Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Toll Lane debate all about the money

Concept: I-15 and I-10 proposed HOT lanes need free non-transponder carpooling and transit infrastructure.

High occupancy toll lane proposals throughout the Inland Empire and Orange County took another turn. And the debate has centered around the dollar and not really about moving people.

I-405 Improvement Project - No Toll Lanes for now:

Shelved for now: I-405 toll lanes in Orange County.
The Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors on Monday voted 11-4 to add one general purpose lane for the county's I-405 Improvement Project and table the alternative to convert the existing 2+ carpool lane into dual transponder-mandated 3+ HOT lanes each way. Massive public opposition including dissent from city bodies led to the change. The reason for the opposition is this: Money.

High occupancy vehicle demands along the I-405 are high during rush hours in the peak direction: southbound into Irvine in the morning, northbound in the afternoon. The carpool lane experiences reduced speeds, but its flow is generally faster than the general purpose lanes. If its capacity was doubled, carpool lane speeds would increase tremendously. We predict locals would have supported such a proposal since San Diego County's I-15 Express Lane system was well received. However, OCTA staff previously recommended to convert the free 2+ carpool lane into a HOT lane, increase its occupancy requirement to 3, slap an ill-advised mandatory FasTrak transponder requirement on all vehicles including free carpools, and potentially charge mandatory discounted tolls on 3+ HOV's. OCTA staff argued that such policies would raise more money to pay for the project. That proposal sparked the intense opposition which led officials to table the HOT lanes for now.

As we've mentioned, a fair long term compromise that would move more people would be to double the capacity of the existing 2+ carpool lane and permit solo drivers to buy their way into it at the market rate. Many solo's have demonstrated nationwide that they are willing to tax themselves into a fast-moving carpool lane. Toll revenue paid for by solo drivers would be restricted to the corridor. All day high speed express bus service would also be implemented. The lanes would remain free for any 2+ carpool and such traffic would not have to preregister or get a toll transponder ahead of time.

That would be a sound long term proposal to move people quickly through the corridor.

Inland Empire Toll Lanes:

Concept: 91 Express Lanes with free non-trasponder 3+ carpooling.
Meanwhile the Press Enterpise has been educating the public on both RCTC's and SANBAG's highway expansion proposals. On Monday morning, its paper subscribers were greeted with a front page headline article "Future Takes Toll" with much of the debate about funding issues and money instead of moving people. Comments posted on the online version of the article show dissent toward the toll lane proposals and we might be seeing some more Inland Empire toll lane debate in the public square now that the HOT lane proposals have been making headlines.

The Transit Coalition has been covering the HOT lane proposals through the campaign We want Toll Lanes done right! This campaign advocates for free non-transponder 3+ carpooling along the 91 Express Lanes and 2+ carpooling elsewhere via robust dual high occupancy lanes with bus transit infrastructure and the option for solo's to buy their way in with a FasTrak at the market rate. Generally, we would like to see the I-15 Express Lanes from down south expanded into the Inland Empire, a system that can quickly and productively move more people through suburban corridors. Governments have claimed that adopting such sound policies results in reduced toll revenue simply because they have less open capacity to sell to toll-paying solo's. Carpool lane to transponder-mandated toll lane conversions in Los Angeles and Atlanta have demonstrated this reality.

A Coalition comment received from all this comes from a Temecula construction contractor who strongly opposes toll lanes in general. However, he was open to the Coalition's position. We will continue to keep a close watch on the HOT debate. And public officials on all levels need to get their act together and stop the excuse making over transportation funding and government misspending. Even though less tax money appears to be flowing from the gas pump, we still pay high taxes. There is enough demand along the I-405, SR-91, I-15, and the I-10 where state and federal tax money should be paying for capacity and transit improvements and high occupancy vehicle infrastructure.

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