptual and have not been endorsed by any public entity.

Read more about TTC's position here.

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